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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

9 April 1793: The Catholic Relief Act (33 George III, c.21) that extended the parliamentary franchise to Catholics was put before the Parliament of Ireland in Dublin on this day. This enabled Catholics to hold civil and military offices that were not specifically excepted, and removed the statuary bar to university degrees.

The members of this Parliament were all Protestants and mostly hostile to lifting restrictions on Catholics.

But this latest Catholic Relief Act was brought in as the situation in Revolutionary France brought the prospect of War with the new Republic and Britain ever closer. Indeed within weeks the two States were at War. With many Catholics now alienated from Revolutionary France (under the Monarchy their traditional ally against Protestant Britain) over the mistreatment of Priests and the revolutionists attacks on the Catholic Church the time was ripe for Britain to seek an accommodation with Catholic Ireland in order to placate the Country and remove any threat of a revolt while they faced a major War with the French.

The Act was brought in at the behest of William Pitt the Younger [above], the brilliant and shrewd British Prime Minister. He recognised that Britain was in imminent danger of an explosion on her western flank if he did not act fast to stave off trouble here. But as it turned out his actions were not enough to placate the Country as the forces of Revolution and Reaction gained ground with many sections of the Populace.


Whereas various acts of parliament have been passed, imposing on his Majesty's subjects professing the popish or Roman Catholic religion many restraints and disabilities, to which other subjects of this realm are not liable, and from the peaceful and loyal demeanour of his Majesty's popish or Roman Catholic subjects, it is fit that such restraints and disabilities shall be discontinued; be it therefore enacted...


This Act was the big breakthrough for Catholics as they now were allowed to vote, were free from having their property taken from them by 'discovery', could hold arms in certain circumstances and were allowed to hold most Civil and Military offices open to Protestants.

Despite much hope and speculation though it was to be another 36 years before the last of the impediments to being a Catholic in Ireland were removed when Daniel O'Connell led the Campaign for full Catholic Emancipation.

After 1793 Catholics were still barred from sitting in parliament, from the offices of lord lieutenant, chief secretary, chancellor of the exchequer, and from other senior political positions. They could not be king's counsel, judges or governors, sheriffs or sub-sheriffs, and could not hold higher military rank than colonel. Hopes for further relief were briefly raised under Fitzwilliam, and again at the time of the Act of Union. So it was not until 1829 that the last Catholic Relief Act removed these remaining disabilities.