§ MR. BAGWELL
rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the destitution existing in the Guadore and Cloughanelly district, county of Donegal. The hon. Member said that his Motion had particular relation to the northern part of that county, with a wild mountainous district with large tracts of barren land, where the people were living in a state of wild poverty. The state of that part of the county was brought under the notice of the Devon Commission, and Lord George Hill, one of the great proprietors of the county, in his evidence before the Commission, gave a graphic description of the condition of that part of it. He showed that the people were in the habit of living on very small farms, eking out their subsistence by means of grazing a few cattle upon the neighbouring mountains. Mr. Nicholls, a gentleman engaged in the Poor Law inquiry, corroborated the statements of Lord George Hill, as to the condition of Donegal, especially in its northern and western parts. Latterly, the proprietors of this mountainous district were anxious to get rid of the cottier system, and introduce sheep farming, and they had brought in a number of Scotch tenants and Scotch sheep. This did not meet with the approbation of the native inhabitants, who were thus reduced from a state of rude plenty to one of destitution. Lord George Hill stated that each inhabitant had three dwellings, one in the mountains, one on his farm, and another on the sea-shore; and families were always changing their residences according to the means of obtaining grazing; the people were quiet and inoffensive, and naturally of kind manners; many of them, especially the women, did not understand English, and among their peculiarities they disliked living in detached houses, which they considered to be lonely. In the same year Lord George Hill gave evidence before another Commission, which went to Ireland to obtain information, with a view to the establishment of the poor law; and Mr. Nicholls, in his report to Lord John Russell, said of Donegal that the people congregated where the soil was most easily cultivated and no exertion was necessary; while, in order to get their rent, they depended on 1526 a few cattle. It must strike every one that the system lately introduced into Donegal was only a repetition of that which had been done in Scotland a few years ago, when Sutherlandshire and the mountainous parts of the country were almost entirely depopulated in order to make room for sheep, and the people either sent to America or located on the sea-shore. His (Mr. Bagwell's) feeling and opinion was against any one's having the power to deal with his fellow-creatures in that way. He believed, indeed, that the Duke of Sutherland had carried out the system on his estates with all the humanity that was to be expected from him; but he (Mr. Bagwell) wished to know how such clearances would be regarded abroad? All the world looked up to the institutions of this country, and when it was possible to find a flaw in them republicans and the friends of despotism were equally ready to pick holes in them. Sismondi said— "This driving away of people from their firesides may be legal, but will any man dare to say that it is just?" and a writer in the Quarterly Review declared that the Highland clearances were a scandal to a civilized country. He did not think the plan of transporting the people from a country and replacing them by cattle at all calculated to improve the condition of that country. As an instance of the consequences, he might state that a short time ago the nation was startled from its propriety by a statement which appeared in the newspapers, signed by ten of the Roman Catholic clergy, in reply to which a resolution was drawn up by a board of guardians. The Government sent down an inspector (Mr. Hamilton) to investigate the matter, and the report of that gentleman was so much at variance with that of the clergymen, that if the case rested on that alone a further inquiry was necessary in order that the blame might rest on the parties who were in fault. The taxation that had been imposed on the district was most frightful. In one part the police tax amounted to £490 4s. 11d., and the sheep tax to £864 12s. 7d., making a total of £1,354 17s. 6d., being considerably over the property valuation. The total valuation of the district was £2,080 11s. 8 d., whilst the taxes raised amounted to £2,000 15s. 4d. The payment of these taxes proved that the people did not wish to evade the law, but had paid them to the utmost. In consequence of the address issued by the clergymen to whom he had 1527 alluded, a committee was formed in London for the purpose of raising subscriptions, and similar committees were formed in different parts of Ireland. The contributors included many landed proprietors who had made inquiries into the matter, and amongst them he might mention Mr. Sharman Crawford, who stated his belief that the complaints which had been made were well founded; and many other persons of name and station also contributed, thus affirming their conviction of the existence of destitution. He thought it due to the charitable individuals who had contributed to the relief of these poor people that some means should be devised for ascertaining the truth of the statements which had been put forward, and trusted the House would agree to the appointment of a Committee for that purpose. He demanded this in the name of justice, in the name of humanity, and, above all, in the name of the Irish landlords, many of whom believed that property had its duties as well as its rights.
