HL Deb 24 June 1831 vol 4 cc280-4
The Earl of Shrewsbury

presented several Petitions, for a Repeal of the Union between Great Britain and Ireland. From the tenor of these petitions, the noble Earl said, and from the letters which accompanied them, he was satisfied that the sole object of the petitioners was a redress of grievances. Were they allowed to enjoy their full share in the Representation of the country—were a larger pro- portion of the wealth of Ireland expended in that country—were the religion of the State not placed in hostility to the religion of the people—had the peasant a legal right to employment and subsistence—he was quite certain petitions of that description would never again be sent to their Lordships. In touching upon the present melancholy condition of parts of Ireland, he was happy to say, he had learnt, with infinite satisfaction, by the King's Speech, that his Majesty's Ministers had determined to send supplies to the distressed districts, but he had also learnt, with deep regret, that those supplies were to be limited far within what he supposed was necessary. It was, however, a consolation to know, that measures were to be devised to prevent a recurrence of the evil. That was not the time to enter into details; but he hoped their Lordships would allow him to observe, that he thought the principal object should be, to introduce into Ireland the better portion of the Poor-laws, in order to assimilate as much as possible the condition of both countries; for never could he understand either the justice or policy of that law which abandoned the unfortunate and distressed of Ireland to utter destitution, without a hope or chance of redemption, while it imposed an imperative obligation on the English landholder to provide for the poor and indigent, from which even the absentee proprietor could not escape. It seemed to be forgotten that Ireland was an integral portion of this empire, subject to the same benevolent Monarch, and governed by the same wise and humane Legislature. Their Lordships were bound to take these unfortunate people under their immediate and efficient protection. The Almighty had created them with as high a destination and as beneficent a design as he had created the rest of mankind, and there could be no doubt of the moral obligation of doing justice to them. But, while political economists had been discussing the causes of the calamity, and the sources from whence relief was to flow, famine and disease had been suffered to seize upon their prey; the charity of the world had been appealed to to supply the place and perform the duty of those intrusted with authority, but the charity of the world was wholly inadequate to meet the exigencies of the case: for, with every effort (and the most laudable efforts had been made), a sum not exceeding, he believed, 20,000l. had been collected, whereas, he was informed that not less than 60,000l. would be necessary to alleviate the distress. There was another circumstance, which in this case restrained the bounty of the public, and rendered it inefficient, and that was religious bigotry. Of this there was a striking and melancholy example the other day at a public meeting in Exeter Hall, in which men, who professed to assemble for purposes of charity, suffered themselves to be carried away by misguided zeal to utter the most bitter and false invectives against those whom they perhaps sincerely desired to relieve. In an age of religious fanaticism and acrimonious controversy, which it had been hoped an equality of civil rights would have terminated, or at least cooled, it seemed impossible that charity could duly exert her influence over the hearts of men. In reply to a deputation from the distressed districts, the Lord Lieutenant was reported to have said, that Ministers would willingly propose a grant of money, but they feared Parliament would refuse it,—but he could not believe that their Lordships would suffer such a state of misery to exist, when the remedy was within their power. Because the scene was distant, it surely was not the less real, nor less entitled to attention. In conclusion, he wished to press upon their Lordships' serious attention, an admirable and eloquent appeal which Dr. Doyle had made to the public, in the form of a letter to a distinguished Member of the Lower House. With, their Lordships' permission, he would read extracts from letters he had lately received. A Dr. M'Hale, writing to him and speaking of the condition of the poor, said, "It is a study to which, theoretically as well as practically, my attention is lately turned. Their condition in this country surpasses description; and if the Government do not interfere, thousands of the people will become the victims of starvation. This is not an assertion casually suggested by a reference to that part of your Lordship's letter which regards the poor. It is one, I am sorry to say, advisedly and deliberately made from a conviction of its truth, as your Lordship may see in this day's Freeman's Journal, in a letter to Earl Grey, a copy of which I directed the editor to transmit to your Lordship. Whoever is well acquainted with the condition of this country and its people, cannot be surprised at the avidity with which they listen to any project of future good which may be set before them. It does not arise from a spirit of gratuitous agitation, but it springs from the deep consciousness of wretchedness which they think no change can aggravate; a feeling which, in every age, has furnished the most powerful spring to restlessness and agitation. Whilst, therefore, the people are left so, they will agitate the Repeal of the Union, or any other repeal, or any project whatever that promises hope of relief, which, if once obtained, they would be as indifferent to any of those political measures by which they are now stirred up, as they would be to the discovery of the longitude. I trust that the Reform, in all its fulness, will be extended to Ireland; whatever its extent may be at present, the Irish Members will not throw any obstacles in its way. On the contrary, they will support the King and the Ministry, and cheer them through the opposition they must encounter. But if the Representation of Ireland be not enlarged, and the plan here be not assimilated to that of England, no authority will prevent my countrymen from demanding loudly and perseveringly a Parliament of their own." Dr. Kelly, another Roman Catholic Bishop wrote to him thus. "I shall not now harrow up the feelings of your Lordship by attempting to describe the truly alarming distress which prevails along the western coast of Galway and Mayo. I shall only assure you, that the accounts given in the public prints are by no means exaggerated. So perfectly are the sentiments of the Members of this Committee in accordance with those expressed in your Lordship's letter, that a highly respectable deputation has been appointed to proceed to Dublin, to wait on the Lord Lieutenant, and lay before him such documents as must convince the most incredulous of the absolute necessity of the prompt and efficient interference of Government, otherwise thousands must inevitably perish before relief can reach them from the growing crops. These communications have been already made by the Committee in writing; but, strange to say, without effect. I hope the deputation may stir the hearts of those whose duty it surely is, to watch over the wants of the people, and relieve them from an unexampled state of destitution, to which they have been reduced without any fault or folly of their own. What is still more heart-rending to the Clergy, the misery and starvation is not confined to the lower orders. Those who have seen better days, who are unable to procure subsistence, and ashamed to beg; make their moans in private to those who are ill qualified to relieve then. Many of our landlords are acting in the most heartless manner, and although they are mainly the cause of the misery of the people, by the severity with which they exact the rack rents, they now look on without emotion. There are some honourable exceptions; and when on this subject, I cannot refrain from mentioning Lord Sligo, who not only powerfully contributed out of his own property, but has been a most efficient and indefatigable co-operator in procuring aid, at the distribution of which he assists in the most exemplary manner. The poor of this country owe that Nobleman a debt of gratitude which cannot be easily forgotten, and has given an example which, if generally followed by landed proprietors, would not only contribute to alleviate distress, but would be a lesson to the poor to look up to and respect their superiors." The evidence and opinions of such men, who were constantly with their flocks, and well acquainted with their sufferings and their wants, was not to be despised, and he hoped that their Lordships would deem it worthy of their attention. The noble Earl concluded by presenting petitions praying for the Repeal of the Union from the Irish inhabitants of Manchester and forty-one other places.

The Earl of Limerick

did not venture often to trespass on their Lordships' attention but he must express his regret that the noble Earl should have read extracts from certain letters of Drs. Kelly and M'Hale, with a view to produce certain impressions on their Lordships' minds, and also that he should have quoted the authority of Dr. Doyle, who in advocating the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland, had made no unsparing remarks on the Established Church. He would not enter into details upon the question of Poor-laws, or the suggestions thrown out as to tithes; he only hoped the state of Ireland would meet the attention of their Lordships and the Government.

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