HC Deb 22 March 1830 vol 23 cc701-8
Mr. O'Connell

, in presenting a Petition, very numerously and respectably signed, from the in-habitants of the city of Drogheda, praying for a Repeal of the Act of Union, through which they alleged that Ireland was suffering incalculable mischief, observed, that the petitioners referred to the total disregard shewn by the United Parliament to the local interests of Ireland, as a proof of their assertions. The Sub-letting Act, the Vestries' Act, the disfranchising of the 40s. freeholders were all passed in contempt of the local interests of that country. Jobs were encouraged, and grievances un-redressed. The colonies had local legislatures, but Ireland was governed by the English Parliament. He moved that the Petition be brought up.

Mr. Vanhomrigh,

as we understood, denied that the Petition expressed the sense of the influential portion of the inhabitants of Drogheda; and adverting to a petition presented the other evening, by Mr. O'Connell, respecting the abuses in the Charitable Foundations of Drogheda, which the hon. Gentleman had stated to be worth twenty thousand pounds a year, accusing the corporation of misappropriating funds to that amount, he declared, that the hon. Gentleman had come to erroneous conclusions from very ill-founded premises. He was distinctly authorized to deny the hon. Member's charge; he had inquired into the circumstances, and that charge was without foundation.

Sir C. Wetherell

thought, that a petition for the repeal of the Union with Ireland, mischievous and absurd as it was, seemed also so clearly an attack on the principles of the Constitution, of which that Union now formed a part, that he for one should call on the House to reject the Petition at once. For that purpose he should now move that the Petition be read. No Member for Scotland would venture to rise in that House, and propose a repeal of the Union with Scotland; and yet could any Member say what was the difference between that Act and the Union Act of Ireland. It was no party question, but one which involved the integrity of the King's dominions. It was a violation of constitutional law, which no man could gainsay, who was not an enemy and a traitor to his country. He moved that the Petition be distinctly and audibly read.

Sir M. W. Ridley

saw no objection to the Petition being received. There was no Parliamentary law which forbade it; and as to its prayer attacking the Constitution, they ought to recollect that they received petitions against the Parliament itself, which was also a part of the Constitution. The Union was an act of the Legislature, which the Legislature might repeal. He did not say that it would be prudent or politic to review that measure, but he protested against the doctrine that there was any law or practice which made the presentation of such a petition an impropriety.

Mr. Moore

, adverting to the petition presented by the hon. Member for Clare, from the City of Drogheda, on a former evening, said, he was instructed to say that the statements of the hon. Member respecting the Charitable Fund of the Corporation— taken, of course, from that petition—were wholly unfounded. The Corporation challenged inquiry, and was willing to submit to the most rigid investigation.

Mr. Lockhart

thought, the question respecting the repeal of the Union with Ireland of too much importance to be disposed of hastily; it involved the dismemberment of his Majesty's dominions, and therefore he should move, that the debate on the Petition be adjourned till Wednesday next.

Mr. Secretary Peel

confessed he did not feel much surprise at the doubts expressed by the hon. Member for the City of Oxford (Mr. Lockhart). and the hon. Member for Plympton (Sir C. Wetherell) respecting the propriety of receiving a petition in support of a project so mad and so absurd—so utterly destructive of the prosperity of Ireland, and so much calculated to injure the integrity of the Empire—as that of a repeal of the Act of Union. He repeated, he was not surprised at the opinions of these hon. Members, but at the same time he doubted whether it would be proper to depart from the general Parliamentary rule, and refuse to receive the Petition. He did not apprehend that the Petition proposed a diminution of the Empire, or a separation of Ireland from the control and government vested in the Sovereign of this country. Ireland was a portion of the British Empire; the King of England was also the King of Ireland before any Act of Union was thought of: and the Petition, he supposed, merely prayed that the two countries should be placed with respect to each other in the same situation as they were before the Act of Union was passed. He doubted, therefore, whether they could, according to the forms of Parliaments, reject the Petition; but while he gave his vote for the reception of the Petition, he could not find terms strong enough to express his reprobation of the prayer of that petition, or his sense of the renewal of attempts to disturb the minds of the ignorant portion of the people by a representation of advantages to result from the possession of a Parliament in Ireland. The sentiments of the people of both countries had been freely and fairly expressed in the formation of the Union between the two countries. That Union was finally consolidated by the repeal of all those disabilities under which the great portion of the inhabitants of that country laboured, in comparison with those of England; and he repeated, that he could not find terms to express the strong disgust and reprobation with which he viewed the attempts made to separate them. When all good men were congratulating themselves on the return of that tranquillity which they sought to promote, and which had followed the healing measure of last year, when all denominations of Irishmen were allowed free access to every department of the State; when advantages had been conferred on them, such as they never before possessed, it was too much that all the old feelings of discord were to be revived for the gratification of some individuals, by such injurious and incorrect assumptions as formed the basis of that petition. At the same time that he could not too strongly express his abhorrence of its prayer and its object, he saw no reason for refusing to receive the Petition.