§ SIR EDMUND HAYES, as one connected with that part of Ireland to which reference had been made, begged to say, that the statements issued by the Roman Catholic clergymen were without foundation and without truth; and he would further add, that those gentlemen had in their power the means of ascertaining that they were not justified by facts. The hon. Gentleman opposite had passed over far too lightly the evidence taken before Mr. Hamilton, who, as a Government officer, had no motive for bias in the inquiry which he had conducted, and who had reported, after hearing evidence, and going personally through the districts which were represented to be plunged in a state of destitution, that the statement of the Catholic priests was unfounded. He denied that Lord George Hill had ever ejected a tenant from his estate at Guadore, and he believed that he might say the same of almost every landlord immediately connected with that part of the country. When the noble Lord to whom he referred came to that part of the country fourteen years ago, there were no roads, no sort of cultivation. Now there were good roads, a corn-mill, post office, schools, a model farm, and a great many carts where there were none before. He did not know whether the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland would assent to the appointment of this Committee, but he wished to say on 1528 behalf of the owners of that district, that they not only were willing, but wished to have a Committee to inquire into the real state of that district, to test the truth of the contradictory statements which had been made in respect to it, and to report upon the manner in which they had discharged their duties to the poor of that district.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
said, that he thought the hon. Gentleman who had moved for this Committee could not have visited the district in question, or he would not have made the Motion, for in that case he must have known that the statements upon the authority of which he had moved for it were unfounded. He must protest against the attack upon Mr. Hamilton, who was one of the most able and zealous of the poor-law officers in Ireland, and whose report he believed to be entitled to entire credit. And with respect to the amount of contributions which were said to have been collected for the poor of this district, he did not believe that one-tenth part of the money raised by charity was appropriated to the poor of this district. For his own part, he knew the county of Donegal well, and he must say that he had never seen a county progressing more rapidly than this had lately been. It was true that a great outrage had been committed by a section of the community who had taken possession of property to which they had no right, and that the Government had thought it right to lay on an impost to protect property. But the fact that that impost was paid was a proof that the district was not in such a state of poverty as had been represented. He objected to the appointment of a Committee of inquiry of this kind, which, not having the power to examine witnesses on oath, could end in no good, and would not attain the object of ascertaining the truth of the contradictory statements which had been made on this subject.
§ MR. P. O'BRIEN
wished to know whether the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken had visited the district in question, as he asserted that the hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. Bagwell) ought to have done? He did not wish to attack Mr. Hamilton or the integrity of his report, for he had no doubt that that gentleman had reported what he believed to be the fact; nor did he wish to say one word against Lord George Hill (knowing what that noble Lord had done for that district) nor against the landlords of Donegal 1529 generally: but they had the statement of ten Roman Catholic clergymen that such a state of things existed in that district as no man could wish to exist, supposing it to be true. Nor was the evidence taken by Mr. Hamilton inconsistent with this statement, because most of it was given as matter of opinion; and he believed that a feeling of pride led many of the witnesses to endeavour to conceal those privations which the clergymen, with their larger opportunities of investigation, were able to detect. On account of the discrepancy which existed between these two statements, and of the reasons which existed for doubting that of the witnesses examined by Mr. Hamilton, be thought there should be an inquiry by a Committee of that House. It had been said that a large quantity of sheep had been destroyed in this district, for which the grand jury had assessed a compensation upon the district, and that therefore any burden which might have resulted from that was justly inflicted. But it was certain that several of the sheep supposed to have been destroyed had been afterwards found, and that their disappearance was a case, not of wanton destruction, but of felony. A very strong feeling had been excited on this subject, and, therefore, without impugning the conduct of the magistrates, or the poor law authorities, and merely contending that the inquiry which had already taken place was incomplete and inconclusive, he thought there ought to be another before a Committee of the House of Commons, which alone had the power of arriving at the real facts of the case. He should therefore support the Motion.
