The Marquess of Downshire
rose, he said, to present a petition on a subject of very great importance. It was one that referred to that important portion of her Majerty's dominions—Ireland; and he only trusted, that the importance of the subject, and the respectability of the petitioners, would supply any want of ability on his part. The petition was from the Belfast Reform Society. The petitioners deprecated the agitation of the Repeal of the Union. This petition, he observed, was signed by 4,000 persons, and included different classes of society. These persons looked with great regret upon the agitation that was now taking place in Ireland; because it impeded the prosperity of the country, whilst it destroyed confidence, and interfered with the security of the country; for, as it had been well observed by a noble and learned Friend of his opposite (Lord Brougham), how could it be hoped that the capital of England would be transferred to Ireland unless there was security for life and property? All that he asked, as a landed proprietor, was, that property might be protected, and that they (the landlords) might be permitted to exercise their judgment in the management of their property, and in such a way as they might consider would best conduce to the interests of themselves and the occupiers of their land. For several years, a great portion of the landed proprietors had evinced great zeal in the improvement of their property; and he was sure beneficial consequences must follow if it were not for the agitation that had been excited on the subject of a repeal of the union. He regretted exceedingly the part that had been taken on this subject by the Roman Catholic hierarchy and Roman Catholic clergy. Their Lordships were aware that there had been meetings with respect to this topic in the southern parts of Ireland, especially at Mullingar, where Dr. Higgins, one of the Roman Catholic prelates, had attended, and where he was reported 570 to have said that he disclaimed all participation with the landed proprietors of Ireland. The words he took from the newspaper, and he was not to be considered for them responsible, more than Dr. Higgins; but the words were these:—To no aristocracy on earth do I owe any thing, save the unbounded contempt that I feel for the whole class.Now, he must say, on the part of the aristocracy, that for those who had been anxious to relieve the Roman Catholics from their disabilities, this was a very poor return on the part of the prelates of that church. He thought, that if the Roman Catholic aristocracy—and he spoke of them with respect—were to come forward and disclaim expressions such as these, he thought that, if they were to do so, the people of Ireland would feel the advantage of it, and even Dr. Higgins himself, who might have been carried away by the feelings of the moment, and given expression to an opinion which he really did not entertain. At least he hoped, that in the present state of the population, he was sure that if the peasantry of Ireland were left to themselves, they would not be found disposed towards violence. On the contrary, the peasantry were disposed to respect their superiors, and to support their landlords, and all those whom they conscientiously considered as their natural protectors, and as he was sure they were, their benefactors also. He could not but declare the satisfaction that he felt in the manner the noble Duke behind him (the Duke of Wellington) had expressed himself on this subject—so strongly, and so like himself. He had no doubt, but the declaration of the noble Duke, as well as that of the Minister of the Crown in another place, must do in Ireland a great deal of service. He was sure that the holding of the same language, and presenting a determined front, to all who had in view disloyal and disaffected objects—he was sure that their doing this would be the best means to induce the people of Ireland to return to their allegiance, if it had been at all diminished by what had taken place. Such declarations might be the means of making such persons become loyal subjects and good members of society.
§ Lord Beaumont
had not intended to have said a word on this subject; but he felt himself now under the necessity of foregoing that intention, in consequence of the expressions which had fallen from his noble Friend, the noble Marquess. It was, 571 however, still with reluctance that he rose on this occasion, and he should certainly have reserved the expression of his opinion till a more fitting opportunity, if the noble Marquess had not distinctly expressed a wish that some member of the Roman Catholic body should openly disavow the sentiments and principles advocated and put forth by Dr. Higgins at Mullinghar, He, therefore, rose in his place in that House, as a member of the body that had been referred to, and on his own individual responsibility, distinctly and unequivocally declared that he could not conceive more disgraceful sentiments, or language less becoming the lips of a prelate than those which had fallen from that reverend person on the occasion alluded to. He would go still further, and he unhesitatingly declared, that if the conduct of the Roman Catholic priesthood was such as Dr. Higgins stated it to be, it was not only disgraceful in them as the ministers of peace, but was more injurious to the religion of which they were the priesthood than the persecutions of ancient times had ever been. It was no part of their duty to act—nay, much more than this—it was not only no part of their duty to act in the manner they were now doing, but it was positively their duty to do the very contrary and prevent others from doing that which they themselves were now doing. They were ministers of peace and they ought to support that alone which would maintain the peace of the empire. By lending their assistance to an agitation which was sowing those seeds which were sure to spring up in blood and war, they were acting contrary to the object of their vows, and in opposition to the purposes for which they had been ordained by their superiors. Not only as Members of the British empire, but as Irishmen they ought to deplore an agitation which would be alike injurious to the particular interests of Ireland as to the general welfare of the nation, and would bring odium on the very church of which they were the ministers. He did, however, hope and trust that what had now fallen in Parliament from persons of all parties would have the effect of calming the public mind, and of putting a stop to the present state of agitation, but if unfortunately it did not do so, and if it became absolutely necessary to take stronger measures, he would say, for one, and he believed many of his co-religionists agreed with him, that he would have no hesitation in supporting the Government in carrying such measures as they then 572 might think it their duty to propose in order to restore tranquility. This question had been called a religious question— that he positively denied—it was a question between peace, justice, religion and public order on one side, and anarchy, spoliation and bloodshed on the other. As to the characters of the agitation, he believed there was a unanimity of opinion in that House, and this he would say, before he sat down, if it is necessary to propose further measures to maintain the Union, he would give his support to those measures with as much cordiality as he ever gave a vote in his life.
§ The Earl of Kenmare
expressed his entire concurrence in what had fallen from the noble Lord. He also expressed his regret as to what had fallen from Dr. Higgins
§ Petition laid on the Table.
§ House adjourned.