§ Mr. Leader
presented a Petition from certain inhabitants of the town of Galway, which Stated, that although the disqualifications generally affecting his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects had been repealed, yet the Roman Catholic mercantile and trading classes of Galway still continued an isolated exception to the general boon, being as yet excluded from the elective franchise, as enjoyed by their ancestors in common with Protestants before the enactment of the penal code, and as exercised even at the present day by their Protestant fellow-citizens. The petition also stated, that since 1793 the franchise had fallen into the hands of an absentee peasantry, at present amounting to nearly 2,000 in number, to the entire destruction of any power in the Protestant mercantile classes, and to the utter exclusion of the Roman Catholics, who could not become free, from the want of Protestant freemen to whom they might serve apprenticeships. He had presented a petition against the Corporation of Athlone, and the present was the second intrusted to him against corporate usurpation in Ireland, and the conversion of public funds to private purposes. A third petition he had also to present, but which he should for the present abstain from doing, as he intended to make a specific motion to have it referred to a Select Committee when a Government was formed. That petition was from the city of Kilkenny, offering proof at the bar of the House that, like what had taken place in Galway, land, of the clear yearly value of 10,000l. had been, since the Union, converted to any purpose but that of sheltering the houseless poor, or giving employment to the people, as originally intended by their charters. Here was an instance of one of the most ancient and opulent cities in Ireland, and of a maritime town, admirably situated for foreign and domestic trade, both crushed in their industry, and actually chained 592 down to poverty, by corporate usurpation and abominable dereliction of trust. If, since the Union, the Corporations of Galway and Kilkenny had expended these sums, which would have amounted to more than half a million, on the improvement of their ancient cities, and had by then-example animated others to spend larger sums, the consequence might have been, that the Members for Ireland would now have had to represent one of the happiest, instead of one of the most destitute countries in Europe, and need not entertain apprehensions of having all the popularity of their lives sacrificed for not urging the repeal of a Union, which many were disposed to believe had emboldened these Corporations to violate their charters, and despoil the people of their liberties and their wealth. He hoped a new King, a new Parliament, and a new Ministry, would no longer delude both countries by voluminous reports, but fearlessly declare, that the entire exports of the landed produce of Ireland were little enough to meet the claims on the country from absentees and the taxes; and that it was full time for corporate funds to be husbanded for the interests of the people, local taxation to be reduced, and tithes to be commuted.
Sir John Bourke
supported the prayer of the petition. He had been also intrusted with a petition on the same subject from Galway, and he had only deferred presenting it in order that he might know whether it was the intention of his hon. friend, the member for Limerick, to bring forward again the Galway Franchise Bill.
§ Petition to be printed.