felt it his duty, from the position which he held, to state briefly to the House the opinion he entertained on this subject, and also to place before them the information at his command with regard to the condition of the district in question. When the House had heard his statement, they would perhaps agree with him that this was one of the most extraordinary cases that had ever been submitted to their consideration. The representations made on either side had been directly contradicted one by the other, and it would be for the House to form their own conclusions as best they could from such conflicting-testimony. The hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. Bagwell) had not made out a very strong case for a Committee; he had abstained from entering into specific details, confining himself merely to general 1530 statements, and giving the House to understand that a system of depopulation was now going on in parts of Donegal similar to what occurred some years ago on the estates of the Duke of Sutherland in Scotland. But as the hon. Mover had given few facts, he would call their attention to the statement which had been published by ten Roman Catholic clergymen of the districts of Guadore and Cloughanelly respecting the conduct of the landlords and the distress among the population. This was the statement on which this Motion is founded. Before proceeding with these gentlemen's allegations, he ought to state that the people of this part of Donegal were, and always had been, very poor; they bad been rarely visited by strangers; and perhaps there was not in Ireland, or in the western islands of Scotland, a wilder district, or, he might add, a wilder population. It was asserted that all the landlords of that locality, save one, had simultaneously deprived these poor people of their mountain grazing, and given them to Scotch and English graziers; and that in other cases they had doubled, trebled, and even quadrupled their rent. He held in his hand a statement put forth on the part of the proprietors which declared that no tenants had been evicted; that the landlords had not sold any goods by distress warrant for rent; and that they had not interfered with the tenants' right in any case. That alone ought to convince the House of the doubts and difficulties that hung over the case, owing to the contradictory statements put forth on both sides. Up to a recent period there was a large tract of waste mountain in that district which was occasionally used by the population as a run for their cattle. This property seemed to have been held very much in common by the inhabitants, who paid their rent more according to the number of cattle they possessed than according to the actual quantity of their land. It went by the name of the "run-dale" system. That was a state of things which nobody would say was satisfactory. Numberless disputes among the tenantry arose under this system, which were productive of the worst results. Some years ago certain of the proprietors took up a considerable portion of this mountain waste land and let it to Scotch and English graziers for the purpose of its being turned into a sheepwalk; the proprietors alleged, however, that they still left in the hands of the poor people a 1531 sufficient extent of land for depasturing the number of cattle they possessed, the remainder being surface drained and otherwise improved. In one district, where there were 2,000 acres of this mountain land, which the landlord let, reserving 700 acres for the people, the greater part of it never had been used by them. In another case, a landlord gave his tenants 500 acres, at the same time paying his tenantry to dig a ditch for the purpose of separating the 500 acres from the 1,200 that had been let for a sheep walk, though he believed that since then the landlord added the 500 acres to the rest. Lord George Hill reserved 9,500 acres of mountain land for his old tenants, besides paying for them their poor rates and their income tax. If these waste lands were thus used for grazing, while the land of the poor tenants was cut off and reserved for their separate use, surely such conduct ought not to be held up to opprobrium in that House, and represented as though it were accompanied by wholesale eviction. The statement often Roman Catholic clergymen, in their appeal for charity for the peasantry of these districts, was certainly very startling. They said: —There are at this moment 800 families subsisting on seaweed, crabs, cockles, or any other edible matter they can pick up along the seashore or scrape off the rocks. There are about 600 adults of both sexes, who through, sheer poverty are now going barefooted, amid the inclemency of the season, on this bleak northern coast. There are about 700 families that have neither bed nor bedclothes, but are forced to he on the cold damp earth in the rags worn by them during the day. There are about 600 families who have now neither cow, sheep, nor goat, and who, from the beginning of the year to its close, hardly ever know the taste of milk or butter.This statement was published in newspapers both in England and Ireland. The Poor Law Commissioners, acting under the direction of the late Government, very properly ordered an inquiry to be instituted into the truth of these allegations. The officer selected to conduct the investigation was Mr. Hamilton, a public servant of great experience and ability, who had been employed under the Poor Law Board throughout the whole of the famine. There was no public servant whose character stood higher. Before