Images de page

No Irishman was given the supreme direction of Irish affairs. The Chief Secretary, as I have said, was invariably an Englishman. The appointment of an Irishman to the post, if ever thought of by the British Ministry, was considered only to be rejected. Strong objections to it were, apparently, also entertained in Ireland. Lord Buckinghamshire, the Viceroy, writing to the Ministers in London, when the office was vacant in 1780, says in one letter: 'No Irishman could be appointed without causing jealousy and disgust'; and in another: The nomination of any gentleman in this kingdom would inevitably lead to intrigue and jealousy.' Only one Irishman filled the post under the Irish Parliament, and he was the last, Castlereagh, Chief Secretary to Lord Cornwallis, and the 'Statesman of the Union,' as he is described in his epitaph in Westminster Abbey. Indeed, Castlereagh owed his appointment entirely to the accident that, owing to the illness of Pelham, the Chief Secretary, the duties of the office were discharged by him during the Rebellion of 1798, he being then Keeper of the Privy Seal, a post which he got from Camden, the preceding Lord Lieutenant, in July, 1797. He gave entire satisfaction to the British Administration during that crucial period, but, as he laboured under the disability of being an Irishman, the new departure taken in giving him the post, when Pelham resigned towards the close of 1798, was not decided upon without grave hesitation and misgiving on the part of some of the British Ministers. In the Castlereagh Correspondence there is a letter from Lord Camden, dated November 4, 1798, to Castlereagh, in which he says: 'Mr. Pitt is disposed as much as possible to your appointment, and although I believe there are others who entertain strong prejudices against the appointment of an Irishman to be Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, yet your merits will, I doubt not, overcome the objections. Castlereagh's promotion gave the greatest pleasure also to Lord Cornwallis. In a letter to the Duke of Portland, the Viceroy writes in the highest terms of the ability and judgment of his new Secretary. That Castlereagh was Irish was, certainly, a disadvantage. But then, the intimate knowledge of affairs and persons in Ireland which he owed to his nationality was most useful. And, after all, he is,' says Cornwallis, 'so very unlike an Irishman,' that, 'although I admit the propriety of the general rule, Í

think he has a just claim to an exception in his favour.' According to a letter of Lord Hardwicke-the first Viceroy after the Union-in the Hardwicke Papers, the Chief Secretaryship was, at this time, an extremely lucrative office. Castlereagh was making £9,000 a year. This sum included the sinecure of £1,500 as Keeper of the Privy Seal. Charles Abbot, the first Chief Secretary under the Union, was paid £5,000 British, or £5,416 13s. 4d. Irish, a year.

[ocr errors]

There was also a post called Principal Secretary of State in Ireland. Despite its high-sounding title, the holder of if had no settled part in public affairs. It was but another of the highly-paid sinecures in which the Irish Parliament abounded. 'No duty, no responsibility is attached to the office,' says Buckingham, Lord Lieutenant, writing to his Chief Secretary and brother, W. W. Grenville, April 11, 1788, and the salary is £1,500 Irish, exclusive of the fees of the Signet Office, which are given to the Clerk who enters the fiants.' The post was appropriately filled for many years by John Hely Hutchinson. He got it in 1777, and held it until his death in 1794. From an account of the office, written by Hely Hutchinson, it appears that the Principal Secretary of State in Ireland was first appointed in the second year of Elizabeth, to keep the Signet as in England, and make all bills, warrants and writings that require signature, and have his fees for the same. After the Revolution it lost its importance but not its salary, which was given to English members of Parliament as a reward for services rendered at Westminster. Hely Hutchinson was one of the first Irishmen appointed to the post, and he, like his immediate predecessors, held it for life. It then went with the Chief Secretaryship, to give, as was said, dignity and rank to that office; and in these circumstances was filled by Pelham and Castlereagh, the two last Chief Secretaries before the Union. It passed out of existence with the Irish Parliament.

[ocr errors]

Hely Hutchinson states, in his account of the Principal Secretary of State in Ireland, that the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant rose to power after the Revolution. He had two clerks, one in charge of the civil department and the other in charge of the military department, who were like ministers under him. There is no country probably in Europe,' says Hely Hutchinson, where such various powers and departments are in one man, and that

man unknown to the Constitution; and yet in the course of a long life I have not known more than two men in that office who had any previous acquaintance with public business.' Even so, the command of the Irish House of Commons was in the Chief Secretary.

It is a command [said Henry Grattan in 1791] that makes him more forcible than Demosthenes, and more persuasive than Tully, or, if the name of Solomon delight him more, Solomon in all his glory, sitting among his State concubines. See at the feet of a young lad the tributes of a degraded Court, see prostrate at his feet the wisdom of age and the flames of youth, the grey head of experience, the country gentleman's shattered mask, and the veteran Crown lawyer's prostituted conscience and howling remorse.

The great patriot and orator thus concluded his outburst of invective: You do not make this man a Colossus but he makes you pigmies; and both lose your natural proportion; he his natural inferiority, and you, your natural superiority in your native land.'

