HC Deb 17 February 1834 vol 21 cc413-24
Mr. O'Connell

presented Petitions from Clondalkin, in the county of Dublin; from Cruisetown, county of Meath; from Lady Island, Gorey, Templetown, county of Wexford; St. James's, Kilmartin, and from Carnew, and the men of Shillelagh, and several other places in Ireland, for the abolition of the Tithe-system, and for the Repeal of the Union.

Mr. Plumptre

said, he was sorry to see so many men labour under delusions respecting the abolition of tithes, and the Repeal of the Union. He would add, that it was a grievous delusion if they were serious in their prayer upon these two points; and he could hardly think that they could entertain one solid hope that either the one or the other would be granted. He could never suppose that a British House of Parliament would consent to a measure which would give up the whole Protestant population into the hands of the Catholics; for such would be the consequence of the repeal. Nor, on the other hand, could he think that a British House of Commons would ever consent to abolish tithes.

Mr. Ruthven

said, he would not only deny that the Repeal of the Union would place the Protestants in the hands of the Catholics; but he would contend, that the Protestants would be placed in a better position if the Repeal were to take place. As to the question of tithes, he begged the House to look at the complaints made by the Dissenters at home. Ireland had never received any benefit from England, except in the days of its distress; and he hoped that England would not too long delay to do her justice, or she might be compelled to resort to such measures as might extort a separation.

Mr. Andrew Johnston

hoped there were not many intelligent persons who would continue much longer under the delusion, that the payment of tithes was a personal tax, whereby an individual of one persuasion was compelled to support a minister of another. If the petitioners could make out such a case, he would admit they deserved the interference of the Legislature. The petitions would certainly receive from the House all the attention they merited; but he would take upon himself to say, that the Imperial Parliament would never accede to the prayers of either class.

Mr. Feargus O'Connor

said, he knew that many of the resolutions in favour of the Repeal of the Union were proposed and seconded by Protestants. Every exertion had been used to prevent the discussion of that important question. A meeting upon the subject had been advertised to take place at the Crown and Anchor Tavern, but since the paragraph in the King's Speech, in which persons who advocated it had been charged almost with direct treason, the proprietor of that tavern had refused to allow the parties to have the room. An application had subsequently been made to the proprietor of the London-tavern, who, indeed, had not refused a room, but had prevented the meeting in another way, by asking six times the usual sum for the use of the room. If it was supposed, that Repeal could be prevented by adopting such expedients, they were deceived, as no power on earth could prevent the question from being agitated.

