HL Deb 07 March 1828 vol 18 cc1049-55
The Marquis of Londonderry

said, he wished to ask a noble lord a question, which was connected with those observations which he had ventured to make to their lordships on a former evening, relative to the Roman Catholic Association. Before he asked, however, an explanation upon that point, he could not help, when he observed, in the reported proceedings of that Association, that a letter had been read from a noble lord (Duncannon), a member of the other House of Parliament, making a few observations with respect to the conduct of that noble lord. If that Association was bad in itself, it became infinitely worse when it was made a channel of communication to the Roman Catholics of Ireland, and when those political spirits, whom he could call no better than demagogues, made use of the authority with which they were thus clothed. The letter was too long to trouble their lordships by reading the whole, but he had selected one paragraph from it. The letter stated, "for lord Lansdowne, Mr. Tierney, and lord Carlisle, I am prepared to assure you now, as I did on a former occasion, that they and their friends were most anxious the question should be brought on, and that it would have had, as it always has had, all the support that as individuals they could have given to it. For this opinion, I can have no objection, now or at any other time, to have my name used. On the formation of the late government, I thought it my duty, as an Irishman, to give such advice to my Catholic countrymen as I thought most to their interest to pursue. I thought the agitation of that question, at that time, proposed, as it was attempted to be done, by the bitterest opponents of the Catholics, would have embarrassed the formation of the government, and I recommended a postponement of that question; but you will do me the justice to recollect, that I stated distinctly then, that it was only for that moment; and, indeed, if I could have proposed any thing further, I must have been insane to suppose that the Catholic people of Ireland would ever consent to such a disgraceful proposition. I will, however, say no more on this subject, leaving it to you, if you think fit, to set it right, as I really think it due, both to lord Lansdowne and the Catholics, that it should be rightly understood. The present posture of affairs is a hopeless one, as I really think the government as at present constituted, almost worse than lord Liverpool's. Mr. Lamb, indeed, has the best intentions towards Ireland, and lord Anglesea goes with the same intentions; but what can be hoped for from any such government, after Mr. Peel's speech last year, in which he took to the Home Secretary the complete control of Ireland." Thus it appeared that those noble lords above-mentioned had authorized the stating to the Catholics of Ireland, that if they had been able, they would have brought forward the Catholic question; but when their intentions respecting that question had been asked at the time they formed part of the government, they stated they would not bring it forward at that time; and he would assert, that, if they made that declaration to the people of Ireland through this Association, such a proceeding was clothing it with an authority of a highly improper character. The reading of that letter was followed by a speech from Mr. O'Connell, so absurd as to be undeserving of notice. After him, however, a gentleman got up and said, that he was desired by lord Clifden to state that the marquis of Anglesea regretted exceedingly the unfortunate expressions which he had used on a former occasion, with respect to the Catholics of Ireland. Now, he doubted not, that if the noble marquis intended again to make a recantation of his opinions on that question, their lordships would have known it by his proxy, or by some other mode. He could not believe that the noble marquis had authorized the noble lord opposite to make a declaration of his sentiments to the Association, neither could he imagine that that noble lord had made such a statement without the consent of the noble marquis, yet here it stood reported. He thought, therefore, it would be of essential importance, if, by these observations, he should give the noble lord an opportunity to unmask the imposture by which mischievous political spirits attempted to govern Ireland. It was solely for that purpose that he had ventured to address the few observations he had made to their lordships, and he did hope that government would take such measures as would put down, for the sake of the happiness of the country, that most mischievous Association. He hoped the noble lords, to whom he had alluded, would do him the justice to believe that his only object was to enable them to state distinctly what was the meaning of the declarations made at the meeting of that Association.

