HC Deb 12 November 1830 vol 1 cc491-3
Sir Henry Hardinge

moved for leave to bring in a Bill for taking an Account of the Population of Ireland. The Bill would be, in substance, the same as the Bill passed for taking an account of the population of Ireland in 1815, the returns under which were made in 1821. He proposed to make a few alterations in it, agreeably to the suggestions of his hon. friend the member for Queen's County, who had paid great attention to the subject. He had given his valuable assistance in framing the Bill, and it would probably effect its object more completely, and with more regularity, than the former Bill. It might be interesting to Gentlemen to know the increase which had taken place in the population of Ireland since the first returns were made on the subject. By the first known account of the population of that country furnished by Sir William Petty, in 1672—the population was 1,100,000. In 1731, a census was taken by an order of the Irish House of Lords, and then the population was 2,010,000. In 1785, by the population returns then made, it appeared that the people amounted to 2,845,000. In 1812 an Act was passed for taking an account of the population, and it was supposed that, from various causes, the returns made under that Act, which were made by the Grand Juries, were not quite correct. Those returns were made in 1813, and by them the population amounted to 5,537,000. But the system then pursued was so inefficient that no great reliance could be placed on the result. In 1815, another Act was passed for the same purpose, but the care of taking the census was given into the hands of the Bench of Magistrates in counties instead of those of the Grand Juries. The bench of Magistrates, with the valuable aid of the Assistant-barristers, made the returns under the Act in 1821. Those returns were supposed to be very accurate, and by them the population was estimated at 6,801,827. This was supposed to have been a very perfect census. According to the returns under that Bill, comparing them with the census of 1731, it would appear that the population had rather more than trebled itself in ninety years. It had been mentioned in a late Report, drawn up he believed, by his hon. friend the member for Limerick, that the population had doubled itself in forty-five or forty-six years. He had no other observations to make; but, when the Bill was brought in, he should most willingly attend to the suggestions of any hon. Member who took an interest in the subject. If any Gentleman wished for information which was useful, and which could be acquired by means of this Bill, without rendering it too complicated, he should be happy to attend to his suggestions.

Mr. O'Connell

begged to remark, that an account was taken in 1635, of the amount of the Irish population, which was then stated at 3,000,000; fifty years afterwards, when the calculation was made by Sir William Petty, the population had diminished nearly to the amount of 2,000,000. The decrease took place during the civil wars in Ireland, and suggested a frightful reflection as to the sanguinary character of those wars. Sir William Petty's accounts, however, were mere calculations. No census was taken until 1815. The gross numbers were given, but the results were not sufficiently accurate. The last census was greatly under the real amount. This was demonstrated by what afterwards occurred. At the time when great distress was felt in Ireland, and subscriptions made to relieve the sufferers, the number actually relieved in the county of Mayo, greatly exceeded, by no less than 35,000 persons, the total amount of the recorded population of that country. Of course, none of the better classes received charitable assistance; so that in that county it is demonstrated that the census fell short of the real population by at least 50,000 persons. He should suggest that this census should be made to discriminate, which the former did not, the religion of the inhabitants, so that the number professing different religions might be known. There were reasons—political reasons—why this should not be done in the last census; but those reasons were now totally at an end. No improper, and, indeed, no political motive could be gratified now by obtaining this information. An attempt had been made to procure information of this description in different counties in England; but the returns had not been satisfactory from any county, with the exception of Lancashire. As far as he understood the relative numbers of the different persuasions, it was impossible he thought that the temporalities of the Irish Church should remain as at present. If popular opinion was to have any weight, the arrangement must be corrected.

Bill ordered to be brought in.