Mr. Finch

admitted, that the merits of the question should be fully and fairly discussed; but he must vindicate the opinion expressed by his hon. friend, the member for Kent (Mr. Plumptre), that the Irish Protestants who affixed their names to petitions of this kind laboured under a great mistake—he would not say delusion, for that term might be displeasing; but he did think that they laboured under a great mistake. He entertained the highest possible opinion of the talents of the hon. and learned member for Dublin, but, with respect to a dissolution of the Union, there was something so absurd on the face of it, something so ridiculous in supposing, that two separate Legislatures would work better than one, that he really thought it would have deterred any hon. Member from seriously entertaining it. There was some secret and invisible influence which he could not discover, which hurried the hon. and learned Gentleman out of his depth. There was some secret agency at work; or he never would have proposed to a British Legislature that they should consent to a Repeal of the Union, otherwise such a proposition betrayed utter imbecility. He was inclined to think that the hon. and learned Member did not expect any success in his project. It would be extremely difficult to make two Legislatures work together. They would all recollect that, when the question of a Regency was discussed, the differences between the two Houses of Parliament had occasioned much inconvenience. When hon. Members recollected that the effect of a Repeal of the Union would be to have a Roman Catholic Government sitting in Ireland under a Protestant Government in this country, and under a Protestant Executive, there was on the face of it an anomaly so gross, so extravagant, that all those around him must be convinced that a United Legislature was most advisable. The hon. member for Oldham had a few nights since let them into some secrets respecting the commercial jealousies which would ensue if the Repeal of the Union was effected. In that event, there would be no friendly commercial intercourse maintained between the two countries—there would be a sort of half hostility, and a restriction would, perhaps, be placed upon the importation of Irish corn here, while, in Ireland, there would be a restriction on British manufactures. He would answer, at least, for the loyal English yeomen, that not one of them would desire such restrictions, but he feared they would be ordained. Then, with respect to our foreign relations—would not a Roman Catholic totally dissent from a Protestant Parliament as to what should be considered the most judicious course? Would not the power of the Church of Rome, which was paramount in Ireland, recommend a totally different system of foreign policy from that which a Protestant Parliament would deem proper. With respect to our domestic policy, the object of an Irish Roman Catholic Parliament would be to advance the interests of the Church of Rome; to exterminate the Protestant religion; to impose a grievous absentee tax; to make men absentees by a series of petty persecutions; and then to restore the forfeited estates. He knew something of the feeling which had been impressed, and the desires that had been implanted in the minds of the people by certain itinerant orators who were perambulating the country, reminding the people of all the grievances and persecutions they had endured since the time of Henry the Second, under the despotism of Cromwell, and the subsequent administration of the Penal Laws. There was, he admitted, some truth in these representations; and the people were continually reminded, that all the forfeited property belonged to their ancestors, and ought to be restored. This was one of the paramount objects which the advocates of Repeal had in view; another was the restoration of the Church of Rome to her former honours and dignities. What would be the next step? To produce endless differences between the two Parliaments, which must lead to a total separation of the two countries, and a civil war. If England should be compelled to resort to this with her fleets—with her armies—with her finances—and with her sixteen and a half millions of Protestant subjects, the Roman Catholics would be again subdued, and thrown back into the miserable state in which they were sixty years ago. The Emancipation Bill would be repealed—the country would be desolated—and civilization and improvement retarded for centuries. He would conclude by relating an anecdote. A friend of his, a Protestant clergyman, after the passing of the Emancipation Bill, found a Roman Catholic parishioner in a state of extreme excitement, anticipating the almost immediate triumph of his Church. The clergymen said, he need not be in such excessive joy, for the effect of the Bill would merely be to introduce forty or forty-five Roman Catholic Members into the House, and what could they do amongst 600? The man replied, that 50 foxes could do a great deal amongst 600 geese. He hoped hon. Members would not suppose that, he called the Parliament who passed this Bill geese. Many hon. Members voted for it because it was a question of abstract grievances. He would tell the hon. and learned member for Dublin that he would obtain a Repeal of the Union when the intellect of England was converted into pusillanimity and folly—when the eye of her understanding was put out—when fifty foxes were a match for the 600 English Members—when the English Parliament was converted into 600 geese—when the sixteen millions and a half of Englishmen became subjected to the Irish nation—then, and not till then, would he obtain a Repeal of the Union.

Mr. Finn

knew certain itinerants had been perambulating Ireland with the Bible in their hands, and had done more mischief, and excited more dissension, and, he might add, done more to destroy the Established Church than any Irish orators had ever done; and if a return were made of the number of their converts, it would be found to be very small, and that the motives which had induced them to become converts were not very creditable to either party. With regard to the English yeomen, it appeared that the Irish Protestants were to be saved from the Catholics by those gentlemen; he would, however, inform the hon. Member that the Protestants of Ireland were beginning to see their true position, and were disposed cordially to combine with the Catholics of that country to secure their mutual rights and freedom. In the county which he represented, there were 165,000 Roman Catholics, and only 5,000 Protestants; and there were ten parishes lying together in that county (Kilkenny), in which there was not one single Protestant. Was it, then, to be said that, with so large a majority of Catholics, they should be compelled to support an institution to which they did not belong?

