HC Deb 29 August 1831 vol 6 cc768-71
Mr. O'Connell

presented a Petition from the Inhabitants of the Union of Radheen, in the Queen's County, complaining of the expenses to which they were subjected under the Vestry Act, for building and repairing the church of the parish, at the caprice of a few individuals. The petitioners were chiefly Catholics, and they stated, that the Rector of this parish was an absentee, though he derived an income of 1,5001. per annum from the parish.

Sir John Newport

complained of the system pursued in Ireland for rebuilding churches, which gave rise to a number of complete jobs. The laws relating to them should be made to conform to those of England. The churches were often so badly constructed, as not to last more than thirty or forty years. These abuses were resorted to, in order to favour certain indi- viduals. When he considered the powers granted by the Act of George 1st, he thought it was the duty of the Bishops to see, that the churches were kept in repair. The Catholics ought not to be called upon to rebuild churches which had been suffered to decay, from the neglect or bad management of the clergy of the Established Church.

Mr. Hume

said, that a great portion of the disquiet of Ireland arose from the eternal warfare that was carried on upon this subject. Nothing but the point of the bayonet could compel the Irish to pay these arbitrary and oppressive church taxes. He wished to know of Government, how long the law was to remain in its present state?

Mr. Stanley

had introduced a bill connected with these subjects in the last Session of Parliament. But the hon. and learned member for Kerry then said, that the Amendments proposed by that measure were so small as to be really worth nothing, and that some parts of it were positive insults to the Roman Catholics. He thought, on the contrary, that the Bill would effect considerable improvements in the law, and would prove highly beneficial to the Roman Catholics. But he met with so much opposition from hon. Gentlemen from whom he expected support, that he was unable to carry the measure before the dissolution; and since the meeting of the present Parliament, there had been no time to introduce it.

Mr. Lefroy

deprecated the manner in which some Gentlemen were in the habit of referring to the affairs of Ireland. The mode in which the Established Church was spoken of was the real cause of all the existing asperity. The first breach which that House should consent to, of that article in the Act of Union by which the rights of the Established Church in Ireland were declared and guaranteed, would be a leading measure to the dissolution of the Union between Great Britain and Ireland.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the argument of the hon. and learned member for the Irish University, that any alteration of the rights and powers of the Established Church, as settled by the Act of Union, was a dissolution of the Union, would prove, that the Union had been already dissolved. For, since the passing of that Act, three several Statutes had been enacted, altering indeed, but in- creasing the powers of the Protestant Church. By one of those Statutes, Catholics were excluded from voting at vestries, and allowed only to attend them and remonstrate or protest against the decisions of the Protestants. Now, what was the result of this exclusive system? The Vestry of the parish of St. Andrew, in Dublin, voted a salary of 4001. a year out of the parish funds to one of the curates. But a spirited individual refused to pay his portion of the assessment, and determined to try the question at his own cost. The case was tried first before the Recorder, and afterwards in the Court of King's Bench, where it was decided, that the vote of the Vestry was illegal. But that was not all. The gentleman who defeated the Vestry had to pay his own heavy costs out of his own pocket, and the Vestry threw upon the parish their costs (200l.) that is, the costs incurred in defending the illegal conduct of the Vestry itself against the parishioners. Nor did they stop there. They had this year voted salaries amounting to 300l. a year to two additional Curates, notwithstanding the decision obtained against them last year in the Court of King's Bench; and when the Catholic parishioners remonstrated, they told them to make another appeal if they liked. They knew that they were protected by the power, to throw the expenses of the appeal upon the appellants, and the costs of the defence upon the parish at large.

Mr. Crampton

regretted, that the hon. and learned Gentleman should be induced to make hasty or exaggerated statements against the Established Church of Ireland, especially as such statements had a very dangerous tendency in the present state of that country. On that occasion he (Mr. Crampton) was able to correct the statement respecting the Vestry of St. Andrew's. The case was this:—Two Curates had been appointed, and their services were necessary on account of the extent of the parish. But the salary which they received from the Rector was quite inadequate, and therefore, under an old Act of Parliament, the majority of the parishioners had a right to give them additional remuneration.

Mr. O'Connell

The majority of the Protestant parishioners only.

Mr. Crampton

The case mentioned by the hon. Gentleman was never brought before the Court of King's Bench, and he (Mr. Crampton) did not hesitate to say, that he thought the Recorder had exceeded his power in the decision which he made against the Vestry.

Mr. James Grattan

was a parishioner of St. Andrew's, and could undertake to correct the statement of the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland. He could assure the House, that the statement of the hon. member for Kerry was perfectly accurate, and that there were found upon the parish books of St. Andrew's many votes of the Vestry that were decided to be wholly illegal. He (Mr. Grattan) had resisted an assessment, and having acted under the advice of eminent counsel, he obliged the clergy to abandon the advantages which the Vestry had illegally given them. The dissenters throughout Ireland complained as much as the Catholics of the operation of the Vestry Laws.

Mr. Spring Rice

reminded the House, and especially the Irish Members, of the arrangement which had been agreed to, that he should that evening have an opportunity of voting some of the Irish estimates, which were very pressing.

Mr. O'Connell,

in moving that the petition be printed, explained, that he just now perceived that the case which he had mentioned respecting the parish of St. Andrew had been (as the Irish Solicitor General stated) decided by the Recorder, and not by the Court of King's Bench. What had caused an erroneous impression upon his mind to that extent was, that the appellant was compelled to obtain a mandamus from the Court of King's Bench, to compel the Vestry to allow him to inspect the parish books. But how did that alter the case, or give it any colour favourable to the Vestry? Of the 2001. costs with which, as he had said, the parish was saddled, 1301. were incurred in supporting the illegal and unjust refusal of the Vestry to allow a parishioner to inspect the books.

Petition to be printed.