HC Deb 10 July 1833 vol 19 cc471-8
Mr. Fergus O'Connor

presented a Petition from New Ross, for the Repeal of the Union (Ireland). He observed, that it was in vain to expect any peace for Ireland till the ways to justice were purified. He did not wonder at the incredulity of some hon. Members at the appalling statements of the patriotic Irish Members; but, did those hon. Members fully understand how miserably Ireland was governed, their incredulity would vanish. Above all others, the Magistrates grossly abused their power. Since the tithe agitation, they had acted in a most arbitrary manner as regarded certain fines, which instead of 2s. 6d., the legal amount, they had raised arbitrarily to 5l., and in consequence the gaol of Carlow was at the present moment full of unhappy wretches, guilty of no crime but that of inability to pay the arbitrarily increased fine. The right hon. Secretary for Ireland had taken into his head to set forth in a triumphant manner the fine buildings, the exports, and so on of Ireland; but all these things, so far from exhibiting the prosperity, indicated the poverty, of the Irish. The Repeal of the Union was the only thing that could set matters right; this Union had done all for England, and nothing, or worse than nothing, for Ireland. So far from being better off, and consequently happier, than before this event, the Irish were worse off, and more miserable. It was no sign of their prosperity, although the Irish Secretary said it was, that they exported half their provisions—for they were left to starve on the rest; the English had robbed the Irish of all their domestic trade to support their own interests; and the Irish, instead of furnishing themselves, were compelled to buy of the English at double the natural price. The taxation on the forced imports into Ireland was laid on, not so as to suit Irish poverty, but English wealth. All the cobweb arguments of the hon. Secretary for Ireland would flee before that fair, reasonable, and plain statement, which would so shortly be made to the House. As to his statements, they would be shown to be all incorrect. In short, nothing but domestic legislation would ensure to the Irish domestic happiness. He had three petitions to present in favour of the Union; but before he presented them, he would challenge the hon. Gentleman opposite to fight him foot to foot on the argument, as to the vaunted prosperity of Ireland, and the necessity of a Repeal of the Union.

Mr. Littleton

said, as to the observations of the hon. Gentleman with regard to the Repeal of the Union, he had but a very few words to utter in reply. That was a proposition so utterly devoid of commonsense, that it was scarcely necessary for him to say, that when it was brought forward, it would be met by the most strenuous opposition. He need scarcely use such strong language, for the proposition was so extremely absurd—so opposed to the feelings and interests of both Englishmen and Irishmen, that any strenuous exertion would be totally unnecessary, in order to ensure it a signal defeat.

Mr. Finn,

in supporting the petition, said, that Ireland could never expect any justice from a Legislature in which English and Scotch feelings of self-interest absorbed every other consideration. The Reformed House of Commons had given Ireland a pretty sample of their good feeling and sympathy in the Irish Coercion Bill. Yet this was but of a piece with the rest; for Ireland had been thus trampled upon by her English "protectors" for the last 600 years. It was time this monstrous tyranny should end. There was great talk about Poland and her wrongs; if England talked to Nicholas of Russia about Poland, he would point to Ireland, and tell England to hold her tongue for shame. In Ireland there had been no pretence for the worse than Russian outrage which had been lately perpetrated on her; there was not evidence enough to convict a miserable wretch of petty larceny, yet was the sentence of the Coercion Bill passed. This could not last; it was time that Ireland should effectually assert her happiness, and, above all, her independence. Out of 8,000,000 (the whole population), 6,000,000 were Repealers; and, next Session, that 6,000,000 would send in their signatures to the House to tell them so. The Irish would no longer submit to their miseries, which they found, instead of diminishing, were increasing. They would no longer feed the English, and starve themselves; they would no longer be persuaded that they were getting fat upon the beef and bread consumed by the English. The Irish were said to be indifferent as to how things were going on; but did it speak nothing for the opinions held in Ireland, that he, an humble individual, with but a bare competence, was sent into that House, ousting a man of enormous property in the county? In short, the people of Ireland would no longer starve, and have their trade destroyed, merely to please the English; and, therefore, all Ireland was earnestly set upon that Repeal, which was their only hope of happiness, prosperity, and independence.

