Maurice FitzGerald, MP for Co. Kerry, Presents the Irish Protestant Petition for Catholic Relief

  • April 20, 1812

Sir Maurice FitzGerald, 18th Knight of Kerry (29 December 1774 – 7 March 1849) was an hereditary knight and an Irish Whig politician.


HC Deb 20 April 1812 vol 22 cc481-94 481

Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald , knight of Kerry, rose and said:—Sir; I am charged with the Petition which is to be present ed to this House from the persons whose names are signed thereto, being Protestant land-owners in Ireland. Some circumstances that have occurred regarding it, render it necessary that I should trouble the House with a few words. I would first take the liberty of slating why it has devolved upon so insignificant an individual as myself, to present one of the most important Petitions that can be brought under the consideration of parliament. It may be known that the member for Dublin, at whose suggestion this Petition was first set on foot, was immediately afterwards obliged to leave Ireland, and it devolved upon me to undertake the task he reluctantly resigned, and to be instrumental in its progress, and I am consequently in possession of circumstances important to be known, previous to the approaching discussion of the Catholic Question. The Petition is from the Protestant proprietors of Ireland, and is perfectly unprecedented not only in amount of property, belonging to individuals, who have annexed their names at any former time to a Petition on this subject, but it is the first instance of any general application on the part of the Protestants of Ireland on behalf of their Catholic fellow-subjects. To establish the importance of the Petition, it is sufficient for me to state what, without an approach to exaggeration, I may confidently assert, that it expresses the sentiments of a decided majority of the Protestant proprietors 482 of Ireland.—[Hear, hear!]— I am desirous of repeating the fact, because if it be thought that I overstate it, I am desirous to be contradicted, that I may resort to the proofs with which I am provided. I repeat, therefore, that the Petition expresses the sense of a decided majority of the Protestant proprietors of Ireland, both landed and commercial. I feel it right further to explain, that this Petition, although most respectably and numerously signed, by no means contains the names of all those Protestants who are favourable to Catholic Emancipation on principle; and I wish, with the utmost confidence in the fact, to mention the reason why the names of several who are favourable to it on principle, do not appear to this address. A great number of Protestants in Ireland did entertain a notion that it would be proper, in any Petition presented to parliament, to include conditions and securities. A large proportion, therefore, declined affixing their signatures, because it did not comprize the stipulations they required to be inserted. I wish further to state, that many of those whose names are affixed, do not desire Catholic Emancipation unconditionally; but it appears to all who have signed, that it was not a proper matter to be mentioned in a Petition, but that it ought to be left to the wisdom of parliament; there are numbers who would willingly have added their signatures, if those conditions had been inserted. Many who expressed themselves decidedly favourable to the object in view, have refused to sign it, on account of the violence of the recent differences between the Irish government and a part of the Catholic body.—I think I have now stated enough to entitle this Petition to the serious consideration of parliament. I have, however, to add, what I am sorry to be obliged to mention, that against the Petition (conducted in the most moderate manner, intentionally guarded against the slightest imputation of an attempt to agitate the public feelings) all the influence that could possibly be used by the Irish government has been directed. (Mr. W. Pole said “No, no;” very audibly across the House.) The right hon. gentleman says No; and having so asserted, I feel myself bound to go into proofs of the fact. I say again; notwithstanding this contradiction, that the influence of government has been most notoriously and indecently directed against the Petition I hold in my band, The office 483 of sheriff, a place of most sacred trust, and of the utmost importance to the due distribution of justice, has been tampered with. Persons who had been promised to be made sheriffs for the ensuing year, have been set aside, because the individual recommending one of them had signed the Protestant Petition. I say, that another person who was actually understood to be appointed, did signify to the Irish government, that having also signed the Petition, he apprehended he should be deemed an improper person to fulfil the duties, as his predecessor was rendered incapable on a similar account. I know that individuals possessing public situations, I will not say directly, but indirectly, received menaces from the government, that they should forfeit their places if they favoured the Petition. I know, too, that the partizans of government have held out threats to people, if they suffered the Petition even to remain in their houses; the terrors of inflicted vengeance have been used in the most undisguised manner for the avowed purpose of defeating the Petition. Under all these circumstances it stands a proud proof of the rapidly extending liberality of the Protestants of Ireland in favour of Catholic Emancipation. It is to me an extreme gratification to state, that the most numerous signatures are obtained from the north of Ireland, the inhabitants of which are peculiarly Protestant. I am the more proud of it, because it shews a change of opinion in the only part of Ireland formerly most opposed to this measure: it is a change to be well considered by his Majesty’s ministers, because it proves that the Protestants as well as Catholics are now united in the cause. I have said that it is signed very numerously; but the names are not nearly so numerous as they would have been, if the Petition had been circulated among the lower classes. In several districts the signatures only of persons of considerable property are affixed to it, a circumstance very much to be regretted; because, in a case like the present, it would have been desirable to have ascertained thus unequivocally the sense of the middle, as well as the higher order of Protestants. The persons who had the management of it were, however, desired to apply only for the signatures of persons of landed property; and although it is swelled by the names of several thousands, it is not, for this reason, of such magnitude as it would otherwise have appeared. I should remark also, that there 484 are several parts of Ireland, to which, from accidental circumstances, the Petition was not sent; but where, had it been otherwise, it would have met with very extensive support. In some parts many signatures have been obtained which have not been affixed to this Petition; for, by letters I have received to day, I find that since I quilted Ireland, several copies of it have been signed most respectably in the county of Down, which is more peculiarly a Protestant district. Under these circumstances I feel myself authorized, not only to beg permission to bring this Petition up, that it may be laid upon the table, but to recommend to the House to receive it with serious attention, as containing the decided sentiments of the uninfluenced and independent part of the Protestant proprietors of Ireland.