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Roman Catholic Claims

17 May 1819

The Earl of DONOUGHMORE submitted a Resolution,

That the House would resolve itself into a Committee to consider the state of the laws which inflict civil disabilities on account of religious opinions, particularly in so far as those laws deprive His Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects of the exercise of their civil rights; and as to how far it may be expedient to alter or modify the same.'


I consider, my Lords, that the whole of this question turns upon the expediency of removing the disabilities of which the Irish Roman Catholics complain, and upon what concessions can be safely made to them. As an eligible means of instituting the preliminary inquiries which must be necessary, a Committee of your Lordships is proposed by the noble Earl. In reference to that proposition, the whole question, as it seems to me, turns upon the degree of security which can be provided, in connexion with the object of this motion, for the Protestant religion as by law established in Ireland. In order to determine that point, my Lords, it is necessary to consider how the Reformation was established in Ireland.

My Lords, I do not imagine it to be requisite for me to recal to your Lordships' remembrance that the Reformed religion was established in Ireland at the point of the sword, and by means of confiscations. All this course of proceeding was repeated at the Revolution, and is still fresh in the recollection of the people of Ireland. Keeping in view the fact that the Irish Roman Catholic Church, under all oppressions, has continued in the same state, the Pope retaining the same influence over the clergy, the clergy the same power over the people; in reference to this state of things, I would ask your Lordships whether it is possible that Roman Catholics can be safely admitted to hold seats in Parliament? The influence of the priesthood over the people is still fostered by the remembrance of the events to which I have alluded, and the idea of unmerited and mutual suffering; and I believe that no doubt can be entertained, considering their present feelings, that, if the Roman Catholics were admitted to the enjoyment of political power, their first exertion would be to restore their religion to its original supremacy, and to recover the possessions and property of which they were stripped by the Reformation. It has been, however, said that securities are now offered on the part of the Roman Catholics. The Pope, it seems, has, in the appointment of bishops, relinquished all control to the Crown, except the mere conferring of a spiritual blessing. But how has that concession been received, my Lords, by the people of Ireland? It has excited the utmost discontent, and is actually regarded as an abandonment of the essential principles of their religion, and an attack on their national independence. Does this impression arise from the people of Ireland having a less clear idea of national independence than other people? No, my Lords, but they feel that, if the executive power were to possess any control over the appointment of the Roman Catholic bishops, some security would be thereby obtained for the Protestant Church. Considering, then, that the whole question turns upon the degree of security which could be given, and looking at the various securities which have at several times been proposed, I confess, my Lords, that I have never yet seen anything propounded that comes up to my notion of that which ought to be required. As to what has been said by some noble Lords of the domestic nomination of bishops, I do not see, my Lords, how the laws of the country could operate upon it, so as to make it an adequate security. Then, my Lords, as to the oath of allegiance which the bishop is to take, according to this scheme of securities, of what avail, let me ask, could it be that the law should require this oath from a bishop who is appointed God knows how, or by whom?

When all these circumstances, my Lords, are carefully considered, the state of the Irish Roman Catholic Church, the way in which the Reformation was effected, the rivalry and enmity between the Roman Catholic and the Established Churches, and the inadequacy of all the securities which have been proposed, there is, in my opinion, enough ground to enable us to decide the question; for the first and greatest duty of the Legislature undoubtedly is, to secure the establishments as settled at the Revolution.

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