HC Deb 06 December 1830 vol 1 cc772-7
Lord Brabazon

presented Petitions from the inhabitants of Bray, in the county of Wicklow; of Grange Gorman, in the county of Dublin; and of other places in Ireland; and from the Carpet Weavers of the City of Dublin, praying for a Repeal of the Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland. The noble Lord could not support the prayer of the petitioners. He was convinced that the measure which they desired would, if carried into effect, involve Ireland in civil commotions and in bloodshed. Perhaps some partial benefit might be derived to the City of Dublin from being again the seat of the Irish Legislature; but much as he desired to promote the welfare of that City, with which his interests were closely connected, he could not do so at the sacrifice of the national welfare. He expressed his regret that the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. O'Connell), whose exertions had already done so much good for Ireland, should exert his great talents and his powerful influence in the pursuit of an object so chimerical, or, if attainable, so pernicious, as the Repeal of the Union.

Mr. O'Ferrall

presented a similar Petition from the inhabitants of Naas, in the County of Kildare, also complaining of extreme distress, which the petitioners attributed chiefly to the consequences of that Act. The hon. Gentleman could not support the petition, which, however, he had thought it his duty to present. The petitioners thought that a repeal of the Union, would produce a Reform of Parliament, and an amendment of the tithe system; but he hoped that these objects would be effected without the repeal of the Union, and he had great confidence that the present Ministry would do much for the country.

Mr. O'Connell, at the request of the petitioners, supported their prayer. He stated that there were in that town, amongst a population of 4,000, more than 1,200 persons depending wholly on casual charity for their support. He concurred in the statement of the petitioners, that the Union was the principal cause of their distress. That measure had greatly increased the evils of absenteeism, to which, during the existence of the Irish Parliament, an effectual check had been put by the imposition of a tax of seventy-five per cent upon the property of absentees; which tax was levied for several years previous to the Union. He hoped to see the day when such a tax would again be imposed. At present Ireland paid a tribute of 8,000,000l. a-year to England, in the revenue she remitted to absentee proprietors. Next to absenteeism, he considered the extravagantly expensive Church Establishment a principal source of the misery of the people. Those two causes, together with the oppressive taxation, produced in Ireland a degree of distress and suffering unparalleled in any other country. The hon. and learned gentleman presented petitions in favour of a Repeal of the Union, from the Sedan-chairmen of Dublin, and from the Bricklayers and House-smiths of that City. These persons felt severely the effects of the Union of the two countries. At the time of that Union there were 1,800 public, and 600 private Chairmen in that City; at present there were not more than twenty public Chairs, and one private. The mention of the parties from whom these petitions came might create merriment in the House, but he must say, that the present was not the moment when the petitions of any portion of the people ought to be laughed at. The hon. and learned Member presented a similar petition from the Corporation of Tuam, signed by the 'Sovereign.' The petitioners begged the House not to give credit to any statement which might be made to them from any quarter, that the great mass of the people of Galway were not favourable to a repeal of the Union. The hon. and learned Gentleman, after presenting similar petitions from parishes in Cork, Waterford, and Longford, adverted to what had been stated on a former evening, as to the opinion of the late Mr. Grattan, that the Union of the two countries, once passed, was irrevocable, and read an extract of a letter from that Gentleman, dated October 4th, 1810, in which be stated, that he would accede to the wish of parties who had intrusted him with a petition for the repeal of the Union, and would support its prayer, because he wished the connexion between the two countries should be more firm. This was also his (Mr. O'Connell's) humble opinion; but Mr. Grattan thought it would not be prudent to bring a Motion forward for the repeal until it was supported by the general voice of the people of Ireland. In this he also concurred; hon. Gentlemen did not seem to be aware of the extent to which the Anti-union feeling prevailed in Ireland. Anti-union meetings were spreading every where; and he might say, that in three of the provinces, ninety-nine out of every hundred were in favour of the repeal; and it was worthy of remark, that as those meetings spread, meetings of White-boys and other illegal associations disappeared, so sanguine were the people in the hope that a repeal of the Union and a resident Legislature would be the means of affording them relief.

Sir J. Bourke

hoped, that as he was the individual whose statement as to the opinion of the people of Galway, on the subject of the Union, was alluded to, he might be allowed to say a word in explanation of that statement. He was asked on the hustings, when proposed for the county of Galway, whether he would vote for a repeal of the Union, and he distinctly stated, that he was opposed to that measure. He had a right therefore to infer, as his opinion was not then opposed, that it was not at variance with that of the county which returned him. It was however true that the people of Galway had not at that time had the advantage of being enlightened by the letters which the hon. and learned member for Waterford had since written on the subject, the publication of which he owned he viewed with regret.

