Page images
PDF
EPUB

other magistrates had acted in the same manner these two gentlemen had, the commotions would not have existed for a month. As to the grand jury not having found the bill against the sheriff's bailiff, he shewed the impossibility of framing an indictment upon the facts, he justified the crown solicitor, and moved

“ That it is the opinion of this committee, that some further “provisions by statute are indispensably necessary to prevent “ tumultuous rising and assemblies, and for the more adequate “ and effectual punishment of persons guilty of outrage, riot “ and illegal combination, and of administering and taking un“ lawful oaths.”

Some further conversation ensued, in which the attorney general assured the house, that it was impossible for the peasantry of Munster any longer to exist in the extreme wretchedness, under which they laboured. A poor man was to pay 6l. for an acre of potatoe ground, which 61. he was obliged to work out with his landlord at 5d, a day. The question was then put upon the resolution, which passed unanimously, whereupon the committee reported, and leave was given to bring in a bill

, consonant to the tenor of the resolution. Several gentlemen in the opposition were very loud in declaiming against the profusion and extravagance of the government expences: complaints were successively made against the allowances to the printers of newspapers for inserting proclamations and advertisements, which were detrimental to the public, and disgraceful to the nation, for the sum of 1266l. for repairing the road through the Phænix Park, through which carts were not permitted to pass, for law bills for prosecuting Right Boys, for the expence of witnesses attending in London to give evidence concerning the Irish propositions, for building country houses for the officers of the crown, and other charges which were most scandalously brought against the public : they were all defended by the ministers, and of course none of the objectionable articles were disallowed.

Mr. Conolly, who at this time took a very active part in the interest of the poor, and the welfare of his country, on the 9th of February, declared in the house, that it had been his intention, in the course of that session, to move an alteration in the tax of hearth-money, for the relief of the poor distressed cottagers : as however a large portion of that description of persons in the south were in a state of resistance to the laws of their country; he declared he would defer his motion till the people should demean themselves peaceably as good subjects. Some observations upon the extreme hardship of this tax were made by Mr. Stewart, when Mr. Monk Mason said, he could not bear to hear the hearth-money spoken of as an oppressive tax: it had been paid for near a century without complaint, and he could see no

reason why it was on a sudden become the fashion to exclaim against it. Such resistance from the treasury bench to the repeal of this most oppressive tax, was little calculated to ensure the affection of the lower orders of society.

Mr. Conolly immediately afterwards called the attention of the house to a resolution, which he flattered himself would be unexceptionable to every part of it, which every gentleman who supported, or who opposed government, every honest Irishman and every honest Englishman must approve of. It was impossible, for any man to say, that running in debt could either serve Ireland or England. If in time of peace they thus continued to run in debt, what were they to do in the event of a war?* He then moved, that the house determined to put an end to the ruinous practice of running in det, did the session before last vote new taxes estimated at 140,000l. per ann. and having on the same principle continued those taxes in the last session of parliament, then provided cheerfully to give and grant the same taxes in the decided expectation, that by his Grace the Lord Lieutenant's frugal and just management of the public revenues, thus greatly enlarged, they would be then rendered sufficient to satisfy the public expences, without the further accumu. lation of debt or increase of taxes. It passed without a dissenting voice, when Mr. Conolly immediately moved, that the house, with the speaker, should attend the Lord Lieutenant with a copy of the resolution; but the chancellor of the Exche. quer opposed this second motion as an indecent parade, and an intended censure on the chief governor ; the motion was with. drawn, and Mr. Conolly was complimented thereupon by the secretary, who was sure, that the right honourable member always meant right.

The bill for preventing tumultuous risings and assemblies, and for the more effectual punishment of persons guilty of outrage, riot and illegal combination, and of administering and taking unlawful oaths, was introduced by the attorney general, and was opposed in every stage by the patriots, who conten that the existing laws were fully adequate to correct, punish and prevent the abuses, if properly carried into execution: that to punish a whole nation by imposing upon them the most severe and unconstitutional laws, on account of the misconduct of a small part was unjust: that this act went infinitely beyond the English riot act: and would be productive of more discontent

With circumstances, political opinions often change. Mr. Conolly, who was one of the staunchest supporters of the union, on this occasion, so far avowed anti-unionism as the basis of his political creed, as to have volunteered this strong assertion : " I wish to bave it in our power to assist England. No man wouli do more for England than I would. I would do any thing for her short of an Union."' 7 Par, Deb. 133.

