HC Deb 08 May 1834 vol 23 cc753-7
Colonel Butler

—Sir, I rise to present a Petition from the parish of the Bower, in the county of Kilkenny, very numerously signed, and as the petitioners complain, as well almost as all the petitioners on the same subject, of the poverty and wretchedness entailed on Ireland by the Act of Union, I shall trespass on the patience of the House, while I read a letter which I received about six or seven weeks ago, from a gentleman, on whose statement the greatest reliance can be placed—a letter that it was my intention to have read on the Repeal Debate, had I not observed that if I had, not one word of it, or anything I could say in reference to it, would have been attended to after so long a debate. The hon. Member read the following extract of a letter from the reverend Charles Butler Stephenson. Westcourt, Callan, March 5, 1834. Dear Sir—Though our politics are somewhat north and south, yet as the member for the county in which I reside, I think it right to make you acquainted with the condition of the poor of the town and liberties of Callan, in order that you may be enabled in your place in Parliament to state from an authentic source the distress which prevails in this country, and the absolute necessity of some legislative enactment for providing employment for the poor. The cholera has been for some weeks amongst us, and has gained an easy victory over our emaciated population; a few hours has generally been sufficient to bring the matter to a fatal termination. We have raised in the town and immediate neighbourhood a considerable subscription, and its effect was almost immediately perceived in the staying of the plague. Our funds, however, are not only exhausted, but we are left in debt, with famine staring us in the face. The number of victims to this dreadful scourge has exceeded one hundred, and though, by the blessing of God, it has much subsided, yet, being no longer able to distribute provisions, we have too much reason to fear its return. The population of the town and liberties of Callan, by the last census, exceeds 6,000, without any means of employment except the occasional demand for agricultural labour at busy seasons of the year. Of these, many hundreds, being principally the wives and children of those who at various times have left the country in search of work, are by trade beggars, trusting to the charitable disposition of the neighbouring farmers, but who, since the introduction of the disease into the town, will not permit them to come near their doors. I protest, that whatever ills might attend a provision for the poor (and having lived many years in England, I am not ignorant of those ills), I would unhesitatingly prefer being subject to them all, rather than be compelled, as I am daily, to witness misery that it is not in my power to relieve. I have of course contributed my mite, about 30l., and have daily employed twenty extra labourers to dig my stubbles, instead of ploughing them; but I have this day been obliged to discharge ten of these poor fellows—and their disconsolate looks, when receiving this notification, though attended with a "God bless your honour for what you have done!"—would, I think, had they witnessed it, have shamed some of our absentee proprietors. There is more matter of great importance in this letter, as relates to other grievances under which the people of the town and liberties of Callan have great reason to complain: but as I shall take an opportunity of communicating with the right hon. the Secretary for Ireland on this subject, and as it would be irrelevant on the present occasion alluding to them, I shall not trouble the House with the detail. Sir, I consider that this letter would have completely refuted the arguments so gravely made use of in order to convince us of the prosperous state of Ireland in consequence of the Union, and therefore I have to regret, that I had not an opportunity of reading it before the closing of the late debate. But who is the individual who writes this letter? He is not a Repealer or a Radical Reformer, as the very first fine of it proves. No, it is written by the reverend Charles Butler Stephenson, the Protestant rector of the town and liberties of Callan, and some adjoining parishes; and I believe it is unnecessary for me to say, that his letter proves that he not only has a head to be of service in advocating the cause of his fellow-parishioners, but a heart to feel for their miseries; but I beg it to be distinctly understood, that I by no means intend to identify the reverend gentleman's name with the petition I am now about to present, for to borrow an idea of his own, I believe his sentiments on Repeal are much further north than mine. In the last session I presented a petition from Callan, wherein it was stated that previous to the Union they had a considerable trade carried on in it, that there were several noblemen and gentlemen residing in the immediate neighbourhood, and that they returned two Members to the Irish Parliament, in fact, that they were at that period in a state of comparative prosperity. This, I believe, was really the case, and I am now perfectly convinced, that so long as the Union exists, so long will they have nothing to look forward to in future, but, if possible, a greater accumulation of misery. Much has been said about a separation between the two countries during the late debate; some hon. Gentlemen declaring that that was the ultimate object of the advocates for Repeal, others contending that it would be a much more rational object for us Irishmen to seek, and probably wishing to get rid of us on any terms, and some of my hon. friends at this side of the House expressing their horror at the idea of being suspected of wishing for such an event. For my part, the view I take of the subject is, that, without partaking in the slightest degree of the horrors of my hon. and sensitive friends, nor by any means wishing for a separation between the two countries, on the contrary, wishing that a rational connexion between them should exist, such as that in the year 1782, I have not the least hesitation in saying that I think a separation of the countries would be better than to let them remain as they are, bound by a fallacious Union, which in my opinion must eventually end in the ruin of both. As to the question of Repeal, notwithstanding the boasted majority of the other night, I do prophesy that so sure as there is a great and just God in Heaven, so sure must it be carried, and most sincerely shall I offer up my prayers to that Almighty God that it may be carried within the walls of this House. The hon. and gallant Member also presented several petitions against tithes, from Kilpatrick in the city of Kilkenny, signed by 9,195 individuals. One of these, signed by 4,000 individuals, complained bitterly of the Tithe Bill of the right hon. the Secretary for Ireland.

Mr. Finn

said, facts were the strongest arguments, and these the right hon. the Secretary for the Treasury furnished him with. A fourth of the entire population of Ireland was unemployed; and a fourth part annually passed through the fever hospitals, and a fourth of the population of the city of Dublin, 60,000 persons, were similarly circumstanced every year. Disease was propagated by famine, and continued by privation.

Mr. Mullins

deprecated the discussion of so important a subject, and the presentation of such important petitions in so thin a House. He moved that the House be counted.

Mr. Finn

said, that he must take the House as he found it. It was not his fault if neither his Majesty's Ministers or other Members attended to their duty there.

The House was counted, and there being more than forty Members present, the business was resumed.

Mr. O'Dwyer

would not avail himself of any advantage which his position as a Member of that House would give him to indulge in reference to the management of his Irish estates by the noble Lord (Lord Clifden) alluded to; although he did not mean to say that a landlord, and especially an Irish absentee landlord, was not amenable to public opinion for the manner in which he discharged those obligations that the nature of property implied. He would merely say, that the estate of that nobleman lying near that most wretched place from which the petition came, could be ascertained as distinctly by the appearance which it bore, in contrast with those in its neighbourhood, as if it were set out in metes and bounds by means of painted sign-posts. There was one part, however, of the character of the noble Lord which was a legitimate subject for discussion in that House, and that was his character as a sinecurist. The noble Lord drew, since the period of the Union, a salary of between 1,500 and 2,000l. a-year as clerk of the Privy Council in Ireland, and gave not the shadow of a return. If that salary were distributed amongst the poor of Callan they would have no occasion to appear as beggars for imperial charity. The English ridiculed and inveighed against the Roman nobility who let out their palaces to the rich spendthrifts who flock to Rome; but the Roman nobility had generally the plea of poverty to urge, and they gave their houses for the money they received; but was there not more meanness in a rich Englishman, a nobleman at the head of 30,000l. or 40,000l. a-year, pocketing a salary, and giving nothing in return to the wretched people from which this petition came?

Petitions laid on the Table.