Mr. O'Connell

was very sorry that the discussion which took place on another petition should have been mixed up with the very important question now before the House. He believed that the hon. Member for Drogheda was not present at the time the former petition was presented. If he had been, he would have known that he (Mr. O'Connell) did not say the revenues for the purposes of charity in the hands of the Corporation amounted to 20,000l. a year, or anything like it. He merely said that properties belonging to the Charities had been alienated and disposed of, which, if they were to let now, would produce 20,000l. a year, and that even still there were sufficient funds left in the hands of the Corporation for charitable purposes if they were properly administered. The petition was signed by some of the most respectable of those persons whom the hon. Member, no doubt, thought it an honour to represent. As to the question of the petition for the dissolution of the Legislative Union with Ireland, he totally differed from the hon. Member for Plympton, with respect to the regularity of that petition, and the object for which it prayed. He did not see any reason for depriving Ireland of a separate legislature, any more than Canada, Halifax, or Jamaica, where independent Representatives were permitted to deliberate on the local interests of the people. This he thought was as advantageous to the one country as to the other; and he believed the day was not far distant when the friends of Ireland and England would unite in their consent to the repeal of the Union; and that it would be hailed as an advantage by the best friends of both countries. Ireland, from the moment it obtained an independent legislature, rose in power and importance; improving its agriculture, and extending its manufactures with greater rapidity than had ever been exhibited by any other country in the same time. But the advantages of that situation were afterwards lost. The opinions spread abroad by the French Revolution, which created divisions between man and man, unhappily excited a rebellion which paved the way for the Union. The new-born energies of Ireland were laid low by her own dissensions, and the Act of Union had ever since prevented the revival of them. In forming that Union, the opinions and feelings of the people of Ireland were not taken into consideration, nor were the good sense and interests of the people of Eng- land fairly consulted. His opinion was, that if England wanted consumers for her productions, Ireland should be possessed of an independent legislature, for that alone could restore the prosperity of her people. As for the unfortunate petitioners, who had evoked such a storm of indignation, and who were ranked as traitors and enemies, he must say, that they were as patriotic and as loyal as their opponents. They were as honest in the opinions they entertained, which he shared, as any of the hon. Members who espoused very different opinions. At all events he would say, that he had heard no reason why a local legislature would not be as advantageous for Ireland, as for Canada or Jamaica.

Sir C. Wetherell

again declared, that a petition praying to dissolve the Union with Ireland was something little short of treason, and insisted that it should not be received. If the hon. Member for Clare thought the Act of Union should be repealed, let him move for leave to bring in a bill for that purpose, and he would see how the House would meet it. He thought he could guess its fate; but he objected now, on the threshold, to the reception of this petition, which was a sort of sidewind,—a subterraneous movement,—to do by a dark, insidious course what no hon. Member would have the hardihood to propose specifically.

Mr. Bernal

expressed an opinion, that the hon. Member for Plympton was mistaken in the judgment he pronounced with respect to the Petition. He saw no reason why the House should depart from its usual courtesy on that occasion: when any hon. Member brought forward a measure to dismember the Kingdom, it would be time enough to raise the voice of reprobation, or to move an act of impeachment.

The Attorney General

saw no objection to the Petition being received, although he condemned its object.

Mr. Hobhouse

was also in favour of its being received.

Mr. Trant

thought the people of Ireland should take care how they presented sectarian petitions of this kind, because it might happen that those who passed the measure of last Session for the relief of the Roman Catholics, would, from such petitions, see the necessity of repealing that Act, and excluding all Catholics from the House. It was time too for the Protestants of Ireland to think of moving for the repeal of that Bill, to prevent their being handed over, bound hand and foot, to the Catholic population of that country.

