HL Deb 23 February 1827 vol 16 cc646-50
Viscount Lorton

rose to present a petition from the Protestant Inhabitants of the county of Sligo, against granting any further concessions to the Catholics; and in present- ing it, he begged to say a few words on the subject matter of the Petition. He wished to see an emancipation in Ireland—he was an advocate for emancipation—but it was the emancipation of the Protestants, not the emancipation of those who urged their claims in a manner hostile to the constitution of the country. He could assure their lordships, that the Protestants were persecuted and proscribed in Ireland, and would be forced out of the country or annihilated, if they were not protected. There was a Roman Catholic parliament sitting at Dublin, which had been more outrageous since an act of parliament had been passed to put it down. The Catholic Association continued its meetings, and was more mischievous than ever. At first, the higher orders stood aloof; but after the Catholic clergy gave it their countenance, it was joined by all ranks, from the highest to the lowest, and all the members were as zealous in the cause as the first furious demagogues. Such was the power of the Pope in Ireland over the minds of those who were members of his church, that not only were the most bitter denunciations uttered against every thing Protestant, against the established Church, and institutions of the country, but even the Protestant gentry were held forth to the infuriated peasants as fit subjects for assassination. Their lordships must be well acquainted with the Philippics delivered by O'Connell and Sheil, the latter of whom had, in the most dastardly manner, attacked his royal highness, the late commander-in-chief, at the very moment that he was on his death-bed. The speeches of these and other demagogues had excited the peasants to such a pitch of fury, that a rebellion was apprehended; and, should it break out, he hoped that the most prompt measures would be taken to prevent the Catholic leaders from leaving Ireland. They ought not to be suffered to escape with impunity, after they had set the country in a blaze. Sheil had stated, one of his speeches, that Ireland might easily be invaded by means of steam: but he would contend that this new discovery afforded the best protection against sudden surprise on the part of a foreign enemy and that one British company could furnish more steam-vessels than were to be found in all Europe besides. The Popish demagogues were playing the game of brag, and if they were resolutely met, they would, like all other bullies, very soon retire into their skulking places. The priests were so exasperated by the progress which the reformation was making in Ireland, that their rage knew no bounds. His lordship here referred to an extract of a speech alleged to have been delivered by a Catholic priest, in consequence of a bible meeting. The extract concluded with these words— "Blood has been shed in France, in Spain, and in Italy, and why shall not Ireland assert her rights?" Here was a sample of the spirit by which the Irish priesthood were influenced. This language was uttered on the 18th of June, in the chapel of Roscommon, immediately on the eve of the election. He maintained, that it would be of the greatest benefit, both to Protestants and Catholics, to free them from the furious bigotry of men who would, if they had the power, crush the bodies of the former, upon the same principle that they now kept the minds of the latter in gross ignorance. Besides the petition which he should now present, he had also petitions to lay before their lordships, from the bishops and clergy of the dioceses of Elphin, Kilalla, and Clogher, and two petitions from the county of Monaghan. Before he sat down, he would read a passage from a letter addressed to a noble friend of his by that notable Jesuit, who wrote under the signature of I. K. L. (Dr. Doyle). The following was the language of a man whose influence was paramount with the Catholics:—" I think the church establishment must fall sooner or later; its merits in Ireland are too well known—it has been brought to the light, and its works being such as do not bear the light, it will, it must, suffer loss as soon as an impartial judgment can be passed upon it. Clamour, bigotry, enthusiasm, and a spirit of selfishness, constitute its present chief support. It derives no aid from reason, justice, or public utility. Its old connection with the Crown, and that aversion to experimental innovation, which characterizes every wise government, unite to defend it; but, if the passions of the people were calmed, some man with the spirit and power of Burke, who arranged that chaos, ' the Civil List,' and purified, without injuring them, the revenues and prerogatives of the Crown itself—some such man would arise and free the nation from the reproach of the Irish temporal establishment; he would relieve religion from an incubus, and the land of the country, with its proprietors, and cultivators, from an intolerable pressure. The concession of the Catholic claims would hasten the desirable result, not by any revolutionary movement, as your lordship seems to apprehend, but by removing an immense barrier, which the agitation of those claims now opposes to the progress of reason and justice, and by uniting all classes of Irishmen in labouring to renovate their country, and to restore her, divided and almost lifeless as she is, to a state of health and vigour. We, in Ireland, have been accustomed to view it from our infancy; and, when men gaze for a considerable time at the most hideous monster, they can view it with diminished horror; but a man of reflection, living in Ireland, and coolly observing the workings of the church establishment, would seek for some likeness to it only amongst the priests of Juggernaut, who sacrifice the poor naked human victims to their impure and detestable idols." Such was the production from the pen of I. K. L. of whom their lordships must have heard so much. He had one more remark to offer, which was, that there now existed in Ireland a secret inquisition, which worked its way into every family, and he called upon their lordships to adopt the most prompt measures to counteract it.

Lord King

said, that the noble and learned lord on the woolsack, who, at the commencement of the session, had recommended that long speeches should not be made on presenting petitions, must make an exception in favour of the noble viscount opposite, whose sentiments on this question were so congenial with his own. The noble viscount told their lordships, that the Protestants of Ireland were an oppressed and proscribed people. The best answer which could be given to the speech of the noble lord, was to be found in a petition which he intended to present. He would read a sentence from it, and, in doing so, was stating the case of the oppressed, not of the law-makers and powerful. The passage was this—"That your petitioners most humbly beg to state, that their unprotected situation and condition marks them out to perpetual notice and hostility; that they are the objects of the reproaches of the evil-disposed, who strive to heap wrong upon wrong, and injury upon injury, in order to render them odious in the eyes of the legislature." The complaints made against the Catholics reminded him of the fable of the wolf and the lamb. The lamb was tried and found guilty by wolf-law; and the Catholies of Ireland were like lambs under the wolf-law of the Protestants.

The Lord Chancellor

admitted that he had, on a former occasion, when presenting a petition, taken an opportunity to express his opinion, that it was more consistent with the usage of parliament, that noble lords should not make the presenting of petitions an occasion for entering-into a debate. The noble baron had not chosen to follow this advice; though he had always thrown his words back in his teeth. When the noble lord talked of wolves and lambs, it was not difficult for their lordships to decide whether the petitions he usually presented came from the wolves or the lambs. While he was on, his legs, he would take that opportunity of stating, that for twenty-five years he had given the subject to which the petitions related his most serious consideration, in order to come to a right conclusion. He would not then enter into it, but reserve the full expression of his opinion for the day when the question should be debated; but he would declare, that in his conscience he thought, though he did not say that other noble lords might not conscientiously think differently, that to grant the Catholics any further concessions would be to betray the civil and religious liberties of this country.

Ordered to lie on the table.