Mr. Hamilton arrived in the district, the Board of Guardians of the union in which it was comprised, namely, the Dunfanaghy Union, met and agreed to the following resolution:—That having seen with regret and astonishment in the newspapers an appeal signed by ten 1532 Roman Catholic clergymen setting forth a dreadful state of destitution at present existing in this union, we consider ourselves called on, as the guardians of the poor, both from our own local knowledge and upon inquiry, to say such a statement is quite false and without any foundation; and we think we are borne out in this by the fact of having only twenty-two paupers in the workhouse from the entire union.As an additional proof of the incorrectness of the statements that had been made as to the destitution of the people, the guardians asserted that in the month of February last there were only twenty-two paupers in the workhouse from the entire union; and they recommended that, as the "appeal" had been published for the purpose of raising money, the Poor Law Inspector should be instructed to inquire into the facts on the spot. Mr. Hamilton proceeded with his inquiry, and examined on oath as many persons as he could find likely to give evidence. Among these was the clerk and master of the workhouse, and he stated that only twenty-seven persons had applied for relief since the late harvest, they were all admitted, and no applications for provisional relief had been made at the workhouse. The master went on to say that—If distress 'such as is described' in the appeal he has read existed in the Gweadore and Cloughanelly districts, he is satisfied people would seek relief in the workhouse, as they did during the famine years. He swears that the dietary table at present in use in the workhouse is quite sufficient for the several classes.According to Mr. Hamilton the Dunfanaghy Union contained an area of £125,667 acres, was valued at £10,715, and by the census of 1851 had a population of 17,320. What did the House think the number of inmates in the workhouse was? In February, 1856, they were 41; in February, 1857, 28; and in February, 1858, 22. That he (Lord Naas) thought would show the extraordinary character of these misstatements. Mr. Hamilton called on the only four Roman Catholic clergymen who resided in the union who had signed the document, for the purpose of getting information as to the particular localities in which distress existed, but did not find any one of them at home. He said, however—I met the Rev. Mr. M'Fadden, P.P., and I told him I was making inquiry respecting the destitution described in an appeal which he had signed, and asked him to mention the localities in which the greatest destitution existed. He said ' it was general, and attributed it to excessive taxation, and to the landlords having raised their 1533 rents. I asked Mr. M'Fadden why the people did not apply for relief in the workhouse if destitution existed to the extent described. He said, that in consequence of the ' Gregory Clause' they could not be relieved under the Poor Law.Mr. Hamilton visited the poorest villages in the Guadore district in company with Collector Gallagher, and he stated that in almost every house he visited during the early part of the morning he found from two to five or six head of cattle lying in the same apartment with the people. Their beds appeared to be very wretched, principally straw, but they all seemed to have bed clothes. He went on to say—I visited one house in Crossroads electoral division, and I was credibly informed the owner of it had twenty cows, nine pigs, two horses, and forty sheep, and I think the inmates of this House were as dirty, as badly clothed, and had as few comforts as the majority of the Guadore people.Mr. Hamilton added, he found potatoes at every house, either stored inside or in pits outside the premises; and he saw an abundance of the potatoes pitted in the fields throughout the whole of the district, and there were unmistakeable marks of cattle in almost all the dwellings. He also said—In the course of my walk T did not see a delicate looking person, nor did I meet with a ease of sickness in any of the houses; and I think the population were as well if, not better clothed than the peasantry along other parts of the west coast of Ireland. I saw no person without sufficient covering; the majority of the people had no shoes, hut that is not an unusual circumstance in the county Donegal.Mr. Hamilton then quoted the testimony of Mr. Foster, agent to Lord George Hill, who said—As to the rents, every shilling due to Lord George Hill on the 1st of November was paid me before the 10th of November; and the tenants came to the rent office in such numbers to pay their rents I was obliged to get an extra hand to assist me in receiving the rents, and several paid me £5 notes in mistake for £1 notes. They had a most extraordinary fine summer to make kelp, and they also got a great price for it. The sale of kelp alone brings several thousand pounds to the district; and the lobster fishery lately established has also been of great assistance, as the average sale is 500 dozen a week. They had a good crop of potatoes last year, and I am certain they never were so well off; of course the payment of the extra police tax, and for the destruction of sheep, has taken a very large sum from them, but I am not aware of any tenant in Guadore having sold a cow, horse, or sheep to make those payments. It is most difficult at present to get labourers in the Guadore district, except at exorbitant wages, and when there was really