HC Deb 06 March 1828 vol 18 cc987-9
Sir F. Burdett

said, he was commissioned by the general body of the Catholics of Ireland to present to the House a Petition, praying for the removal of the disabilities under which they laboured. The petition he had to present to the House involved such important interests, and embraced concerns of such magnitude to the welfare of individuals as well as of the country at large, that he was induced to break through a general rule he had laid down to himself, of not occupying the attention of the House upon the presentation of petitions. He felt convinced that the condition of the petitioners excited the sympathy not only of a majority in parliament, but of a vast portion of their fellow-subjects in Ireland and in England; and that it would be a great relief to the House and to the country, if parliament would take into consideration the claims of the Roman Catholics, as well as of persons labouring under disqualifications on account of their religious opinions. Upon the hardships under which the Catholics laboured some persons were disposed not to lay so much stress as he did; they thought it no very great grievance to labour under these disabilities; but, in his opinion, nothing could be more galling to the mind of an honourable man, than in his own country to be considered as a proscribed person—to have a mark set upon him for his conscientious religious belief—to be held up as a person unworthy of trust, and incapacitated from receiving all marks of honour and emolument—as a person whose career was arrested in every course of ambition, however beneficial to the individual or to the state—to have the finger of scorn pointed at him, and to be compelled to witness other persons having every possible advantage over him on account of their religious belief: this was not only galling to the mind of the individual, but prejudicial to the interests of the country at large. The pretences on which the disabilities were continued appeared to him to be weakened every day; and when he saw millions of people who were calling for the repeal of those disabilities (for, putting together the Catholics of England and Ireland, they amounted probably to not less, numerically, than one half of the population of the United Kingdom), then adding to them the wishes of such members of the established church, and the other Protestant churches in this country, as were favourable to the Catholics, he was entitled to say that a large preponderating weight of public opinion was in favour of granting the just claims of the Catholics. In behalf of the Catholics of the United Kingdom, he denied all the charges and imputations that had been thrown out against them. He denied that it was true, or founded on truth, that they owed any divided allegiance, or that they had not a common interest with men of every religious persuasion in this country. He denied that they were less desirous of upholding the institutions of the country than any other class of the community. On the part of the Catholics he would declare, that rather than be actuated by the feelings which were attributed to them they would forego the accomplishment of their just claims, by the granting of the little that remained to be conceded, and would willingly endure all the penalties from which they had been relieved. But in behalf of the character of the Catholics, he would appeal from the evidence of interested calumniators and monopolizers of power under the pretence of religion, to the equity of parliament, and would demand for them relief from their disabilities, on the broad, general principle of religious liberty—the principle on which our church and all Protestant churches were founded. If it was reprehensible in the Catholic church to visit with penalties those who dissented from them, it was tenfold more unjust and inconsistent with the principles on which our church was established, to maintain similar penalties on account of the religious opinions of persons of whatever persuasion they might be. In conclusion he trusted that the petitioners would receive that attention which their cause, connected as it was with the great interests of the state, so eminently demanded [hear]. The petition was ordered to be printed, and sir F. Burdett gave notice, that on the 29th of April, he would submit a motion on the subject of the Catholic claims.