HC Deb 21 July 1862 vol 168 cc614-8

said, he rose to call attention to the Imperial importance and the feasibility of establishing a Postal and Passenger intercourse between Europe and North America, by means of Mail Steamers to call regularly, on alternate days, at the port of Cork, with Telegraphic Communication off Crookhaven or Cape Clear; and to ask the First Lord of the Treasury the views of Her Majesty's Government with regard thereto. He brought the question forward entirely on public grounds, and not simply as an Irish question or a Cork question. There were about 250 steam vessels going every year from ports of the United Kingdom to America, or at the rate of five vessels a week. All he wanted was that they should utilize present means, so that they might have a regular postal communication with America every other day, and that could be done without any extra subsidy whatever, simply by providing that all the regular mail packets should call at Cork for the mails for America. Regularity was, after all, of much more consequence than extreme expedition; and although a passenger in a great hurry might sometimes save four or five hours by going to Galway, greater regularity could be attained by the Cork route. He did not think it necessary to subsidize any companies whatever. What he suggested was that the Treasury should pay a contract price for the carriage of letters and parcels, and that the vessel should be at Cork at a particular hour. He believed that the ordinary steam vessels would be glad to carry the mails for little more than the mere prestige of carrying them; and he assured the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that if he got a favourable reply, he would leave for Ireland tomorrow, and not trouble him any more this Session. In a much more westerly position than Cork were the harbours of Crookhaven and Valentia, but in their present state neither of them could be put in competition with Cork. Crookhaven, however, could be used for telegraphic purposes. He thought it was important to Europe, and especially to the United Kingdom, that there should be as regular a communication as possible with America, and he thought that our present mode of subsidizing placed us at a great disadvantage. His opinion was, that when the present contracts expired, all subsidies should be abolished. He had stated his sentiments on the subject to the noble Lord at the head of the Government a few weeks ago, and he now wished to ask him in what way the Government proposed to deal with the question?


said, it was true that some weeks ago his hon. Friend had honoured him with a communication on this subject, and then went through the general argument he had that evening urged upon the House, as to the advantages possessed by the harbour of Cork over the other Irish harbours which had been mentioned; and his hon. Friend's persuasive eloquence as to the merits of Cork completely explained how it happened, that not having any natural connection with the county of Cork, the hon. Gentleman should, nevertheless, have induced the electors to return him to Parliament as their representative. The impression made upon him had, however, been somewhat modified by what had fallen from his hon. Friend that evening. His hon. Friend had intimated he would go off to-morrow morning, if he only got a favourable answer with respect to this matter. That certainly was no inducement for him to give a favourable answer—he had no wish to get rid of his hon. Friend, who appeared to be perfect master of the subject, and brought to its consideration that humour, and good humour, which belonged to him and to the Members for Ireland in general. There was no doubt of the great advantages possessed by the harbour of Cork for carrying on communication with America, though there might be other harbours which had their special recommendations—the harbour of Galway, for instance, might in some respects be superior, the passage by it being shorter both as respected time and distance. But, without entering into these details; all he could say was, generally, that the subject was under the consideration of the Government, who would give to it the best attention in their power. He believed it was the fact, as indeed appeared from the Return moved for, that almost every steamer that left the United Kingdom for America had taken mails. He understood the drift of his hon. Friend's argument to be that there should be no contract with any company, but that the ocean postage should be regarded as a sufficient remuneration for the carriage of the letters. All he could say was that that subject, together with others, was under the attentive consideration of the Government.


said, that if the merits of Galway had been impugned, he should have stood forward to re-assert them; but as no attempt of the kind had been made, he should not take further part in the discussion.


said, that this was not a mere question of the rival claims of Cork and Galway; but he thought it unquestionable that there should be one port of departure from Ireland for the transmission of the Transatlantic mails. He thought that the hon. Member for Cork had mixed up two subjects essentially distinct—the question of a port of call, and the question of a port of departure. As to a port of call for commercial vessels, Queenstown had been established, not by any Government grant or Parliamentary decision, but as a result of the common sense and experience of commercial men, whose sagacity speedily settled the matter; and this question had best be left to the practical good sense of those who invested their capital in commercial enterprise. The question of a port of departure was quite a different matter, but he thought that Ireland was entitled to have one subsidy. He appealed to the Government to preserve an impartial position on the subject of what was commonly called the Galway Company, who had applied for a renewal of their subsidy. He would be ready to ask the Govern- ment to consider the grant of that subsidy, but, at the same time, he would, even in the interest of the poor men who had staked their last pound in the Galway Company, urge the Government, when they granted the subsidy of £70,000, not to burden it with the condition that the company should be compelled to start their vessels from one particular port. Let the company be free to start their ships from any port in Ireland which should appear to them most advantageous in a commercial point of view. Telegraphic communication was undoubtedly very valuable in a commercial point of view, but it must be to the port from which every vessel last set out, and to which every vessel first came back. Crook-haven was not a port of call. Vessels only used it when they were driven in by stress of weather, but they did not go and come there as they did at Cork. After all, the shortest communication between America and Central Europe was not an Irish, or an English, but a European question, and the map would seem to show the best route to be by London to Milford, thence to Waterford, and from Waterford to Cork. It would be only necessary to make about thirty miles of railway to complete that route. There was already an excellent railway from London to Milford, and steam vessels were plying between Milford and Waterford. As to the subsidy for Transatlantic packets from Ireland, the Government ought to give a definite answer, because it was positively cruel to keep the shareholders in suspense. He could assure the noble Lord that the people of Ireland would not grudge the £70,000 to Galway.


said, that in the year 1859 he was in a position which enabled him to call a meeting of Peers and others interested in Irish affairs, to discuss the question of making Cork a port of call, and it was the unanimous feeling of those present that nothing should be done to prevent the Government giving a subsidy to the Galway Company. The meeting thought that the people of Galway, by their superior activity, or it might be by accident, had a claim on the Government which the other portions of the Irish people did not possess, and that it ought not to be interfered with. He (Mr. Butt) thought that nothing would be more unfortunate than to start a question of jealousy between Galway and Cork; and he believed the noble Lord would, if he consulted the wishes of the people of Ireland, seriously consider that the claim of Galway was paramount.