distress there was no end of the persons coming to look for employment.It is quite impossible to judge of the state of the people from their appearance, or the way they 1534 live in their houses, as they have not the least idea of either cleanliness or comfort, nor do they wish to be improved, or that strangers should come and settle in the country. I know numbers that have at this moment several hundred pounds, and you would not suppose from the appearance of themselves, houses, and families, that they were better off than any of the rest.It was a painful thing for him (Lord Naas) to be obliged to contradict statements made by Roman Catholic clergymen. He feared the only object for which those extraordinary statements had been put forward was the collection of money; and holding the position he did, he should have been wanting in his duty to the House if he had not shown them that those statements were to a great degree exaggerated. But there was another painful feature in the ease to which he must direct the attention of the House. He was sorry to say that for some time past most extraordinary and serious outrages on property had been committed in the Guadore district. Mr. Hamilton stated that,—In the year 1853 Lord George Hill set a portion of his mountains to an English sheep farmer, and I am informed by his agriculturist that in setting this mountain he did not deprive his tenantry of any right they had hitherto been entitled to. In December, 1855, sheep were first put on the mountains, and for one year they remained there unmolested. In January, 1857, about 200 of the sheep were maliciously destroyed, and from that date to the present time the malicious destruction of sheep has gone steadily on. On Lord G. Hill's mountain about 1,130 sheep have been destroyed; and on the estates of Mr. Olpherts and Mr. Woodhouse about 425, making in all 1,555 sheep destroyed. The tax called the sheep tax is levied off the district for the purpose of paying the owner of those sheep the value of his property thus maliciously destroyed. There is but one English sheep farmer in the district; he has still about 1,300 sheep on the mountains. No later than last Saturday 21 sheep were destroyed, the carcases of some of which were discovered while I was at the hotel.An attempt was made to show that the sheep were lost in the snow and from other causes; but that could not be, for numbers of them had been found buried in bogs, with stones round their necks; and it was only at the last assizes for Donegal that two persons were convicted for the offence of maliciously destroying sheep. [The noble Lord then read extracts from the charge of Baron Pennefather, the Judge who presided at the last spring assizes—in which this wanton and malicious destruction of property was characterized in fitting terms.] He had submitted all those facts to the House and he now left the matter in their hands. He 1535 doubted that the Committee contemplated in the Motion before the House would be of any use. But as ten Roman Catholic clergymen had signed a statement asserting, in the most decided terras, that the people of this district were suffering severely from the oppression of their landlords, and as charitable people in England and Ireland had contributed largely to their relief, he felt that a Committee might be appointed to inquire further about the matter; and if the labours of the Committee should elicit the truth neither their time nor that of the House would have been wasted.
§ MR. LEFROY
said, he had been gratified by observing during his absence from the House, that there had been a cessation of discussions of this kind; which he had the satisfaction of imputing to the improved circumstances of Ireland; and he was proportionately grieved that such a debate should have arisen immediately that he returned to Parliament. He felt it his duty, however, to say a few words. It appeared to him to be very questionable whether the Committee now asked for would be productive of any beneficial results. He had been very much struck by some of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Motion, and if his statements had gone nnanswered, he should have felt it his duty to support the appointment of the Committee; but he thought that in the course of the discussion which had since taken place his allegations had been satisfactorily disposed of. Ten or eleven clergymen had made statements of a most serious and alarming character, and he was not about in any way to question their veracity, for they might have been assured of the accuracy of these allegations, and yet be much mistaken. Upon the alleged distress being made known to the guardians, they instituted the fullest inquiry, and the conclusion they came to was, that the allegations were not correct, and besides, the House had before them the sworn evidence of four persons to the inaccuracy of the statements set forth in the appeal. Those gentlemen stated the people were well off and that their rents had been punctually paid. So that the case stood thus—ten clergymen made a, statement, and four sworn witnesses gave an entirely different version; but these latter had made their statement before a competent gentleman, Mr. Hamilton, sent for the special inquiry 1536 by the Irish Government. Under such circumstances, he asked whether the House was disposed to nominate a Committee, and thus waste the time of hon. Gentlemen who had many most important public duties to attend to. He contended that there was not a single circumstance to justify the appointment of such a Committee.
