HC Deb 03 July 1844 vol 76 cc286-94
Mr. Sergeant Murphy

rose to move, That this House will, upon Tuesday next, resolve itself into a Committee, to take into consideration the Act 17 and 18 Car. 2, c. 7, intituled, 'An Act for provision of Ministers in Cities and corporate Towns, and making the Church of St. Andrew's, in the suburbs of the city of Dublin, presentative for ever', with a view to the repeal of so much thereof as relates to the payment of ministers in corporate towns in Ireland. The Act was passed for the purpose of providing religious instruction for Protestant immigrants from this country and the Continent into Ireland. It was no longer necessary; and although it produced no more than 15,000l. a-year, it was at once oppressive and offensive to the Roman Catholic population. He knew many Protestant clergymen who derived a portion of their stipend from this peculiar source, who would feel grateful to the Government if it would devise means for relieving them from getting their revenues in such an unpleasant manner. He had read a statement from a Protestant clergyman in Cork on this subject. It was stated that the late Dr. Warren had distrained on a portion of his parishioners for Ministers' Money. A deputation waited on him, and requested him to give back the goods which he had distrained. His reply was, that he wished to God some other mode of remunerating him could be devised by the Government, but that he owed it as a duty to his successor to maintain his rights. Dr. Warren was, he thought, justified in saying so. He trusted the House would do him the justice to believe that he was actuated by no sectarian motives in bringing forward this subject, as all he wanted was to induce the Government to provide a revenue for the clergy, without having recourse to these charges. The Act had established a valuation of all existing houses, but it had fixed certain limits, by enacting that no House should be valued as being worth more than 60l. a-year. The consequence was, that the houses of the rich, which were perhaps worth 200l., were assessed to the Ministers' Money only at 60l. a-year, while the houses of the poor were assessed at their full rental, and if the assessment was not paid the goods were at once distrained, and there was no appeal against the restraint. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by proposing his Motion.

Lord Eliot

had certainly promised last Session to take the subject into consideration, and he had redeemed that pledge, for both his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland and himself had maturely considered the subject, but be regretted to state that the Government had been unable as yet to devise any plan which would be satisfactory to the persons subject to the payment of the tax, without depriving the clergy of that to which the hon. and learned Gentleman himself admitted they were fairly entitled. It should be remembered that at the time this Act passed, Roman Catholics were incapacitated by law from holding houses; therefore it was a tax imposed upon Protestant property exclusively, and Roman Catholics, who had since become possessed of that property, had acquired it subject to this tax, and, therefore, had purchased it for less than they would otherwise have given for it. He did not abandon the hope of being able to devise a measure at some future time to remedy the grievance, which he admitted the existence of, but he could not accede to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and he hoped he would not press it.

Mr. Bellew

hoped, that before another Session the Government would prepare a measure to carry out the object of his hon. and learned Friend.

Lord Stanley

could inform the House that the subject had occupied the serious attention of Government, with the view of devising some substitute for Ministers' Money. They had not yet succeeded, but he trusted that before the close of next Session they would be enabled to submit some measure on the subject to Parliament.