and confusion, than then unfortunately existed in that country. They admitted, that the South ought to be coerced : they lamented, that the peasantry in that district should have invaded personal security and undermined their own liberties : they deplored the savage infatuation, which had prompted them to outrage, and blushed for the necessity of strong measures, to curb their lawlessness. The hands of the magistrate ought to be strengthened, though not without limitation: the magistrate should be enabled to disperse meetings, that were notoriously convened for illegal purposes: nor ought they to be admitted to bail, who should have refused to disperse: and they fully allowed, that the persons, who dug graves, provided gibbets, and indulged in such atrocities should be punished capitally. They complained, that the principůl deviations* from the English

* Mr. Grattan in his speech on this occasion pointed out several of these deviations: 7 Par. Deb. 181. Another difference, from the riot act was, that in England the proclamation is obliged to be read; but by this bill, nothing more was required of the magistrate than to command the rioters to disperse in the king's name. If they did not disperse in one hour, death was the consequence, and this he considered as putting an hour-glass in the hand of time, to run a race against the lives of the people ; and this was certainly a great objection. Another objection was, that if a magistrate was stopped, when repairing to the place of riot, the person who stopped him, would be guilty of felony; that was, though the magistrate was resorting to an unlawful place, the person who obstructed him, should be deemed to merit death. And if the persons did not disperse, if the magistrate was interrupted, the reckoning of time was to commence from the moment of his obstruction: and should they continue one hour they would be guilty of felony, and incur the punishment of death ; that is, the interception of a magistrate, at a distance in this kingdom, was to be tantamount to the reading of a proclamation on the spot in England. This he thought one of the severest clauses that was ever brought forward, or ever adopted. But even though this had been premised of the English riot act the measure of their severity should not be a measure for the legislation of the houses, if it should, it would be bad in principle, and worse in practice. Another clause of the bill made it felony to write, print, publish, send, or carry any message, letter, or notice, tending to excite insurrection, that is, that a man who shall write or print any letter or notice, shall be guilty....of what ?....of felony! Like the Draconian laws, this bill had blood! blood! felony! felony! felony! in every period, and in every sentence. Now had this bill been law for some time past, what would be the situation of every man, who printed a newspaper for nine months past? What would be the situation of every man who had written upon the subject of titles ? For as the right of the clergy to tithes is acknowledged to be founded in law, and as the papers and writers have argued against them, what would be the consequence? Who could tell how their conduct might be construed in a court of law? or whether they might not be adjudged guilty of felony? But he would not ask who would be guilty under such a law; but lie would ask, who would not be guilty? A perpetual mutiny bill had been once the law of the land, and yet gentlemen both spoke and wrote against it as dangerous, unconstitutional, and beyond the power of parliament to sanction. Had this bill been then law, they would liare all been guilty of felony, and suffered death. Who could tell in what manner the words, tending to excite disturbance might be interpreted? The clause, respecting the taking of arms, and ammunition, or money to purchase them, he observed, to bear a similarity to the white boy act; but the white boy act was more guarded. He then looked to the clause,

riot acts, were all founded in more intense severity : perpetuity was also another objection to the bill: and it was strongly urged, that this extreme rigour was not to be handed down to posterity as an inheritance: nor were the provinces of Ulster, Leinster and Connaught to be punished for their tranquillity in the same manner as Munster was for its turbulence: neither should such overstretched severity descend from the fathers to their children, as a kind of original sin, and death and felony be spread in every quarter through the land : should the biú in its then form pass,' it would become ineffectual from its excessive rigour: it would be the triumph of the criminal and the stigma of the laws. The attorney general supported the deviations from the English riot act: but abandoned the clause directing the magistrates to demolish the Roman Catholic chapels, in which any combinations should have been formed or an unlawful oath administered. The debate was carried on with great warmth on both sides to a late hour. Mr. Orde, the secretary, particularly remarked, that he never could have concurred in the clause for pulling down the chapels, and was therefore happy, that it had been abandoned by his friend. He that respected the prostrating places of public worship, and was remarkably pointed and severe upon it. He considered it as casting a stain of impiety on the whole nation, and enjoining the magistrates to commit that very act of violence, which punished with death in the peasantry. It was a revival of the penal laws, and that in the most dangerous and exceptionable part. He called upon gentlemen to consider, that they had no charge against the Caiholics to warrant this measure ; to consider, that they had not so much as cause for suspicion of them; to consider, if they were a Popish peasantry, they were actuated by no Popish motive ; to consider, that public thanks had been returned to the principal person of the Catholic religion in that country, for his manly exertions to maintain the public peace and to protect the rights of the established clergy: and he thought, if there were any thing sacred or binding in religion, it would operate successfully against the present measure ; for it would cast a stigma on the Protestant religion.

