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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 Receives Royal Assent

coat-of-arms-of-the-united-kingdomThe Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, the culmination of the process of Catholic emancipation throughout the United Kingdom, receives royal assent on April 13, 1829. In Ireland it repeals the Test Act 1673 and the remaining Penal Laws which had been in force since the passing of the Disenfranchising Act of the Parliament of Ireland of 1728. Its passage follows a vigorous campaign that threatens insurrection led by Irish lawyer Daniel O’Connell. The British leaders, starting with the Prime MinisterArthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington,  and his top aide Robert Peel, although personally opposed, give in to avoid civil strife. Ireland is quiet after the passage.

In 1778, English Catholics are relieved of the restrictions on land inheritance and purchase. A savage reaction to these concessions produces the Gordon Riots of 1780, and the whole history of Catholic Emancipation is one of struggle against great resistance. In 1791 the Roman Catholic Relief Act repeals most of the disabilities in Great Britain, provided Catholics take an oath of loyalty. In 1793 the army, the navy, the universities, and the judiciary are opened to Catholics, although seats in Parliament and some offices are still denied. These reforms are sponsored by William Pitt the Younger, who hopes thereby to split the alliance of Irish Catholics and Protestants. But Pitt’s attempt to secure a general repeal of the Penal Laws is thwarted by George III. Pope Pius VII consents to a royal veto on episcopal nominations if the Penal Laws are repealed, but the move fails. In Ireland the repeal of Poynings’ Law in 1782 is followed by an act (1792) of the Irish Parliament relaxing the marriage and education laws and an act (1793) allowing Catholics to vote and hold most offices.

The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 permits members of the Catholic Church to sit in the parliament at Westminster and to hold all but a handful of public offices. O’Connell had won a seat in a by-election for Clare in 1828 against an Anglican. Under the then extant penal law, O’Connell as a Catholic, is forbidden to take his seat in Parliament. Peel, the Home Secretary, until then is called “Orange Peel” because he always supports the Orange (anti-Catholic) position. Peel now concludes, “Though emancipation was a great danger, civil strife was a greater danger.” Fearing a revolution in Ireland, Peel draws up the Catholic Relief Bill and guides it through the House of Commons. To overcome the vehement opposition of both the House of Lords and King George IV, the Duke of Wellington works tirelessly to ensure passage in the House of Lords, and threatens to resign as Prime Minister if the King does not give Royal Assent.

With the Universities Tests Act 1871, which opens the universities to Roman Catholics, Catholic Emancipation in the United Kingdom is virtually complete.

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The Octennial Act Receives Royal Assent

parliament-of-irelandThe Octennial Act, an act of the Parliament of Ireland which sets a maximum duration of eight years for the Irish House of Commons, receives royal assent on February 16, 1768. Before this, a dissolution of parliament is not required except on the demise of the Crown, and the previous three general elections were held in 1715, 1727, and 1761, on the respective deaths of Anne, George I, and George II. After the act, general elections are held in 1769, 1776, 1783, 1790, and 1798.

Limiting the duration of parliament is a prime objective of the Irish Patriot Party. Heads of bills are brought, by Charles Lucas in 1761 and 1763 and by Henry Flood in 1765, to limit parliament to seven years as the Septennial Act 1716 does for the Parliament of Great Britain. The heads are rejected by the Privy Council of Great Britain, which, under Poynings’ Law, has to pre-approve any bill before it is formally introduced in the Irish parliament.

Since the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, the British government has wished to increase the size of Irish regiments, the part of the British Army charged on the Irish exchequer rather than the British. In 1767, the Chatham Ministry appoints George Townshend, 4th Viscount Townshend, as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and instructs him to secure the support of the Irish parliament for an Augmentation Bill to effect this increase. The British consider several possible concessions to win over the Irish Patriot Party, and at his speech from the throne, Townshend promises judicial tenure quamdiu se bene gesserint and hints at a Septennial Act.

Lucas again introduces heads of a Septennial Bill on October 20, 1767. Barry Maxwell introduces heads of a judicial tenure bill the same day. In November, the appointment of James Hewitt, 1st Baron Lifford, as Lord Chancellor of Ireland alienates the Undertakers who had hoped for the post. In addition, the British Privy Council adds a wrecking amendment to the judicial tenure bill, which causes the Irish parliament to reject the bill once returned to Dublin. The council also makes three amendments to Lucas’ bill – to the preamble, to extend the limit from seven to eight years, thus an Octennial Bill, and to bring forward the date of the next general election from 1774 to 1768. According to Francis Plowden, the Privy Council insists on the modification to eight years as a wrecking amendment, expecting that the Irish parliament will reject the bill on principle once any amendment has been made to it, and is disappointed when its amended bill is passed. William Edward Hartpole Lecky calls this “without foundation,” stating the actual reasons for eight years are that the Irish Parliament only meets every second year, and to reduce the chance of Irish and British general elections coinciding.

The Octennial Act reinvigorates the Commons, both with newly elected reformers and with MPs made more active by the prospect of imminent re-election. Changes include more assertiveness over supply bills and Poynings’ Law, easing the penal laws, and securing the Constitution of 1782. There are unsuccessful attempts to shorten the maximum duration, in 1773 by Sir William Parsons and in 1777 by Sir Edward Newenham.

The act is rendered moot when the Parliament of Ireland is abolished by the Acts of Union 1800. It is formally repealed by the Statute Law Revision (Ireland) Act 1879.