Mr. O'Connell

could not help remarking, that if Rome was once saved by geese, he feared Ireland would not be. He confessed that his countrymen were troubled with a fogginess of intellect, which made them unable to see their own interests, without the use of British spectacles; but, though they were so stupid a race, Catholics as well as Protestants were united in praying for relief from the tithes. They did not pray that one-third should be paid by the landlord, but that two-thirds of the whole should be free from the imposition; and such ought to be the case in a country in which there were thirty Catholic parishes in one county alone, and not a single Protestant. Both proprietors and tenants were Catholics. The petitioners, he could tell the hon. Member, did not ask for the separation from England, but they did hope that the Protestant Church would be cut down to the wants of the Protestant community in Ireland. The hon. Member had said there was a desire among the Catholics for the ascendancy of their Church. He would tell him—and he trusted he was as sincere a Catholic as the hon. Gentleman was a Protestant—that he would no more consent to the Catholic Church having the ascendancy, than he would consent to the passing of a law to make it penal to be a Catholic; for he was convinced that nothing ever degraded and debased a religion so much as allowing it political ascendancy. "My kingdom is not of this world," said the Saviour; and, detached from the kingdom of God, the Church became defiled and degraded by motives that ought to spring from a higher and a divine origin. Such an idea was appalling to the Catholics. He regretted that the hon. Member should be so full of the terms "Catholic" and "Protestant," using them as opposed to each other. It was time to leave off such childish absurdities; one would think they had gone back to the time of the Reformation, when it was fashionable to cut throats on both sides—when the Catholics persecuted the Protestants, and the Protestants the Catholics, just as they happened to be in power. In the north of Ireland, the Protestants had persecuted not only the Catholics, but each other, with an alacrity and virulence that were never exemplified between Catholics and Protestants. As to the repeal of the Union, he denied that its object was to give any body of Christians the ascendancy over another, or that it could, by possibility, happen, that if a separate Legislature were established in Ireland, it would be exclusively Catholic. Did not the hon. Member know that there were at present 105 Irish Peers, of whom seven only were Catholics, and that the number of the latter could not be increased except by the Executive of England. The hon. Member had made a discovery. He had discovered, that unity was the best form of Government, inasmuch as it was the most simple and complete. The hon. Gentleman would certainly be entitled to all the merit of ingenuity, but that a certain individual, named Bonaparte, had made the same discovery some time since, and also acted on it. But then the hon. Gentleman had not exactly discovered that; neither, perhaps, was he aware of the effects to this Bonaparte which putting this plan into operation produced. Bonaparte attempted, in pursuance of this plan, to sweep alt the nations of Europe into one immense state; and his attempt ended by himself being-swept off the face of the earth. So would it ever be with any monopoly of Legislation which had injustice for its basis. But, perhaps, the hon. Gentleman was not aware, that there was such a thing as a federative union; and that that was, of all other descriptions of unity, the best. The hon. Member had come forward with his epigrams on unity; he had inflicted his second hand discoveries on the House: did he not know, when he was doing so, that there were in North America twenty-two States under one federative Government?—That each of these States worked independently of the others and of the head?—That they all possessed separate Legislatures; and that, in place of clashing with each other, they all strove to one end, and successfully attained it—unexampled prosperity? The advantages derivable from separate Legislatures were never more clearly proved than in the instance of the tariff. It was found by the southern States of the Union, that their interest would be materially injured by the operation of this measure. They, accordingly, took a bold stand, and South Carolina threatened a separation if the tariff were persevered in. This had the desired effect, and the tariff was abandoned, or at least so modified as to meet their wishes. If Ireland had had a separate Legislature, would she have had the Coercion Bill inflicted on her? Then the hon. Gentleman appeared also to have forgotten, that even in Europe there was such a thing as a federative union of two kingdoms, two separate Legislatures under one Crown. Did he not know that Sweden had its own laws and its own Legislature, and that Norway had its own laws and its own Legislature, and yet that both were quietly working under the one head? Indeed if the hon. Member had been acquainted with the subject he undertook to discuss, he would have known that no country in Europe presented such compact resources against the spread of Rus- sian sway, as Sweden and Norway united. But why go to America, or even to Sweden and Norway? Was not Ireland herself an exemplification—not alone of the possibility, but of the prosperity of such a union? Had any country on earth progressed so much in every thing—arts, sciences, industry, happiness,—as she had done during the brief, but brilliant period of her legislative independence? Was she not advancing with great strides towards the climax of greatness and glory—of prosperity and wealth,—until the poison of French principles found its way in to counteract the minds—not of the Catholics, but of the Protestants of the north; and then, being disseminated through the country, caused a war of politics, not of religion. He would not dwell on the horrors of that war,—a war for extermination rather than of fairness; he would leave to others the sickening task but he would revert to the arguments—if arguments they could be