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“It is enough,” said Mr. Sheil, “ to state that a tenant-at-will rated at 81. will be polled in the presence of his landlord. This great change would give an undue preponderance to the landed interest, if the independent householder did not produce a counterpoise to the subservient cultivator of the soil. How monstrous would be the anomaly if their aspirations should unhappily be realized, by whom it is most intently but most injudiciously desired that a minimum qualification should be adopted, at once sufficiently high yet low enough for their purposes; sufficiently high to exclude the great majority of householders of the county towns from the county constituency of Ireland, yet low enough to let in a large mass of acquiescent vassalage by an expansion of the Chandos clause! The occupier of land rated at the pseudo-Conservative minimum, whose political independence is signified by his designation, whose suffrage and whose land are held by the same tenure, whose holding is unprotected by a lease, and whose vote is unprotected by the ballot, is to be invested with the franchise, for the exercise of which the absence of all volition and almost of all thought constitutes, in the opinion of some of those who hear me, his most appropriate qualification ; while, upon the other hand, a householder resident in such a town as Thurles or Carrick-on-Suir, con. taining 12,000 people, by neither of which a representative is sent to Parliament—a respectable householder rated at 81. for a tenement, which in an English town, with the same population, would be rated at upwards of 181.—a trader in good circumstances, well to do in the world, and with a capital in his integrity, industrious, sagacious, and intelligent, is to be deprived, or, I should rather say, stripped and spoliated of that constitutional right of which, in reference to the interests of his country, he would make an honest, a conscientious, an honourable, and un
This would be most impolitic and unjust-it would be most impolitic, because it would be most unjust.
Mistaken fear has been the bane of Ireland, There is nothing against which Englishmen ought to be more on their VOL. II.
guard. It was mistaken fear that dictated the Penal Code. It was mistaken fear by which its repeal was delayed. It was mistaken fear by which that very procrastination of justice was occasioned which led to the moral insurrection at the hustings against the proprietors of the soil. There is nothing of which Englishmen ought to be so much afraid as of mistaken fear.
“But may not another O'Connell arise ? Yes, nature may contribute the same faculties, but you will not furnish the same opportunities. Nature is unexhausted and inexhaustible, and in her boundless abundance she may contribute the same wonderful versatility, the same astonishing variety of resources, the same untiring perseverance, the same indomitable energy, the same eloquence, by which the greatest of all political miracles-the conversion of a populace into a people—was effected; but though nature may do all this, you will not furnish a second O'Connell with a second penal code; you will not supply him with the iron out of which the weapons were forged with which ascendency was struck down. If the Catholic question had been adjusted at the Union, if the vast designs of Mr. Pitt had not been baffled, and Ireland not been put through that agony of excitement through which
pass, you never would have witnessed that social disruption to which you look back with alarm.”*
During the same session a bill was introduced by Ministers for the abolition of the Vice-regal government of Ireland. Large majorities in both Houses approved of the principle of the measure. They regarded it as the tardy termination of an obsolete system of provincial rule, and the prudent retrenchment of a considerable annual expenditure. Ridicule had
you saw her
* Debate on third reading of Irish Parliamentary Voters Bill, 10th May, 1850.
long attached to the ceremonies of the mimic court at Dublin; and the belief prevailed that to sweep away the faded pageant, would be the most effectual means of coming at the root of much evil in the shape of provincial jobbing and intrigue. Had the bill been limited to the abolition of the Viceroyalty, and the reconstruction of the Irish department of the general administration, in a manner fitted to combine the advantages of local knowledge of the wants to be provided for, with ministerial representation thereof in the Cabinet and the Legislature, the measure would undoubtedly have been carried. Suggestions to this effect were urged both publicly and privately upon the Government, by persons well acquainted with the condition of society in Ireland, and little influenced by the mere cry of opposition raised by a portion of the inhabitants of Dublin. But when it appeared that the intention was to remove everything like local administration, and to centralize the whole departmental authority in London; those who would otherwise have supported the measure became its most strenuous opponents. In the Peers, Lords Fitzwilliam and Londonderry were sustained by the opinion strongly expressed by the Duke of Wellington against so entire and impolitic a change; and in the
Commons long debates took place, though the minority who voted against the second reading did not exceed thirty-three.
Towards the close of the discussion, Mr. Sheil, whose sentiments on this subject have been already noticed, rose to defend the general principle of the bill, desirous as he was that modifications should be introduced in Committee, calculated to obviate the objections above named.
“That a considerable influence was exercised by the Irish Executive through the instrumentality of the once all-powerful proprietors of the soil cannot be doubted; but suddenly the foundation on which this artificial fabric was constructed gave way; Catholic Emancipation was carried; it was followed by Parliamentary Reform; power was almost immediately transferred from the favoured and manageable few to the multifarious and unmanageable many.
The Lord-Lieutenant was denuded of all influence; he was unable materially to effect the return of a single member of Parliament; and what had been an engine of State was converted into a mere scenic machine for the very imperfect representation of Royalty on a very provincial stage. The spectators are weary of the exhibition, and it is time that the theatre should be closed. Let us get rid of the Irish Court, which is, after all, a badge of colonial inferiority. Let us get rid of the Malvolio dignity of the retainers of this mimetic institution. Let this glittering superfluity-I dare not call it this gaudy nuisance—be put aside, and in lieu of all this mockery, let us give the opportunity to the Irish people to give to the Sovereign of that great empire of which Ireland constitutes a part so important, that frequent wel. come which will never fail to come in fervour from the nation's
heart, and of which, by its reiteration, the enthusiasm will never be impaired."
On Mr. G. A. Hamilton's motion that a separate provision should be made out of the public revenues for the education of children in accordance with the principles of the Established Church, Mr. Sheil entered briefly but lucidly into the discussion of the important question raised.
He cordially admitted that,
“No system of education would deserve the name of national to which the Protestants of Ireland could justly object. I have accordingly considered whether there existed any well-founded Protestant objection to the National Board. I
well-founded objection, because when religious qualms take an acquisitive turn,-(and it is from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the honourable and learned members for the University of Dublin require spiritual consolation,)-it is only reasonable to ask, whether their fears for the integrity of the Protestant faith have any substantial ground? After a good deal of consideration, and after having given due weight to all that has been urged against the National Board, I have I own come to the conclusion that the apprehensions are wholly visionary by which the Parliamentary conscience of the members for the University of Dublin are periodically perturbed. The analogy of certain grants made in England for separate Catholic schools, is like an inference from the donations to Lazarus that Dives might, with propriety, likewise ask for alms. revenues of the Established Church ought to be regarded as the natural source whence funds in a
* Debate on second reading of Lord Lieutenancy Abolition Bill, 17th June, 1850.