HC Deb 14 September 1831 vol 7 cc20-6
Mr. O'Connell

presented a Petition from the Roman Catholics of Killasty in the county of Tipperary, praying that persons of every religious persuasion in Ireland might be compelled to pay their own clergy, and that the property in the hands of the Church might be resumed, and applied to national purposes.

Sir Richard Vyvyan

begged to ask the hon. and learned member for Kerry, what he meant, or what the petitioners meant, by the Church property being resumed?

Mr. O'Connell

said that the British Parliament, at the period of the Reformation, had taken the Church property, and given a considerable portion to the Crown, which devised the greater part afterwards to powerful and influential persons, whose families, in many instances, enjoyed this property up to the present moment. The remainder of the Church property Parliament bestowed on the members of another Church, differing from that which originally held it. This, he contended, was the indisputable right of Parliament, and what the petitioners prayed was, that Parliament might resume the property so granted, and appropriate it to national purposes. This, however, he admitted, could not be done without great cruelty, unless an adequate provision was made for those who had taken orders in the Established Church, under the sanction of an Act of Parliament. He had given no opinion on the petition, but, being called upon by the hon. Baronet, he felt bound to say that he could see no reason why every man should not pay his clergyman precisely as he paid his physician and his lawyer; and there seemed to be no reason why property given by Parliament to the Church was not capable of being resumed.

Sir Richard Vyvyan

really asked the question with a view of ascertaining the hon. and learned Member's opinion on the subject. It was quite right, and perhaps natural, for a person of the Roman Catholic persuasion to say, that he thought the property taken from the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation should now be given back to it.

Mr. O'Connell

protested against its being supposed that he wished the property of the Established Church to be transferred to the Catholic Clergy. He should oppose such a measure as determinedly as the hon. Baronet, for nothing would tend so much to render them useless.

Mr. Hume

said, that not being a Roman Catholic, he entertained a very strong opinion on this subject—and he found that every one out of doors had formed a strong opinion on it likewise; and it was only within the walls of Parliament that people seemed afraid to speak out. Where was the use of being mealy-mouthed on this subject? Every one knew that the clergy who were the present possessors of Church property had only a life interest in it. It was public property in every sense of the word, and it was competent for Parliament to appropriate it for the purposes of education, of religion, or in any way it thought proper.

Mr. Lefroy

did not rise to protract that discussion, but he wished to correct a mis-statement which had been circulated through the usual channels of information. The hon. and learned Gentleman, the member for Kerry, was represented to have said, that two-thirds of the beneficed clergy of Ireland were absentees. There were altogether in Ireland 1,295 beneficed clergy, of whom 1,192 were resident, and employed 750 curates. It was much to be regretted that such misstatements should go abroad; but the fact was, that the Church of Ireland was comparatively a helpless Church in that House. Let them beware, however, for the moment the Church of Ireland was broken down that of England would not last very long. The hon. and learned Gentleman was also represented to have said that Archdeacon Magee held no less than eleven parishes.

Mr. O'Connell

. Eleven livings.

Mr. Lefroy

The Archdeacon held the living of Wicklow, and the archdeaconry of Wicklow, the latter being a sinecure. He also had a small parish in Dublin of 150l. a year, out of which he paid a curate 100l. a year, and a small living in the county of Galway. Here, therefore, were only four livings in place of eleven. Even if he had eleven, it would not follow that they would be adequate to his support, for he knew an instance in the diocese of Clonfert of eleven vicarages, from the whole of which the clergyman derived only 114l. a year. He had in addition fifteen acres of glebe land. He would boldly assert, that there was not in existence a more laborious, pious, and zealous set of men than the Protestant clergy of Ireland. The property of the Church was as sacred as private property, and they had no more right to touch one to an the other. He trusted he never should see the day when such revolutionary protects would be for a moment listened to in that House.

Sir John Sebright

said, he was neither a Catholic nor an Irishman, and he did not hesitate to declare, that matters ought not to remain as they now were in Ireland. Suppose in England two or three Roman Catholics resided in a populous parish, consisting, besides these two or three, of Protestants, what would be said if all the Protestants were taxed to support the Catholic clergyman? He had lived among Protestants and Catholics in many parts of Europe, and he was ashamed to say, that he never witnessed more contention about religion, and more bigotry, than in that House. He trusted he should not die until he saw the day when all classes of society would be treated as men, and not as Protestants or Catholics.

Colonel Beresford

said, his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Lefroy) merely rose to correct a mis-statement, and he was fully justified in taking that opportunity of expressing his opinion on the sentiments expressed by the member for Kerry. He wished as much as any man to see bigotry and religious disputation excluded from the discussions of that House; but as an Irish Protestant he had a right to express his opinion as well as the hon. Baronet. The bigotry did not commence with them, but with the persons who were daily making attacks on the Irish Church.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that he had been charged with misrepresentation when he said Archdeacon Magee had eleven livings. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Lefroy) allowed him four. The hon. and learned Member forgot, however, that the union of Wicklow consisted of six parishes. Five, therefore, were to be added to the hon. Member's account, which made nine. Then there was the archdeaconry of Kilmacure, from which Archdeacon Magee took his title, and which made ten—and, just before his father's death, the rev. gentleman had got the golden prebend of Swords, which completed the eleven. He (Mr. O'Connell) was not less correct in his statement that two-thirds of the parishes in Ireland had not resident Rectors. There were 2,500 Catholic parish priests in Ireland, and only 1,132 resident Protestant clergy. Besides, what was called residence? Visiting a parish once a year. In the parish in which he resided there were nearly 5,000 Roman Catholics and twenty Protestants, fifteen of whom were Englishmen employed in the Coast Guard Service. The 5,000, however, paid the Rector his tithes, though he had only five Protestant parishioners. No one in the parish ever saw the Rector; but he came a distance of sixty miles at the last election to vote against him. He had heard with inexpressible delight the liberal view taken by the hon. Baronet opposite, of the relation in which Catholics stood towards the Established Church. If a colony of twenty Irish Catholics were planted in an English parish, would not the Protestant inhabitants exclaim against being taxed to support a Catholic priest, for the twenty individuals from another country, and of a different religion? There was no Englishman who would not exclaim at the existence of such a state of things; and he asked, was it unreasonable, when the people of Ireland saw that England had an Established Church professing the religion of the people, and Scotland an Established Church (differing from the Established Church of England, but professing the religion of the people), that the people of Ireland should ask—not for an Established Church—but that they should not pay a clergy, who, as they conceived, did them no service?

