Catholic Relief

Justin McCarthy
Chapter X | Start of Chapter

The Government brought in the Catholic Relief Bill, the main purport of which was to construct a new form of oath which all Catholics, as well as others, might conscientiously take. The measure not only admitted Catholics to sit in Parliament, but allowed them to be appointed to all political and civil offices excepting those of Regent, Lord Chancellor, and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The Bill was carried through both Houses of Parliament by large majorities, and became law. Some parts of the measure Peel would not willingly have introduced, but he accepted them in order to effect a compromise with the more extreme opponents of Catholic emancipation, especially in the House of Lords. O'Connell was not allowed to take his seat in the House at once, but was put to the superfluous trouble of again offering himself for election to his Clare constituents, who returned him for the third time with a triumphant majority. An Act of Parliament was also passed disfranchising a class of Irish voters who were known as the Forty Shilling Freeholders, a body of voters with a special suffrage who had made a great part of the majority by whom O'Connell was elected. It would have been better if Peel could have carried out his own policy without any of these grudging disqualifications. But he has the honour in history of being the first Minister of the Crown who fully recognised, and established by enactment, the right of the Roman Catholic to a general equality with his Protestant fellow subjects.