HC Deb 30 March 1855 vol 137 cc1418-23

rose to call the attention of the House to the circumstances and manner under which the reduction of officers acting under the Statutes for the administration of the Irish Poor Law had taken place and was now being carried out. He should not have attempted to detain the House upon this subject, at such a time, had it not been a subject which had occasioned considerable excitement in Ireland; for the reduction and the manner of it had been neither economical nor beneficial, and had moreover had a religious complexion given to it which was likely to produce very mischievous results in a country situated like Ireland, when it was recollected that the great bulk of the recipients of relief under the Irish Poor Law were Roman Catholics; and he was anxious as a Protestant to acquit himself of the suspicion of persecution. The House would remember, that in June last, on consideration of the Estimates, in consequence of representations from several Irish Members, the then Irish Secretary (Sir John Young) had given a pledge as to certain possible reductions in the Irish poor law establishment; and it was to the manner in which those reductions had been effected that he begged to call attention. Now the facts he had to lay before the House were these. Out of seven Roman Catholic administrative officers formerly existing under the Irish poor law establishment, five of them were about to be reduced; whereas of the eleven officers that remained, independently of the ex officio heads of the department, who were both Protestants, nine were Protestants. The present staff of the Board consisted of one Chief Commissioner, two Commissioners, a secretary, and assistant secretary, and sixteen inspectors. There were also medical inspectors and auditors, but none of these had anything to do with the administration of the law. Well, out of these, instead of a proposal to reduce one of the three Commissioners, it was proposed to reduce the secretary, Mr. Stanley, who had held that office almost since the formation of the board, and who had been in the public service for forty years. It was likewise resolved to dismiss the assistant secretary and five out of the sixteen inspectors. Now the reason why he said that this reduction bore a religious aspect was, that these officers thus dismissed were senior to those that were retained, and were able and efficient men; of the five inspectors to be dismissed, four were Roman Catholics, as was also the Secretary, making five Roman Catholic dismissals out of seven. He was prepared, therefore, to prove that the reduction had been made not according to the boasted principle of the hon. Baronet lately the Chief Secretary for Ireland, namely, that the juniors in office would have to go first, while no distinction whatever would be made as to the religious opinions of the different officers. Now, to show how far that engagement had been carried out, he would mention that the senior inspector of the Board, Mr. Otway, a Protestant, was retained, while the second and third, Mr. Burke and Mr. Phelan, both Roman Catholics, were removed. After them came Mr. Crawford, a Protestant, retained, and Mr. Barron, another Roman Catholic, dismissed; while the sixth on the list was Mr. George Huband, the only Protestant dismissed; and lastly came Mr. Lynch, another Roman Catholic, and who was dismissed. Thus had these reductions taken place without reference to the promises which had been made; and in fact exactly upon the contrary principle; so that the late Secretary for Ireland was ignorant of what had been done in the board, of which he was an ex-officio Commissioner. Under these circumstances, the people of Ireland considered that they had been unfairly treated, and that there was something more than met the eye. If there was one Board in Ireland more than another that required Roman Catholics in its administration, it was the Poor Law Board. They had not only to take care of the physical necessities of the poor relieved, but also of the religious requirements of the recipients, and, in some instances, the needs of the people of that country had been brought to bear on their religious persuasion, so as to make them suspicious of the relief held out to them; and, therefore, it would have been politic, if nothing more, for the Government to have avoided anything which countenanced that suspicion. Although himself a Protestant, he had felt it his duty to bring this matter before the House, because he wished nothing to be done that seemed like persecution, even on those opposed to him in belief.


never remembered during his short experience, a question coming before the House which had excited greater interest in Ireland than this. The people of Ireland looked upon the dismissal of these inspectors as a direct attack upon their religion, and believed, after what had occurred in reference to this matter, that the right hon. Baronet, lately the Chief Secretary for Ireland, would never again have been able to face a Roman Catholic or liberal constituency; he might well, therefore, congratulate himself on his happy release to the Ionian Isles. He hoped that the present right hon. Secretary was not prepared to follow the example of his predecessor as to his appointments, who, under the semblance of liberality, had made some of the most bigoted nominations ever known in Ireland. He deprecated the introduction of any religious or sectarian imputations into the arguments before the House, but he could not but feel that there had been, in the first instance, a disproportionate appointment of Catholics and Protestants to the office of poor law inspectors, and that this disproportion had been greatly aggravated by the recent dismissals. He might be permitted to point attention to the fact, that under the Medical Charities Act, which was administered by the Poor Law Board in Ireland, while the expense of maintaining the head office amounted to 7000l. a year, the average income of each medical man appointed under it did not exceed 40l. a year; while the total number of patients visited in 1854 was 3,346,042, giving 3485 to each medical officer, so that each of them would receive, on taking into consideration the number of patients attended to, one penny and half a farthing for each of them. And, in further illustration, he might state that one medical officer had travelled over 2500 miles for a remuneration of 20l.


