In the meantime special attention should be directed to a momentous passage in a speech delivered by Lord Ebrington in the House of Commons. Lord Ebrington had himself been a member of the committee appointed by that House to consider the whole subject; and especial attention is directed to this part of his speech, inasmuch as it opened up a new and a wider question connected with the existence of a State Church in Ireland, and pointed out the one great injustice, the one deep grievance, which was involved in the whole system. Lord Ebrington declared, " that no plan could lead to a final settlement of the question which attempted to exclude the consideration of a thorough reform of the Irish State Church." Lord Ebrington said that when he saw the clergy of that Church receiving salaries so much out of proportion to the number of Protestants under their care, and when he saw that these salaries were paid chiefly by Roman Catholics, he could not but look upon the whole system as pregnant with injury to the cause of religion. He protested against the number of Protestant clergy being so utterly disproportioned to the numbers of their congregations; and he expressed a strong desire to see some more just distribution of the revenues of the Church, such as would afford a more adequate provision for the needs of the working clergy. He maintained that no settlement of the existing complaints could be satisfactory, which did not, while showing a due regard to all genuine interests, contemplate the reconstruction of the Church of Ireland in a condition better proportioned to the wants of the Protestant inhabitants.
We have already mentioned, passingly and in round numbers, the disproportion between the Catholic population in Ireland and the Protestants of all denominations. It may be well, however, to set forth the precise facts of the case as they were brought out in a census specially taken for the instruction of Parliament on the subject. The Catholics, according to this official census, numbered six million four hundred and thirty-six thousand; the congregations of the Established Church made up altogether eight hundred and fifty-three thousand; and the Dissenters, six hundred and sixty-five thousand, five hundred. The Protestants of the Established Church were just about ten per cent of the whole population; and the Dissenters were eight per cent. The revenues of the Church amounted to eight hundred and sixty-five thousand five hundred and twenty-five pounds sterling, that is to say, rather more than £ 1 per head of its members. There were nearly fourteen hundred benefices, fortyone of which did not contain a single Catholic; twenty benefices had less than five Catholics; and a hundred and sixty-five did not rise, each of them, to five-and-twenty Catholics. In a hundred and fifty-seven benefices no services whatever were performed, the incumbents being absentees who probably shrank from the odious task of collecting their tithes at the point of the bayonet, and kept away from the scene altogether. Four archbishops and eighteen bishops were appointed and endowed by the State to look after the spiritual concerns of the Protestants of Ireland. It would be impossible to add anything to the argument contained in these figures; they come with singular appropriateness after the citation which has been made from Lord Ebrington's memorable speech.
The Parliamentary Committees, to one of which, as we have said, Lord Ebrington had been attached, had nothing to do with the broad consideration of the relations between the Irish State Church and the Irish people. The committees were merely appointed to consider whether anything could be done to improve the system of collecting the tithes. Lord Ebrington, in his speech, broadened the question beyond the understanding or the sympathy of many of those who listened to him. Time, however, made good every word that he had spoken. It would be impossible to settle the tithe question satisfactorily without considering whether the existence of so monstrous an anomaly as a State endowed and State established Protestant Church in a country such as Ireland, could co-exist with the progress of civilisation and the spread of Christianity. Lord Ebrington's words bore fruit, but not at the time when they were spoken; it was left for a later day and for a statesman who began his life as a Tory to deal with that anomaly, and to abolish for ever that preposterous injustice. In the meantime the Government brought in several Bills for the modification of the tithe system. The substance of the propositions was that the responsibility for the tithes was to be transferred from the tenants to the landlords : and that money should be advanced by the Government for the help of the Protestant clergy who could not recover their tithes while the great resistance was going on. The Government, in the main, carried their propositions, which only amounted to a sort of temporary compromise all round.
One or two incidents of the controversy are worth noticing. We have already mentioned the system which is peculiar to the House of Lords, and by means of which a dissatisfied Peer is allowed to record his protest against the passing of a measure. The Duke of Cumberland, in this instance, recorded his protest on the ground that any measure dealing with the tithes of the Irish State Church was a violation of the Sovereign's Coronation Oath. That poor old Oath had been for some time forgotten, and now behold, it had come up again as a factor in the arrangements of the State. Another incident which is worth recalling would seem to say that the poor old King himself, although he gave the Royal Assent to all this legislation, had some conscientious struggle. During the course of the long debates the King's birthday came on, and the Irish bishops presented an address to his Majesty on behalf of the Irish Protestant clergy, generally deprecating any interference in the existing arrangements of the Church. The King, in his reply, declared his resolve to stand up to the last in defence of the Church; and expressed a hope that no legislation might be introduced which could work any other way. He reminded his attentive and astonished hearers that he was completing his sixty-ninth year, and here the image of his approaching end brought big round tears into his eyes, and he said that he must be prepared to leave the world with a conscience clear in regard to the maintenance of the State Church. The threats, he said, of those who are enemies of the Church make it the more necessary for those who feel their duties to that Church to speak out. " The words which you hear from me are indeed spoken by the mouth, but they flow from my heart." Here, too, the tears flowed from the poor old King's eyes and ran down his Royal cheeks. It was an embarrassing sight for those who were round him; and must have been especially one of pity to those who already knew that he had signed whatever measures his Ministers presented to him all the same.