§ MR. MAGUIRE
said, he entirely disagreed with the hon. and learned Member who had just spoken. He could not conceive how the time of hon. Gentlemen could be wasted by serving on a Committee such as that which was now asked for. They had had Committees upon such trumpery matters as turnpike gates, and now that a whole population was plunged into misery he thought the least they could do was to admit that the circumstances was worth some attention on the part of the Government and a Committee of the House. He (Mr. Maguire) saw some time since a series of letters written by a gentleman who was personally known to him, and whose honour and honesty of purpose were only equalled by his ability. He alluded to Mr. Holland, the conductor of the Ulsterman, published at Belfast. That gentleman went into those districts to which the appeal referred in order to judge for himself, and the conclusion at which he arrived was that he had never seen a more horrible picture of misery. Upon the experience he had gained, and the facts he had elicited, he wrote those letters; wrote upon his legal responsibility to all those who had property there; and yet not one statement of Mr. Holland's had been brought under the notice of the House. If it were only for the purpose of having Mr. Holland examined, he thought an immense deal of good would arise from the appointment of the Committee. There were ten or eleven Catholic clergymen publishing to the world that these wrongs were inflicted and that these miseries existed; but, on the other side, certain members of the poor law board of guardians said there was not a particle of truth in their statements. He (Mr. Maguire) believed every word that had been uttered by the clergymen was true, and he believed that a great deal of the evidence which had been cited against them was not true —that it could not in any way be relied on. Mr. Hamilton himself said that the people were lying on straw, and the relieving officer admitted that some of them 1537 were in great distress. He was sorry that the noble Lord (Lord Naas) did not read that portion of Baron Pennefather's charge which stated that the people of the districts referred to were in a condition of opulence. Mr. Holland had described what that state of opulence was. He had taken his readers from Lord George Hill's splendid mansion, from the perpetual curate's house, and from the hotel at Guadore, to the mountains, and to the miserable hovel, to get at which he had to jump down a ditch. There was in that house a man with his wife and four children, and the mountain cow. They had a small deal table in the room, no chair, and only an old stool to sit upon. For their bed they had a heap of rags. For their dinner they had stinking potatoes and miserable seaweed. So horrified was Mr. Holland with this state of things, that he recommended any one who witnessed them to go hack to the Guadore hotel and to get a strong tumbler of punch. Mr. Holland expressed it as his deliberate opinion that the landlords had combined and taken from the people the mountain commonage, and raised the rent of the land which remained to them, in order to exterminate them; and was not this, he asked, a case worthy of serious inquiry on the part of a Committee of the House of Commons. One circumstance which pressed heavily on these poor people was what was known in Ireland as "the Gregory clause," a most iniquitous piece of legislation. That clause provided that if a man held more than a quarter of an acre of land, he should not get relief. It was not that relief which was obtained in England, it was imprisonment, it was social extinction. There was no hope of redemption for a man who was placed in that position. A small farmer, if he once quitted hold of his land and capital and went to the workhouse, became to all intents and purposes socially extinct. In the time of famine, the people, under the most horrible misery, died in their houses rather than surrender their places, in the hope of ultimate redemption. The Irish poor were not treated as the English, for the workhouses of Ireland were the most terrible engines of cruelty, the most horrible oppressors of. the poor. He believed that the clergymen who had signed the appeal would come well out of any inquiry that might be instituted; but, at the same time, as a Catholic Member, he bad no hesitation in saying, that if it should be proved that 1538 they bad stated what was not true, they would be worthy of the strongest and most solemn condemnation of that House.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
agreed in all that had been said as to the duty of inquiring into the causes of destitution, but he did not like the notion of inquiry being instituted under false pretences. If this was to be an inquiry to investigate in what way landlords in Ireland dispose of their property, he warned the House of the consequences of consenting to such an investigation. It was proposed to inquire into destitution in Donegal, and to that he was willing to subscribe; but the hon. Gentlemen who asked for this inquiry first assumed that great destitution existed, and then ascribed it to the misconduct of the landlords. He could not forget that twelve months ago grave charges were brought against a Scotch gentleman who had bought large estates in Ireland, and at first the House was disposed to grant a Committee of inquiry; but a statement was afterwards made by one of the friends of that gentleman which showed that there was not the least pretext for an investigation. It appeared from the papers before the House that the tenants in the part of Donegal referred to, paid