HC Deb 25 July 1831 vol 5 cc263-71
Mr. Leader

presented two Petitions, one from the Kelp-burners on the west coast of Ireland, complaining of the loss of 180,000l. by the reduction of the duty on barilla, and the other from Annan (Scotland) for the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland. The petitioners were suffering very much, and unless something were done to encourage this manufacture, they and their distressed fellow-countrymen must again come forward and petition for relief next year. If nothing were done for the relief of the people of Ireland, that country must fall into anarchy, from which it would be very difficult to extricate it. He could assure the House, that Poor-laws and a national loan were now become necessary, to save that country from destruction. The hon. Member referred to several petitions for a Repeal of the Union, as a proof of the dissatisfaction which prevailed, and particularly to a meeting held at Cork, at which the Chief Magistrate of that great commercial city presided, and at which a petition had been agreed to, to which he begged leave to call the attention of the House. That petition stated, and it should be remembered that it came from a loyal and a respectable community, Your petitioners cannot avoid expressing their conviction, that absentee landed proprietors, and a non-resident Legislature, are evils of undoubted magnitude—that Ireland has suffered, and still continues to suffer, from them—and that unless remedied or counteracted by a just and generous course of policy towards Ireland, the inhabitants of this country will be compelled to demand a revision of the Act of Union. Your petitioners have no desire to increase the soreness which, it would be uncandid to deny, begins to be extensively felt in Ireland at the progressive increase of pauperism, and the breaking down of the middle and industrious classes; but your petitioners are bound to state, that neither ancient or modern history furnishes the instance of any country being able to bear, for a series of years, a constant drain of its resources. In every case in which it has been attempted, from the days of the Roman Empire down to the very recent case of Belgium, popular discontent has been engendered, and revolution has invariably followed. He begged most earnestly, that the House would give ear to the prayer of these petitioners, for he could assure it, that nothing but a conviction that the Legislature was watching over their interests could keep the people quiet. In truth, ruin was making them unruly. The petition from the kelp-burners came from a portion of the population, which, not many years ago, were as well off as any in Ireland. It was known, from official returns, that the Irish fisheries gave employment to 60,000 seamen; and the kelp manufacture afforded employment, and gave also an income of 120,000l. a year to the coast population of the south and west of Ireland. But all the grants, bounties, patronage, and protection of every kind had been withdrawn from the Irish fisheries; and by the reduction of the duty on barilla, from 11l. to 2l. per ton, the coast population engaged in the kelp-trade, had become a prey to pauperism and famine. If either branch of industry had been preserved, the coast population might have been rescued from ruin; but when parsimony, frugality, and free-trade, simultaneously consigned both branches of industry to instant destruction, the fallen and ruined fortunes of hundreds of thousands of industrious men, dependant on these branches of maritime industry, alarmed the best friends of Ireland. In 1827, the amount of kelp delivered in the port of Galway alone, was 7,000 tons, at 6l. per ton; in the present year only 700 tons could find a market, at 2l. a ton—a reduction in that one port, from 42,000l. to 1,4001. In 1827, in the Galway and Mayo districts, upwards of 21,000 tons were sold—price 61. per ton, amount 126,000l. In the present year, the quantity which could obtain a market did not exceed 3,500 tons—amount 7,000l.; the price being, at present, only 2l. a ton. From this state of depression the petitioners prayed the House to relieve them. They asked for a grant to construct roads and make piers and harbours, so that they might, again find work at sea, and use the weed they could no longer burn for manure. As to the Poor-laws, he would only say, that while the present mass of pauperism existed in Ireland, no man was safe, and he was filled with dismay at the scenes which had recently passed, and with apprehension for the future.

Colonel Torrens

thought, that the time was come for a philosophical inquiry into the causes why Ireland had stood still—if she had not even gone back—while all other countries were advancing. The evils of Ireland arose partly, he believed, from the state of transition in which that country was now placed, and which had all been enhanced by the tremendous measure for returning to cash payments. The withdrawing of its issues by the Bank of Ireland, had had the effect of making a difference of twenty per cent in the exchange against Ireland. This was the result of a rash application of principles, sound in themselves, but which, from the manner of their application, only aggravated the evils they were intended to remedy. He thought, however, that the time was come, when a wise Government would adopt such remedial measures as were suitable to the state of that country, viz., to give employment to its agricultural population, and promote an extensive system of emigration.

Mr. Grattan

was of opinion, that all the evils of Ireland arose from absenteeism, and if the landed gentry were to reside in Ireland, there might be some hopes of improving the country. He believed, that the people of that country had never been better off than at present. He denied, that the change in the currency had affected Ireland, where paper money had continued in circulation, to the same extent as England, and felt himself also called upon to protest against the system of emigration, encouraging which had deluded both the Government and the people. He was not averse from emigration, but it must be free and voluntary, undertaken by individuals, not the result of a scheme of the Government. He hoped the landed gentlemen would go to Ireland to reside, and share the duties which now fell so seriously on those who did reside there. He admitted, that confusion and anarchy prevailed in Ireland to a great extent, and as he expected much good from the measure to be proposed by the hon. member for Aldborough (Mr. Sadler), he hoped the Government would see the propriety of allowing that measure to come before Parliament. For his part, he was persuaded that they must have Poor-laws for Ireland, or there never would be an end to the anarchy which now existed.

