HC Deb 26 February 1834 vol 21 cc829-34
Mr. Finn

presented Petitions from several parishes in the county of Kilkenny, for the Repeal of the Union, and complained that the House did not pay proper attention to the affairs of Ireland.

Sir Harry Verney

did not think it fair that the House should be told so often that it paid no attention to the affairs of Ireland. The present question had been before the House over and over again, in fact daily, since the Session commenced, to the exclusion of almost all other subjects. He had never seen any inattention or impatience in the House, and therefore he thought it was too much that the English and Scotch Members should every day be told that they neglected their duty. Subjects connected with Ireland had received more attention, and had occupied more of the time of the House, than all matters connected with the other two countries.

Mr. Feargus O'Connor

said, that, among other things, he was glad to find that there had been a great improvement in the morning sittings; there was a much larger attendance of Members, and a great many promises of relief to Ireland. He trusted that those promises would be kept in the evening. He entreated a patient hearing while he read a letter to the House, received by a friend of his that morning. If the statement it contained did not make out a most strong case for relief, he would never again present another petition, or take up a moment of their time. The letter was from the town of Skibbereen, and was as follows: Skibbereen, February 19, 1834. My dear Sir,—I am most happy to hear your health is so much improved. I sit down to detail to you the deplorable state of this town and district. See Mr. Feargus O'Connor, and beseech of him to call the attention of Ministers to the appalling facts that I will vouch for, if necessary. The consequences of misrule are now betraying their sad effects in this unfortunate country. This pestilence is likely to depopulate it; already we have had seventy deaths in this town, in the short space of five weeks—all of the working classes. Labourers, tradesmen, &c. &c, are in a state of starvation. Most of these unfortunate people have not earned a crown since the middle of December. The town is deserted; the shops are closed; all is gloom and dismay; whilst famine and plague are committing sad havoc—with the strange anomaly of the storehouses full of corn, and quantities of butter and pork, poultry and eggs, exporting to happy England. In this sad state of things a public meeting of the landed proprietors was convened, and none would attend—there was one honourable exception, Richard Becher, who subscribed 10l. to relieve the starving people. Even the agents of the absentees would not come to the meeting, and it proved a complete failure. This disease is evidently produced and extended by want of sustenance. I give you one case amongst others:—In one of the lanes a widow, with six helpless young children, was attacked with the malady. The instant her neighbours found she had the cholera, they deserted her. She and the children had been living for the week before on half a supply of cold potatoes. She sunk rapidly. When my medical attendant visited her, it is impossible to describe the scene—the children would not be admitted into a house; and there they were left, with the parent dead beside them, and the children nearly exhausted from want, till we had them relieved. This is only one of the many cases that are hourly occurring about me, and conceive, under such circumstances, the landed proprietors and their agents not even to inquire into such calamity. How rapidly our tithe Magistrates and squireens would assemble, to represent the liberating of an old starved cow out of a pound, and how eloquently they would address the Government for Insurrection Acts and Coercion Bills—but they look on the sufferings of the people not only with apathy, but total indifference. One only remedy remains—an immediate Poor-law. The country, I repeat, will be depopulated with plague, if it is not speedily enacted. The physicians of the greatest experience never remember, nor do I believe, the history of any former epidemic half so formidable. I have no confidence in the commission on the state of the Irish poor. I believe it is a mere humbug. I depend on the manly statements of our Irish Members, particularly Mr. O'Connor, who, I see (and I am happy to see by the last True Sun) is an advocate for a poor-rate. Let him persevere—let him ring in the ears of the English people the sufferings of our poor peasantry, the frozen and callous indifference of the landlords, and let him impress on John Bull that the hand of the tax-gatherer must be put into the pocket of the Irish landlord, to make him feel for the sufferings of his poor and impoverished tenantry. As to tithes, if the Government are chimerical enough to collect them again, what is to become of us? He thought that a letter such as he had just read, should create some feeling in the House. He had been chastised for saying that the landed proprietors of Ireland did not look with compassion on the sufferings of the people; but was not such a state of things as that he had just alluded to a proof that the people were neglected and starving? He would not mix up this question with the question of Repeal, lest he should thereby disturb the minds of hon. Members; but be would ask, why had they not a Minister in that House to answer his complaints, and to suggest some plan for the relief of the people? There was another fact which he would mention to the House. A short time before be left Ireland, he had dined with a cavalry officer of high rank, and he stated that he had accompanied the civil power by night, in search of a man against whom there was a warrant for murder. They searched forty-three houses, and in thirty-one of them the inmates had not a shred of covering, but were lying in one common mass of misery and nakedness. Was he to be told that the Irish Members should bring forward specific measures of relief while the people were starving, and so much money was abstracted from them in the shape of local taxes? The noble Lord had told them that some of these taxes he bad no control over; but had he no control over the 90,000l. he had mentioned that morning? Had he no control over that enormous amount of local taxation, or over the vast sums paid for the support of the Church, from which the people derived no benefit? The Government was doubly culpable in the case of the county of Cork; for any loans that had ever been made to it had been honestly repaid; they had given a grant of 10,000l. to that county upon one occasion, which had been repaid. He did not blame the apathy of the hon. Members of that House half so much as that of the heartless landlords who were living among them, and would not administer to their wants. There was an old and a vulgar saying, which was applicable to the hon. Members of that House, "What the eye does not see, the heart does not feel for." But in Ireland it was shameful to see the rich man living in luxury while he was aware of the unfortunate state of the people, and paying no regard to their distressed situation. He thanked the House for the patient attention with which it had heard him, and he augured well from the feeling with which his statements and the reading of the letter had been received.

