In Ireland, the "Penal Laws" is the name given to the code of laws passed by the Protestant Parliament of Ireland which regulated the status of Roman Catholics through most of the eighteenth century. These laws are key to understanding the history of the period as well as the sectarian conflicts that still plague Northern Ireland.
The declared purpose of the Irish Penal Laws, like that of the apartheid laws of recent South African history, was to disenfranchise the native majority from all power, both political and economic. Unlike apartheid, the disabilities created by the Penal Laws were aimed not at a particular race or ethnic group, but at the adherents of a particular religion. The ideal was to entice the colonised Irish into wholesale conversion to Protestantism. A Catholic could avoid the oppressive effects of these laws by conversion, although the statutes went to great lengths to ferret out insincere conversions and backsliders. By deliberately defining the haves and the have-nots, the politically powerful and the oppressed, on the basis of religion, these statutes had a profound effect, not only on the eighteenth century, but on the subsequent history of Ireland to the present day.
Here is partial text of the law banning catholic clergy:
Whereas it is notoriously known, that the late rebellions in this kingdom have been promoted by popish bishops and other ecclesiastical persons of the popish religion, and forasmuch as the peace and publick safety of this kingdom is in danger by the great number of said the clergy now residing here, and settling in fraternities contrary to law, and to the great impoverishing of his Majesty's subjects who are forced to maintain them, and said the clergy do not only endeavour to withdraw his Majesty's subjects from their obedience, but do daily stir up and move sedition and rebellion , all popish archbishops, bishops, vicars-general, deans, jesuits, monks, friars, and all other regular popish clergy shall depart out of this kingdom before the 1st day of May, 1698, and if any of said ecclesiastical persons shall after that day be in this kingdom, they shall suffer imprisonment, and remain in prison until transported out of his Majesty's dominions, wherever his Majesty or the chief governors of this kingdom shall see fit, and if any person so transported shall return, he shall be guilty of high treason.
Among the discriminations faced by Catholics and Dissenters under the Penal Laws were:
* Exclusion of Catholics from most public offices (since 1607), Presbyterians were also barred from public office from 1707.
* Ban on intermarriage with Protestants by statutes of Kilkenny; repealed 1778
* Presbyterian marriages were not legally recognised by the state
* Catholics barred from holding firearms or serving in the armed forces (rescinded by Militia Act of 1793)
* Bar from membership in either the Parliament of Ireland or the Parliament of Great Britain from 1652; rescinded 1662-1691; renewed 1691-1829.
* Disenfranchising Act 1728, exclusion from voting until 1793;
* Exclusion from the legal professions and the judiciary; repealed (respectively) 1793 and 1829.
* Education Act 1695 - ban on foreign education; repealed 1782.
* Bar to Catholics entering Trinity College Dublin; repealed 1793.
* On a death by a Catholic, a legatee could benefit by conversion to the Church of Ireland;
* Popery Act- Catholic inheritances of land were to be equally subdivided between all an owner's sons with the exception that if the eldest son and heir converted to Protestantism that he would become the one and only tenant of estate and portions for other children not to exceed one third of the estate.
* Ban on converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism on pain of Praemunire: forfeiting all property estates and legacy to the monarch of the time and remaining in prison at monarchs pleasure. In addition, forfeiting monarchs protection. No injury however atrocious could have any action brought against it or any reparation for such.
* Ban on Catholics buying land under a lease of more than 31 years; repealed 1778.
* Ban on custody of orphans being granted to Catholics on pain of 500 pounds that was to be donated to the Blue Coat hospital in Dublin.
* Ban on Catholics inheriting Protestant land
* Prohibition on Catholics owning a horse valued at over £5 (in order to keep horses suitable for military activity out of the majority's hands)
* Roman Catholic lay priests had to register to preach under the Registration Act 1704, but seminary priests and Bishops were not able to do so until the 1770s.
* When allowed, new Catholic churches were to be built from wood, not stone, and away from main roads.
* 'No person of the popish religion shall publicly or in private houses teach school, or instruct youth in learning within this realm' upon pain of twenty pounds fine and three months in prison for every such offence. Repealed in 1782.
* Any and all rewards not paid by the crown for alerting authorities of offences to be levied upon the Catholic populace within parish and county.