The Earl of Roden
rose to present a petition from a class of persons in Ireland, than whom he would venture to assert there were no more valuable members of society, or men more devoted to the sacred calling which they exercised. While he rendered them the just meed of praise, which was their strict due, he was also bound to say, that no class of individuals in the community endured, at present, greater privations. The body to which he alluded was the Clergy of Ireland. The petition which he had been intrusted with was from the clergy of the archdiocese of Tuam, the diocese of Ardagh 245 and Killala, and the deaneries of Athenry and Clonfert. He would beg to call the attention of the House to a few of the particular circumstances connected with the case of these gentlemen, and detailed in their petition. The petitioners stated that they were anxious to disabuse the minds of their Lordships, in the first instance, of any idea which might have been impressed, or sought to be impressed on them, that the law as it stood in Ireland was insufficient for the recovery of their tithes, and to assure the House that it was fully competent to enforce the collection of their revenues from that source, especially in cases of tithe composition. The petitioners complained that they were deprived of their property in tithes, which, he would say, was as much the property of the clergy as their Lord ships' lands were their property, by means of a foul conspiracy which existed at present in Ireland. They stated, that there were two modes by which they might recover their dues: the first by distress upon the lands of those indebted to them—a mode which they avoided on almost every occasion, inasmuch as they were always averse to any unchristian collision with their parishioners; the second by Exchequer process in the superior Courts of the kingdom. As he had observed, they were in almost all cases averse to exercise power conferred by the former mode, and they were anxious to adopt the latter; but it had been found so expensive, that it was put by that means beyond the possibility of their reach. The petitioners also stated, that they felt the deepest gratitude to those individuals in this country who sympathised with their sufferings, and stepped forward to relieve their privations and redress their injuries; but particularly they felt indebted to those "honourable and powerful persons," as they termed them, who had associated together under the title of "The Lay Association," for the purpose of recovering for them what they had been unjustly deprived of, and restoring them again to their property, by the aid of their purses and their exertions. It was impossible for him (the Earl of Roden) not to concur in what the petitioners had stated, or to refrain from expressing his humble thanks and gratitude to a noble Earl connected with the county of Kent, who was the first to propose that association to the country. It had been stated in other places, falsely stated, that that Association was actuated by improper motives, and that it had acted in a harsh manner to- 246 wards those whom it sued; but he (the Earl of Roden) defied any one to show one single case, or point out a solitary instance, in which it could be fairly inferred that it was actuated by improper motives, or prove that it had acted in a harsh manner in its efforts to recover the just rights of the clergy of Ireland. The petitioners prayed their Lordships to consider well on any measure which would be proposed to affect the Church of Ireland, and besought them to weigh well all the circumstances connected with it before they suffered it to pass their House. They expressed a ready and a cheerful acquiescence in whatever plan Parliament should see fit to adopt in regard to their pecuniary concerns; but they stated that they would never sacrifice a single iota of those principles and that truth which it was their duty and their privilege to teach and defend as well as practise. The noble Earl concluded by stating his readiness to meet any noble Lord, who should choose to impugn the principles or proceedings of the Lay Association, then or on any future occasion.
The Earl of Winchilsea
said, that after the personal allusion which had been made to him by the noble Earl, he felt it his duty to make one or two observations in respect to the part he had taken in the origin and formation of the Lay Association. In what he had done towards organising that society he conceived he had only done his duty, a duty which he should willingly perform on all occasions, and which he should never abandon. The petitioners had drawn a faithful outline of their privations, and of the state of ruin entailed upon them. Could any one stigmatise those who exerted themselves for the recovery of the clergy from that state? He was prepared to stand or fall by the principles which had established and which actuated the Lay Association, and he believed that no man in England with a right feeling would blame him for coming forward to assist the distressed clergy of Ire land. Though the motive of the Lay Association had been impugned in another place, he would challenge those who impugned it to prove the slightest cause for their censure in regard to it. The clergy of Ireland were the victims of a foul con spiracy—they were in the utmost destitution and misery. To that state they were reduced solely by the remissness of the Ministry in coming forward with the power with which they were armed, and exercising it in the behalf of their rights. The 247 clergy of Ireland had now no security— not alone for their properties and their rights—but for their very lives. It was a well known fact that there was an association in that country for the purposes of assassinating them. If such a state of things were to be any longer permitted, and if the Government did not at once come forward to put an end to it, it would be an indelible disgrace to the country. If that body of his fellow-countrymen were to be left any longer without that security for their properties and persons which was the right of every inhabitant of Great Britain, he should stand forward himself and rouse such a feeling on the subject among the people of England, as would speedily put an end to the system under which they now suffered so severely. He hoped that some noble Lord would bring forward the subject in a substantive nature, and then it would be found that such a conspiracy existed against the lives and property of the clergy of Ireland as compelled them to fly to foreign countries to preserve the one, and effectually and completely deprive them altogether of the other.
§ Petition to He on the Table.