HC Deb 04 April 1851 vol 115 cc1036-9

wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland the following questions respecting the condition of the Kilrush Union:—Whether the workhouse in that union had accommodation for 4,654 inmates, or thereabouts, from the 8th of March last? Whether there were not upwards of 5,000 within, the house at that date? Whether the deaths within the house for the 21 days ending the 22nd of March did not exceed 200? Whether paupers to the number of between 100 and 200 were not in the habit of seeking for relief within the house upon the admission-days? Whether many of such were not in a most destitute and nearly starving state, and, after having walked some 12 Irish miles, were refused admittance? Whether any steps were taken to afford them, so refused, any assistance whatever? Whether the Poor Law Commissioners are aware of this state of things; and, if so, what measures they have taken, or intend to take, in order to correct them?


said, he would give as much information as he could in reply to the several questions which the hon. Gentleman had placed on the paper, and within the limits that he thought he ought to occupy under present circumstances. In answer to the first question of the hon. Gentleman, as to whether the workhouse for Kilrush union had accommodation for 4,564 inmates in March last, the information which the hon. Gentleman had received on that point was correct. As to the subsequent questions, he had no precise information which he could give to the hon. Gentleman. The Commissioners had not been able to get any precise information respecting them. As to the last question, which was the important question, as to whether the Poor Law Commissioners were aware of this state of things, he had to state that of course they were perfectly aware that this state of things existed in Kilrush. The Commissioners had constantly remonstrated with the board of guardians on this state of things, and they urged them in the first place to provide additional workhouse accommodation; and, failing that, to resort to a system of outdoor relief. As early as the beginning of December, in last year, the Commissioners applied to the board of guardians for the purpose of getting additional workhouse room, and the guardians, be thought, about the 20th of March, said additional accommodation would be necessary. At a subsequent period to that the Commissioners procured assistance from the rate-in-aid fund for the purpose of providing additional infirmary accommodation, which was much required in that union. The board of guardians did everything, he believed, in their power to procure additional workhouse accommodation, which they found very difficult; and they had yielded to the solicitations of the Commissioners to adopt a system of outdoor relief, which commenced in January, and on the 22nd of March the number receiving relief was 2,626; and he was happy to tell his hon. Friend that on the same day, the 22nd of March, the excess of numbers in the workhouse had been reduced to 214. He was sorry to observe the sanitary condition of the workhouse. The Commissioners had done everything in their power to call the attention of the guardians to this state of things. The inspector of that union—one of the most active men in that employ. Mr. Lucas, made the following observations on the return of mortality for the week ended the 22nd of March:— Referring to the week ended the 30tU of March in the previous year, I find the deaths amounted to 56, with 3,357 inmates, being about the same rate of mortality as at the present time. The season has been unusually wet and inclement, and the health of the poor generally is, I regret to say, unsatisfactory. Many of the paupers do not seek admission to the workhouse until they are exhausted by disease. With regard to diet, with the exception of milk, he (Sir W. Somerville) could not find that there had been any diminution whatever.


said, that when the hon. Baronet the Member for Marylobone (Sir B. Hall) addressed the House on a comparatively insignificant subject, he was heard in perfect silence; but when his hon. Friend the Member for Tippcrary brought this matter under the notice of the House, and while also the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Ireland was speaking, they were not heard in silence. It was not his intention to detain the House at any considerable length, but he claimed his right to speak on a question which involved the life or the death of his fellow-countrymen and countrywomen. What was the ques- tion? It was this, whether in Kilrush union persons were to be permitted to die for want of the common necessaries of life. While lie was on this subject, the House would perhaps permit him to use the figures published in the Times newspaper, by that benevolent and Christian clergymen of the Established Church, the Rev. Mr. Sidney Godolphin Osborne, to whom it was that they owed the dragging to light of these proceedings in the Kilrush union. The workhouse would accommodate 4,654 inmates, but the fact was that there were now 214 persons in that workhouse more than it would hold. [Laughter.] He was happy to see that on a subject like this Gentlemen could be merry. ["No, no!"] When he said merry, he did not mean to insinuate that they could be light on the subject. Sir Boyle Roche had once proposed in the Irish House of Commons that every quart bottle should hold a quart, but what had been the fact with respect to this workhouse? Why that 214 persons had been thrust into it more than it had been intended to accommodate. What did they think was the cost of maintaining or rather starving a pauper in that workhouse? It was just 11½d. per week. No wonder then that 280 of the poor wretches died per week. He charged the workhouse authorities with being accessories to murder. For every one that died, somebody was accountable before God, and he wished he was so with men. The landlords were ex officio guardians, and they wished to keep down the expense. They had refused outdoor relief for a series of months, and when the poor people were at last compelled to seek shelter in the workhouse, their muscular and other powers had been so weakened by want that they were unable to digest the wretched food which was furnished to them. Mr. Vandeleur, of Kilrush, governed the guardians; and a benevolent gentlemen, named Captain Kennedy, having had the misfortune to oppose Mr. Vandeleur, had been obliged to leave, and now Mr. Vrandeleur was permitted to trifle as he pleased with the lives of the people. The right hon. Baronet (Sir W. Somerville) and Sir Thomas Redington had so many other duties to discharge, that they ought to be relieved from their duties as ex officio Commissioners, and other persons ought to be appointed who could attend to the wants of the people. He felt horrified at the system now pursued, and could not find words sufficiently strong to express his feelings, and his astonishment that such Scenes were allowed to occur with perfect impunity in what was called a civilised, well-governed, and Christian community.


had but too much reason to believe that life had been sacrificed to a fearful extent in the Kilrush union; but it must be kept in mind, with reference to the poor-law guardians of this union, that they laboured under extreme and almost overwhelming difficulties; they had 5,000 persons to provide for out of the resources of the union—the Government aid having of late been withheld—and that eleven shillings in the pound had been paid for poor-rates in Kilrush, and Colonel Vandeleur was surrounded with the greatest possible difficulties. The union had received very largely of Government aid; but that having been withdrawn, and the union thrown upon its own resources, this distress had been the result. He hoped the subject would be further discussed when the Medidical Charities Bill (Ireland) should be brought before the House on Tuesday next.

Subject dropped.