HC Deb 14 December 1830 vol 1 cc1126-33
Mr. Leader

said, he rose to present several Petitions relative to the state of Ireland—two of them wholly connected with the estates of the Corporation of Kilkenny and Galway; three for the Repeal of the Legislative Union; two relative to the Grants to the Kildare-street Society. He now prayed the immediate attention of the House to the case set forth in the Kilkenny Petition. It was from the citizens and inhabitants of that city, which was still the first inland city in Ireland, where Parliaments had anciently been held, and which contained above 30,000 inhabitants. It stated, that James the 1st, to improve the condition of the inhabitants, gave to them an excellent Municipal Constitution, and that the King carefully distinguished the different branches of government, and provided that the laws for the common utility of the city should be made by the Mayor and citizens, assembled for that purpose by public summons, and placed the executive power in different hands, and gave the election of all civic offices to the Mayor and citizens. That his Majesty made the inhabitants of Kilkenny the exclusive objects of his bounty, and limited i the right of citizenship to them only. It stated, that a compact was entered into between two individuals and their respective partisans in the Aldermanic body, to revolutionize the government of this ancient city, and to substitute a narrow, illiberal, and oppressive oligarchy for the excellent Municipal Constitution granted by his Majesty. That this oligarchy con- sisted of two individuals, styling themselves, or styled by their followers, "the heads of the Corporations," and of two select bodies, the Aldermen and Common Council, and resorted to the settled policy of excluding the resident inhabitants from the two select bodies; and that, accordingly, all the inhabitants of this great city are actually excluded, except a quorum, which was made to consist of six Aldermen and nine Councilmen, all the rest of the corporate body being composed of foreigners and absentees. It states, that at the last general election the two select bodies held a meeting on the day preceding the election, at a late and unusual hour of the night, and actually admitted no less than sixty persons, non-residents, and total strangers to the city, in favour of one of the candidates, the nominee of the guardian of the Earl of Dysart, and one of the said proprietors. It states, that the indignation of the populace was with difficulty restrained from excesses at the late election against such strangers and foreigners, whom they considered intruders and invaders of their just rights —that public business is impeded from the want of resident Aldermen and Councilmen, and administration of justice retarded; — that the Sheriffs and Coroners are not annually elected, according to the express provision of the Charter, which would appear, by a reference to the Reports of the Commissioners of Legal Inquiry relating to the office of Sheriffs in Ireland; that the trade and manufactures of the city have been injured, and the city revenues wrested from the citizens, and the greatest abuses and confusion have been introduced into the city since the management and control of the city property have been usurped by a self-interested oligarchy. It states that large grants of property, in lands, tithes and tolls, were made to the Mayor and Citizens from time to time, for the support and improvement of the city, and that those grants, at the present day, would produce an income of at least 10,000l. per annum, and the disposal and expenditure of this ample revenue was expressly confided to the Mayor and Citizens. The petitioners, lastly, complain that this large and ample revenue has been squandered and dissipated— that grants and leases in perpetuity have been made of extensive tracts of land and valuable houses, at nominal rents, to the successive members of the two select bodies; and that this profligate system of corporate rapacity has been carried to such an extent, that the whole of the city property is not now supposed to produce more than 2,000l. per annum;—that of this reduced income, not one-half is disbursed in supporting the City Establishment and defraying all expenses of a public nature —that the residue is applied to the private use of a few individuals, who conceal from the citizens the nature and amount of the corporate property, the mode of expenditure, and arrogantly assume to be free from all responsibility, by which means the poor of the city have been brought to great distress, when, if properly applied, the corporate funds would have afforded ample employment in improving and embellishing the city;—that this system is upheld by an oath of secresy, and that the citizens are excluded from every right and advantage which they justly claimed under their excellent Municipal Constitution. They, therefore, pray, that as the City Constitution granted by Royal Charter has been subverted, the rights and privileges of a populous city has been invaded and monopolized by an oppressive oligarchy, its elective franchise seized upon, its revenues misapplied and dissipated, and finally, inasmuch as the usurpations, abuses, and mischiefs complained of, are at once so multifarious and so enormous in their nature, as to be totally beyond the reach of redress by the ordinary Courts of Justice, the petitioners pray, that the consideration of their case may be referred to a committee, and that the House will provide such remedy, by Statute or otherwise, as has been granted in similar cases, and as will prevent the recurrence of similar usurpations and oppression. Such was the Kilkenny case, said the hon. Member, and he had now to implore the House to hear a few words, which would open their mind to the state of the Corporations of Ireland, and be better than the examination of thousands of witnesses, with their testimonies recorded in folios of blue books. The Corporation of Galway complained that their ancient city, to which Charters upon Charters had been given, which made residence an essential qualification for freedom, had its Corporation reduced to seventy-two