§ Mr. Brownlow
, in rising to present a petition, respecting the Roman Catholic Association of Dublin, said, that the subject, on which he had to address the House, was as well entitled to mature consideration, as any subject that had been brought before the House during the present session. He hoped, also, that it would attract the attention of his majesty's ministers—not an attention which produced a speech or two, soon uttered and soon forgotten, but an attention which would lead to the fearless and impartial 944 exercise of the powers entrusted to them for the preservation of the peace of Ireland, or to their calling, if necessary, for stronger powers from Parliament. He was authorized by a gentleman of the highest respectability, to state, that the petition had been most carefully prepared; that the petitioners were freeholders at the time assembled in Dublin; and he was assured that if it had been exposed but one day it would have received thousands of signatures. But, if there was but one name attached to it, it would bespeak attention, from the importance of the truths it announced, and the magnitude of the evils it exposed. The petitioners stated, that they hoped to see their country restored to the blessings of peace and harmony. They represented, and he agreed with them, that the internal peace and harmony of Ireland was inconsistent with the existence of this Catholic Association. The petitioners stated, that they found, if not the full cause, at least one essential cause, of the present distentions in Ireland, and that was, the Catholic Association now sitting in a form almost parliamentary in the Irish metropolis. He said, almost parliamentary, for they held their regular sessions, nominated their committees, received petitions, referred them to their committee of grievance, ordered a census of the population to be taken, and had actually proceeded to do that which the House of Commons was alone the constitutional organ of imposing; namely, to levy a tax upon the nation. They assessed the cities, towns, and even parishes, appointing collectors in every district, for the receipt of a tax which they called "Catholic Rent." For what purposes this fund was raised was, in part, left in obscurity; but the objects which were avowed, were not calculated to throw a favourable light on those which were left behind. The first alleged purpose was, the supply of a Catholic priesthood to America; the next, to supply a Catholic priesthood to England. The Catholics in England, they said, had multiplied almost beyond their hopes. The emigration, in consequence of the French revolution, had, for a time, supplied England with a priesthood, but now that source had ceased, it would well become the charity of the people of Ireland to step in to the aid of their haughty neighbours. The next avowed purpose of the tax was to buy up such part of the independent press, as should propa- 945 gate opinions obnoxious to this self-constituted legislature. He would put it to any man who knew the state of Ireland, and the disposition of its inhabitants, whether such a focus of inflammation could with safety be allowed to exist in that country? The Irish were not a cold and phlegmatic people, but like touchwood, liable to ignition upon the application of that inflammable matter which this association was weekly disseminating amongst them. If in England, where the people were less liable to inflammation, the government felt it necessary, during a period of momentary distress, to put down the factious demagogues who excited them to mischief, it was surely not unreasonable for those who were anxious to preserve the peace of Ireland, to expect that a similar step would be taken to extinguish the peculiar spirit of discord, which, in the very centre of Dublin, was raised and upheld, for the dissemination of every species of calumny and misrepresentation, and for holding out to a heated and feverish people, as direct a provocation to resort to arms for a redress of grievances as designing men could give, with sufficient cunning for the preservation of their own personal safety. Was it nothing, that the government should suffer such a body to exist under its own eye, and to proceed upon an organized plan of calumny and defamation against all whom they deemed their opponents? To such an extent had they carried this system, that the archbishop of Dublin could hardly quit his house, without being exposed to popular insult, in consequence of the calumnies which had been circulated against him. Again as long as the Catholic Association was permitted to sit in Dublin, the members of that House in vain renewed their request each session, for freedom of speech in parliament. He would not complain of any fair discussion out of doors of what was said in parliament; but, if any man in that House expressed sentiments opposed to the views of the Catholic Association, he was made the object of their calumny; and a man must possess more than the ordinary nerve and contempt for popular opinion than was expected in a country like this, before he could be called upon to expose himself to such a tide of calumny. It was said, that this association met for the purpose of petitioning. He believed they met for no such purpose; the Catholics of Ireland wanted no assistants to prepare their