HC Deb 17 February 1830 vol 22 cc573-9
Mr. Callaghan

moved for a Return of the different Charitable Establishments of Ireland. The hon. Member felt himself obliged to say that the condition of the poor in the City which he represented was so appalling, that a delay of one day in inquiring into the causes of the evil might be dangerous to the peace of the community. He would take the opportunity to ask the hon. Member for Limerick what was the proposed scope of his inquiry with respect to the condition of the poor of Ireland, for which he intended to move the appointment of a Select Committee on the 11th of March. There was much anxiety in Ireland on the subject of the hon. Gentleman's motion; and he inquired whether the hon. Member's object was to procure means of relief for the infirm, to investigate the condition of unemployed labourers, or to propose the introduction into Ireland of the principle and practice of the present system of English Poor Laws. He regretted that so distant a day was fixed for the Motion upon the subject, particularly as it was not understood in Ireland whether it were intended to introduce the Poor Laws into that country or not.

Mr. Spring Rice

, in reply to the hon. Gentleman, must state that his motive for deferring his Motion was, because no relief granted to Ireland could be complete without a previous inquiry into the charitable institutions of that country. His first object was to ascertain the actual state of the poor of Ireland, which would not require any laborious examination; particularly as papers upon the subject had already been laid before the Emigration Committee in 1825. The second subject was the Charities of Ireland, and the effect they had in relieving distress. The third subject was the question of the Poor Laws. Many Gentlemen maintained the expediency of introducing the English Poor Laws into Ireland, but no person could think of doing this without a full inquiry into the effect likely to be produced by the measure upon the people of Ireland, and into the mechanism necessary to carry the measure into operation. Many Gentlemen, who did not think that the introduction of the Poor Laws into Ireland would be beneficial to that country, were of opinion that they ought to be introduced for the sake of benefiting England, by the preventing of Irish emigration. He begged them to reflect whether it were not more probable that the measure would have a decidedly opposite tendency. It would be premature then to argue the question. He had stated that there were Public Charities in every county of Ireland, and he could assert that in every town of Munster there were Houses of Industry. He had admitted that the distress of Ireland was less than that of England, but still the distress was sufficiently great to need inquiry. He had received a document from a Gentleman residing in Kerry, in which the writer had said, that for the last twenty-eight or thirty years he did not recollect any one period so replete with distress, or any one in which wretchedness had prevailed to such an extent. It was a question with the writer whether one half of the rents due would be paid, and whether the winter would pass without commotion. Considerable improvements were going on throughout Ireland, but though capital was augmenting, the increase of population was more rapid than the increase of capital, and the distress of the people was in creasing.

Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald

said, he was ready to confirm the statements of the hon. Member for Limerick as to the credibility of the source of the information referred to on the subject of the present condition of some parts of the South of Ireland. Nobody felt more deeply than he did the vast importance of the question of which the hon. Member had given notice for the 11th of March; but he saw the propriety of abstaining from going into the subject at the present moment. That the document referred to did not exaggerate the distress existing in the district to which the writer alluded, nor the general distressed condition of the people of the South of Ireland, he fully agreed. He believed that all the districts which depended principally upon the produce of butter and cattle were deeply affected by the depression of prices in the English market. With respect to the district more particularly referred to in the document in question, he was sure that his hon. friend the Member for Limerick would be glad to hear that he had that morning seen a statement in a newspaper, which contained a description of considerable mitigation having taken place in the distress that recently prevailed in the neighbourhood. The paper stated that a Killarney correspondent had informed them that Lord Kenmare had given directions to his agent, Mr. Galway (the writer of the communication referred to) to give immediate employment to the poor in his neighbourhood; and if there were not sufficient to do on the spot, to set them to work elsewhere: it was added, that in consequence of this, above one hundred additional persons were now employed. Though exceedingly unwilling to say anything of himself, he could not omit to notice a personal allusion affecting him, which was contained in the same paper. It was added, "Will the Knight of Kerry even now acknowledge that distress prevails in Kerry?" If that were the only observation upon his conduct, he should have treated it with neglect and contempt; but having been selected as a particular object for slanderous and false assertions in consequence of what he had stated in that House, he thought it right to justify himself against such accusations. No man could do his duty in Parliament with ease and satisfaction to himself, and advantage to the country and his constituents, if he were to be exposed to such slander. On the first night, of the Session, he offered a few words to the House at a late period of the debate, in the course of which he stated expressly that great distress existed in Ireland, and he was so reported to have said in every paper published in London. That being the case, whatever objections the writer of the attack in question might have to his conduct, or whatever motives might be attributed to him, in statements sent forth to the public of Ireland, he could have wished that his language in Parliament had not been misrepresented. Yet he had been subjected to this annoyance: he was represented as denying in toto the existence of distress in Ireland. The paper in question stated, in a manner rather un-courteous and unbecoming, that Goulburn, Peel, Leveson Gower, and Spring Rice, represented the distress existing in Ireland as only trifling and partial. He might here observe that he was not aware of any such language having been held by the Gentlemen thus designated. But the article proceeded (and this part was printed in Italics), "The Knight of Kerry denied its existence in toto." It was rather curious that in an adjoining column was contained a specimen of newspaper cross-readings in Ireland, in which it was stated in the Parliamentary debate, that the Knight of Kerry said there existed great distress in Ireland. [Hear, and laughter.] He complained of the comment that had been made upon him, and the misrepresentation to which he had been subjected; the falsehood grew as it proceeded— —vires acquirit eundo: the comments were first made in a Dublin newspaper; they were thence transmitted to one published in his own country, where they might be expected to influence the opinions of his constituents. After stating, as already mentioned, that the Knight of Kerry denied in toto the existence of distress in Ireland, the article proceeded to say, "for all which abominable and flagitious misstatements, pray Heaven, Kerry, kick him out the next election." Nobody was more anxious than he that every public act of his, whether consisting in vote or language, should be correctly known by his constituents. But while the House must admit that its proceedings were reported with a degree of accuracy almost miraculous, and with a promptitude which was of the greatest importance to the public, he thought it was not to be endured that in any thing purporting to be a report or statement of their proceedings, the House should tolerate such misrepresentation and slander as he had been exposed to. Could anything be more unfair or dangerous than that the constituent body should be thus misled in reference to the conduct and language of its representatives? On the first night of the Session he stated generally that great distress existed in Ireland: at the same time he did add, that, notwithstanding this distress, he relied upon the resources of the country ultimately to workout our prosperity; but he was far from denying the existence of distress. The object of the comments so unfairly made upon his conduct was, to bring forward the unfortunate peasantry at county meetings, under the idea that their distress had been denied by their representatives, and to force from them, by whatever means, a vehement expression of their feelings, that could serve no good purpose, but the contrary. His object was, to obtain the application of practical remedies to the public distress, if such remedies could be discovered. For what purpose could it be pretended that he had got up in his place and underrated the distress of the country? Was it in order to recommend himself to the Minister? He appealed to the invariable tenour of his public conduct in answer to the imputation. Perhaps he might have added to his popularity by exaggerating the public distress; but he would have thought it equally unsafe and disingenuous to do that as to adopt the opposite course. What he stated was, that he considered it the duty of Parliament to deal with the distress with a view to remedying it. He appealed to the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department to say whether any man surpassed him in the importunity with which he called upon Ministers to investigate the state of Ireland, in order, if possible, to relieve its distresses. He did not mean to make a boast of that; but such being his conduct, it was doubly unfair to impute to him a different line of proceeding. If such a course were practised with respect to other Members in that House, it would render it unsafe for them to do their duty towards the country. He was well aware that the House would interpose with a remedy for such practices, if he called upon it to aid him against these attacks; but he should do no such thing; he was the last man in the country to throw impediments in the way of free discussion, but let the discussion be fair as well as free. If the calumny directed against him had not proceeded on the principle of falsifying and misrepresenting the language he had thought it his duty to use as a Member of the legislature, he should not have troubled the House with one word upon the subject. With respect to the expressions really used by him, he was in the recollection of the House, and appeal- ed to every Member who heard him speak on the occasion in question. The article alluded to was made the vehicle of a compliment to the hon. Member for Clare, on the ground of the ability which that hon. Member had displayed in his address to the House; and to this compliment he added the humble tribute of his applause of the modesty and good sense since exhibited by the hon. Member. He trusted, as the article in which he was attacked contained a panegyric upon the hon. Gentleman's parliamentary conduct (in the justice of which he entirely concurred), that no one would be more ready than the hon. Member to admit the falsehood and misrepresentation to which he (Mr. Fitzgerald) had been subjected in the course of these comments upon his conduct as a Member of Parliament.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he had had no previous expectation that his right hon. friend would have appealed to him on the subject of his public conduct, for he was not aware that it had been attacked. Now that he was informed of the fact, he participated in the indignation expressed by his right hon. friend; and would say, that within the last six months, of all the representatives of Ireland there was not one who had exhibited a more sincere desire to mitigate the calamities under which that country had unfortunately laboured; and he might add, that all his right hon. friend's representations to Government proceeded on the ground that the poorer classes were suffering great distress from want of employment. His right hon. friend was not content with urging upon Ministers the necessity of relief, but submitted to him projects for affording it, to the developement of which more hours of labour must have been applied than he had conceived it possible for a gentleman to devote to such purposes who acted without the incentives of official remuneration or official duty, and was merely influenced by a feeling of humanity and a desire to promote the public good by affording practical relief to the distresses of his countrymen. His right hon. friend had repeatedly urged upon Government the necessity of affording relief to the poor of Ireland, not only for the sake of that country, but also for the sake of this; and recommended, as relief through the medium of charity had proved ineffectual, that substantial relief should be afforded by the employment of the poor. He heard what his right hon. friend said the other night, and bore him out in his present representation of it; but even if he had not heard it, and was told of the misrepresentations which had gone abroad on the subject, he could not have credited them for a single moment, or believed that his right hon. friend would have been guilty of the inconsistency of expressing in his place sentiments so utterly inconsistent with the statements of distress which he had been making to Ministers during the last six months. [hear]

Mr. Jephson

suggested to the hon. Member for Cork the propriety of including in his returns the amount of money paid to the treasurers, secretaries, and other officers of the several institutions. If this were done, it would be found that an immense portion of the funds intended for the benefit of the poor was frittered away in the support of useless and unwieldy establishments.

Mr. O'Connell

had nothing to do with the comments that appeared in the newspapers upon the right hon. Gentleman's conduct. He certainly understood the right hon. Gentleman to differ from him in degree in his opinion as to the distressed condition of Ireland, although the right hon. Member qualified the difference by an admission of the existence of the distress. He was himself one of the right hon. Gentleman's constituents, and would undertake to say that no county in Ireland sent a Member to Parliament who possessed more entirely the confidence of all his constituents than did the right hon. Member for Kerry. The hon. and learned Member proceeded to state, that the latest account which he had received from Ireland fully corroborated his previous statements as to the prevalence of distress in that country. He fully concurred with the hon. Member for Limerick in his statement of the happy results of the measure of last Session. However, contrary to an opinion expressed in Parliament, he thought the benefits of it more visible in the unanimity and good feeling produced by it among the lower than among the higher ranks of society.

Mr. Callaghan

said, that in the observations he had made, he referred only to the pauper population which came into Cork from the neighbouring county; and that what he had said had no reference to the disputed question of general distress.

The Motion was agreed to.

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