HC Deb 17 June 1822 vol 7 cc1123-6
Mr. V. Fitzgerald

begged to ask a right hon. gentleman, what farther relief was contemplated for the distresses of Ireland; and how the funds already ob- tained had been applied? The awful situation of Ireland no longer admitted of delay. If any persons supposed that the charity of England, even added to the sums already voted by parliament, would be sufficient to meet the calamities of Ireland for the next six weeks, such persons deceived themselves.

Mr. Goulburn

assured the right hon. gentleman, that, from the moment the Irish government determined to assist the people, every course had been taken which could expedite such assistance and render it available. A committee had been formed in Dublin, by order of the lord lieutenant, to communicate with those districts in which the greatest distress prevailed; and certain funds which had been left in the lord lieutenant's hands against exigency, by the act of 1817, had been immediately placed at that committee's disposal. In addition to this, he (Mr. G.) had submitted a measure for the employment of the poor upon public works. That measure was divided into two branches: the one empowering the lord lieutenant at once to use all sums which had been presented by grand juries for such public purposes: the other, placing a farther sum of 50,000l. at his command, and persons had been dispatched into those districts most distressed, with full authority to commence such plans as seemed most likely to give relief to the people. He believed that the works, in many places, had already commenced, and that relief to a considerable extent had followed. In common with the right hon. gentleman, he felt the calamity as a deep one. It was, however, satisfactory to know, that the distress was confined to a limited, and not very extensive, portion of the country; but still there was enough to call upon parliament for farther assistance when the present funds should be exhausted.

Mr. John Smith

said, that, from facts which had come to his knowledge, as a member of the London Tavern committee, he could not but be surprised at the speech which the right hon. secretary had just delivered. The Dublin committee might have done all in its power, but it had not done sufficient in the way of relief; for the last accounts from Ireland were more calamitous than ever. He would state facts to the House, on which it might rely. In the county of Clare, there were now 99,639 persons subsisting on charity from hour to hour. In Cork, there were 132,000 individuals, who must perish with hunger if they did not receive relief. In one barony of the county of Clare, many persons had actually perished from famine. It was for government to say what, under such circumstances, it meant to do; but the first duty of any government that was worth one farthing, was to protect its subjects from starvation. Enough had not been done, and therefore government ought to take more decisive measures.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, that in the county of Limerick, out of a population of 67,000 persons, 20,000 were subsisting on charity. However great the sums placed at the disposal of the London Committee, it was impossible, even if they trebled their amount, that they could do more than relieve the present suffering, and that only in a very slight degree. He trusted that measures of employing the poor would be resorted to, and speedily; for while the legislature deliberated, the people perished.

Sir E. O'Brien

said, that if an effort was not made to relieve the Irish before harvest, they would fall upon the new crop so eagerly and prematurely, that next year would be equal to this in misery.

Sir J. Newport

said, that unless means were found to employ the population of Ireland, the foundation of an ulterior evil would be laid, which would not only exist through this or through the next year, but would strike at the root of all industry for a long period to come. Large as the means, and great as the benevolence of this country unquestionably were, those means and that benevolence were incapable of affording efficient relief, unless the means of existence were drawn from the immediate neighbourhood of the sufferers. The aid that might be afforded ought to take the shape of reward for labour, rather than that of a boon to mendicity.

Mr. Secretary Peel

perfectly agreed with the right hon. baronet, that this was not a mere pecuniary question. The importance of the subject lifted it above the ordinary rules of financial calculation. The question was not, whether a sum of money should be advanced to Ireland. The Irish government were endeavouring to give relief in every possible way: not with strict regard to the principles of political economy, for unhappily the case was one that compelled them to set all ordinary rules at defiance. Engineers were engaged to see what works could be commenced, that would afford occupation to the people; and 6,000l. had already been appropriated, not for any public undertaking, but in order to effect improvements of a local and private nature.