Lord Clifden

hoped, after the speech of the noble marquis, he might be allowed to say a few words. If the noble marquis had not put a question to him he should, nevertheless, have stated, that he never had authorized the gentleman who had been mentioned by the noble marquis, to make the declaration which he had just heard read. He understood that the proceedings of the meeting had been ill-reported. With respect to the Association, their lordships would recollect, that it was now thirty-five years since, under the shapes of convention, committee, or association, the Catholics had carried on their applications for relief from those laws which the wisest and ablest men in the country contended ought to be abrogated. In 1793, an act passed to put down the convention; and that act was so worded, that had it not been for a special exception in favour of the two Houses of the Irish parliament, they could not have continued to sit. In consequence of that act of parliament, the convention appeared in the shape of a committee, and during the government of the duke of Richmond there was a violent contest with that committee, and he forgot what was the end of it. Then arose the Association, and this state of things would continue until the two countries were identified. There was no choice for their lordships for putting down the Association, but by the strong arm of power, and even then it would rise up in some other shape, like the Carbonari in Italy. Their lordships could not muzzle, crush or strangle six million of people. He was, however, far from justifying the acts of the Association. In many cases he exceedingly lamented them. For the marquis of Anglesea and for Mr. Lamb he had the greatest respect. There never had gone out to Ireland a governor nor a Secretary more popular, both among Catholics and Protestants. The noble marquis was admitted by all parties, equally disposed to put down the Orange violences in the north, and the Catholic violences in the south, and to deal strict justice between both parties. The great thing was to convince the people of Ireland that perfect justice was to be done them. He greatly lamented that a time had been allowed to pass when it would have been possible to put down the Association. It was, however, stated, that if the claims of the Catholics of Ireland were granted at all, they would still be unquiet. But if that should be the case, they would then find opposed to them both the Catholics and Protestants of England sixteen millions against five or six millions. If forty thousand armed men were sent over to Ireland to prevent the meetings of the society, they might drive the Catholics under ground,—but still the mischief would exist until the Catholic question was set at rest. The settlement of that question was the sine qua non for bringing peace to Ireland. As he had said before, he expected much good to Ireland from the present governor-general, and his secretary. It was also said, that the patronage was to be distributed in a reasonable and just degree. As to the letter which the noble marquis opposite had read, he must confess that he saw nothing in it; although he could not defend the writing to the gentlemen of the Association. He was himself a sufferer through them; though he dealt more tenderly with them than the noble marquis. In Ireland there was a great deal of talent, but he was sorry to say very little discretion; and this Association was often deficient in the latter respect. The publishing of that letter was a very unjustifiable act. The noble marquis opposite had made some remark on the Catholic question not being brought forward last session, by his noble friends near him. The noble marquis should recollect, that the question had been once decided last year, and that its friends had been called to office so shortly after that decision, that they could not have been expected to bring it forward. Had they been a year in office, they would have done so. He gave all due credit to the present government, and especially to the noble marquis who had gone to Ireland, for a desire to conciliate that country; and, if measures were pursued to prevent all Orange or Catholic excesses, that would be the likeliest method to produce peace there, or at least an abatement of the present feelings of hostility. Their lordships were aware of the monstrous religious hatreds which existed in that country. In Ireland there were Christians acting against every principle of Christianity—the high-church people and Orange party on one side, and the Catholics on the other. He did believe, that there were members of the high Orange party and the Catholics, who were ready to cut each other's throats. He hoped, however, that they were not many who were so disposed. The best method to remove these feelings was by a firm and equal government; and he again said, that to put down the Association, there was only one way, and that was, by concession, under certain regulations—whether by a treaty with the Pope or a provision for the clergy. He knew that that was scouted by the Association, but he cared very little for what they might scout.

The Marquis of Lansdowne

said, he should not have thought it necessary to take a part in the conversation, which had arisen in consequence of the observations of the noble marquis opposite, had not the noble marquis introduced his name in reading a copy of a letter which he had then heard for the first time. After hearing that letter read, and after the observations made by the noble marquis, it became necessary for him to state, that he never authorized any communication to be made, directly or indirectly, to the Catholic Association. He would go further and say, that he never had, and never would. He thought it due to his noble friend whose name appeared at the end of that letter, to say, that he had repeatedly stated to his noble and honourable friends that he thought himself called upon, in consequence of it having been proclaimed in Ireland," that he had endeavoured to induce the Catholics not to petition parliament in the present session, to declare that he had not, either directly or indirectly, made such endeavours or given such advice. He never had thought himself called upon to communicate with the Catholics, through their Association, or any other medium, as to the time at which he might think proper to bring forward their claims for the consideration of parliament. He had uniformly stated to them, that he considered them at liberty, as a portion of the king's subjects, to bring forward their claims, in the form of a petition at that time which they might think most expedient; and he had as uniformly stated, that whatever might be the course adopted by the individual to whom that petition was intrusted, still he (lord Lansdowne) would exercise his own discretion, as to the time at which he should think fit to found on that petition any motion for their lordships' consideration. Upon this subject he had invariably used his own judgment, and to this principle he would at all times, and under all circumstances, adhere. He might have a petition from that body to present, and if called upon to say when he would bring the great motion forward, his answer would be, that he would give due notice of such an event. When he did so it would be, not because he was required by the Catholic Association, or even by the Catholics of Ireland, but because of his impression as to its effect, not only upon the Catholics, but upon the empire at large. That Association, although composed of great talent, was certainly wanting in discretion, and certainly deficient as to the mode by which they should bring that great talent to bear upon their interest. He had made no inquiries of them, because he did not think them qualified to act. Neither did he think that this great question ought to be dealt, with according to the views or opinions of any body of men, but according to the interests of the public at large. He was far from wishing that the Catholic Association had power: he wished, indeed, that they had not the power of irritating, as they had irritated, by language far from being dignified or wise. He would, however, treat language used under such circumstances with total disregard, rather than give it importance by making it the subject of discussion in that House. A time would soon come when all the talent of that house would be called forth upon that question, in which all interests were concerned; and he hoped that the utmost attention would be given to the subject, because he felt it now, more than ever, their bounden duty to devise some measure for securing the tranquillity and promoting the interest of the country.

The Earl of Roden

expressed his earnest hope that some measure would immediately be adopted for suppressing that abominable nuisance, the Catholic Association. It was said it could not be put down, but he should like to see the experiment tried. Whatever difference of opinion noble lords might entertain on the question of Catholic Emancipation, there could be only one as to the evil effects produced by the inflammatory speeches of the demagogues now meeting in Dublin. The suppression of the Association was not only of importance to the safety of the loyal Protestants of Ireland, but to the peace and happiness of the Catholic peasantry. All those who, like himself, were induced to reside on their estates in Ireland, and who endeavoured to improve the condition of those dependent on them, could bear testimony to this fact.