Mr. Sinclair

regretted that the hon. Member had, in the course of his speech, cast reflections upon the conduct of the Scotch and English Members of the House, in reference to Ireland. How could it be supposed, that they could entertain any other than friendly sentiments towards that country? Such remarks had a most pernicious tendency, as they were calculated to foment feelings of acrimony on the part of the Irish towards their fellow-subjects. If he were writing a Dictionary of Synonymes, he should place dismemberment of the empire as an equivalent to the Repeal of the Union. The Coercion Bill had not been intended to overthrow, but to protect the liberties of the industrious and peaceable inhabitants of Ireland—to check the nocturnal outrages of incendiaries, and restore the empire of the law. Were English and Scotch Members the only supporters of that measure? Was its necessity not contended for by a large proportion of most respectable Irish representatives? When he or any other Member, not connected with Ireland, took any part on any Irish question, he was immediately told, that he knew nothing about that country; but, on the other hand, lot him take what view he might of any subject interesting to the sister kingdom, he was sure to be borne out by competent Irish authority—for there was no single point in which gentlemen, who had resided equally long in that country, and possessed an equal share of patriotism, fortune, talent, and experience, did not express opinions the most contradictory and irreconcilable. The hon. Gentleman, like many others, had constantly reiterated the fact, that the Irish population amounted to eight millions. He hoped, that this assertion was not resorted to by way of menace or intimidation—if so, it reminded him of a borough monger, who wanted to extort certain concessions from a Prime Minister—and whose reply to every argument or objection was, "we are eight." It was thus that the House was continually met, when any arguments were adduced against the Repeal of the Union, by the averment, that the Irish population amounted to eight millions. He trusted, that a large "proportion of that number were attached to the permanence of the Union—a senti- ment in which an overwhelming majority of the English and Scotch population cordially participated—and that, when the question was fairly brought forward, the motion for its repeal would meet with an almost unanimous rejection.