pe- 946 titions, almost every peasant in Ireland could draw such a petition up, as well as a statesman, and he had never heard of any of their petitions failing from inaccuracy in the recital of the grievance. But, the fact was, that this Catholic Association, though it assembled last January, and met on successive occasions since, for the dissemination of licentious harangues, had always adjourned without preparing petitions. He believed the real object was, not to petition, but by a bold and menacing tone, and by the exhibition of numbers at their backs, to coerce the legislature into any measures they chose to dictate. All these proceedings, if they did not amount to treason, were only separated from it by a very thin partition. It was a great aggravation of the complaint against this association, that their conduct tended to diminish the value of the right of petitioning. The tumultuous exercise of this right had often been made the plea, not only of casting off the excess, but of bringing the original right into jeopardy. Those who did so, were not the friends of the right in general; and the respectable part of the Catholics of Ireland had a right to call out to be relieved from their most injurious advocates. The great evil of these societies was, that they were too prone to forget the original object of their institution; moderation and good sense were kicked out of doors, and those whose talents and stations entitled them to take a lead, were overborne by factious demagogues and ignorant upstarts. They had departed from their original object, and left all decorum behind them. They had outraged the feelings of every Protestant in Ireland, and scandalized all the loyal and respectable Roman Catholics. The great body of the respectable Catholics had great cause to complain of being mixed up and confounded with men, whose only title to confidence was, that they had just talent enough to cheat the law; and with respect to the great question of Catholic Emancipation, he was persuaded they cared not one pin about it, provided they could administer to their own vanity and ambition; to gratify the one and promote the other, they would not hesitate to endanger the peace of Ireland or defeat that cause, of which they pretended to be the advocates. Now, he had been asked over and over again, how it was that the attorney general for Ireland, who had some time ago wielded his thunders with 947 such alacrity, did not interfere, and particularly when it was said that those who produced so much agitation plumed themselves (falsely no doubt) upon the hope that they had some place of safety under his protection? They supposed that they did not come within the reach of any enactment of law: it was thought by them that they did not come within the 33rd Geo. 3rd, because they did not set themselves up as the representatives of the people: they did not come within the six acts, because they did not extend to any societies but those which were held out of doors; and because they had no corresponding secretaries. They had secretaries in all the different parishes in Ireland, but then they did not correspond; and therefore they hoped that their society did not come within the scope of the law. Upon that subject he did not feel himself competent to give an opinion; but he could not help thinking, that if the attorney-general was as desirous to come at these men as he was at the bottle-throwers at the theatre, some means would be found to do so. Sure he was, that it was at variance with all law and all principles of government, that a body of men should exist exercising the power of taxing the people distinct from that assembly which was recognized by the law of the land. The question then was, which was to be supreme, the parliament of England, or the Catholic Association? He therefore called upon the House to provide a remedy for the situation in which they now stood. In making this call, he could not be charged with inconsistency, for in the course of the present session he had used strong language on the danger to be apprehended from all parades and processions of all descriptions in Ireland. He was himself a member of the Orange Society, and was ready to bear any blame that might be cast upon him on that account. He believed that the principles of the Orange Societies were most just, praiseworthy, and constitutional. They were the same principles which set in motion the great whig families in the cause of the Revolution, and which would render their services honoured as long as the bill of rights should be preserved. What he had before said, and would now repeat, was, that when Orange or Catholic processions took place and endangered the lives of his majesty's subjects, the law should be rigorously and impartially enforced against all persons, without regard 948 to principles and opinions. He did not wish to deal with opinions, but only with overt acts. He trusted that he had said enough to satisfy every dispassionate man, that the Catholic Association was calculated to keep alive much exasperation in Ireland. It had originally been his intention, to have moved that the petition be referred to the committee now sitting on the subject of the disturbed districts of Ireland, but he found that he was prevented from taking that course by the forms of the House.
