HC Deb 06 July 1875 vol 225 cc1010-2

SUPPLY—considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

(1.) £20,961, to complete the sum for the Public Works Office, Ireland.


said, he wished to call attention to the present state of the Public Works Commission in Ireland. When the Commission was first instituted it was intended that the business of the Department should be transacted by three Commissioners, and that the Chairman, with one Commissioner, should constitute a quorum; that they should meet regularly, and that a Minute should be recorded of their proceedings. In the year 1846 an Act was passed reciting that the three Commissioners were unable to discharge the duties, and appointing two other Commissioners. In 1869, on account of the Commissioners becoming the trustees of a large amount of property, they were constituted a corporation. He had not been able to find any statute passed since then reducing the strength of the Commission; but, nevertheless, the number of Commissioners had dwindled down to three—practically to two, for Sir Richard Griffith, who was the third Commissioner, was far advanced in age, and unable to attend to the duties of the office, so that the retention of his name as one of the Commissioners was an evasion of the Act of Parliament. Sir Richard had been, in fact, pensioned; but in order to comply with the letter of the law, if not with its spirit, his name was still retained on the Commission. Some extraordinary revelations were made during the trials arising out of the dispersion of the Phoenix Park meeting with regard to the manner in which the business of the Board was carried on. A notice was issued by the Commissioners prohibiting the meeting, and the question raised was whether the notice was sufficient to justify the dispersion of the assembly. Mr. Hornsby, Secretary to the Board of Works, was examined on the trial, and stated that for several years there had not been a single formal meeting of the Board; that no minute book was kept; and that the practice was when a letter was received, for a Commissioner to write on the back the answer to be returned. This letter was entered in a book, and this letter-book was the only record of the business done by the Commissioners. The Chief Secretary for Ireland was examined, and stated that he was not responsible for the steps taken to disperse the meeting, which came within the duty of the inferior authorities. He merely gave directions that a notice should be issued prohibiting the meeting. It appeared that one of the Commissioners who was sent for to the Castle refused to act until he got a written order. He accordingly obtained a scrap of paper from the Castle and wrote upon it that 500 copies of the notice should be printed. This was an extraordinary mode of transacting business, and he submitted that the Commissioners ought collectively to meet and decide upon the business of the Board. It was a violation of the spirit and, he believed, of the letter of the Act appointing the Board that no minutes were kept of their proceedings. He wished to urge upon the Government that this Department ought to be presided over by a Minister with a seat in that House, and responsible to Parliament. Several of these Departments in Ireland were removed from the control of that House by these anomalous Boards, which were partly under the Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary, and partly acting for themselves. He should like also to receive some assurance that these Commissioners were sufficiently numerous to discharge the duties which they were called upon to perform.


said, it was quite true, as the hon. and learned Gentleman had observed, that in consequence of the inability of Sir Richard Griffith to attend to the business of the Department it had been for some time carried on by two Commissioners, and no representation had been made to the Government that it was not properly performed; but when that fact came to their knowledge they appointed Mr. Roberts, one of the most distinguished engineers in Ireland, as an assisting Commissioner. As far as concerned the appointment of a Minister of Public Works who would be responsible to Parliament with reference to the administration of that Department, he could not now undertake to discuss that question. The Chief Secretary for Ireland or himself would always be ready to answer any question with respect to the administration of the public Departments in Ireland, if due Notice were given.


said, the senior Commissioner, Sir Richard Griffith, who had performed great services to Ireland and to this country, had retired principally in consequence of extreme old age. He believed Sir Richard did not reside in Ireland. He would be the last person to object to Sir Richard's receiving, as a retiring allowance, his full salary; but he should not be continued as a Commissioner on the books of the Department, but another Commissioner should be appointed. As to the gentleman of great experience in drainage works to whom the Solicitor General for Ireland had referred, he had been placed in the architectural department of the office, which was a department in which his services were the least valuable.

Vote agreed to.