Protestant merchants and traders, and 1,800 military and peasant absentees; that their un- rivalled Constitution was subverted—that their rights were transferred to the military, acting under the command of a stranger— and as evidence of the deplorable state to which their ancient city is reduced, they pressed the fact, that the individuals who have exercised influence over the Corporation have alienated and divided the corporate estates amongst themselves, which now yield a revenue of more than 10,000l. a-year, leaving the Corporation without a vestige of property, and not only wholly insolvent, but, as it appears from a decree of the Irish Court of Chancery, upwards of 10,000l. in debt; that the funds for public improvement were not alienated, because from their nature they were inalienable, but that every shilling of them has been misapplied since the year 1793, amounting to upwards of 300,000l., down to last year, when they had been taken into the custody of the Great Seal, for malversation; that the offices of Mayor and Sheriffs have been held by absentees for many years in succession; that the late Mayor was in office for fourteen years, the last Sheriffs for seven years, and that one of the Sheriffs has been permanently absent ever since the year 1793;—that the Church of Galway was established by Charter of the 5th Edward 6th, and is composed of a Warden and eight Vicars (elected by the Protestant freemen); that the said clergy have the ecclesiastical care of the nine parishes, occupying a district of 600 square miles, and comprising 100,000 inhabitants; but notwithstanding this extent, and vast increase of population since the year 1793, eight of those parishes have been left without a single resident clergyman—six of those vicarages have been, during the whole of that period, left vacant, although the income of the Church has increased in the interval from 500l. to 1,800l. a-year, and that the disfranchisement of their Protestant parishioners would leave the appointment of the clergy, as well as that of the Representatives, in the hands of military and peasant absentees. Having thus brought these petitions under the consideration of the House, he would confine himself, for the present, to those exclusively. Petitions from other Irish Corporations he had already presented, and more, he was afraid, it would fall to his lot to present. Was the system of Corporation plunder longer to be endured? He held in his hand a Resolution, passed at a recent public meeting in the City of Kilkenny, stating, that at a period previous to the Union, 4,000 persons, out of a population of 7,000, had been employed in the woollen manufacture; that the population of one parish is now 10,000, and that not more than 100 persons are now employed in that trade, and this even not for one-third of the year; whilst the master-manufacturers are breaking stones on the road—their houses are in ruin, and they themselves reduced to beggary. Was it surprising, these abuses existing since the Union in Ireland, that the population of those great cities should apply to the measure of a repeal of the Union, or to any measure which they considered calculated to alleviate their distress? He relied on it, that it was only in that House that the ardent solicitude for the repeal of that measure could be extinguished or even suppressed. A right hon. and highly and deservedly esteemed Gentleman, the member for Weymouth, had applied to him (Mr. Leader) to know what course he intended to pursue relative to the Kilkenny petition. He had informed him, that he meant to name a day when he should move for a committee, to which the petition should be referred; and that right hon. and learned Member had expressed himself satisfied with that mode of procedure. All he could say upon the subject was, that requiring nothing but an Act of Parliament in aid of the Charter, and strictly conformable to it, and even to the usage of the Corporation, and for correcting the usurpation and abuses which had crept into it, he had but two courses to pursue —and for both of which he had precedents in that House—either to resort to the Bill the present Lord Chancellor of England had formerly introduced to that House, with the view of restoring the ancient law requiring residence in Corporate towns as an essential for the freedom of the elective franchise, or to resort to the precedent of the Limerick Act of Parliament which was brought in about the same time by the hon. member for Limerick. He conceived that no solid objection could be offered to his adoption of the wise and salutary measure which had originated with that gifted and quick-sighted individual, who was as ready to apply remedies to existing abuses as he was intelligent in discovering them; but inasmuch as his Lordship's measure did not embrace the regulation of offices, or secure the due administration of the Corporate revenues, but was confined to the elective franchise; and as he (Mr. Leader) looked for a practical redress of admitted abuses, and to prevent the malversation of the public revenue of the City, he preferred adopting the precedent which had passed into a law in the Limerick case, and claimed the benefit of that precedent because he could bring forward facts equally strong to warrant it. So satisfied was he of the merits and justice of the Kilkenny petitioners, that he would fearlessly submit their petition, and hereafter the Bill for their relief, to the able and distinguished Gentleman who had appeared to him to feel an interest in the preservation of the Corporate rights of the City of Kilkenny. He disclaimed every intention of intermeddling injuriously with vested rights. He would not seek any innovations. He wanted no unconstitutional exercise of power. He only desired to make the rights and property confirmed by Charter auxiliary to the great work of improving and embellishing an ancient City, and enable it again to compete with cities which had been more honestly and wisely governed. He wished, when a universal call was making for the repeal of the Union in Ireland, to show them, that the British Parliament was not wholly indifferent to the just causes of Irish complaint.