said, that the hon. member had more than insinuated, that a strong feeling was entertained that he (Mr. P.) had neglected his duty; he did not at all seem to think there was any imperfection in the law, but had expressed his astonishment, that those who had proceeded against the bottle-throwers at the theatre had left untouched the Catholic Association. Now, he could assure the hon. member, that any apprehensions which might be entertained, either by the hon. member himself or his friends, could not induce him to change that course of conduct which he had uniformly endeavoured to pursue, in the discharge of his duty. In every instance in which he had exercised his official powers, as attorney-general for Ireland, he had looked straightforward to his object, without any consideration as to sect or party. Whenever he had perceived a violation of the law which the public interest required to be prosecuted, he had fearlessly come forward to undertake the prosecution. Whether a candid construction had always been put upon his motives, it was for the House to judge. All that he would say was, that the same course which he had hitherto pursued he would still continue to pursue. He would pursue no left-handed justice; but he would, so far as the laws would enable him, whenever he met with a transgression of the law, from whatever party it might proceed, immediately visit it with punishment. The hon. member had professed himself, not only a vindicator, but a member of the Orange Association. He could assure the hon. member, that if he were furnished with satisfactory evidence, he would not be found backward in trying the strength of the law against a gentleman making that profession, and he would abide the consequences of the censure of those respectable persons, who blamed him for not prosecuting the Catholic Association. Neither the hon. member nor any other 949 person in that House could be more convinced than he was of the necessity of closely attending to the proceedings of that body; but he did not feel called upon to make any declaration, as to whether it was within the reach of the law or not, or whether it was the intention of government to adopt any measures on the subject. He should, indeed, be unworthy the confidence of those with whom he acted, if he suffered any such declaration to be drawn from him, in consequence of what had fallen from the hon. member. He should not take the trouble to inquire why the hon. member was so anxious that he should proceed against the Catholic Association; but he was rather surprised that the hon. member had not taken the trouble to make some inquiry respecting the legality of other societies. The hon. member said, that he had a right to call upon parliament to put down the Catholic Association, because he had blamed the Orange processions. Did the hon. member, after having professed himself to be a member of the Orange society —and it was the first time that a member of that House had ventured to make such a profession, think that he had done enough when he blamed the proceedings which emanated from the society, leaving the society itself uncensured? Did the hon. member think that he had discharged his duty, because, having entered into an unlawful association, the object of which was to overstep the pale of the laws, and to overawe and control the government, he discountenanced the murders and assassinations which resulted from it? If men of high birth, talent, and character in the country, condescended to associate themselves in clubs with the lowest dregs of the community, they would find it impossible, when the hour of danger arrived, to stop the mischief which must naturally result from such a state of things. He thought it would be more judicious in the hon. member to reserve some of the advice, which he seemed anxious to bestow upon him (Mr. P.), for himself and his friends.
Mr. M. Fitzgerald
said, it was matter of notoriety, that at the period of the king's visit to Ireland, whatever might be the provocation received, the Catholics had come to a resolution to bury their animosities in oblivion. In that resolution they persevered for two years; and if they had subsequently abandoned this pacific disposition, it had been with a view of opposing an assumed attitude of defence on the part of their opponents. Under 950 these circumstances, he trusted the House would not adopt the sentiments contained in the petition, or resort to any measures inconsistent with the spirit of impartiality.
Sir T. Lethbridge
thought, that the petition deserved the minutest attention. It had been said, that the Orangemen had provoked the conduct of the Catholic Association; but the things complained of would never have occurred but for that association. Had they ever heard, on the part of the Orangemen, any of the overt acts now committing by the Catholic Association?
said, he had heard the remarks of the attorney-general for Ireland with infinite satisfaction, and hoped that they had met with the approbation of all his colleagues. He trusted that ministers, individually and collectively, were determined to administer impartial justice in Ireland.
§ Colonel Trench
said, that whatever might be the intentions of the Catholic Association, the consequences of their proceedings had been most disastrous. He had looked into the proceedings of this self-constituted parliament, under the influence of its protector, O'Connell, and he found that a most insidious proposition had been issued, calling upon all parties to give their assistance in the collection of tithes in kind. Now, the construction which he put upon this proposition was, that its object was to prevent any diminution of that acrimonious feeling which existed on the subject of tithes. No man would be more happy than he should, that the Catholic clergy should have an adequate provision; but it was impossible to deny that the object of the association was, to establish Catholic supremacy. Even in that House he had heard it laid down as a principle, that the religion of a country should be regulated by the creed of the majority of the people. He firmly believed that there were men among the Irish Catholics, actuated solely by selfish views, and anxious, in order that those views might be gratified, to keep the country in constant disturbance.
§ Mr. Warre
declared that the Catholic population were by no means indifferent to Catholic emancipation. Of the association he would say nothing, but that he wished to see the cause of emancipation in other hands, and regretted that Catholics of birth, character, and influence, did not unite to place the cause under their own guidance.
§ Mr. Brownlow
expressed his astonishment that, on a question so important as the present, not one of his majesty's ministers had condescended to state whether or not he considered the association legal. All that the attorney-general had said was, that he was quite ready to use any information which he might obtain against him (Mr. B.) if he could establish that he belonged to an Orange association. He was ready to give the right hon. gentleman every information he might require respecting the Orange associations. They were composed of men of known principles, of great talents, and who had performed eminent services to their country, notwithstanding the cloud which, on every occasion, it was attempted to throw over them. But, the question before the House was, the character of the Catholic Association; and on that question not one of his majesty's ministers had thought proper to speak.