called—of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member had taken his stand on the repeal question, and asked how would that be settled, if such an event as a regency occurred? He would tell him. It was the easiest thing in the world. He had only to make the regent de facto of England, the regent de jure of Ireland, and the matter was settled. Thus he would at once get over the pons asinorum of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman had talked of the injury the Repeal of the Union would do to the commercial interests of the country. Were not, he would inquire, the markets of Ireland as much open to England before the Union as since? And was not the consumption of English manufactures, comparatively to the then and present amount of the population, equal, if not greater? If protecting duties served Ireland, no doubt an Irish Parliament would impose them; but if they did not serve the country, it was not in the nature of things to suppose that they would be imposed. The prosperity of Ireland was the prosperity of England; injury to one was a blow at the vitality of the other. Was it not, therefore, the interest of England to support any measure which had the prosperity of Ireland for its object? The curse of Ireland was absenteeism; that was universally allowed; and even the hon. Gentleman, who made such use of his epigram, would concede it. What caused absenteeism? Was it not evidently the Union? What delivered over this country to the heartless agents and ruthless drivers of an absentee proprietary, but the Union? It was said, that the Repeal of the Union would lead to separation. He was convinced, on the contrary, that, if repeal were not conceded, separation would be the consequence. If Ireland were denied the boon she desired—a legislation of some subordinate description—she would, he was convinced, ultimately seek for separation. The hon. Gentleman had taunted him with causing the agitation of Repeal in Ireland. Little did the hon. Gentleman know of the subject when he made that gratuitous assertion. It was the Coercion Bill of last Session, and the Speech put into the mouth of the King in this, which continued the agitation of Repeal; it was the miseries, the wretchedness, the misrule, local and general, the tyranny of the Government, their heedlessness of the prayer of the people, their apathy and want of all sympathy with them, which were its original cause. These it was that generated and spread over the whole face of the land the spirit of Repeal. It was in vain for that House to flatter itself that the excitement on the question was confined to the Catholic portion of the community; it had penetrated into the north, and Protestant Ulster was coming forward with almost all its population in the cause of legislative independence. Could it be supposed, that even Protestant Irishmen did not feel the injury done to their country by the passing of the Coercion Bill? Did the House want a proof of it? He would give them a sufficient one. Mr. Sharman Crawford, a Protestant gentleman of large fortune and independent principles, had stood for Belfast at the last election, and was opposed to Repeal. Since then the Coercion Bill had been made a law; and that Gentleman was now an avowed and determined, a staunch and uncompromising, repealer. In the north of Ireland, petitions in favour of repeal were getting ready in all quarters; even in Protestant Armagh—the head-quarters of episcopal rule in Ireland, there was a petition preparing for presentation three weeks ago, and then there were 1,500 signatures attached to it. The fact was, the real repealers were those who passed the atrocious Coercion Bill. Had Ireland an independent Legislature, the Government would not have dared to propose such a measure for that country. Neither had they dared to echo it as they did in the Speech of his Majesty. It was said, that the Government was a paternal Government for Ireland. What was the case? Why, to petition Parliament, the highest and dearest privilege of the subject, was not permitted them, without first obtaining the fiat of the Lord-lieutenant. Could that be called a paternal Government when such a power was vested in the hands of any one individual? Every day the House continued that atrocious Act, the question of repeal would make ten-fold progress. It was now a question of persecution, and, like all similar questions, it would prosper the more from the efforts made to extinguish it. He defied any one to show a single instance where a Catholic popular assembly had ever spoken disparagingly of Protestants. He admitted that Catholic monarchs had persecuted Protestants; but he again repeated, that there was no instance of such a feeling in Catholic popular assemblies. [Mr. Finch: South America.] South America was not a fair instance. The Government of South America was essentially Catholic; but there were no Protestants in that country, and therefore there could be no persecution of Protestants; but if the hon. Member wished for an example when Catholic states had given irrefragable proofs of their liberality, he would instance the case of Maryland, where a declaration in favour of Protestants was drawn up by a Jesuit. He would also refer to Poland and to Ireland; in the latter country, the Catholics were twice in power, and, although they had suffered persecution under the former Protestant Governments, so far from retaliating, they admitted their Protestant countrymen to all the privileges which they themselves enjoyed. He challenged any one to contradict his statement. He did so with confidence, because he believed that no man could be sincere in his own belief who persecuted another for the belief which he conscientiously entertained. Catholics had been accused of proselytism. With regard to Ireland, this charge could not hold good. Proselytism then was confined to Protestants, and, indeed, never was there a more fruitless warfare carried on. He trusted that, in future, they would not hear of those phrases—he would not call it cant—about Catholics and Protestants. Such language might be well suited to form the subject of an old woman's story for the entertainment of children, but it was by no means adapted to a grave deliberate assembly.

