HC Deb 18 March 1831 vol 3 cc529-34
Mr. Dominick Browne

presented Petitions from parishes in Mayo, praying for Parliamentary aid. He said, that the advances which had been made by the House for public works in Ireland had done much, not only to abate distress, but to improve the condition and habits of the people. Nevertheless, the distress at present prevailing in Mayo, and other parts of the West of Ireland, was excessive and increasing. Every day he received accounts from that part of the country, complaining of the misery suffered by the population, and calling upon the Government to advance sums of money, to be expended in public works for the relief of the people. The sums of money thus called for, were to be laid out, he admitted, without any hope of a direct return. There would, however, be an indirect return, so great as to render the propriety of advancing such a sum as might be required a matter deserving of the favourable consideration of Government. It had been proved, that the money expended under the direction of Mr. Nimmo, returned 100 per cent to Government, by the increased consumption of exciseable articles. He hoped, under those circumstances, and with such a prospect, there would be no objection on the part of his Majesty's Government to advance a small sum of money to be expended in that wild district; and from the extreme suffering and distress endured by the population of that district, he was satisfied, that above all others it demanded attention from his Majesty's Government. The district to which he referred consisted of the baronies of En is and Borriso, in the county of Mayo; but the petitions which he had now to present came from a different district, and one to which his former observations did not apply. A great part of the district from which he was about to present a petition, was the property of the Marquis of Sligo, who was in Ireland, doing all he could to relieve the wants of the people; but the distress had grown to an extent which placed it beyond the power of any individual, however wealthy, to afford adequate relief. He had, also, a Petition from the landowners, merchants, and others of Ballina, in which there were a great number of landed proprietors, who were doing all they could to afford relief. The object of these petitioners was, to obtain an advance from Government, to the amount of 3,000l., for opening the navigation of the river Moy, and they offered to Government unquestionable security. There was an extensive lake, called Conn, deep and navigable, but it had no communication with the sea, from which it was distant about three miles; and the petitioners stated, that the communication to the sea might be made at a small expense, and that it would be attended with great public benefit. He respectfully submitted, that these petitioners had a strong claim to the favourable attention of the House and the Government. Those who were acquainted with the distress in that part of the country, knew that one-third of the potato-crop had failed. It had failed wherever the lands were mountainous, or near the sea. If, under such circumstances, the Government would advance a sum to be expended in public works, the repayment would be amply secured. If something were not done, he was much afraid, that many would suffer from starvation in the course of the next twelve months. The hon. Member presented petitions, complaining of distress, from the inhabitants of Kilmore Moy — and of the united parishes of Kilbelfad and Ballinahaglish; and a Petition from landowners, merchants, and others, of Ballina, for resum- ing the Government works in that neighbourhood.

Mr. J. Smith

could confirm the statements of the hon. Member, respecting the distress of the poor in Ireland. He feared that it was rapidly increasing, and he regretted that there could scarcely be expected from the people of England such extensive and generous assistance as they had given on a former occasion; for, from what causes he could not say, it was too evident, that the people of Great Britain were becoming very much alienated from their Irish fellow-subjects. He believed that grants of money could be so advanced by the Government as to effect great good, without any loss to the public, and he could say, from his own experience, that loans to the Irish peasantry were not only honestly applied to the purposes for which they were advanced, but in all cases punctually repaid.

Sir Robert Bateson

said, that the distress was not confined to Mayo and the West of Ireland, but was equally prevalent in several of the northern counties. The distress was increasing to so great a degree, that it would be necessary for Government to take some measures to check it.

Mr. James Grattan

agreed with the hon. Baronet in the opinion that the increase of the distress was alarming, and that it would be necessary for the Government to do something for its alleviation. He acknowledged with gratitude the liberality which the English people had manifested towards the Irish poor in 1822. But he thought that the present occasion called for exertions on the part of the Irish gentlemen themselves. That was the proper course, and he hoped that they would come forward speedily with subscriptions, following the example of the noble Marquis already alluded to, which he would most gladly imitate.

Sir Robert Bateson

did not wish it to be understood that he had alluded to the necessity of grants from the Government to relieve the distress. There were other measures which he believed it would be necessary to resort to, in order to prevent a dreadful scarcity of food —such, for instance, as a temporary prohibition of the use of grain in the distilleries.

