HC Deb 12 June 1833 vol 18 cc599-607
Colonel Butler

said, he had to present a petition of the utmost importance, although coming from a private individual; and he would take leave to call the attention of the House to it by reading it. The petition was from Patrick Tracey, in the county of Kilkenny; but before he read it, he must express his regret that neither the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer, nor the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary for Ireland, was present. If the noble Lord were in the House, he (Colonel Butler) had some hopes that a stop would be put to such proceedings as those complained of. The petitioner stated, that on Tuesday, the 16th of April last, he was in bed, at his residence, and that in the same House were his brother-in-law, Cahinn, and Cahinn's wife and sister; that they were alarmed by a knocking at the door, and that they were asked by the policeman who were knocking if any list had been left at the House; on being informed that there was none, the police demanded admission. After describing the particulars of the entrance of the police, and the conversation that ensued, the petitioner stated that he was asked to pay immediately the sum of 16s., which he owed for tithes, to the reverend Dr. Butler, under pain of immediate imprisonment, and a threat that if he was not quiet, he would be handcuffed. The money was paid, and he obtained, next morning, a receipt signed by the chief constable. The petitioner complained that the police were not accompanied by either a Magistrate or by the chief constable, and that the petitioner's case was by no means a solitary one, but one of many such daily occurring in the neighbourhood. The petitioner stated himself to be too poor to seek redress through a course of law, and prayed the hon. House to interfere, and prevent the perpetration of such illegal acts. He had also an affidavit in his hand, upon which the petition was founded, but as it was almost all embodied in the petition, he would not trouble the House by reading it. But he had in his hand the receipt which was given for the tithes, and which was signed by the chief constable, thereby clearly showing that he approved of the Serjeant's conduct, otherwise he would have brought him to condign punishment. Now, to trace the transaction to the Government, it was only necessary to state, that the chief constable was obliged, by his duty, to make a daily report to the Deputy Inspector-General of the district, who again was in daily correspondence with the Inspector-General at the castle of Dublin. He was always of opinion that the Coercive Bill was intended to enforce the payment of tithes, but it never once entered his mind that it could be put in force without the presence of a Magistrate, or at the very least a chief constable. If the powers which it gave were to be intrusted to such men as those in question, they would be used for the purpose of extortion, for many most respectable persons might be taken up when returning from a fair or a wake, who would rather pay money than be confined all night in a police-barrack.

Mr. Fergus O'Connor

regretted very much, that the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and other members of the Ministry, were not present, as well as the learned member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Shaw), upon such an occasion, for it would have given them those proofs of which they said the other night he stood in need. Were the people of England aware, that for the purpose of upholding what was called "the word of the Lord," Government kept up in Ireland a force of 23,700 soldiers and 10,000 police marauders to scour the country? This was not a single instance; he himself had seen eight different divisions breaking into houses for tithes where not a penny was due. The fact was, these proceedings were adopted for the purpose of forcing the people to enter into an arrangement with the tithe proctor, that he might exact the payment of tithes which were not due. If the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been present, he would have told him, that his Government was one of the most imbecile, truckling, and inconsistent that ever sat on those benches. With regard to the last part of the petition he would ask would the people get no redress if such proceedings as these were laid before a domestic legislature, when the wrongs were fresh in the memories of the whole population? He would tell the Government, that they were taking the same steps to prevent the repeal of the Union, as a celebrated individual did to obtain that measure. Then there was that House passing their votes of confidence, only because they had not gone very far wrong. He would tell the blundering and truckling Government, in the words of the great Lord Burleigh, "that they would ruin England with a Parliament."