said, that having had the amplest opportunity of forming a judgment upon such a point, he was quite sure that no sectarian feeling had influenced the conduct of Mr. Power, the head of the Irish Poor Law, in the reductions which had been made. His opinion was that the Government should have had in view the political aspect of the question, and should have taken advantage of the opportunity which had offered some time ago, and appointed a Roman Catholic to be one of the chief Commissioners, as it was of more importance that one of these should be of that persuasion than the inspectors, who were, after all, subordinate officers. He thought it was more important that one member of the Commission should be a Roman Catholic than any of the inspectors, because the people looked with great jealousy on the decision of that body upon which there was no member of that same religion as the people themselves.


said, that he fully admitted the importance of the subject, and thought that when a department had been as much attacked as the Poor Law Department the Government were bound to come forward and to state their view of its conduct; and he was bound to say that in his opinion the Irish Poor Law Department had discharged its duties very efficiently. Hon. Members who had spoken upon this subject were under a misconception as to this reduction, which was not a voluntary act of the Commissioners. The circumstance of the reduction having been made in the persons of Roman Catholics was purely accidental. When the estimates for the Department were brought before the House, it had been determined that whatever reductions could be made without interfering with its efficiency should be made. It was then considered what persons of the establishment could be reduced. The whole number of the body was sixteen, being eight in the first, and eight in the second class. By reducing the first class it was found that a saving of 1,200l. year would be effected in each of the inspectors; by making a reduction in the second class only 600l. a year would be saved. The Commissioners, consequently, determined that the reduction should be made in the first class of inspectors. Now it was a very different case when they had the original nomination of the board, for then they were compelled to select untried men. But in the present case they had experience to guide them; and the only thing the Commissioners had to consider was, who were the most efficient and useful men—everybody, however, admitted that all those of the first class were men who were eminent in their department and efficient in the public service. He regretted to see so many reduced from the first class, because it gave rise to this misconception; but what were the Commissioners to do? He thought they should do what they conscientiously considered best, without giving way to the fear of censure. They made the reduction which they felt it was most proper to make, and left it to public opinion and to Parliament to vindicate the course which they had taken. It was true that the reductions which had been as vet effected touched chiefly Roman Catholics; but there were other reductions to take place. Mr. Stanley, the secretary of the board, was to be reduced: the assistant auditor was to be reduced; as was also the architect. When all the reductions were carried out, there would be eleven reduced, of which six would be Protestants and five Roman Catholics. In respect to Mr. Stanley, he could state that no one member of the board was so sensitively alive to the way in which the establishment was overmanned and underworked as Mr. Stanley himself, and he at once concurred in the proposition of reducing himself. The opinion expressed by Mr. Stanley was most honourable to him. That Gentleman had in the first instance refused an increase of salary; and when the question of retiring pension arose upon his reduction, he evinced the most admirable disinterestedness. He could hardly pronounce a sufficiently high eulogium upon Mr. Stanley for the conduct he has shown. He deeply regretted the loss of that Gentleman's services. He had looked carefully into all the circumstances of the case, and he could assure the House that the reductions should have unfortunately fallen upon the members of one religious creed was entirely accidental. No one had ever imputed to the Commissioners any sectarian feeling in the discharge of their duties; they had at all times been actuated by the most pure and proper motives. He could assure the House that the Government were most vigilant not to give occasion for complaint on the part of the people of Ireland in reference to religion. If any cause could be shown for inquiry in respect to the Government appointments or reductions, they would be most willing to assent to such inquiry, and were prepared to abide the result. He, however, thought that the manner in which the Poor Law Commissioners discharged their duty, in the face of great misconstruction and unpopularity, was deserving of the approval of the Government, and he was sure it would be approved of by Parliament.