Mr. Leader

read extracts from several Reports, to show the beneficial effects which had resulted from parliamentary grants for the employment of the poor, and for local improvements in Ireland. The sum of 100,000l. expended in Connaught, produced an income equal to the whole amount, in seven years. So great was the stimulus given to industry by the expenditure of those sums, that the revenue was, in each instance, during the progress of the works to which the grants were applied, increased to nearly double the amount of the sum advanced by the Government. As an Irish gentleman, he felt bowed down with sorrow and disgrace when he heard the distresses of Ireland brought forward as subjects of discussion in that House. Irish gentlemen ought to consider the great effects which had been produced by parliamentary grants of comparatively small sums of money, which plainly showed, that if they employed at home one-half of the produce at present exported, to the amount of ten millions annually, in the shape of rent to absentee landlords, and for which no return whatever was made, scarcely one man would be unemployed in Ireland.

Mr. George R. Dawson

could confirm the statements which had been made by the Gentleman who preceded him, respecting the distress in several parts of Ireland. But he could not admit that the means of relieving it ought to come from the Government. He could not consent to Gentlemen's bringing Ireland annually before that House as a mendicant. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Leader), that Ireland had abundant resources in herself for her own relief, if they were properly made use of. It seemed to him, that the most effectual means by which the Legislature could promote the improvement of that country would be, the passing of a bill to allow Grand Juries to raise money for public works and local improvements, upon the security of the county rates; or, perhaps, the institution of Poor-laws, and a bill empowering parishes to mortgage the rates for money to be employed in public works, would afford effectual means of convincing Irish gentlemen, that they must apply their own resources to relieve the distress of Ireland, and not burthen this country for that purpose.

Mr. O'Connell

considered it his duty, as an Irish Member, to inform the House and the country, that the most frightful distress was spreading over Ireland, and that a famine was approaching. He did not know what was to be the remedy; he would not undertake to suggest any: he had no doubt that the Government was anxious to devise one; but he begged it not to invest the Grand Juries of Ireland with any new power —he begged it not to countenance any scheme for enabling those Juries to tax the people under pretence of relieving them. The distresses of that people were the more grievous, as it was undeniable that the produce of their soil and of their industry was not only ample, but superabundant. It was lamentable that a country whose production was greater, in proportion to its population, than perhaps any country in the world, should be subject to periodical famine.

Lord Althorp

was sure the House would feel, that the Government must have much difficulty in treating a subject of the kind then under the consideration of the House. No doubt there was, as his hon. friend (Mr. D. Browne) had stated, much distress in the county of Mayo; but, unhappily, the distress was not confined to that part of the country, and the Government had much difficulty in attempting to deal with matters so limited and local, lest it might do more harm than good; if, upon inquiry, however, Ministers were enabled to learn anything that could justify or give room for beneficial interference on their part, they would be most happy to do all in their power, consistently with their sense of duty.

Mr. Hodges

said, that a tax upon absentees, in the form of a well-regulated Poor-rate, would be the only remedy for this periodical famine which visited Ireland.

Mr. A. Lefroy

admitted, that the distress of the peasantry was very great in the part of Ireland mentioned, but he must defend the resident landlords from any imputation of neglect, for he was sure that they did all in their power to relieve the distress in their respective districts.

Sir M. W. Ridley

concurred with those who thought, that a wise and well-regulated system of Poor-laws would go a great way towards preventing the recurrence of evils of that description. He was, indeed, satisfied, that nothing but a Poor-rate would, or could, compel the wealthy landlords of Ireland to contribute to the support of the peasantry.

Mr. Benett

was also of opinion, that the institution of Poor-laws would be highly beneficial, and that it was in vain to expect that any voluntary system of relief would be sufficient.

Mr. Ruthven

thought, that if the Poor-laws were established in Ireland, they should be so limited as to prevent their abuse. He did not wish to see the English Poor-laws introduced into Ireland, for with that system so many abuses were connected, that it would probably be more injurious than beneficial. However, in some towns, the wealthy contributed nothing to the relief of the poor, and some means ought to be devised to reach them. At all events, something ought to be done to arrest the progress of the present famine, and to prevent its recurrence for the future.

Lord Killeen

said, that the distress was not confined to Mayo, but extended all over Ireland. Even in the county which he represented, though near Dublin, and though extraordinarily fertile, the distress was very severe.

Mr. Sadler

had no difficulty in asserting, that the wealth of the country ought, by compulsory means, to be made to sustain the poverty of the people. New cases of that kind would be continually recurring until provision was made for the poor. The want of a legal provision for the Irish poor was one cause of the sufferings of the English poor, and in justice to them, the Irish Ought to be provided for at home.

Mr. Hume

said, that the time from five to seven o'clock had been set apart for receiving Petitions upon Reform, and they had now spent a considerable portion of that time in discussing Poor-laws.

Petition to be printed.