their rent to a day. What did the late Government do when ten clergymen signed a paper which not only justified but demanded inquiry? They deputed a Poor Law Inspector to make an inquiry on the spot. He did make an inquiry, and stated the facts which had been noticed by his noble Friend. Those who spoke of destitution should bear in mind these facts. The petition for inquiry which had been presented to the House had 2,039 signatures of persons calling themselves "farmers, occupiers, and inhabitants" of the district. The Committee on Petitions, however, in giving their opinion of it, stated that there were three signatures attached to it which appeared to be different, but that all the subsequent names seemed to be in the handwriting of one and the same individual; there were also many marks, and these wholly unattested. Such was the character of the petition for inquiry. The fact was admitted by the last speaker, that the object of the Committee was to investigate the conduct of the landlords. The Member for the county and the gentlemen of the county were all anxious for a Committee, conscious that their conduct would bear investigation, and under such circumstances it was not for him to object; but he begged to remind the House that 1539 the precedent now set might be applied to England and Scotland. Several prosecutions had been raised against those who had destroyed the sheep on these mountains, and the law allowed to the owner of the sheep, a Scotch gentleman, full compensation for his loss. The people of the district had to pay for the sheep a sum of £1,354 17s. 6d.; and the Lord Lieutenant, on hearing what was going on, sent down a sufficient force of police, which they were also called on to pay; and he must say that the tax for the sheep and the tax for the police were Loth paid with the greatest readiness. It should be recollected, too, that there were not more than 22 persons in the poor-house by the last accounts from the district. It seemed to be the wish of the House that there should be an inquiry, but he must repeat that he thought it might prove a dangerous precedent.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said that, as it appeared to be the opinion of the House that the Committee should be appointed, he should not oppose the Motion; but he wished to make one or two remarks upon some of the arguments that had been advanced. They had been told that there was great destitution in the country, and that it was borne testimony to by several Roman Catholic priests. He was ready to give perfect credence to their statements; but he would ask hon. Members whether they thought that by any general law they could remedy this evil, and what they thought, if they granted this inquiry, it could possibly result in? He would grant that great misery existed, as had been alleged; but bow did that misery arise? He was told that it arose in certain parts of Donegal from certain persons having been excluded from their runs upon mountain districts, that the landlords let their property there for more money to Scotchmen, and that the people consequently suffered. Proprietors had found that by letting their mountain lands to Scotchmen they could get more from them than by keeping them in their old state; and hence it is said arose the destitution of the people on the property. Well now, he wanted to know if the House was prepared to meet that difficulty? He had, be would say, for the purpose of argument, a wild district in England, and he found that certain persons were prepared to take that district from him, to farm it, to make it productive to themselves and remunerative to him. But there were certain persons living upon it who did not pay him any- 1540 thing, and from whom he derived no benefit of any kind. Could those persons step in and prevent him making use of his property? The hon. Gentleman said the poor people were eating sea-weed in the districts he had mentioned; but at the same time they were told that there were only 27 or 29 people in the workhouse. Why was that the case when there was a law which said that if a man had six children, and sent three of them to the poor house, he must go there also? Was the House prepared to alter that law? When that appeal was made to the Irish Members, they said, "Oh, dear me, no; for that would increase the poor rates." What could the House possibly say to arguments of this kind? He, as an Englishman, was, perhaps, like a man thrusting his hand into a beehive in meddling with Irish questions, but what was he to do? We were a United Kingdom, and an injury done to Ireland thrilled through England, and he felt as much sympathy for an Irishman as for an Englishman. But again he asked, what could they do by general legislation for this subject?—and that was the real inquiry before them. It was not enough to paint a picture of great disasters—it was not enough for eleven Irish priests to propagate a statement in reference to great distress and great disasters—they might get charitable persons to support them; but in coming to that House they could do nothing more than ask for a general law; and he asked therefore, what was really intended by that inquiry? Even should the inquiry make out all that the priests insisted upon, what was the House to do? It could do absolutely nothing. This was a mischief belonging to human nature— not to Ireland but to the world—and they could not by any general law, provide against that mischief. He was quite convinced that the result would be, after this Committee, that the House would be compelled to lay by its hand, and to say that for this mischief there was no remedy.
