The Earl of Wicklow presented
a petition from a barony in the county of Cork, complaining of the interference of Catholic priests at elections. With this part of Ireland he was not immediately connected; but he believed that the petition was respectable, and he knew that it was numerously signed. The petitioners wished him to call the particular attention of their Lordships to the grievances, injury, and inconvenience, to which the petitioners were subject in consequence of the interference of the priests in the elections in Ireland. The petitioners stated, that, owing to the inflammatory language used by a Roman Catholic priest in the county of Cork, an officer commanding a detachment of soldiers was obliged to withdraw his men from the chapel, and the petitioners hoped that the House would pass a law prohibiting the priests from interfering in elections. He was well aware of the existence of the grievance against which the petitioners prayed for protection. At the same time he was of opinion that no one would think of calling on Parliament directly to interfere to prevent this or any other class of men from using the influence which they might possess over their fellows in election matters; but although they could not prevent the evil by direct compulsion, yet he thought that they might do so by indirect means. The evil did not consist in the interference of the 901 Roman Catholic priesthood to influence legal voters in the exercise of their right, but what he most objected to was, their bringing to the poll those who did not possess such a right, and who perjured themselves by giving a vote which they did not legally possess. This was the power which the Legislature ought to interfere with, and give a remedy against its exercise. It was, therefore, with much satisfaction that he saw, by the votes of the other House of Parliament, that her Majesty's Ministers had introduced a measure which would go a great way towards remedying the evil of which the petitioners complained. Of course he could not know the provisions of that Bill at present, but, when it came before their Lordships' House, if its object were to correct the vicious system which now existed, and which had existed ever since the first establishment of a register in 1829, if there appeared on the Bill a bona fide intention to remedy this evil, he would most cheerfully co-operate with her Majesty's Ministers, and endeavour to pass it. But if the Bill should turn out to be the same as a few Sessions ago reached their Lordships, and which, under the guise of amendment, bore the evidence of being a rank and gross job, placing at the disposal of Government the appointment of the revising barristers, he should feel it his duty to do the same with the present Bill as he did with the former, and move its rejection.
remarked, that the noble Lord had not hit upon one remedy which might be effectual—that a measure should be proposed making a state provision for the Roman Catholic clergy. His belief was, that such a provision would be strenuously opposed by the clergy at first, but would afterwards be quietly received.
§ Petition laid on the table.