threw himself on the candour and fairness of the House, if any hon. member had a right so to press an individual holding the situation of public prosecutor. The hon. gentleman himself had said, that he was not sure that the Catholic Association, although violating the spirit, was not at the same time, cheating the letter of the law. Suppose he (Mr. P.) were of the same opinion— was he to state it in that House? or was he to declare, that, although their proceedings did not bring them within the letter of the law, he would nevertheless prosecute them? Would that be wise? He had no difficulty in declaring it as his opinion, that the Catholic Association should be narrowly watched; and if he once saw his way clearly in point of law, and in point of prudence, he would not shrink from his task. He certainly thought that the intemperance and folly of the association were more calculated indefinitely to postpone the success of the Catholic cause, than all the efforts of the most bitter enemies of the cause. Still, however, he must remonstrate against being unfairly pressed on the subject. He would not say whether the proceedings of the association were legal or illegal, but would reserve to himself the full exercise of his own discretion on the subject.
Mr. Secretary Canning
said, he came down expecting that the hon. member would follow up his motion for laying the petition on the table, by another motion, to refer it to the consideration of a com- 952 mittee; on which latter motion he (Mr. C.) would have been ready to give his opinion. But, the hon. member had no right, merely on presenting a petition, to call on the members of government to express their opinions on some of the most important concerns of the empire. Such a proceeding he held to be most inconvenient. If ministers addressed to the House any opinions coming within the range of their functions, those opinions were entitled to be received with respect; but, he (Mr. C.) claimed no respect for any legal opinion of his. If the hon. member asked for his legal opinion on any subject, he would reply, that it was his duty to take the opinion of his majesty's legal advisers. The fact was, that it was most difficult for government to act with sound discretion in cases where free institutions, and all that grew out of free institutions, proceeded to any excess. la all such cases, a prudent government would consider, whether more danger might not result from checking the mischief, than from allowing it to run out and expend itself. The first question which a government had to ask was, whether it had a right to interfere; the second, whether it was probable that interference would be attended with good effect. Nothing could be more injurious than impotent interference. For government, under such circumstances as he had adverted to, to come out of court defeated, was always injurious. The present was not so naked a question as the hon. gentleman appeared to consider it. It did not follow, that where any proceeding was of a nature justly to call for disapprobation, and there existed no law to put a stop to such a proceeding, that it was always wise to create a law for the purpose. A question of that nature must always be looked at with discretion, almost with timidity; lest a greater mischief should be produced than that which already existed. The degree of the existing mischief, the importance of putting an end to it, the probability of its duration, all circumstances ought to be taken into the account. Such were the circumstances which might have been inquired into, if the hon. member had moved to refer the petition to a committee above stairs. But on such a motion as the present, he held it, to be no part of his duty to state what he conceived, as to the applicability of the existing law. He had, however, no difficulty in saying, that all such irregular institutions were ge- 953 nerally mischievous, and, above all, to the particular cause which they professed to support. Anxious for the ultimate succes of the cause in question, and most sincerely wishing well to the peace of Ireland, he deeply lamented to see so many elements of irritation. He trusted that they would expire. But he would not be tempted, under the present circumstances, to say whether government thought the existing law sufficient for their suppression, or were prepared to propose any new measure for that purpose. Mr. Secretary Feel said, he had been firmly persuaded, after the notice which his hon. friend had given, that he would have moved to refer the petition to a committee above stairs; and until that motion, he thought it would be premature to state his opinions on the subject. It was not until his hon. friend's second speech, that he was aware that his hon. friend had abandoned his intended motion. As to the legality of the Catholic Association, that was a point on which he would then abstain from saying any thing.
Mr. M. Fitzgerald
defended the character of the members of the Catholic Association. Than Mr. O'Connell a more able, zealous, and effective advocate never lived. He was a gentleman of large property, and therefore by no means interested in promoting the agitation of the public mind in Ireland. The learned individual in question was most enthusiastic in his character; perhaps somewhat indiscreet; but it was an indiscretion that was surely not censurable.
§ Colonel Trench
regretted having mentioned the name of Mr. O'Connell, but he did not retract one syllable of the observations which he had made on the character of the Catholic Association. If the Catholics were not so much under influence, and so capable of being worked up to the commission of the most atrocious crimes, he should not be averse to what was called their emancipation. But, when he saw that a set of artful, cunning unprincipled demagogues endeavoured by every species of craft and fraud, to inflame the Catholics of Ireland, and excite in their minds a hatred of the Protestants and of English connexion, he could not concur in any such proposition.
§ Mr. Brownlow
said, that he would withdraw his motion to refer the petition to a committee to-night, and give notice of the same motion for to-morrow.
§ Ordered to be printed.