§ MR. O'REILLY
rose to call attention to the circumstances under which the Salters' Company had refused a site for a Roman Catholic church in Magherafelt, and to move an Address to Her Majesty on the subject. This great Company, the annual income of whose estates in Londonderry amounted to £15,000 a year, of which sum £8,000 was contributed by Roman Catholic tenants, had given a site to the Established Church, with a grant of £4,000 and £10 a year; it had given a site to the Presbyterians, with a contribution of £1,200; and the seceding Presbyterians had also received, or were expecting, a site and a money contribution. The Roman Catholics, however, who had only a small wretched church more than a mile outside the town, wholly incapable of accommodating the worshippers who desired to attend the services, had repeatedly applied in vain for a site in the town, and had even been refused permission to buy a site, though they contributed one-half the rental of the Company. The parish priest, with some of his parishioners, had an interview with a deputation of the Salters' Company upon this subject on the 21st of July, 1865. After some months, the memorialists were informed that the charter of the Company prevented them from granting a site for a Roman Catholic church, inasmuch as that by the terms of the charter, the Company were obliged to encourage Protestantism and to discourage Popery in the North of Ireland. That sort of policy might have been considered suitable to the condition of Ireland 300 years ago; but was it wise to revive the 892 remembrance of such things at present? He begged to move an humble Address to Her Majesty praying—That she will be graciously pleased to revoke such portion, if any, of the charter of the Salters' Company as impedes the obtaining of a site for a Roman Catholic church on their property.
§ MR. COGAN
, in seconding the Motion, said, he felt confident that the sense of the House and the force of public opinion would be sufficient to secure a remedy for the state of things complained of. If the large estates held in the North of Ireland by London Companies who knew nothing of the conditions of the country were managed on the same principles as those of the Salters' Company, the sooner Parliament interfered the better.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to revoke such portion, if any, of the Charter of the Salters' Company as impedes the obtaining of a site for a Roman Catholic Church on their property at Magherafelt."—(Mr. O'Reilly.)
§ COLONEL FRENCH
said, the hon. Gentleman was quite right in bringing this matter before the House. It seemed to him most extraordinary conduct to refuse a site for a place of worship, and would never be sanctioned by that House, which was not particular about interfering with the rights of property where the public interests were concerned.
MR. PEEL DAWSON
said, it was his lot to reside upon an estate immediately adjoining that of the Salters' Company in the county of Londonderry, and he was therefore acquainted with all the parties to this transaction, and with almost everyone who signed the petition to the Company. The Roman Catholic Church of Magherafelt was the recognised place of worship of the great majority of his Roman Catholic tenants, and of the servants in his own household of that persuasion. He felt therefore a very strong personal interest in this matter, which he hoped would be speedily brought to a satisfactory termination. He would at once say that the Roman Catholic Church at Magherafelt was incommodious, inconvenient, and totally inadequate for the respectable performance of Divine worship for a congregation numbering about 500. It was about three-quarters of a mile distant from the town of Magherafelt, but was situated in the centre of the estate, and he did not see any valid objection to the present site. 893 He had, however, often seen—particularly in the summer months—numbers of people kneeling outside in the graveyard in a direct line from the door. Upon all grounds therefore a new and more commodious building was desirable, and he acknowledged it as a lamentable fact that when this matter was deliberated upon by a full court of the Salters' Company in 1865, the necessary facilities were not afforded. The refusal, however, was, he believed, not directed against the general wish of the inhabitants to provide themselves with a more suitable place of worship, but rather against the particular site which had been applied for, and was insisted upon. Magherafelt was a respectable town of about 1,600 or 1,700 inhabitants, and was already ornamented with two magnificent structures, one belonging to the Established Church, the other to the members of the Presbyterian body, to the erection of which the Salters' Company had liberally subscribed. Now, both the Established and the Presbyterian Churches had fine tall spires, and it was rumoured that if the particular site in question was granted it was in contemplation to build a church of such amplitude as would overtop and overshadow the two Protestant structures; so that, in fact, Magherafelt would throw Coventry into the shade, whose spires might be seen at twenty miles' distance. He was of opinion that a special inadvertence had been committed by the Company in the terms of their refusal, for reasons had been alleged which were hardly in accordance with the present state of civilization and the spirit of advancing toleration. He believed the Company would re-consider the matter at any time, and would be ready to abandon any course of action springing from obsolete provisions in their charter. If they acted strictly in accordance with those provisions they would have to build forts and discipline troops for the Crown, so that strict adherence to a 17th century charter would be obviously absurd. In justice to the Company he would read a letter which he had received from its representatives in reference to the subject. The letter detailed the course the Company had pursued from the time the inhabitants of Magherafelt first petitioned for a site to a deputation from the Company visiting Magherafelt in 1865; the answer made was that the Company did not think it expedient to grant a site for a new chapel in the place indicated. The letter also stated 894 that fresh ground had already been granted for an extension of the burial ground of the existing chapel which was in a very central position on the Company's estate, that the Company had shown itself well-disposed to the Roman Catholics by the donation of £20 a year towards the stipend of the Roman Catholic parish priest, and by similar donations towards the salaries of the school teachers. The letter promised a favourable consideration of any proposal to extend the site of the present chapel, and would take into consideration any matter brought forward on the occasion of the Company's biennial visit to the estate. As therefore there seemed to be a prospect of gaining compliance on the part of the Company with the request of their petitioners, he hoped the hon. and gallant Member would not press his Motion, especially as its subject—a question between a company of landlords and their tenants—was scarcely germane to the ordinary functions of the House. Personally, he hoped that the Roman Catholics of Magherafelt would soon have a new and commodious church, and he would be found among the list of subscribers to it. Concluding, he remarked that the Salters' Company had unfortunately succeeded as proprietors to a family (Sir Thomas Bateson's) conspicuous for its liberality; indeed, that family's generous treatment of its tenants had scarcely ever been equalled, and never surpassed. At this time even the family was held in grateful remembrance by the people of the district, and it was centred in the person of the present representative of the family sitting behind him. But to show that the Company was not a hard master, he mentioned that it had caused only three evictions in Magherafelt and four in the country parts, all-on account of non-payment of rent, and that it had paid £18,000 through the Estate Office as an earnest of tenant-right between outgoing and incoming tenants.
§ MR. MAGUIRE
thought that the best course that could be pursued would be to withdraw the Motion. He admitted that the Company had behaved with liberality to their tenants; but, at the same time, there was no question that they had raised the rent considerably higher than it was under the Bateson family. He did not deny that the owners of property had rights; but, at the same time, they had reciprocal duties.
§ MR. O'REILLY
, expressing a hope that the Company would act in the manner in- 895 dicated by the hon. Member for Londonderry, said he would not press his Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.