Beresford presented a Petition from Carrickbeg, praying for a Repeal of the Legislative Union between England and Ireland.
said, that he had been instructed by his constituents to support this Petition; with the prayer of which he heartily concurred. There were facts connected with the town from which it came, that well illustrated the effects of the Legislative Union. In the year 1810 there were 7,800 persons supported in that town by the coarse woollen manufacture alone; while at present there were not seven persons maintained by it. This town was placed in the happiest situation for every species of commerce, both externally and internally. It was situated at the junction of three noble rivers, and the finest and richest plain in the world extended from it. Yet it was now in the most miserable st e of decay—he would say, decrepitude. He was glad to say, that Protestants as well as Roman Catholics, of Carrickbeg, had united in signing 584 the petition; and he trusted they would join hereafter in all other objects. He was of opinion that the repeal of the Union would be, at least, as advantageous to England as to Ireland. It would free England from the burthen of Irish labourers; which, by depreciating the value of native labour, was, perhaps more influential than any other cause in producing the disturbances in the English counties. Complaints were made in that House last Session as to the pressure of this burthen, they had not been repeated this Session, and if they were, he would say at once, that if the money of Irishmen was spent in Ireland, the income of England would not be taxed for the support of Irish labourers.
§ Lord George Beresford
said, he did not concur in the prayer of the petition. He denied that the Union had caused the decay of the woollen manufacture in Carrickbeg. The manufactures had been bad, and although admonished by their customers, the manufacturers continued to supply a bad article; and in consequence of this it was that Carrickbeg lost its owollen trade.
§ Sir J. Newport
said, that as he had been prevented by severe indisposition from declaring his opinion on this question when it formerly came under the notice of the House, he would avail himself of that opportunity to state distinctly what it was. His decided conviction was, that the repeal of the Union would be attended by consequences the most deplorable to Ireland. He had always looked upon the Union as a measure which, once passed, was irrevocable; and he knew that it had been so considered by those great and illustrious men who had been its greatest opponents. It had always been asserted by Mr. Grattan, and by the most eminent men who had acted with him, that the measure of the Union, being once passed, could not afterwards be repealed. His opinion was very different from that of the hon. member for Waterford, respecting the effects which the Union had produced upon Ireland. A great many consequences had been attributed to the Union, which did not properly belong to it. He believed that many abuses which existed before the Union, and much of the misgovernment of the local Parliament of Ireland, were falsely attributed to the Union; and when Gentlemen called for the repeal of the Union, he begged leave to remind them, that he was old enough to recollect that many of those who now joined in that cry were 585 formerly the loudest in the reprobation of the local Parliament. He had never had a seat in that Parliament, and therefore he was not liable to any imputations which might be cast upon it for passing the Union. He had always considered that measure as growing out of the circumstances in which the country was then placed; but, whatever might have been his opinion as to the original character of that event, he had never varied for one moment from the opinion, that once having been assented to, it should be looked on as irrevocable. He understood that an hon. Gentleman had said, that never was there one beneficial Act for Ireland passed by the United Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland. Now he (Sir R. Newport) would turn to one Act,—he meant the Corn Intercourse Act of 1806,—which he defied the hon. Gentleman to denounce as an Act not beneficial to Ireland. When he informed the House that that Act alone had doubled the agriculture of Ireland, he claimed merit for the United Parliament so unjustly calumniated, and for himself, who had been the humble instrument of carrying it through that. House. That Act he brought as a proof that the interests of Ireland were not neglected in the United Parliament. He begged pardon for intruding so long upon the attention of the House; but he was anxious to declare the opinions which he entertained upon this subject in opposition to many even of his respectable countrymen. He always felt regret when he had occasion to differ from his constituents; but having been returned to that House, he considered himself as the Representative of the people at large, and bound to consult not private but general interests. He had never professed that he would make his sentiments conform on all questions to the wishes of his constituents; on the contrary, he had always avowed, and he still would avow, that he would discharge his duty honourably and fairly according to the dictates of his own unbiassed judgment.
§ Lord Nugent
ridiculed the idea that the distress now prevalent in some counties of England was owing in any degree which the House could notice to the irruption of Irish labourers upon their labouring population. The fact was, that the distress felt in the agricultural districts was always felt most severely in the winter. In the summer the value of labour increased, the rate of wages became higher, and the distress 586 gradually vanished; and yet it was the summer months during which the great influx of Irish labourers came to our shores, and the winter months during which they were nearly all absent from them.
Sir Robert Bateson
condemned the agitation of the question of repealing the Union, as a course calculated, beyond all others, to excite religious and political animosities in Ireland. He contended, that all men of good sense, good feeling, respectable character, and independent property in Ireland, were opposed to the mooting of it. As a proof of his assertion, he alluded to the proceedings of a public meeting recently held at Belfast, where every man of education, intelligence, opulence, and respectability in the town, no matter what were his religious opinions or political creed, had joined in declaring themselves opposed to a repeal of the Union. If such a measure should unfortunately meet with the approbation of Parliament, which he could not by any possibility anticipate, they would have a hundred paupers for every individual pauper whom they had in Ireland at the present moment.