Sir John Newport

rose for the purpose of showing, that the most strenuous opposers of the Union in the Irish Parliament were clearly of opinion that, once completed, it was indissoluble. He wished to call the attention of the House to a letter from the predecessor of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite in the representation of the county of Waterford. [The right hon. Baronet then read an extract from the letter in question, distinctly showing, that the opinion of that Gentleman was directly adverse to any agitation of the question of a repeal of the Union at the present moment, or at any time; for he had never ceased to regard that measure as irrevocable.] Such was the opinion, he also stated, of all the public men at the period when that measure was agreed to. Both from their speeches in Parliament, and from the evidence which remained of their private meetings, there could not be a shadow of doubt that Mr. Ponsonby, Chief Justice Bushe, Lord Plunkett, Lord Oriel, and all the great men of that period agreed, that if the measure were once carried, the idea of repealing it would be perfectly visionary. He hesitated not to say, that he himself had always looked upon the Union as irrevocable. He was old enough to remember the proceedings of that local Parliament which it was thus vainly sought to restore; and he could well remember that the country under its government, was in such a state of confusion and anarchy that he believed it could no where else be paralleled—the country was in such a state that no peaceable man could live in it. He deprecated most earnestly the agitation of the question of the Union, for he looked on it as sure to produce results which could not fail to alarm English capitalists, and deter them from investments calculated to create employment for the people. He would, let the consequences be what they might, repeat his conscientious conviction against the proposition for a repeal. He was aware that in expressing his opinion against the repeal, he was stating that which was contrary to the opinions of a respectable portion of his constituents, and he had been intrusted with a petition signed by several of them in one parish in the city of Waterford, in which they called upon him to surrender his opinion on this subject to that of his constituents. Such a call he never could obey. He had for fifty years of his public life expressed his opinion freely, conscientiously, and independently, on all occasions, and he would not now depart from that consistency which he had ever maintained. Let the duration of his public life be long or short—and in the course of nature it could not now be much longer—he would continue to act in the same independent manner. If his constituents thought proper to withdraw their confidence in him, they had only to express that wish, and he would resign his trust into their hands; but, so long as he held it, he would vote according to the best of his judgment on every subject, without reference to any consideration but that which, he trusted, always had and ever would operate with him—that of promoting whatever tended most to the good of the country. In this feeling he never could support the repeal of the Union, unless it could be proved that such a measure would be to the benefit of Ireland; but, that he believed, could never be proved.

Mr. A. Lefroy, alluding to the petition which had been presented from a parish in the county which he had the honour to represent, said, that he could not support the prayer of that petition. He did not deny that the signatures to it were numerous and respectable; but he must say, that he had received letters from most respectable individuals, Protestants and Catholics, in that county, expressing their decided hostility to any such measure. If he had taken a course similar to that of the hon. member for Waterford, he might have got up a petition, most numerously and respectably signed, against the measure; but his great wish was, to do every thing which could unite both parties, and to encourage that disposition which would tend to promote the prosperity of all. He did not mean to say, that distress did not exist in Ireland, but he felt convinced that if the cause and nature of that distress, and the means of removing it, were fairly put forward, it would stand a much better chance of relief from a united Parliament than from a Parliament resident in Ireland.

Mr. O'Connell, in moving that the petitions do lie on the Table, said, that the statement made by the right hon. member for the city of Waterford had not met his case as to the opinion of the late Mr. Grattan. As to what had fallen from the hon. Member who had just sat down, about the union of Protestant and Catholic, he must say, that the repeal of the Union would, more than any other measure, tend to unite all parties. He added, that he had lately received a vote of thanks at a public meeting, which was moved by an Orangeman and seconded by a gentleman who was secretary to an Orange-lodge. The hon. Member, after a warm eulogy on the public conduct and consistency of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Newport), expressed his regret at hearing from such a respectable source the opinion which had been given as to the last Parliament of Ireland; but he must say, that except during the last six years, when that Parliament had been corrupted to carry the Union, it had shown as much independence as any Parliament that ever met. During the twelve years prior to the last six, it had five times defeated the plans of Ministers, and carried its own point in favour of the country, which could not be said of any Parliament that had sat since the Union. In conclusion, he observed, that the petitions for a repeal of the Union could not be put down by clamour within or without that House. He imputed no improper motive to any person who opposed this repeal, and any motives attributed to him he despised.

The Petitions to lie on the Table.