HC Deb 29 March 1847 vol 91 cc571-5

wished to renew the inquiry he had made a few days previously on the subject of the mortality in Ireland. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland whether he had made any serious and energetic efforts to obtain a comparative return of the number of deaths which had occurred this year with those which had occurred in previous years? He had already shown the right hon. Gentleman a letter which he had that day received from Ireland, and when he stated from whom it came, the House would not doubt the authority of the writer upon this subject. It would be in the recollection of the House, that at first it was denied that the Protestant clergy of Ireland kept any registry of the deaths. When it appeared that that was an entirely incorrect assumption, it was replied to him that it was not possible to obtain a return of the number of deaths which had occurred in the flocks of the Roman Catholic clergy. He had that day received a letter from John, archbishop of Tuam; and when he read it, he thought the House would be satisfied that there was no difficulty, if the Government desired it, of obtaining a return of the number of deaths in the flocks of the Roman Catholic clergy. The letter was to this effect:— The return your Lordship requires of the number of deaths that have occurred from, say the 1st of January, of this year, to the 25th of March, can be supplied by the Roman Catholic clergy, and signed by the medical attendant in the locality. But, alas! contrasted with the number of deaths that occurred within the same period of other years, it will show 20 to 1, at the least, this year, more than in any preceding it. The names of the persons can also be given. He, therefore, begged leave to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he was prepared or not to send a circular to the Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland, asking for a comparative return of the mortality that had occurred in the period he had before named?


said, that upon a former occasion, when the noble Lord had introduced this subject, he had stated that he was not at all prepared to deny the unfortunate fact, that a great mortality had occurred in Ireland, owing to the distressed condition of that country. He also stated that as far as any accurate information could be procured on that subject, he had no objection to produce it, and that the Government had consented to refer to the coroners' inquests in the different parts of the country, and also to the constabulary, to obtain, as far as they could, that information; but he stated also, that he thought on this subject that from sources of such a vague and conjectural character the accuracy of the information could not be relied on. The noble Lord spoke of obtaining the return through the means of the Protestant clergy, who kept a registry of burials. In consequence of what the noble Lord said upon that occasion, he wrote to Ireland for information on the subject; and he had that morning received from Mr. Redington a communication which showed that he was not wrong as to the great difficulty of obtaining information through the means of the Protestant clergy. Mr. Redington said— I have since seen Dr. Hinds, and he says, that 'he does not consider that the registry of deaths kept by the incumbent of each parish could be relied on, as he is aware that it is most imperfect in many places. Moreover, it would be a register only of those interred in the yard adjoining the church, and would not contain any notice of interments made in open churchyards (the principal places of interment in Ireland), and, in fact, it would be quite defective.' He thought the noble Lord would agree with him that a return of this kind would be most unsatisfactory, and answer no purpose. The noble Lord now called his attention to the possibility of obtaining a return of the same kind through the medium of the Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland. It must be observed that they were not public functionaries in the same sense as the clergy of the Established Church; and he presumed that the Government had no power of enforcing a return. When, too, the subject was discussed in that House, several Roman Catholic Members rose in their places and said that those returns could not be relied on. The noble Lord, therefore, could not be surprised if he doubted the possibility of procuring, by such means, the information the noble Lord required. He would say, however, that in consequence of the letter which the noble Lord read, he would again make inquiry, and endeavour to find out whether, through the medium of the Roman Catholic clergy, it were possible or practicable to obtain returns on this subject, the accuracy of which could be relied on. He confessed that he greatly doubted it, and he was confirmed in that by several Roman Catholic Members with whom he had conversed on the subject. He assured the noble Lord that any opposition which he appeared to make to any suggestions originated on this subject, did not proceed from any desire to prevent that House from obtaining accurate information, but from the belief he entertained that none could be had upon the accuracy of which they could rely.


held in his hand a letter from a rector, in which that gentleman took notice of a statement made in Parliament to the effect that there existed no means whatever of ascertaining, with accuracy, the number of deaths which took place in any part of Ireland during any given period. The writer of the letter considered such statement to be exceedingly strange, and denied that it had any foundation.


wished to take that opportunity of saying that the returns moved for by the Members of that House occasioned a vast increase of labour in the public offices, both here and in Ireland. In Dublin, especially, there had never been known a pressure of business so severe as that which now unhappily prevailed in the offices connected with the Government. The clerks were often employed from five o'clock in the morning till eleven at night; and he hoped that when hon. Members asked for a great number of returns, comprising a great number of figures, they would bear in mind that the subordinate officers of the Government had already much more to got through than it was practicable for them to accomplish.


confirmed the statement mede by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland. It was impossible for the Catholic clergy to supply information respecting the deaths of persons not belonging to their own flocks; and even as regarded their own flocks, he did not believe it was always possible for them to be perfectly accurate. Then, it was to be remembered that the Catholic clergy were under no obligation to make these returns; and he feared that, if made, they would, on the whole, not prove satisfactory.


observed, that the remark made by the noble Lord on the state of the public service might be very just; but he could not help saying, that if returns were moved for of the quantities of pigs and poultry consumed within a given time, there would not be the least objection raised to any such return. Now there was, however, a remarkable and unprecedented mortality afflicting the sister kingdom, and the difficulties placed in the way of obtaining an exact statement of the deaths appeared to be insuperable.


said, his observations applied to returns generally, and not to the particular case now under consideration.


wished to know if Dr. M'Hale should volunteer to supply those returns, whether the noble Lord at the head of the Government would lay them on the Table of the House?


could have no objection to laying accurate information on the Table of the House; but he should not willingly supply to Parliament returns obtained in any unusual manner.


hoped that the Government would make it the first duty of the relief committees to take a census, contrasting the present and the former condition of the country in reference to the numbers of destitute persons. It was apparent, from several documents laid on the Table of that House, that most deplorable ignorance prevailed with regard to the condition of the people of Ireland; but, if an accurate census were made, they would no longer hear of persons dying from neglect.


said, that one of the earliest steps which the Committees were taking, was to obtain lists of the destitute poor in their respective districts: whether they would go further in that way, he was not then prepared to state.

House in Committee on the