Mr. Sheil

could not help expressing his surprise that when petitions were to be presented, from which there might be anticipated discussions of great importance, not a single member of the Government, or any individual connected with the Government, should have thought it incumbent upon him to attend. It was originally understood that some member of the Government should be present at the early sittings of the House. Why, then, was not the Secretary for Ireland present? Or, if he could not attend, why did he not apply to the hon. member for the University of Dublin, to answer the speech of the hon. member for Dublin? But there was neither a member of the Government, nor any one that sympathized with them, or with the high Church party, in attendance to answer his hon. and learned friend's arguments. With regard to the King's Speech, which had been alluded to, he admitted that it was couched in very strong terms—in terms almost as strong as those employed by Lord Grey, then Mr. Charles Grey, in speaking of the Legislative Union with Ireland. Mr. Grey described that as a bad measure, purchased by gold, and wrung from the fears of the Irish people by treachery, and said, that the time would come when Ire-land would demand its repeal and would obtain it.

Mr. John Maxwell

hoped, that the hon. member for Dublin would forgive him for stating that it would be more desirable, and in his opinion it would be attended with success, if the hon. Member would bring forward measures for the relief of Ireland, and try whether the Imperial Parliament would afford redress, before it sought for a Repeal of the Union. He viewed that measure with fear and apprehension. A particular evil to which the hon. Member had referred was absenteeism, in the condemnation of which he concurred most sincerely. This had, more than any religious differences, caused distress and destruction in Ireland. He should be happy to find the great talent and intimate knowledge and devotion to his country, of the hon. member for Dublin engaged in bringing forward this question. He might expect to be resisted by a powerful body, but he should give the Reformed Parliament an opportunity to consider the question, and to devise some mode to diminish the evils of Ireland. The Members for Scotland were compelled to become absentees during the whole period of the Session; and he thought that those periods of absence would be shortened if matters affecting Scotland and Ireland were to be brought forward at a particular period of the Session. With regard to the absence of the Ministers, it must be recollected that they did not consider the questions upon which these petitions were presented was in the most proper state to be brought under discussion.

Petition to lie on the Table.

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