HC Deb 05 March 1834 vol 21 cc1153-5

The Order of the Day for the second reading of the Carrickfergus Reform Bill, having been read, and Mr. O'Connell having risen to move the second reading of that Bill,

Mr. William Roche

begged his hon. and learned friend's permission to intrude for a few moments on his privilege, by offering to the right hon. the Secretary for Ireland, a few remarks on a subject arising out of the interchange of some observations which took place yesterday evening, between the right hon. Secretary and his (Mr. Roche's) hon. and learned friend, in reference to the Irish Reform Act. In those observations he (Mr. Roche) understood the right hon. Secretary to say, it was his intention to introduce some amendments, or correct some defects, in that Act, whenever an improvement of the English Acts should be brought under the consideration of the House. He (Mr. Roche) would, therefore, thus early take the liberty to suggest to the right hon. Secretary the propriety of including, amongst those amendments in the Irish Act, the removal of an anomaly, a disadvantage, and injustice, which, whether inadvertently or otherwise, was suffered still to subsist,—in the necessity imposed on Roman Catholic voters, and on them alone, of taking the Oath of Allegiance, and producing to the Returning Officer at each election a certificate of their having done so before they could be permitted to exercise their elective franchise. That this was both invidious, unwise, and prejudicial, tending, as it did, to cast an undeserved imputation on the loyalty and character of the Irish Roman Catholics; tending, also, as it did, to keep alive the expiring embers of religious distinctions and sectarian feelings, which it should be the policy to extinguish, and which it was the object of the Catholic Relief Act to bury in oblivion,—the language of the preamble of which says, that its design was to "knit together all classes of his Majesty's subjects in one bond of harmony and concord." Mr. Roche proceeded to say, that it proved further disadvantageous, especially to the interests of popular candidates, in perhaps two-thirds of Ireland, whose progress in polling was retarded, and their return consequently endangered by the confusion, obstruction, and delay created in bringing up and administering this Oath to perhaps thousands of Roman Catholic voters; and that, during the very few days to which elections are now limited, while the voters of any other religious persuasion could give their suffrage at once, and thus rapidly advance the interests of their friends,—an advantage quite obvious to all those at all acquainted with electioneering tactics. Mr. Roche added, that he himself experienced this disadvantage at his election for the city of limerick, when he was obliged to relinquish all attention to its conduction or proceedings, and confine himself to his functions as a Magistrate, in thus quail- fying the numerous Roman Catholic voters,—a disadvantage that might have been fatal to his interests had it not been for the kind and preponderating feelings of his fellow-citizens in his favour. "But, Sir, (Mr. Roche continued) is it not also matter of serious consideration, that this so solemn obligation must, under such circumstances of hurry and confusion, be unavoidably administered with a precipitancy ill becoming such a solemnity." On the whole, Mr. Roche said, he trusted he had adduced ample cause and reason for the removal of so obnoxious a distinction and disadvantage. He had certainly heard it doubted whether, since the Irish Reform Act, there existed an absolute necessity for such oath and qualification; but that, as a contrary opinion rather more powerfully prevailed, and as, at all events, it was deemed safer not to dispense with its practice, it surely became necessary to clear up all doubt, and remove every uncertainty in so important a matter.