An instructive example of the willingness of members in receipt of the Government hush money to consent to any and every claim which their paymasters might make, is afforded by their conflicting action in regard to Catholic Emancipation in the years 1795 and 1796. In the summer of 1794 some of the leading moderate Whigs in England seceded from their party to join the Tory Administration of Pitt, for the purpose of vigorously prosecuting the war against revolutionary France. Part of the new policy of the Coalition was to make a change in the system of governing Ireland. The Whigs were favourable to the admission of Catholics to the Irish Parliament. One of them, the Duke of Portland, was made Secretary of State for the Home Department, in whose jurisdiction Ireland was then included. Lord Fitzwilliam, another Whig, was appointed Viceroy, and arrived in Dublin early in January, 1795. In April Grattan brought in an Emancipation Bill, which was read a first time by the House of Commons, without opposition, as the Government had directed. There was every hope of its passing, when alarm was raised in London, the King interposed, the Cabinet changed their mind, Fitzwilliam was recalled, and the same supple majority which was ready to carry the Bill in April, at the word of the Government, threw it out in May, by 155 votes to 84. In October, 1795, Grattan had only 19 supporters when he next moved a resolution in favour of

the emancipation of the Catholics. It was the last time this great question was submitted to the Irish Parliament. Another peculiarity of the Irish Parliament was its unusual tenure of membership. A seat in the Irish House of Commons was vacated by the member being made a peer or a judge, or by his taking Holy Orders in the Established Church, but by no other means, save expulsion or death. Until seven years before the Union there was no provision to compel a member to resign on his appointment to an office of profit under the Crown, or even to afford him a means of escape by the formal acceptance of a nominal one, such as the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds in the Imperial Parliament. This state of things also helped to keep the Irish Parliament in bondage to the British Ministry. Members who got places and pensions were not obliged to go to their constituencies for a renewal of trust; and as such members formed a third of the House of Commons, during the last half century of the Parliament, the Government, as I have already pointed out, could always depend upon the unwavering support of a permanent majority to further their own ends or to defeat the reforming schemes of the Patriot Party.

It is true that in the seventeenth century there existed a simple mode of resignation for members grown tired of parliamentary life, or too old or feeble to attend the session in Dublin. A letter to the Speaker, giving one excuse or another, seems to have been sufficient to give a member the desired freedom. The Commons Journals contain many instances of such applications. On November 14, 1634, Sir Henry Bingham, one of the members for the borough of Castlebar, wrote that he is dangerously hurt by a fall from his horse,' and, therefore, humbly besought this honourable House that another might be elected in his room.' Thomas Leake, a knight of the shire for Donegal, wrote, on November 17, simply that it was his humble request to be relieved of the service of the House. November 18 Henry Lord Maltravers, one of the members for the borough of Callan, sent a letter that 'in respect of his occasions in England he cannot attend the affairs of the House.' In all these cases writs for the return of new members were issued. On November 25, in the same year, Sir William Blake, being sick, 'got liberty to go into the country,' and it was further agreed at his own request, 'that in case he did not come by the first of the next term,

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

another member should be elected in his stead. On the following day it is recorded that Arthur Chichester, a knight of the shire for Antrim, who was licensed by this House to go to England last session, and now being not returned,' a new writ was issued for his constituency. Then, on the first day of a subsequent session, January 26, 1635, it is ordered that Sir Henry Bingham is still to continue member for Castlebar notwithstanding a former order for the electing of another in his stead.' Again, six years later, on May 20, 1641, a writ was issued for an election of a burgess for the borough, or corporation, of 'Malloe' (Co. Cork) in the stead and place of William Kingswell, Esq., he being extremely sick of a consumption and not likely to recover.'

This practice, of letting every member go who wanted to, continued through the seventeenth century, and was brought to an end in the early years of the eighteenth. In 1704, Mr. Caulfield, one of the members for the borough of Charlemont, wrote requesting that a new writ might be issued for his seat as he desired to travel abroad. A committee was appointed to search for precedents; and they reported, 'that the excusing of members at their own request, or upon letters, from the service of this House, and thereupon issuing out new writs to elect other members to serve in their places is of dangerous consequence and tends to the subversion of the constitution of Parliament.' On the following day the House passed a standing order that no writs for elections in the place of members excusing themselves from the service of the House were to be issued at the desire of such members, notwithstanding any former precedent to the contrary.' It would seem, therefore, as if it were no longer possible for a member to resign his seat. In 1743 the Corporation of Sligo petitioned the House to order an election for the borough, on the ground that one of its members, Francis Ormsby, had not attended since 1731, owing to ill-health. The application was supported by Ormsby. Writing to the Speaker he said he had not the least room to expect that he should ever be capable of attending to his duty in Parliament,' and accordingly desired that the House would be pleased to issue a new writ, or otherwise do what in their great wisdom they should think proper.' The House refused the prayer of the petition by 106 votes to 79, but, having regard to the physical incapacity of the member they passed a resolution excusing him for not attending

« PrécédentContinuer »