Mr. John O'Brien

said: In addressing you on the important subject now under consideration, it would be presumptuous in me to suppose I could suggest any view, or unfold any argument not already submitted to the legislative wisdom of Parliament, or the collective intellect of the country. The present is a branch of that great question which, so fatally for Ireland, has long absorbed the feelings of that country, and painfully occupied the attention of this House. The temporalities of the Protestant Church in Ireland are inseparably connected with its history, and from the period of their first alienation, even to the present time, have been intimately and avowedly associated with those social distractions, with those national disturbances which have so long retarded the prosperity of that country, deteriorated the moral character of its people, and arrested the development of those physical capabilities with which it has been so profusely but so unavailingly gifted. The unexampled position of such a Church—repudiated by the prejudices, disavowed by the opinions, yet sustained by the contributions of an impoverished and dissentient people, has been, in the anomalous history of Ireland, that fatal malady, that organic defect, which has poisoned the springs of national prosperity, given to seetarian hatreds an unnatural longevity and prohibited that incorporation of the vanquished with the victors, which the claims of a common country and the instincts of a mutual interest would ere now have successfully achieved. The people of Ireland resisted the imposition of an alien church; the fervour of religious zeal was fortified by the suggestions of national pride, and the Anglican Church in Ireland, rich in revenue, but poor in ecclesiastical utility, with parishes without churches, with churches without congregations, stood forth in bold relief, the enduring and conspicuous monument of your injustice and of our subjugation. But well would it have been for the repose of Ireland; well for the safety of that empire of which she forms so important, yet so unregarded a portion; well for the character of that common Christianity which suffers in the conflict of creeds, had the claims of secular ambition superseded those of sacerdotal rapacity, and had the forfeited rights of the national church in Ireland been transferred to a lay proprietary, no matter what the denomination of its creeds. Prescription would have ratified the transference, time would have obliterated the recollection, and the constant interchanges of property would have called into aid a native of Catholic proprietary. Thus, the country would have been saved the distractions—the empire the peril—and religion the desecration of a spiritual coporation tainted by earthly passions, corroded by unappeasable fears, viewing with vindictive consciousness the sullen jealousies of a dissentient population, and proclaiming in permanent and offensive commemoration the fallen condition of the ancient Church, and the humiliation of a subjugated people. The Protestant Church Establishment in Ireland is an anomaly in the history of mankind, it is perfectly without a parallel. By what remote or analogous example will you vindicate its character? In what region will you find the Church of an opulent minority claiming a national and exclusive establishment? Not in philosophical France, so wisely adopting the ministry of all its creeds. Not in despotic Austria, ruling its many sects with equal and paternal sway. Not in Spain. Not in Italy, the consecrated abode of Catholicism. Perhaps the Ottoman, who spurns the Christian dispensation, may furnish a precedent to justify Christian rapacity, but he refuses to give you an exculpatory example. He propagates the doctrines of the Prophet by the congenial instruments of the Koran and the sword; he exterminates, it is true, but he does not, in the name of a merciful religion, proscribe kindred and associated sects; he does not gild the minarets of his mosque with the patrimony of the poor, nor, in the name of a religion which, disavowing the attractions of this probationary scene, points to the eternal recompense that awaits the self-denying virtue of the Christian, does he aggravate the sufferings of an impoverished people, by the infliction of an intolerant law? But, perhaps, the New World may furnish you a precedent denied by the Old. Look to America, with her multiplied and enlightened community, combining the accumulated wisdom of years with the vivifying energies of youth. I cannot find that she considers the ascendancy of a dominant Church essential to the purposes of religion; she does not hold it vital to her great federative republic, to consign any sect of her associated communities to a legislative inferiority; she has improved upon the wisdom of her ancestors, and has transferred to a virgin soil the great principles of your free institutions, unstained by irrational bigotry or sectarian distinctions. But "is there aught in the domestic economy of your empire" which indicates the anomaly of your Church? But here also you fail in gaining a precedent or an apology. In England the Church Establishment, venerable by its virtue, and recommended by its utility, represents the opinions, and is sustained by the affections of an enlightened people. Scotland, Presbyterian Scotland, with all the hardihood of its strenuous character, resisted the encroachments of an Episcopal Church, and exults in the profession and in the establishment of its simple and republican creed. In Wales, a subordinate principality incorporated with your empire, and participating in your privileges, the national priesthood are established by the law, and sustained by the willing contribution of the people. Ireland alone, in disastrous singularity, stands forth an exception to the principles of reason, to the spirit of the Gospel, to the example of the Turk, to the concurring testimony of the Old World and the New—and there we have an unblushing Church, repudiated by the belief of the country, and deriving a disreputable existence from the compulsory contributions of a dissentient people. But, perhaps, you will here suggest, it is the right of governments to establish true religion; this is the argument of the bigot and the persecutor; each sect claims the distinction, and is equally entitled to the privileges of the orthodox Church; persecution becomes the prerogative of the priest, Catholic or Protestant, Mussulman or Hindoo; religion is desecrated, and society shaken to its base in the barbarous conflict of creeds. Your Establishment has been ratified, it is true, by the concurring compact of two Legislatures. I waive here all reference to the character or questionable authority of that Parliament which, in the condition of the Legislative Union, so inadequately provided for the interest and dignity of their country. But I ask, on what principle it is you claim for Governments or Parliaments the right to legislate in perpetuity, and control the discretion of a posterity yet unborn. What are the duties of legislation? What, but to promote the well-being of society, and wisely to accommodate its enactments to the varying character of the moral, the political the material interests of man. Neither in his moral or physical relations ought you if you could—nor can you if you would—enact a stationary law. Change and progression are the condition of our being; and the character of religion, and the well-understood interests of society, alike prohibit the unavailing effort to limit the development of intellect, and the indefinite progress of mind. Religion, with all its accessaries, is among the most difficult, as it is the