Mr. Finn

said, as the petition came from his part of the country, he must be allowed to say a few words upon it. All agreed, even in Court, that Serjeant Shaw had acted very imprudently—that was the word—he was disposed to use a much harder term. There was one part of the petition which almost incited him to laughter; the simple petitioner said that the Coercive Bill would never have passed through that House, had it not been assured that it would not be used for the purpose of enforcing tithes. Poor simple man—he did not know that House. He had never seen or heard of such a House of Commons—any measure, whatever might be its nature, would receive their support, if it was only asked by Ministers. It was the most truckling House that had ever sat within those walls. It was said, that the people had no confidence in the House of Lords, but the people were more widely separated from the House of Commons than from the House of Lords, and in the event of adissolution, three-fourths of the Members would never appear there again. And yet that noble phalanx who strenuously opposed that infamous Bill, and foretold its consequences, were reviled, insulted, and called assassins, and the enemies of their country. That was a Reformed Parliament, whose first act was the passing of such an infamous and bloody Bill as that now complained of. It was said that Ireland would want no Repeal of the Union, when all the beneficial measures which Ministers intended to propose were brought forward. But he could tell them, that the desire for the Repeal of the Union was more rife than ever it was; they had already put down the right of petitioning, and had "suspended" the Habeas Corpus Act. He asked, ought Englishmen to be allowed more privileges than Irishmen? Although they might extinguish liberty in Ireland, the spirit of liberty would yet live, and would ultimately triumph. The cause of the oppressed was common to both countries, and it was impossible that that House could be permitted to trample on Ireland. As to the case of the petitioner, his was by no means a solitary instance, but he would not go now into the particulars, seeing what a mass of business was before the House.

Mr. Macleod

intreated the House to suspend its judgment until some Member of the Government was present, who could either contradict the statements in the petition on official information, or would consent to make inquiry into them. He had invariably supported the Ministers, in passing what was called the Coercive Bill, believing that it would restore tranquillity to the country; and although its powers might have been, in a few instances, abused, he believed that it had done considerable good. He thought it would have been but fair to have presented the petition when some Member of the Government was present and had a knowledge of its contents.

Colonel Butler

I informed the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer that I should present it to-day.

Mr. Macleod

begged the hon. and gallant Member's pardon. He, however, regretted, that from the unexpected occurrence of the delay in returning the writ, that the right hon. Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Littleton) had not yet taken his seat, because it was important that he should have been present.

Mr. Ruthven

said, a communication had been made upon the subject of this petition to the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), but he was sorry to say that anything respecting Ireland was treated in a disrespectful manner. As to the Repeal of the Union, the people looked to that only as a dernier resort; for thirty-three years they had looked in vain to England for an equality of rights and privileges, and they now sought the means of obtaining the management of their own affairs. There was an industrious circulation by the Press of this country of rumours injurious to the people of Ireland—there was in a base portion of the Press of England a mean trading principle adopted towards Ireland. Taunts were thrown out by some persons that those Members, favourable to the Repeal of the Union, dared not bring it forward; but he could tell those persons, and would tell his constituents, that it would be brought forward, and that, too, at as early a period as was possible. The advocates of the Repeal, only desired a fair, a calm, and dispassionate discussion; that they had a right to demand, and if they could not obtain it, Ireland would be justified in demanding a separate and a domestic Legislature. If they could not obtain justice from the British Parliament, it could not be believed that they would live under a rod of tyranny, when they had the means of relieving themselves. The Repealers were a strong and powerful phalanx, not only in that House but out of it. He would support the Repeal of the Union whenever it was brought before that House.

Mr. Lambert

thought that the course that had been adopted in Ireland in the collection of tithes, was a most gross violation of good faith on the part of his Majesty's Government. An assurance had been given by the noble Lord at the head of the Woods and Forests, and the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer, during the debate on the Irish Disturbances' Bill, that tithes were not the description of property sought or intended to be protected by the provisions of that Bill.

Mr. Henry Grattan

maintained that the law had been violated in Ireland by breaking open houses and by other acts of outrage since the Coercive Act had been passed. He believed that the right hon. Secretary for Ireland was most honestly ignorant of all that related to that country. Nothing as yet had been done for Ireland in the present Session. The House had become a Government House, and Members were obliged to give up their Motions to the Ministers. He had never seen such conduct since 1806 as had been shown in the present Session. The right hon. Secretary had partly founded his Bill on the case of the reverend Mr. Butler, whom he represented as a starving exile, and yet at that time the reverend Gentleman had sworn that he was a 50l. freeholder in the county of Meath. Irish Members could not bring forward their petitions or get the grievances of the Irish people fairly stated. The laws were so detestable even to the English people that when two companies of the King's troops were ordered to fire on the people not forty yards distant not a soul was even wounded.