§ MR. M'MAHON
said, he was quite sure that if the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had been aware of the difference between the laws of England and Ireland, he would not have made the statements he had done. It was true that 1500 sheep were lost; but it was true that although a few were maliciously killed, the great bulk were not; and if such things as had occurred in Donegal had taken place in England, the law would have been appealed to in the usual way, and all the 1541 necessary formalities would have been gone through; but in Ireland the grand juries had all the power and acted upon their own free will. There were no summonses of any kind, but they placed their warrants in the hands of the constables, who went at once and seized everything they could get hold of, made a complete razzia amongst the people, and spread desolation and ruin around. In the late cases the inquiry would prove that persons sat upon the grand jury who investigated their own claims, and decided the amount of compensation which was due to them. Some of the owners of the sheep alleged to be destroyed actually adopted that extraordinary course. If this Committee were appointed such facts would be clearly established, and a great deal of good would be done for Ire-laud by such an exposure before Parliament. He (Mr. M'Mahon) condemned the Gregory clause, which he held to be productive of the greatest distress in Ireland, and believed it had been enacted for the purpose of exterminating the people. There was nothing like it in England or in any other part of the civilized world. The grand jury law was equally open to objection. He hoped that one of the results of the inquiry would be to assimilate the laws of England and Ireland in this respect. He was quite certain that if the grand jury law were altered and the Gregory clause abolished they would never have to appeal again to the House of Commons for the appointment of such a Committee.
§ MR. DRUMMOND
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down seemed to deny the destruction of the sheep. ["No!"] Then he admitted it—any way the hon. and learned Gentleman liked. Whichever assertion was true equally contradicted the statement of the ten priests, for they declared that these Scotch sheep were so averse to Irish grass that they would not live there. Now, he believed Irish grass to be the richest in Europe, and Scotch sheep to be as wise as any other kind of sheep. No doubt a statement had been made by ten most holy and most reverend priests. Now, it happened in the case of Mr. Pollok that a most awful case was made out by hon. Members opposite; but when he got the petition into his hand he found it signed by only two priests. There was a long paper, not affixed to the petition, which contained the names of a great number of people, who it was said could not write; but on inquiry almost all of these turned out to 1542 be mythical persons. The experience they gained in that case ought to make the House a little shy in believing any assertion upon the faith of these rev. gentlemen. It was curious that they were told that several sheep were taken to market and sold—so that sheep would live and would fatten, notwithstanding all the priests, and they did live and did fatten, and, moreover, were stolen and were sold. In this awful Bill of indictment there was not a single fact which was not contradicted totisdem verbis by respectable people on their oaths. But then it was sought to impeach the veracity of these persons, because they were officials—that was to say, because people whose duty it was to inquire did their duty and did inquire, they were to be held up as persons wholly unworthy of credit. Let the House observe how this thing (the petition) was worded. It was said that "the inhabitants of these wilds were Celts of the pure old race, with the pure old faith." If they were of the pure old faith, it was not the Roman. Every theological term came from the Greek, and the pure old faith was Greek. It complained of Englishmen and Scotchmen grazing their sheep in Ireland. Surely they had as much right to graze their sheep in Ireland, as the Irish had to come over to graze in England? That was part of the offence. Then it was said there was a great deal more behind. He believed there was a great deal more behind. He believed that this exaggerated inflammatory petition was nothing more than a mask by which it was endeavoured to foment discord between Irish landlords and their tenants. The hon. Gentleman was equally wrong in his law. The law of England was that a man should not receive relief out of the house. The hon. Gentleman said, "But he does receive relief out of the house." When a man with a large family applied for relief it was a question whether the rates would be more saved by giving him a small pittance to keep him out of the house or by taking him in; but that did not alter the law of the land. Then, it ought to be remembered that those who were pressing for this Poor Law and complaining that relief was not given were the very same persons who denounced the Poor Law from one end of Ireland to the other, Dr. M'Hale declaring that the intention was not to relieve the poor, but to make the lands of Ireland pass into the hands of foreigners. An hon. Gentleman, not then in his place, was the leader of the opposi- 1543 tion to the Irish Poor Law, and it was only carried by a majority of English and Scotch Members. Every charge in the petition had been answered verbatim upon oath. They were going to examine people not upon oath, and ho, for one, would not believe one word they said.
§ MR. MACEVOY
said, that those rev. gentlemen had never had an opportunity of confronting Mr. Hamilton, upon whose evidence so much stress had been laid by the Irish Secretary and the Attorney General for Ireland.
§ MR. BAGWELL, in reply, expressed his opinion that the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland had done wisely and rightly in agreeing to the Committee. The hon. Gentleman altered the words of his Motion, limiting the inquiry into the destitution of the districts of Guadore and Cloughanelly.
Motion made and Question put,—
That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into the destitution alleged to exist in the Guadore and Cloughanelly district, in the county of Donegal.
§ House divided:—Ayes 147; Noes 111: Majority 36.