most important, of those subjects which awaken the attention and exercise the intellect of mankind. For it too, perhaps, as in other sciences, may be reserved in fulness of time the aids and illustrations of a maturer development. The acrimonious spirit of sect may yet be absorbed by the properties of a comprehensive Christianity; and sublime morality of the Gospel, unimpaired by the advocacy of the bigot, or the doubts of the infidel, may yet rule a fallen but regenerated world. Abandon then, the illusion of inflexible compacts, of immutable establishments; accommodate your institutions to the advancing spirit of the age, and to the existing condition of the country; and tried by either test, can you say that the Church temporalities of Ireland are entitled to a legislative maintenance? It is said, that in this establishment consists the safety of the international connection. It is the fatal taint which portends its dissolution; it cannot be denied it is the legitimate offspring of that connection, for Ireland, unless so controlled, would not tolerate the indignity; hence the alienation of which you complain; hence the agitation of that portentous question, which now, as you announce, menaces the integrity of your empire. Protestant ascendancy essential to the international connection!—it is a false and unsubstantial pretext. We require no sectarian garrison to control our allegiance; if so permitted, we shall willingly abide by British connection, from a sense of the many benefits it is calculated to confer. We are the poorer and less prosperous country: I stop not to reproach you with the causes—but we, even more than you, should seek a full and unreserved connection; our relative positions point to its necessity, and the triumphs of intellect, and the miracles of science, are each day facilitating a more intimate incorporation. How is this question to be adjusted? Will the Catholic submit to the indignity of your exclusive Church? Let the experiment of three centuries, let the accumulating wealth and numbers of a rapidly-expanding people reply to your inquiry; and shall we, then, be reserved for a perpetuity of discord? Yet do not suppose that you are uninterested parties. Imperial interests are compromised by our distractions. Look to your Exchequer, calculate what our disaffection stands you in—it exceeds the revenue of that Church for which you lose the affections of Ireland, and are content to lose them. Look to your present profuse expenditure, to your elaborate preparation for war, alternately the subject of our ridicule and of our humiliation. This is emphatically an Imperial question, and therefore I call upon the representatives of England and of Scotland to adopt it with all the energy of a personal interest. Let them, as they ought, and as they are constitutionally entitled to, interfere with the weight of a decisive authority. Let them, I would say, relieve the Irish Protestant representatives from the painful, though now imperious obligation of legislating against the temporalities of their Church. It may not, perhaps, be for me to dwell on this branch of the subject, I shall only say, that I do not depreciate or underestimate the peculiar character of their position. Nor is your condition—I address myself to the Government—without its difficulties. You rule by a minority, you administer the prerogatives of office by the instrumentality of party; your Church Establishment and its policy place in hostile antagonism, as respects you, the universal Catholic population of Ireland; its evil genius follows you in every department of the State. Would you liberalise the franchise, you place constitutional weapons in the hands of your enemies; do you open the corporations, the taint of your ascendancy poisons the gift, and excludes the Protestant from municipal dignity; do you extend the blessings of education, you sharpen the sensibilities and augment the power of an intelligent and hostile people. You speak of what is termed an impartial distribution of patronage; it is an impracticable announcement. What Catholic can seek, can accept your patronage, while in his regard the great principles of justice are violated, and the religion he professes, that of four-fifths of the Christian world, consigned to ignominy and humiliation? The Catholic who accepts your patronage, forfeits character, and you gain no accession. It cannot be denied that the Protestant mind of Ireland is not unprepared for some important change. The Protestants begin to feel that their ascendancy as a sect may be too dearly purchased by the prostration of their dignity as a people—that national distractions impair national influence, and that they suffer in imperial depreciation the penalties of an unjust prominence. For what is the value of our representation in your Parliament? It, is not the sum of, but the difference between antagonist parties: we are balanced and neutralised by our dissensions; even on subjects of the most urgent or most ordinary interest we have not the compact energy of Scotland—we have not your dispassionate unanimity. There is, it cannot be denied, a fast growing apprehension in the humbler but intelligent classes of the Protestant community, that, as regards them, their value of those temporalities is much overrated, and that the great prizes in the clerical lottery are reserved for the members or the dependants of a limited oligarchy. There is a strong persuasion rapidly developing itself among them, that social distractions, national weakness, perishing trade, paralyzed industry, and emaciating absenteeism, may be a somewhat extravagant price for the pride or the vanity—for in their regard it is no more—of an ascendant sectarianism. The inquiry recurs, how is the important and now urgent question to be arranged? There is but one course, simple, direct, and unequivocal;—rescue the Protestant from his ascendancy, the Catholic from his humiliation; give equality to all, pre eminence to none; at once, and for ever abandon a system condemned by reason and the results of centuries. Are you prepared for this great work of national redemption, of imperial safety? I am not insensible to the embarrassments which surround you, nor to the principles and professions by which you gained, and on which you accepted office. Yet there are more imperious duties than the obligations of party—there are yet loftier considerations than the distinctions of office, or the possession of power. You have announced that you will assert the supremacy of the law, and you have assailed the pride of Ireland in the person of its distinguished leader, of that eminent man, long associated with their constitutional triumphs, with their proudest recollections. Perform the corresponding duties which now devolve on you to discharge, and legislate for the wrongs of Ireland with a fearless and paternal spirit. Retrieve, ere it be too late, the all but forfeited affections of her people, and even at the eleventh hour give to them the pledge of an altered policy, by assenting to the Motion of my hon. Friend.

Mr. Curteis

said, that although the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had wandered somewhat widely from the sub- ject - matter of the Motion before the House, he could not commend the courtesy of hon. Gentlemen opposite, in endeavouring to interrupt him by counting out the House, more especially when he recollected that the Government were often permitted to take votes for thousands of the public money, when the attendance of Members was even smaller than on the present occasion He should support the Motion.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at half-past six o'clock.