He had heard, he said of transgressors being dragged from the sanctuary, but he never heard of the sanctuary being demolished. It went so far as to bold out the laws as a sanction to sacrilege If the Roman Catholics were of a different religion, yet they had one common God and one common Saviour with gentlemen themselves; and surely the God of the Protestant temple, was the God of the Catholic temple. What then did the clause enact? That the magistrate should pull down the temple of his God, and should it be rebuilt, and as often as it was rebuilt for three years, he should again prostrate it, and so proceed, in repetition of his abominations, and thus stab the criminal through the sides of his God: a new idea indeed! But this was not all, the magistrate was to sell by auction the altar of the divinity to pay for the sacrilege, that had been committed on his house. By preventing the chapel from being erected, he contended, that we must prohibit the exercise of religion for three years ; and that to remedy disturbance we resorted to irreligion, and endeavoured to establish it by act of parliament. A commission of the peace might fall into the hands of a clergyman, and this clause first occasion him to preclude the practice of religion for three years, then involve him in vile abominations, and afterwards he must preach pesce upon earth and good will towards men

lamented, that any thing should have appeared in print, purporting, that those insurrections had arisen from a popish conspiracy: he declared, he not only did not believe it, but in some places he could say ; he knew it not to be true : and affirmed, that the insurgents had in some places deprived the Roman Catholic clergy of one half of their income. That in respect to the book of a Right Rev. Prelate, (the Bishop of Cloyne) though he differed from him in some of his opinions, he thought highly of his ability and upright intentions. *

* Mr. Curran, in his speech, had particularly noticed the attempts to exaggerate the disturbances of Munster, and to dye them with a religious tint, and he thence took an occasion to advert, for a moment, to the ecclesiastical policy of Ireland for centuries past (7 Par. Deb. 193) The Church of Ireland, said he, has been in the hands of strangers, advanced to the mitre, not for their virtues or their knowledge, but quartered upon this country, through their own servility or the caprice of their benefactors, inclined naturally to oppress us, to hate us, and to defame us; while the real duties of our religion have been performed by our own native clergy, who, with all the finer feelings of gentlemen and scholars, have been obliged to do the drudgery of their profession for forty or at most fifty pounds a year, without the means of being liberal, from their poverty, and without the hope of advancing themselves by their learning or their virtues, in a country where preferment was notoriously not to be attained by either. On this ground he vindicated the great body of the native acting clergy of Ireland, from any imputation, because of the small progress which Protestantism had made among them: The pride of episcopacy, and the low state, to which our ministers of the gospel were reduced, abundantly accounted for it. Their distresses and oppression, he said, were the real objects of parliamentary consideration; and we could not interfere in the manner now proposed, without exposing them to the most imminent danger.

He then adverted to the nature of the disturbances in the south. He could not justify these outrages; they ought to be punished, but we ought not to forget that we had ourselves expressly admitted that they had proceeded from the supineness of magistrates and the oppression of landlords. But now, he said, an act like this would be a proclamation of a religious war in the kingdom. A publication had been industriously circulated through a number of editions, stating that a scheme was formed between the Catholics and Presbyterians, for the subversion of the established religion and constitution; and the former were gravely informed that their religion absolved them from all tie of allegiance to the state, or observance of their oaths. And this, he said, was not an opinion pronounced upon light authority, it was the deliberate assertion of a Reverend Prelate, whose judgment on one of the abstrusest points of our common law, had been opposed and with success to that of our venerable chancellor, who was perhaps the ablest common lawyer in either kingdom, except only those gentlemen who were not of the profession; he then examined the justice of the learned author's publication, which he condemned as founded on illiberality and misrepresentation, and tending to obstruct the advancement of our religion, and to annihilate the provision of the established clergy; and tending also, manifestly to revive the dissensions, from which we had so recently emerged, and to plunge us into the barbarism, from which we were emerging, or perhaps to imbrue us in the bloodshed of a religious war.

He said, that however the public may excuse the effects of mistaken zeal in tire reverend writer, this house would be degraded below itself, if it should

« PreviousContinue »