HC Deb 17 July 1835 vol 29 cc691-4
Mr. Sharman Crawford

presented a Petition from the county of Mayo, complaining of the extreme distress of the population of the west coast of Ireland, and praying relief to prevent them from perishing, The petitioners alluded to the hardships of seeing their crops and cattle exported, while they were starving; stated that there were thousands without a morsel of daily food and scarcely a particle of raiment to cover them, and charged the landlords of the country with treating them, not as human beings, but as inferior creatures. The hon. Member said, that he had a further proof of the wretchedness of the people on the west coast of Ireland in letters which he had received that morning from that unhappy country. The first he should quote from was an answer by the reverend Mr. Hughes, parish Priest of Achill, one of the islands on the Galway coast. It stated that some of his parishioners had actually died of starvation, and that he was afraid many others would follow them from the same cause. That hundreds would have perished in the same manner but for the hospitality and benevolence of the poor to the utterly destitute, and that the only means he had to obviate the fearful catastrophe which impended over the island was a trifling sum of about 20l. subscribed in Dublin, Galway, and Mayo, and about ten tons of oatmeal. He further stated, that he had applied to the Irish Government for relief, but that the answer to his application was, that the Government was quite incompetent to afford relief. The next letter he (Mr. Crawford) should quote, was from the reverend Mr. Mason, parish Priest of another district. The words of it were, "The great bulk of the people are crushed to death with the weight of their misery. Even while I write the cries of starvation pierce my ear and my heart, knowing my utter inability to relieve it. Our streets are crowded by thousands of famished creatures pressing in from the country. Famine has made them well nigh desperate. Some of them say, that they will no longer respect the laws of society or the rights of property, as their dire distress is not attended to by those whose duty it is to relieve it; and they threaten that they will not die of hunger while they have strength left to take the means of satisfying it from those in whose possession they are. They are at the very height of misery; and I shudder to contemplate the results, if speedy relief be not afforded them. The most calamitous consequences may be expected in such a case." After these heart-rending statements, he (Mr. Crawford) would put it to the House whether relief, effective relief should not be immediate. He would not insult their humanity by supposing the possibility of its denial or refusal. He gave the Government credit for its anxiety to relieve the sufferers; but they should be prompt in its application if they had the power of bestowing it. If they had not, the House should furnish them with it. Session after Session the only effectual system of relief—Poor Laws—had been postponed; and, therefore, Parliament were bound to charge themselves with the temporary relief of the sufferers, who were in fact exposed to hardships, through its neglect or of its idea of expediency. He would at the very earliest opportunity, move an humble Address to his Majesty, to cause relief to be extended to the starving poor of Ireland, and that he should direct his Parliament to supply the means thereof.

Lord Morpeth

said, that as the hon. Member had given notice of a Motion he should not raise any discussion on the subject. He should only observe that the attention of the Government, in the meanwhile should not be diverted from the most effectual means of affording that relief so earnestly prayed for and so greatly wanted.

Mr. Henry Grattan

bore testimony to the willingness of the Irish Government to afford effectual relief to the suffering poor of Ireland; but he could not help thinking that no mode of relief would be found effectual which did not compel the residence of absentees, or substitute a portion of the expenditure of their estates in lieu of it. Two facts would prove it to the satisfaction of the House: on his own estate, and on that of the hon. Member for King's County, contiguous to it, there was not a single pauper, because he and that hon. Member resided among their tenantry.

Colonel Perceval

agreed with the hon. Gentleman in thinking that absenteeism was a very great evil, but he must at the same time say, that until the country was brought into a state of some tranquillity, until agitation had ceased to prevail to its present most dangerous extent, it was impossible to expect that anybody who had the means of living elsewhere would consent to live in the greater part of that country. His hon. Friend knew that an English gentleman who had for some sixteen years retained extremely liberal opinions, had come to settle in the county of Meath, had brought a steward from Norfolk to superintend the agricultural improvements upon his property, and had authorized him to advance small sums of money to such of the tenants as needed such assistance. No man was more distinguished than that English gentleman for his opposition to what was falsely called the ascendancy party in Ireland—no man could have been more popularly liberal in his opinions; but how did all this end? In 1831 he presumed to give his election influence to Sir Marcus Somerville, a gentleman who, like himself, was remarkable for his extremely liberal principles, but who had nevertheless not found favour in the eyes of those who had brought in no small degree the representation of Ireland under their own control. In consequence of this gentleman's supporting Sir Marcus Somerville, who would not consent so be dictated to by that gigantic power which had since been proved sufficiently great to control the Government itself, he was pointed at, and persecuted, and denounced. The steward that he had brought for the purpose of teaching his tenantry to improve their own condition was barbarously murdered. The steward and another man were fired at; the second person being supposed to be that liberal English gentleman who had displayed a disposition so kindly towards the Irish peasantry. The gentleman he alluded to was Mr. Hussey: he had no hesitation in declaring the name, and after hearing this statement, he would ask any gentleman if it was not absurd to suppose that people would settle in the country where conduct such as he had described was rewarded in such a manner? At this moment that gentleman could not go forth to receive his rents without himself carrying arms, and being accompanied by a friend also armed. The fact was, that so long as agitation was suffered to continue, it was idle to hope that there could be either prosperity or peace for miserable Ireland. He admitted once more, that absenteeism was a curse, but agitation was its primary cause, and until they removed the one, it would be impossible to deal with the other.

Mr. Robinson

thought it was idle to argue about effectual relief to the poor of Ireland, unless the House was prepared to apply a compulsory power to the estates of landlords for their support.

Mr. French

, in reply to the arguments of the hon. and gallant Member, respecting the ascribing of the evils of Ireland to agitation, begged to remind him that misery and distress existed in it, and that absenteeism was their cause long before agitation was thought of.

Mr. O'Loughlin

said, that the lion, and gallant Member for Sligo was misinformed respecting the attack on Mr. Hussey, and that he was under a mistake in attributing it to the part taken by that Gentleman on the Meath election. It arose from other causes.

Mr. H. Grattan

said, that his hon. Friend must have been aware that Mr. Hussey was about to turn out the man and his helpless family who fired at him.

Petition laid on the Table.

Lord John Russell moved the Order of the Day for the House to go into a Committee on the Municipal Corporation Reform Bill.