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Enactment of Poyning’s Law

poynings-law-enactedPoynings’ Law, also known as the Statute of Drogheda, an Act of the Parliament of Ireland which provides that the parliament cannot meet until its proposed legislation has been approved by both Ireland’s Lord Deputy and Privy Council and by England’s monarch and Privy Council, is enacted on December 1, 1494.

Poynings’ Parliament is called by Sir Edward Poynings in his capacity as Lord Deputy of Ireland, appointed by King Henry VII of England in his capacity as Lord of Ireland. Coming in the aftermath of the divisive Wars of the Roses, Poynings’ intention is to make Ireland once again obedient to the English monarchy. Assembling the Parliament on December 1, 1494, he declares that the Parliament of Ireland is thereafter to be placed under the authority of the Parliament of England. This marks the beginning of Tudor direct rule in Ireland, although Henry VII is still forced to rely on Old English nobles (such as Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, despite his support for Lambert Simnel) as his deputies in Ireland through the intervening years.

The working of Poynings’ Law takes place in several steps. The first step is for the lieutenant governor and the Irish council, or Irish executive, to decide that a parliament is needed, usually for the purpose of raising funds. At this point the council and lieutenant write drafts of legislation to be proposed to the king and his council. After this has been completed, the lieutenant and council, according to the act, are required to certify the request for parliament “under the great seal of that land [Ireland],” and then forward it to England for approval. Once the request arrives in England, it is reviewed by the King and his council, and a formal licence approving the request for parliament and the draft bills are returned to Ireland. Once the licence is received in Ireland, the governor summons parliament and the bills are passed.

The two important aspects of the procedure presented by Poynings’ Law are transmission and certification. Both of these requirements place limits on various parties within the law making process in Ireland. The combination of these processes create a situation where bills can be sent, along with the request for parliament, and the king can amend and remove such bills as he wishes, however he cannot add new bills himself.

Furthermore, the two processes make it impossible for the Irish to add more bills or amendments to a request, after the initial licence request has been granted. This means that any additional bills or amendments that they wish to pass in parliament have to be re-sent along with an entirely new request for parliament. Clearly this creates severe inefficiencies in the legislative process, and thus gives the executive in Ireland as well as the Crown an interest in relaxing procedure.

Poynings’ Law is a major rallying point for later groups seeking self-government for Ireland, particularly the Confederate Catholics in the 1640s and Henry Grattan‘s Patriot Party in the late 18th century, who consistently seek a repeal of Poynings’ Law. The Act remains in place until the Constitution of 1782 gives the Irish parliament legislative independence. The Acts of Union 1800 render most of the Constitution of 1782 and Poynings’ Law moot. Poynings’ Law is formally repealed as obsolete by the Statute Law Revision (Ireland) Act 1878.


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Birth of Irish Politician Henry Grattan

henry-grattanHenry Grattan, Irish politician and member of the Irish House of Commons, who campaigns for legislative freedom for the Irish Parliament in the late 18th century, is born at Fishamble Street in Dublin on July 3, 1746.

Grattan is baptised at the church of St. John the Evangelist in Dublin. He attends Drogheda Grammar School and then goes on to become a distinguished student at Trinity College, Dublin, where he begins a lifelong study of classical literature, and is especially interested in the great orators of antiquity.

After studying at the King’s Inns, Dublin, and being called to the Irish bar in 1772, he never seriously practises law but is drawn to politics, influenced by his friend Henry Flood. He enters the Irish Parliament for Charlemont in 1775, sponsored by Lord Charlemont, just as Flood has damaged his credibility by accepting office. Grattan quickly supersedes Flood in the leadership of the national party, not least because his oratorical powers are unsurpassed among his contemporaries.

Grattan’s movement gains momentum as more and more Irish people come to sympathize with the North American colonists in their war for independence from Great Britain. By 1779, he is powerful enough to persuade the British government to remove most of its restraints on Irish trade, and in April 1780 he formally demands the repeal of Poynings’ Law, which has made all legislation passed by the Irish Parliament subject to approval by the British Parliament. Two years later the British relinquish their right to legislate for Ireland and frees the Irish Parliament from subservience to the English Privy Council. Despite these successes, Grattan soon faces rivalry from Flood, who bitterly criticizes Grattan for failing to demand that the British Parliament completely renounce all claims to control of Irish legislation. Flood succeeds in undermining Grattan’s popularity, but by 1784 Flood himself has lost much of his following.

From 1782 to 1797 Grattan makes limited progress in his struggle to reform the composition of the Irish Parliament and to win voting rights for Ireland’s Roman Catholics. The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 bolsters his cause by infusing democratic ideas into Ireland, but the subsequent growth of a radical Irish movement for Catholic emancipation provokes repressive measures by the British. Grattan is caught between the two sides. Ill and discouraged, he retires from Parliament in May 1797 and is in England when the Irish radicals stage an unsuccessful rebellion in 1798.

Grattan returns to Parliament for five months in 1800 and wages a vigorous but fruitless campaign against Prime Minister William Pitt’s plans for the legislative union of the Irish and British parliaments. In 1805, Grattan is elected to the British House of Commons, where for the last 15 years of his life he fights for Catholic emancipation.

In 1920, after crossing from Ireland to London while in poor health to bring forward the Irish question once more, he becomes seriously ill. On his death-bed he speaks generously of Castlereagh, and with warm eulogy of his former rival, Flood. Henry Grattan dies on June 6, 1820, and is buried in Westminster Abbey. His statue is in the Outer Lobby of the Palace of Westminster.

The building housing the faculty of Law and Government at Dublin City University has been named in his honour. Grattan Bridge crossing the River Liffey between Parliament Street on the south side of Dublin and Capel Street on the north side is also named in his honour.