Mr. Shaw

had entertained no intention whatever to take the slightest part in the discussion upon the petition before the House, for he had not had any idea that upon such a petition a discussion could arise involving the characters of the clergy, and the question of a separate Parliament for Ireland. On certain occasions hon. Members could count the House out; but when petitions from Ireland were presented there arose a sort of omnibus discussion upon all the evils, real and imaginary, with which that country was involved. The hon. and learned Member who had just sat down had referred to the character of an individual clergyman, and he really ought to be the last to accuse other Members of using language which had no meaning, but which yet contained a sting and a waspish censure. He was astonished that any hon. Member should have so little candour as to endeavour to convict the reverend Mr. Butler of perjury, because he had sworn that he was a starving exile, whilst he had in another place sworn that he was possessed of a freehold of 50l. a-year in the county of Meath. Might not the payment of the rent be withheld in this case? He was sorry, that the hon. and learned member for Meath had again indulged that desire which he was for ever indulging—the desire to throw opprobrium on the characters of individuals. He believed that the Insurrection Act was necessary for Ireland; and although that necessity had arisen from the misconduct of Ministers, yet, when it did exist, he had felt it his duty to support them in finding the remedy. It appeared to be the desire of some Irish gentlemen that order should be preserved in Ireland in all cases except in those where the property and the persons of the clergy were at stake. Their own estates were to be protected; but if a clergyman was robbed and deprived of his rights the cry was, "It is only a clergyman;" and in such a manner were right feelings got rid of in the spirit of party. ["Hear"] Gentlemen might cry "hear," but he did not exempt himself from the feelings of party, and he could not be called hypercritical when he saw party-spirit leading Gentlemen on the other side of the House to such extremes. He claimed no impunity for any clergyman, and whoever was guilty let him be punished; but this was very different from indulging so constantly in declamations against the clergy, and in charges which injured the characters of innocent persons. When statements were made such as had then been brought forward, they always had turned out, upon inquiry, to be either grossly exaggerated, or alto- gether unfounded. He conceived that the petition now before the House should not have been brought forward without due notice of its contents having been given to those who might have felt it their duty to inquire into its validity.

Mr. Barron

protested against the tone adopted by the hon. member for the University of Dublin, which was such as to lead to the supposition that other members for Ireland did not come into that House possessed of as much ability and information as that hon. Member. He treated such dictatorial manners with a great deal of contempt.

The Speaker

said, the hon. Member was without question out of order, if he meant to apply his observations personally to the hon. Member who preceded him.

Mr. Barron

disclaimed any intention of giving personal offence to the hon. Member; and contended, that if the Irish Members had had their wishes conceded on the Resolution that was proposed for the purpose of preventing the application of the Coercion Bill to the collection of tithes, there would not have been such a petition before the House. He hoped to God, as an honest man, that the people of Ireland would always retain their hatred of tithes. They were subjected to all sorts of persecution—persecution on the score of religious opinion—persecution in education—and persecution in the collection of the most odious of imposts. The hon. member for the University said, that the clergy never transgressed the law; but then they sheltered themselves behind the injustice of the law. In his country, a wretch of an attorney was employed by the clergy to collect the tithes; and instead of enforcing payment by a process at the Quarter Sessions, which would cost seven or eight shillings, he employed a process by which the poor people, who were living on one or two acres of land, in a miserable Irish hovel, were charged three or four pounds. And in Ardmore, in the county of Waterford, a bill had been tiled against the poor tithe-payers, in the Court of exchequer, by which the costs which might have been restricted to 30l. were run up to 500l. This, then, was the way in which the clergy of Ireland kept within the law.

Mr. Ronayne

deprecated all attacks on individuals, and hoped that hon. Members would direct all their efforts against the present unjust system of bad laws by which the people of Ireland were afflicted. He must condemn exceedingly, the course which Ministers were pursuing in reference to the early sittings of the House. When they had any object of their own to serve, such as the rejection of the petition which was yesterday presented by the hon. member for Oldham, they were to be found with their adherents strongly mustered on the Treasury Benches, but whenever they had effected their object, they walked out of the House without further ceremony.

Petition to lie on the Table.

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