The Earl of Ossory

said, that he was afraid many of the statements contained in the petitions were exaggerated, but at the same time he hoped that the hon. Gentleman would persist in referring them to a committee. Nothing could more conduce to the peace of that part of the country than a full understanding of the subject.

Mr. O'Connell

was glad to hear such sentiments fall from the noble Lord, whose family was so much connected with that part of the country. He did not rise to enter into this subject at present, but to put a question to the noble Lord (Althorp) on a subject of considerable importance to the country. His question was founded on a declaration which he had heard made by the noble Lord who was at the head of the law in this kingdom, that the learned Baron now at the head of the Court of Exchequer was not competent to discharge the duties of the situation. A similar case occurred in one of the Courts in Ireland, and he alone had petitioned against the continuance of that Judge in office. It was of the utmost importance that persons filling such high stations in our Law Courts should be in every respect fully competent to perform the duties of their office. He had heard a rumour, which he hoped might turn out to be correct, that the place of Chief Baron was to be conferred on a noble and learned person, than whom he knew of no man better qualified to preside over a Court of Common Law. The question which he was about to ask had been asked in another place, but not feeling satisfied with the answer there given, he wished to put it to the noble Lord, from whom he hoped to get a satisfactory answer. What he wanted to know was, whether the Chief Baron of the Exchequer had resigned, or was about to resign that office?

Lord Althorp

,—In answer to the hon. and learned Member's question, I say that I do not know, but I believe he is not.

Lord Killeen, referring to the petitions presented by the hon. and learned member for Kilkenny, said that some of the petitioners were for a repeal of the Union, that he was aware that those who were very zealous in support of that question were not actuated by any feeling of disloyalty. They no doubt were strongly impressed that a federal union of the two kingdoms, under the Crown of England, would be greatly for the advantage of Ireland, and that a Parliament resident in Dublin would be found a remedy for much of the distress that existed in Ireland. If he thought that it would have these effects, he would cordially join with those who supported it; but the connexion of Ireland with England was calculated to promote the prosperity of both; and he feared that the connexion would be weakened by the repeal of the Union. As a Representative of a populous place, he felt it his duty to express his opinion on this important question. He was fully aware of what might be the consequence of such a declaration, for he felt that a repeal of the Union would, at the next election in Ireland, be made the touchstone of most candidates, and though he might become the victim of this declaration, he felt it due to himself and to those who sent him to Parliament, to make it. He valued popular opinion as much as any man, and he hoped that in the short time during which he had had the honour of a seat in that House, he had endeavoured to do his duty; but there, as well as elsewhere, he did not think he ought to profess any opinions but those he really held.

The petitions ordered to be printed.