Sir John Brydges

conceived, that many of the evils of Ireland arose from the people of that country not having a legal claim to relief. Thousands of the poor in that unhappy country would have perished but for the relief sent from England. They ought not to be dependent on charity for support, and in his opinion, a modified system of Poor-laws must be established to provide for those who were unable to provide for themselves.

Mr. O'Connell

rose to make, he hoped, a very short speech. First, with reference to the petition, he must say, that it was not the reduction of the barilla duties which had injured the kelp manufacturers. He knew well, that the soap-boilers of Dublin had not for some time past used any kelp; and though the soap-boilers at Cork still used some, the quantity was small, and it was there going out of use. What had ruined the soap-trade of Ireland was the circumstance, that there was no Excise duty on it there, while in England there was such a duty. That duty was, however, remitted in a shape of drawback, and by a peculiar management, known to the soap-boilers, the drawback was made very much to exceed the duty, so that the Government gave a large bounty to the soap-boilers of England, to ruin the soap-boilers of Ireland. In fact, they were encouraged by the laws to send large quantities of soap to Ireland: they undersold the Irish in their own markets, and that had ruined the soap-boilers and the kelp-burners of Ireland. Moreover, the soap-boiler got sixty-one days to pay the duty; the drawback was paid immediately, and two months being sufficient to complete his manufacture, and send it to market, he was able to trade on the capital furnished by the Government, in the shape of the drawback. Misgovernment, then, had ruined the Irish manufacturers. The people of Ireland did not want treatises on political economy, and these were of no use to them, because there was one fact peculiar to Ireland which existed no where else, viz., the large mass of her landed proprietors owned estates elsewhere, and lived out of the country. It was the absentees who injured Ireland. A Roman Catholic Bishop had stated, and truly stated, that in his diocese eighteen out of twenty of the landed proprietors were living out of the country. That was a state which no introduction of capital could redeem. In fact, it was idle to talk of introducing capital into Ireland; Ireland did not want capital wherever any useful enterprises called for it. He would undertake himself to get, within a fortnight, in Dublin, 500,000l. on adequate security, if there was a chance of its being profitably invested, and he would undertake, in one month, to raise 1,000,000l. in Dublin for any gentleman who might want it for any useful purpose. It was not only the absentees who afflicted Ireland—the taxes levied on that country were all drawn from it, and spent out of it. The taxation of Ireland was altogether supposed to amount to 7,000,000l. This sum was made up of taxes acknowledged and taxes not acknowledged. The unacknowledged taxes were those paid upon articles consumed in Ireland, after undergoing Excise and Customs duties in England. Innumerable were these articles. They included not only tea, hops, sugar, wine, timber, coffee, molasses, dye-woods, spices, articles of dress, and implements of various kinds, but books, papers, cards, insurances, patent medicines, and even newspapers. English journals circulated extensively in Ireland. The readers, of course, paid the tax upon them, but it was credited to the English, and not the Irish revenue. Of the produce of all these taxes, not three millions were required for pur- poses that could be called Irish, and certainly three millions were not spent in Ireland. The expenditure, such as it was, was annually decreasing. Nearly half a million had been saved within the last ten years on revenue collection alone. The grants for miscellaneous services were every year undergoing a reduction. There was a heavy pension-list, but the greater portion of the receipts went into the pockets of non-residents. Amongst other persons deriving from the money voted for Irish pensioners, as they were called, was the Princess of Hesse Homberg. A large sum was voted for military purposes, but a great deal of it went into the pockets of English clothiers, accoutrement makers, and horse breeders. In short, the portion of the Irish taxation actually spent in Ireland was under 3,000,000l. Then a surplus of 4,000,000l. was drawn in one way or the other by England, and to this was to be added the absentee rents. Some estimated these rents at 3,000,000l., others at 4,000,000l.; but supposing them to swell the tax drain to 7,000,000l., which was clearly under the mark, that was enough to account for the impoverished state of Ireland. This drain had been going on for years. It was annually increasing, and the means of the country to resist it were yearly diminishing. The large expenditure and high prices of the war made compensation to the country, while the war lasted. The prices had fallen from fifty to 100 per cent; the expenditure on the army alone had been reduced to the extent of nearly 3,000,000l. It might be said, that to make up for fallen expenditure and reduced prices, there was the advantage of diminished taxation. Such was the case in England, but the very opposite was the case in Ireland. Strange as it might appear to some Gentlemen, it was not until the means of Ireland were greatly diminished, and were hourly diminishing, that it appeared wise to British financiers to "assimilate" the taxes of the two countries in all respects. In a debate on the state of Ireland in 1822, the late Lord Liverpool admitted the suffering of Ireland from an "excessive diminution of expenditure," and yet since that period taxes had been imposed upon Ireland, which her people had not known before. Approaching the termination of the war, all the Excise duties on necessaries or luxuries were raised to the British standard; seven or eight years after the war, all the Cus- toms' duties were raised to the British standard. To be sure, there was a relief in respect to the assessed taxes, but that had been a good deal counterbalanced by taxes imposed. Ireland, then, was now nearly in the condition in which she was, as to the pressure of taxation, during the war, though it was the boast of the Minister, that the people of England had received a relief to the extent of two or three and thirty millions. What country could bear up against such a state of things? Now, too, the Ministers were doing away all the Boards—everything was to be taken away from Ireland, and she was to have nothing left but the privilege of sending all her wealth to England. As to the transition state which the hon. Member had spoken of, he could tell the House, if that were the cause of distress, it was not yet over. He had that day seen letters from Dublin, describing the failure of three wealthy houses, which no man could have possibly expected. He was ready to admit, that the Government should do something for Ireland; but—and he said it without any feelings of hostility to Government, to whose measures, as far as England was concerned, he gave due praise—as far as Ireland was concerned, all their measures had only tended to increase the ill-will among the different parties, and promote the frightful anarchy which prevailed. More virulence was now displayed than had been in existence for the last ten years. Blood had been shed, and all the angry feelings had been roused. He did not state this with a view to disturb the Government, but, in the discharge of his duty, he was bound to allude to these circumstances. There never was a Ministry so mistaken in their policy towards Ireland. No man who heard him could deny that a more deadly spirit of animosity existed at present in Ireland than for a long time past. What would the House think of it, when a Grand Jury gave as a toast—an incredible toast, which he would not have believed had his informants not been men of undoubted veracity—"Our feet on the necks of the Papists?" This Grand Jury had also drunk "The Yeomanry of Newtownbarry," with all the honours. This Grand Jury, too—he meant the Grand Jury of Carlow, for he would not mince the matter—had given "The that of July." Was that proper in men who were called upon to administer justice in the country? He would ask, also, if the nephew of the noble Lord, whose agent Captain Graham was, ought to have been on the Grand Jury of Wexford? Ought Mr. Irving to be on that Grand Jury? Common decency forbad it. The Government had issued a proclamation to forbid Orange processions; I but it had not succeeded in putting them down. He was informed by a gentleman, a Mr. Randle Kernan, a Barrister, that after this proclamation had been issued, several Magistrates had walked arm and arm in an Orange procession at Enniskillen. The mischief had begun, and something must be done to remedy it. The state of Ireland was frightful. To poverty, misery, and disease, was now added bloodshed. The Papists were making pikes, and the Yeomanry were sharpening their bayonets, and if nothing were done there would be much bloodshed. He had been applied to by the Catholic clergy to speak to the people, but what could he say? He could tell them to be tranquil, but he could not promise them anything as a means of keeping them so. The Government must do something. If the Magistrates became partizans, they must excite disrepect, and they ought to cease to be Magistrates. If such men were dismissed, in a short tiem tranquillity would be restored. He began by saying he wished to make only a short speech, and he had made a long one. He repeated, that he was not hostile to the Government; he would give it his support, admiring its conduct, towards England. Towards Ireland it had yet done nothing good, however well it intended.