Mr. Estcourt

asked the hon. and learned member for Kerry, whether he understood him rightly that it was his object to take away the property which now goes to the maintenance of the Established Church in Ireland?

Mr. O'Connell

Yes, certainly.

Mr. James Grattan

said, his opinion decidedly was, that a portion of the Church property should be applied to the repairs of the church and the support of the poor. He regretted that Dr. Magee had acted so indiscreetly as to insist at first on a composition of 1,800l. a year for the living of Wicklow, for which he afterwards accepted of 1,500l. There was much to be corrected in the Church of Ireland.

Mr. Hunt

agreed with the hon. member for Middlesex, that they ought not to be mealy-mouthed on this subject. He could see no reason why the Church property given to great families should not be resumed, and applied to public purposes, as well as the property now held by the Church. The hon. and learned member for Kerry informed them, that part of the property taken from the Catholic Church came into the possession of the Crown, another part fell to private individuals, and a third to the Established Church in Ireland. He thought it ought all to be resumed.

Mr. Lefroy

said, the prebend of Swords was not held by Archdeacon Magee. He saw no reason why Roman Catholics should not contribute to the support of the Established Church.

Mr. Shaw

believed Dr. Magee had nothing to do with the prebend of Swords, and there was no cure attached to the archdeaconry. The real fact was, that two or three small chapelries were united in the union of Wicklow, each unable to support a clergyman, and that one of the sinecures of which Archdeacon Magee was accused was his archdeaconry in the county of Galway. The question was, were they to have an Established Church in Ireland or not? The member for Kerry said, let all persons pay their own clergy, as they did their physician or lawyer; but the constitution of human nature was such, that unless the State took upon itself to provide religion for its subjects, they would not seek for it. If Church property was not respected, other property would not continue long safe.

Mr. Henry Grattan

said, the Protestants of Ireland wished as much as the Catholics that some arrangement should be made with respect to Church property which would give more satisfaction. It was by the exertions of the Protestants of Wicklow that the demand of Archdeacon Magee was reduced from 1,800l. to I,100l. He regretted the intemperate language used by the Archdeacon, in a pamphlet written by him in answer to Dr. Doyle. In this pamphlet he used these words—"There is not a priest in your Church who preaches, or who can preach, the real doctrine of salvation."

Mr. North

said, he had the pleasure of knowing Archdeacon Magee, and he was one of the highest ornaments of the Church. Whatever doctrine he put forth, either in speech or writing, he sincerely felt, and he was more anxious for the real welfare of the people of Ireland than the loudest patriots on the other side of the House. There were, he had no doubt, Catholic gentlemen in the House who would be ready to avow this. He should not enter into the great question of the Church Establishment of Ireland; but he must express his regret, that there was no Minister present to hear the tocsin sounded against that Church, and to tell the House what advice he was prepared to give the Sovereign, in conformity with that solemn obligation into which he had lately entered. The Protestants of Ireland would not allow the Established Church of that country to be overwhelmed without a manly struggle—because it was connected with a principle which they held dear as men of conscience and character.

Colonel Conolly

said: I rise, Sir, to disabuse the public mind of impressions which are sought to be made disadvantageous to the Established Church in Ireland. It is asserted that the payment of tithe is unjust and oppressive, and it is contended that persons are chargeable with the maintenance of a Church to which they do not belong. Sir, the right of the clergyman to his tithe has been uniformly acknowledged by the Legislature as anterior to that of the landlord to his rent; and this has been particularly recognised by the Tithe Composition Act, an Act of recent date. But, Sir, I contend that it is the property, and not the tenant, that pays the Church, and that the tenantry have found the lands they now hold subject to this charge on their taking them at rents; and that if tithe were abolished it would not at all relieve the occupant, but it would be added to the rent of the landlord. I do not, Sir, speak my own opinions; I have the highest authority for my assertion. The present Archbishop of Cashel, in a protracted conversation I had with his Grace, held these opinions, and quite satisfied me that the removal of tithe would fall more onerously on the tenant than the enforcement of it. Sir, the Church Establishment of Ireland has been spoken of in very offensive terms in this House; I have often listened to it with pain; it has been charged with bigotry and intolerance. Now, Sir, what is the case? The Church of Ireland is acting; on the defensive, and if ever there was a fight "pro aris et focis," that is the nature of the combat the Church of Ireland is at present engaged in. Though the Church is charged in various ways, a very large number of the clergy are now deprived of their ordinary revenues, and many clergymen are actually in a state of destitution. It has been my fate to state that on another occasion in this House. That a warfare does exist against it, that that warfare is extending, and will soon extend to rents, there cannot be any question; and that it is advanced for the purpose of destroying the Established Church, the principal link between Great Britain and Ireland, I cannot entertain a doubt.

Mr. James E. Gordon

said, if night after night attacks were made upon the Established Church, he would read the oath which Catholics had taken not to upset it, and would proceed to ulterior measures in that respect. In fact, he would re-agitate the Catholic Question from the circumference to the centre of the empire.

Petition to be printed.