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rapidly advancing-if Ireland shall be thrown back fifty years— if the value of property shall be impaired—if the security of property shall be shaken—if political animosities shall be embittered--if religious detestations shall become more rabid and more envenomed-if the mind of Ireland shall become one heated mass ready to catch fire at a single spark; for all this you will be responsible.”
Irish County Franchise-Free Trade Budget-Appeal to the
country-Official changes-Representation of TipperaryDungarvon-Sir Robert Peel's Cabinet-New Sliding-scaleIncome Tax-Education Clauses of Factory Bill—The Ballot.
EARLY in February, 1841, Lord Stanley declared his intention of renewing the attempt to carry an Irish Registration Bill. A counter-project was at the same time announced by Lord Morpeth, whereby provision was not only made for remedying the abuses complained of; but in order to rectify the still greater evil of an inadequate constituency, it was proposed to confer the franchise in counties on all rated occupiers of holdings valued under the Poor Law at five pounds a-year, whose tenancy did not fall short of fourteen years. The Conservatives objected to this change as an infraction of the settlement of 1832, as tending
to give a more popular suffrage to one part of the United Kingdom than that possessed by the remainder; and finally, because rateable value was proposed as a substitute for the “beneficial interest” sworn to by the tenant as possessed by him over and above the rent which he paid. They insisted that no extension of the franchise was necessary; and that no difference ought to be recognised in legislation between England and Ireland. To this it was replied by Lord Morpeth, that in 1829 the whole body of small freeholds had been swept away, and that they had not been restored by the Reform Bill, though in England they still existed ; that if something effectual were not done, the electoral bodies would virtually cease to exist; and that a five-pound rating franchise would not create in Ireland larger county constituencies than on an average were to be found throughout Great Britain. On the third night's debate upon the second reading, Mr. Sheil spoke with great spirit and effect. At the close of the discussion there appeared to be for the second reading, 299; against it, 294. The Committee was deferred till the 23rd April.
In Ireland the county constituencies had been reduced so much by the refusal to grant leases on the
part of the proprietary, that some new franchise had become absolutely necessary. Some urged the creation of a Five-pound franchise in fee, with occupancy as a test, in order to prevent the making of fictitious votes by means of merely colourable rent-charges : and this suggestion was eventually brought forward as part of the Ministerial plan. But it could not be denied that when, as was the case in many counties, a systematic purpose obviously existed on the part of landlords to prevent the acquisition of the right of voting by those whom they could not politically control, this, like every other scheme based upon the creation of freehold tenure, must prove in a great degree abortive. No alternative remained but to adopt henceforth the principle that the franchise should depend upon occupancy irrespective of any conditions of tenure, while proof of value should be sought for in the public rate-book, which had not been made for the purposes of party registration, and which, unlike the private rent-roll of the landlord, was at all times subject to public scrutiny and correction. It was not without much hesitation, and after the consideration of many serious doubts, that this important change was approved by the Government, and submitted by them to the Legislature. By the Bill introduced by Lord Morpeth, it was proposed to confer the right of
voting in counties on every occupier of land rated to the poor at a sum of five pounds a-year. This would unquestionably have created constituencies sufficiently numerous: but the great question still remained, would they in ordinary times, when no general excitement prevailed, be found sufficiently independent? Mr. Sheil's opinion, founded upon long and practical observation, was, that however desirable a wide extension of the suffrage might be, it was unreasonable to anticipate that undue influence would not still be exerted, and unjust to expect that poor and humble men would be able to resist it without the protection of the Ballot. Mere fellowship in exposure to intimidation, however multitudinous, could not neutralize the debasing fears with which each small holder would be haunted, when asked to give his vote publicly for the candidate whom his landlord disapproved. A few examples made in each locality would have the effect he thought upon the next occasion of demoralizing, through the medium of their apprehensions, scores whose condition made them sympathise with the sufferers. If public policy required the formation of numerous constituencies, it was the duty of the Legislature to follow out fairly to their consequences the necessities of the case; and when it called upon
the poor man to exercise the rights of active citizenship,