Mr. Crampton

did not mean to go into the causes which had brought about the present state of Ireland; he only rose to object to hon. Members giving a highly-coloured, exaggerated, and distorted picture of the evils which existed in that country. He had received letters that day from Dublin, which, he was happy to say, announced the decrease of distress in the west of Ireland, and expressed a confident hope, that in a very short time there would be an abundance of provisions for the people. With respect to the assertions of the hon. and learned member for Kerry, on the subject of the organization of the Yeomanry, and the encouragement given to processions, he begged most distinctly to deny all such charges; and the best proof that they were unfounded was, that his hon. and learned friend had been unable to put his hand on a single instance of that description, to justify his assertion. On the contrary, the Government had instituted a rigid inquiry into the conduct of all yeomanry officers with reference to these processions, and dismissed all who were known to have in any way taken part in them, or encouraged them. He had no wish to detain the House, but he felt himself bound to defend a Government which had, in a short space done more for Ireland than preceding Governments had done for years.

Sir R. Bateson

expressed an earnest hope, that the Government would turn its attention to the affairs of Ireland, and endeavour to stop that rage for voluntary emigration which had in the last few years carried off 50,000 of the wealthiest, most intelligent, and most industrious, of the peasantry of the Province of Ulster. The consequence of the present state of things was, that all the valuable portion of the population were leaving the country, while the needy and the turbulent, whom they wished to get rid of, staid at home. He pressed this on the attention of the Government, and expressed a hope that measures would be taken to renew the Linen Act, which would expire in the month of September next.

Mr. Lee

hoped the principles of free-trade would be extended to Ireland as well as to all other parts of the United Kingdom.

Petitions laid on the Table.