Mr. Christmas

said, as an Irish Member, he must say that during the short time he had had a seat in that House, he had seen no indisposition on the part of the hon. Members of that House to pay every attention to Irish affairs. He trusted that in a short time a measure would be introduced by which property would be made liable, and the people rescued from the unfortunate state in which they had been represented. The circumstances detailed by the hon. Gentleman might be perfectly true, but he could bear testimony to the promptness with which the gentry had come forward when cholera first made its appearance in Ireland, for the relief of the distress of the people.

Mr. John Stanley

said, whatever might be the case with the landed proprietors of Ireland, those of England never betrayed any want of sympathy for the poor. The landed interests were always ready to assist the people in their distress. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman in what he had said relative to the large amount of the local taxation, and trusted that some modification in the Irish Grand Jury-laws would be made, by which the people would have some control over the taxation to which they were subjected.

Mr. Edward Buller

begged to call the attention of the Irish Members to the conduct of the English at several periods when distress prevailed to a most lamentable extent in Ireland. In the year 1826 a subscription was set on foot for the relief of the Irish. It amounted to a great deal, and a considerable portion of it was sent back from the town of Galway, there having been more than ample means to supply the wants and relieve the population, who, before the subscription, were in a very bad state. That circumstance was enough to establish the fact that English sympathies were always alive to the complaints of the poor in Ireland. He denied the charge of inattention brought against English Members when Irish affairs were brought before the House. In the instance of the Motion made by the hon. member for Dublin regarding Baron Smith, out of the twenty-eight Members who spoke on that occasion, only six were Irish; and out of 169 who voted for the Motion, only twenty-nine were Irish. He thought the Irish Members should be more cautious in making such charges when they were not borne out by facts.

Mr. Jephson

was surprised that hon. Members would condescend to notice the attacks of certain Irish Members from that side of the House. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Feargus O'Connor) certainly sat in that House as the Representative of one of the largest counties in Ireland, but he did not sit there for the gentry of that county, but in spite of them. They disavowed him as their Representative, and it was not from the hon. Member that the House should take any impression as to the character of Irish Gentlemen.

Mr. Feargus O'Connor

admitted that he did not represent the gentry, but the poorer freeholders, of the county of Cork. His family, however, were amongst the largest landed proprietors in that county. With respect to the landlords, he had been applied to, amongst others, to use his influence in different parishes in the county, to release the tenants of a certain gentleman from gaol, where they had been sent, he would not say from what motives.

Mr. Jephson

inquired, whether the hon. and learned Gentleman intended any personal allusion in those remarks?

Mr. Feargus O'Connor

Since the hon. Gentleman asks me the question, I certainly do.

Sir Oswald Mosley

rose to order. Gentlemen should not make that House the arena of their private quarrels.

The Speaker

said, that he had watched the hon. Members closely, lest any such disposition should arise. He did not conceive that anything had occurred to warrant such an opinion. The hon. Gentleman had been called on for an explanation respecting a public matter, and he was proceeding to give it when he was interrupted.

Mr. Jephson

said, his question referred to the landlords about Skibbereen. What he referred to arose out of electioneering business.

Mr. Feargus O'Connor,

under the control of the Speaker, would give any explanation the hon. member for Mallow might reasonably require. He certainly had no hesitation in stating, that he had been applied to, and that subscriptions had been raised in almost every parish in the county to release the tenants of the hon. member for Mallow from gaol, where they had been sent in consequence of being unable to pay claims which were made upon them. He would not take upon himself to say what motives had induced those harsh proceedings.

Petition laid on the Table.

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