§ Mr. O'Connell
said, that as this petition came from his constituents, he should move that it be printed. He then told the House that the hon. member for Londonderry (Sir Robert Bateson) was greatly misinformed when he stated that there had been a public meeting at Belfast which had condemned even the agitation of the question of repealing the Union. There had been a meeting of some gentlemen at a room in that town; but there had been no public meeting, and their opponents had taunted those gentlemen for not having dared to convene a public meeting of their townsmen on that question. As to the agitation of the repeal being likely to excite religious and political animosity in Ireland, he begged leave most explicitly to deny it. The fact was directly the reverse; it had contributed, more than any measure with which he was acquainted, to put an end to all religious and personal animosities. As a proof of it, he would mention, that since he had brought forward the agitation of this great and important question, he had had several votes of thanks presented to him by bodies of Orangemen—one in particular by a Mr. Richardson, of Dublin— and of such votes of thanks he was more 587 proud than of any others which he had received in the whole course of his political life. He contended that every man of talent, independence, and wealth, not merely in Dublin, but throughout Ireland, was anxious to obtain a repeal of the Union. He denied that the great men who had opposed the passing of the Union had ever considered it as an irrevocable measure when once passed. He gave that denial to the hon. Baronet's assertion on the authority of a printed speech of Lord Plunkett, who had declared that he would resist the Union to its last stage, and would educate his children in the deepest hostility to it. As to the benefits of the measure he believed they were all confined to absentee landlords. The measure to which the right hon. Baronet had referred had increased the rents of the landlords, but not the comforts of the people. He was sorry to hear the noble Lord condemn the manufacture of Carrickbeg, for his father had appeared at Court in a suit of the cloth made there. He was convinced that the repeal of the Union would be most advantageous to both countries, and it was agitated by the great body of the intelligent people of Ireland.
Sir R. Bateson
said, he must positively contradict what had fallen from the hon. member for Waterford. There had been a public meeting at Belfast, at which those present came unanimously to a resolution against agitating the question of the repeal of the Union. The great town of Belfast was decidedly against entertaining that mischievous project.
§ Mr. Moore
said, that he could not hear the hon. member for Waterford make such statements as he had ventured upon that evening without giving that hon. and learned Member the most positive and the most decided contradiction. The opinions which prevailed in Ireland with regard to the repeal of the Union, were, as every body who was acquainted with Ireland must be aware, directly the reverse of what the hon. and learned Member had represented them to be. Instead of the wealth, and the respectability, and the talent of Ireland being friendly to a repeal of the Union, he would venture to say,— in the presence of Irish Members, and without fear of contradiction from any but the hon. and learned member for Waterford,—that all the genuine commercial activity—all that could be fairly included in the respectability, and all that could 588 be properly called the talent of Ireland— were loud in expressing disapprobation at agitating such a question as the repeal of the Legislative Union between the two countries. The hon. and learned Member had said, that there was, in Dublin, a strong feeling in favour of the repeal of the Union. He not only denied that assertion, but would venture to say, that there was not, in that city, any one intelligent being, capable of understanding' the question, and of appreciating the disastrous consequences which must result from the repeal of the Union, who would not be ready to sacrifice all he possessed in order to preserve the Union inviolate. The hon. and learned Member had said, that the Orangemen of Ireland were favourable to the repeal of the Union; but this was perhaps the most unfounded of the statements which the hon. and learned Member had made, and he begged to give it the most broad and the most unqualified contradiction. Among the lowest class of the population of Ireland, there might, very likely, be that feeling which the hon. and learned Member had vainly endeavoured to persuade the House pervaded the respectable and intelligent Members of the Irish community. And it was no wonder that among the lower classes this feeling existed, for great pains had been taken to inculcate delusions upon them. The first of these delusions was, that the repeal of the Union must be carried, and that nothing could prevent it being carried. Now, when this representation, which they who made it must know to be untrue, was made to an ignorant and easily-excited population—and when the examples of Paris and of Brussels were held up to them as examples which they should imitate, he would put it to the House, whether the most dangerous consequences were not likely to ensue. He should not have been tempted to make these observations, if the hon. and learned member for Waterford had given them any hope that, by a specific motion, they should have an opportunity of dispelling this delusion by their votes. The hon. and learned Member would not give them any such opportunity, and therefore he could only hope, that every Member of that House, and every respectable member of the Irish community, would embrace all opportunities that might occur of expressing their decided disapprobation of agitating so hopeless and so mischievous a project as 589 the repeal of the Legislative Union with Ireland.
Sir A. Chichester
rose for the purpose of contradicting the hon. and learned member for Waterford, who had said that no public meeting had been called at Belfast on this subject.
l.—I did not say that no public meeting had been called. I said that no meeting had been called by public advertisement.
Sir A. Chichester
said, that a most numerous and respectable meeting at Belfast had come unanitnously to a resolution against discussing this question, because they were convinced that the discussion of it would be highly injurious. He could answer for this being the opinion of the north of Ireland.
sincerely deprecated the agitation of this question. He could not concur with the hon. member for Dublin in wishing that it were brought before the House by a specific motion, because he thought that by that means the agitation of it in Ireland would be increased.
§ Petition to be printed.