Mr. Shell

supported the prayer of the petition, because he was prepared to show, from a variety of considerations, the absolute necessity of a repeal of the Legislative Union. He said, that the Gentleman who had just sat down had declared, that the repeal would lead to dismemberment. The hon. Member's country gave him some right to a sort of political second sight; but, after all, when they heard these prophecies, they should look a little to the prophets. What did they know of Ireland who indulged in these predictions? "Repeal led to dismemberment! "It was said, that Reform would lead to revolution, but as the Reformers were not seared by the announcement, the advocates of Repeal would scarcely be deterred by these fore-warnings, unless some better evidence were offered than the authority of the soothsayers. He (Mr. Sheil) would admit, that, at this moment, the feelings and opinions of the great body of the English people were adverse to Repeal; but English feeling and opinion were subject to mutation. In June, 1827, Lord John Russell said, that he almost despaired of carrying Reform, in consequence of the insensibility of the public to its value. In a few years what a change had been effected! And it was not impossible, that, when this question came to be discussed, the English nation might see, that it was their interest that Ireland should be permitted to settle her own affairs. It was quite true, that Ireland now enjoyed (whatever be the advantage) the exclusive benefit of the English market. But let Englishmen beware how they pressed that argument. It rested on the Corn-laws, on arrangements at variance with the principles of the political economists of the House. Let them abolish the Corn-laws, give cheap bread, and then to the argument in favour of the Union, drawn from the English market, there would be an end. Sir H. Parnell had stated, in his work on finance, that England paid 12,000,000l. as the cost of the Corn-laws. It was not very likely that she would submit to that tax on the human stomach. When, then, the English market would be thrown open to the world, what would become of the reason- ing derived from our existing monopoly, and, for the maintenance of the Union, what essential argument would then remain? He conceived, that it was not necessary to dispute the arithmetical statements of the Secretary of the Treasury, in order to show that a Repeal of the Union would not be of disservice to Ireland. Admitting, that the exports and imports had increased, let it be remembered that the population had also doubled, and the imports had kept pace with the population. Thus the mass of human happiness had not increased, and individuals were not in the enjoyment of a greater quantity of the articles that administer to comfort, and are instrumental to felicity. There was as much wretchedness in Ireland now as before the Union. Supposing, then, that the cotton trade had grown up in Belfast, and that Ireland had exported 9,000,000 of yards of cotton in 1829, still these and other fiscal facts could not meet all the arguments derived from the increase of absenteeism, and the dreadful drain of the heart's blood of the country. Besides, the Secretary for the Treasury ought to bear in mind, that the sophism, called "non causa pro causa," was, of all others, the easiest to resort to. Did it follow, because Ireland might, in some particulars, have improved, that her progress should be ascribed to the Union? Had the Union never taken place, would not Ireland have advanced much more rapidly? It was far more reasonable to compare the advancement of Ireland since 1782 to 1800, with her advancement since 1800 to 1833, than to rely on the alleged fact, that since 1800 she had grown richer, without reference to her antecedent strides in national improvement. "How fast," said the Unionists, "has Ireland run, since the Union, in the career of greatness". "The Repealers answered," Look to the velocity of her progress before it. But arguing this matter merely in a financial view, let not the Secretary of the Treasury conceal from himself the important circumstance, that the revenue of Ireland, before the Union, exceeded her expenditure, and now the expenditure exceeded the revenue. The Irish were often told, that they derived signal advantages from British legislation. How had the country been governed? Like a miserable and pitiful province. A colonial system had been maintained. There was not an Irishman in the Cabinet—there was not an Irishman representing an Irish county, city, or borough, holding any office whatever in connexion with the. Government. In Ireland every office was in English hands. The Lord-lieutenant, the Secretary (this was the nineteenth since the Union), were English. Ireland was the apprenticeship to office. Men who knew nothing of the country were despatched to learn, at the cost of the Irish, the art and mystery of Government. The Under-Secretary was Sir William Gosset, a most estimable gentleman. But what were his qualifications? He had gone as an engineer to Algiers, and was turned into an Irish Secretary, to administer the Algerine Act! The private Secretary to the Lord-lieutenant was a Hanoverian Baron. The Commander of the Forces, the Adjutant-General, were all English. They had seven English Bishops. The Archbishop of Dublin had done great service; but look to Cashel—a tutor was taken from the cloisters of an English University, a mitre was clapped on his head, and he and all his family were quartered upon the Irish Church. He had gorged his nephew with livings. Was this not a colonial system? "Then (said the hon. Member) look to the legislation of this Imperial Parliament. The Catholic question was delayed twenty-nine years. Look to your To the Bills, and your empirical experiments on the Church, and your Insurrection Acts, and Coercive Bills, your blunders, and your despotism, your incongruities, your vacillations, unravelling in one Session what you have wrought in another, acknowledging your failures, and yet persevering in them. Have you not given up your Tithe Bill? You have another in store. You will lay the impost on the landlords. This is a droll expedient for the conciliation of the Protestants of Ireland. Thus it is that you go on, exhibiting equal proof" of incompetence and of presumption, and furnishing us with facts, which, when the time shall come, we shall know how to wield against yon. It is imagined, that we can urge nothing in support of Repeal. Wait a little, and you shall see what can be advanced in its sustainment. Your own insane legislation is the best argument we can advance in its favour. The Ministry themselves have pushed the Irish Members to this extremity. They excited such a feeling by their tithe crusade that, at the hustings, no man could stand against its over whelming power; and having pushed us to this necessity, we will abide by it. We carried our emancipation, as you carried your Reform. The will of the English people overcame every argument, and if ever the united will of Ireland shall demand Repeal, to that will some heed must he given. Let some years go by—persevere in your system of offensive misrule—and you will learn to treat this question with feeling's very different from those of delusion and contempt. Do but continue to disregard the admonitions of the majority of the Irish Members, and, in your division;, overwhelm them with your English majorities, and yon will find, that the millions beyond these doors will make up for the want of hundreds within them."

Sir Francis Burdett

admitted, that the Government had committed a great error as regarded the Tithe Bill; but he denied that any Catholic Association had accomplished Catholic emancipation. It resulted from an improved sense of liberality on the part of the Protestant mind in England as well as in Ireland. As to the Repeal of the Union, he wished to know whether the grievances of Ireland had grown up since the Union only. He regretted irritation on the subject, because irritation was not necessary to a good cause. He denied that there existed any want of sympathy on the part of the Members of that House or the country in the cause of Ireland. Instead of such general allegations which could be productive of no benefit to Ireland, if hon. Members would only bring each subject separately before the House, be was persuaded the greatest possible attention would be paid to the arguments in their favour, For his part he was not against arguing the question: as it was agitated, he wished to hear what could be said in its favour.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, he would not now enter into the discussion of a Repeal of the Union; the Motion of the hon. Member (Mr. Fergus O'Connor) stood for Tuesday, when he should be fully prepared to accept the challenge he had given him. He expressed a hope, that as the hon. Member stood pledged to his constituents, to the House, and his own consistency, he would not retract the pledges he had given, but would bring it as manfully before the House as he had now challenged him to do.

Petition laid on the Table.