Sir J. Newport

said, that whatever might have been his opinion of the Union formerly, he was convinced that the repeal of the Act now would be productive of the most mischievous effects. It was his deliberate opinion, and he spoke it advisedly, than any attempt to cause its repeal now would be fraught with the destruction of Ireland, and the deep injury of England. He deprecated the remarks of the hon. Member, calculated as they were to interfere with that harmony and spirit of good feeling which he was delighted to find had so rapidly followed the passing of last year's beneficent measure. Ireland was now tranquillized and prosperous by the removal of all political disabilities, and it was most desirable that no subject of agitation should be introduced there. He hoped the House would receive the Petition, and put an end to that unavailing conversation.

Mr. Portman

was averse to the adjournment of the debate on a question which could not be considered important after what they had heard, but as the Petition was respectfully worded, he saw no objection to its being received.

Mr. Brownlow

observed, that if the feelings of the people of Ireland were really averse to the continuance of the Union, he was persuaded that those feelings could not be put down by the rejection of the present Petition; which would be the sure method of kindling a still stronger spirit of hostility in their minds. For his part, however, he did not think that the existence of such feelings was to be apprehended to any great extent. The interests of all classes in Ireland were so identified with the continuance of the Union, that he was satisfied that there was no general disposition to attack it, and he trusted that the hon. and learned Member for Clare would abandon the wild speculation in which he had embarked on that subject, and would devote his talents to some better and more useful purpose.

Mr. Hume

said, he was one of those who wished to cement and strengthen the union between the two countries. At the same time he thought that feelings and opinions had been ascribed to his hon. and learned friend, the Member for Clare, without any just cause. As to the Petition, it appeared to him that to reject it would be to put an end to one of the most valuable rights of the subject. He was much surprised to hear his hon. and learned friend who opposed the Petition, state opinions so contrary to those which he had at other times advanced in the House. He hoped the amendment would be withdrawn. He was astonished at the expressions of reprobation which the right hon. Gentleman had used towards his hon. and learned friend, the Member for Clare. So he understood them. He perfectly agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, that to promote the separation of the two countries would be most injurious; but the right of the people to tender their opinions to the House upon the subject was quite a distinct question.

Mr. Secretary Peel

, in explanation, denied that he had ever contended against the right of the people to express their opinions on that or any other subject. On the contrary, he had contended for that right. But while he had admitted the right, he had also declared that he could not find language strong enough to express his reprobation of the doctrines which the petitioners maintained. With respect to what the hon. and learned Gentleman had said of the separate legislatures of Jamaica, Halifax, and Canada, it must be remembered that, although they had separate legislatures, they were still parts of the United Kingdom. He wished to ask the hon. and learned Member for Clare, if he knew anything of the names that were affixed to the Petition? They appeared to have been signed in a moment of conviviality rather than at a serious meeting of freeholders. For instance, there was the name of "Paddy Bray," followed by that of "Billy Powder Bray."

Mr. O'Connell

said, that those were the names of two of the registered freeholders of the town in which the meeting was held.

Mr. Lockhart

, yielding to what appeared to be the general feeling of the House, withdrew his amendment.

The Petition brought up and read.

Mr. O'Connell

, in moving that the Petition should lie on the Table, took the opportunity of refuting the charge that it was a Petition of a sectarian character, or concealed anything, or sought to attain by covert means, an object which the petitioners did not dare avow. He had not had anything to do with the formation of the Petition; it had been sent him by post, and he knew nothing of its existence till he received it. In presenting it to the House, he had stated its contents, scarcely offering any opinion of his own on the measure it alluded to, till other Members had made their remarks on it, and on him. Adverting to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Dover, he begged to observe to him, that even if that event which the hon. Member seemed to consider so impossible—a repeal of the Union with Ireland—were to take place, it would give to Ireland a House of Peers 156 in number, not six of whom would be Roman Catholics. He repeated, therefore, that the Petition was not a sectarian one. One of the signatures was that of a Protestant. As to the question respecting the repeal of the Union, he was not aware that any expressions had fallen from him on the subject which could be construed into a disposition that he sought illegally to effect that object. It would, indeed, be unbecoming in him to use any other than constitutional language on such a subject; but nothing under Heaven should deter him from looking forward to what would be at once highly useful and beneficial to Ireland, and not at all injurious to this country.

Mr. Trant

said, he considered that the repeal of the Union would bestow the government of Ireland on the Roman Catholics.