HC Deb 29 July 1881 vol 264 cc194-200

in rising to call attention to the depressed condition of the sea fisheries of Ireland; and to move— That it is the opinion of this House that it is the duty of the Government to take measures to render the Irish Fisheries more available as a means of affording increased food and employment, said, that he considered he rose under very adverse circumstances, as the House had been, until that moment, engaged with another very important matter. His object was to show that great benefits had been conferred on the fishermen by the aid already afforded by the Reproductive Fund, and which afforded a precedent for similar assistance being given to the eight maritime counties without loans. He might also mention that enormous benefits had been conferred on the coast population of the county of Cork by the benevolence of the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, who, with her characteristic generosity, had aided many fishermen between Baltimore and Cape Clear to follow their occupation. It was of the highest importance to develop such a fertile source of food as the sea fisheries of Ireland. At present they did not produce more than £700,000 a-year; but if they were properly developed they might produce £2,000,000 or £3,000,000, materially increase, and, at the same time, cheapen the food of the people, and serve as an admirable nursery both of the Royal Navy and of the Mercantile Marine. Every Fishery Company had failed because of the tempestuous character of the coast. It was only at certain periods when fishermen could safely venture out to sea, and the only success gained had been in cases where fishing and farming were combined. As a means of developing this industry, he suggested that the coast population should be assisted with proper appliances for fishing, and that the necessary aid for that purpose might be given, not out of the Imperial Exchequer, but from the Church Surplus Fund. He believed the Government never had so favourable a chance of doing good at so little cost. It was their incumbent duty to do all in their power to develop the resources of Ireland. It was strange to see fully £2,000,000 worth of good food allowed to be un-availed of, which, besides other advantages, would have afforded vast employment in its capture, and helped to train a large amount of the coast population to various industrial pursuits connected with fisheries. Besides that, by putting the fishing industry in a proper position, they could be rendering themselves less dependent on foreign countries for food supplies. The Chief Secretary had been so occupied with the Land Bill that he could hardly be expected to have devoted much attention to the question of the fisheries; but now that the Land Bill was over, for the present, at least, he (Mr. Blake) hoped the right hon. Gentleman would inquire into the subject, with a view of doing something early next Session. He, therefore, with much confidence, begged to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


said, he thought it would be well to encourage the development of the industrial resources of Ireland, and the fisheries among them. Apart from industrial considerations, it was a matter of the greatest importance that every encouragement should be given to rearing a hardy race of fishermen, who, after all, were the very best men for recruiting the Navy. As a Scotchman, he ventured to remark, in reference to Irish fisheries, that he thought Irishmen, with the power of fishing off their own coast, might develop to a greater extent than they had done their own fisheries. He lived for many years near a fishing village on the Ayrshire Coast, where, year after year, he observed a small fleet of fishing vessels laid up for the winter. He found that, for the most part, these vessels did not fish on the Scotch Coast, but were accustomed, in the Spring of the year, to sail for the Irish Coast, where they reaped a rich harvest. He thought, therefore, that their Irish friends might do more themselves to develop their own fisheries; and he also thought the Government would spend money well that would in any degree develop that industry. He had great pleasure in seconding the Resolution.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is the opinion of this House that it is the duty of the Government to take measures to render the Irish Fisheries more available as a means of affording increased food and employment,"—(Mr. Blake,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

MR. W. E. FORSTER, said, that, notwithstanding the pressure of other Business, the question of the Irish fisheries had not been neglected during the year. A considerable sum had been spent on the erection of piers, chiefly in the Western Counties, where the people were very poor, and where there was a vast congestion of the people. Although he did not think a population, partly agricultural and partly fishers, could compete with those who devoted their whole energies to fishing, still that was no reason why they should not do what they could to develop the fisheries of a country whose coasts abounded with fish. Aided by a munificent donation from Canada, some £60,000, including £45,000 from the Exchequer, had been appropriated for the erection of 30 piers, mostly in the Western Counties. As to the reproductive loan to Irish fishermen, he wished the fact could be impressed on Parliament and the country that these loans had been granted to very poor people, yet they had been paid with the greatest possible regularity, only £900 being overdue out of £30,000.


said, he hoped that the attention of the Government would be given to the condition of the South, as well as the West Coast of Ireland. All efforts, however, to improve the fisheries of Ireland would be ineffective unless the Government turned its attention to the charges made by Irish railways for the carriage of fish, which, in some cases, were almost prohibitive. Remarks had been made about the superior success of Scotch and English fishermen on the English Coast as compared with the Irish. But it ought to be remembered that the former had better markets at command; and if Companies were formed it would be better that they should have, if not their headquarters, certainly some depots, at English or Welsh seaports, so as to avoid the heavy charges of transport on the Irish railways.


said, he wished to call attention to the Reproductive Loan Fund, which he thought ought to be extended. As far as Gal-way was concerned, the most successful fishing was by the fishermen themselves. He only knew of one successful Company, and that was an Irish Company, which had succeeded where a Cornish Company had failed. The loans made by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts to individual fishermen had been of the greatest advantage, and had greatly stimulated the industry of the fishermen. His noble Friend the Secretary to the Treasury two years ago expressed himself as incredulous as to the repayment of loans to small fishermen. But in the event it was shown that payments were most regular. There was also a great deficiency of harbours and piers. Unfortunately, the choice of the places for piers was not fairly made, but depended upon the amount of pressure which influential localities brought to bear upon head-quarters.


said, that at present only eight maritime counties got assistance from the fund; and his hon. Friend justly complained that the other nine counties should be left out in the cold. The right hon. Gentleman was in perfect agreement with his hon. Friend as to the importance of the industry and the necessity for developing it. The right hon. Gentleman also admitted that the mode of developing that industry by loans had been found most successful, as was shown in the case of the reproductive loan, the loan of the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, and the Canadian Fund. It was, therefore, the duty of the right hon. Gentleman, as Chief Minister for Ireland, to see that the loans, which he admitted to be deficient, should be increased. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would knock at the door of the Treasury until he extracted something from the noble Lord (Lord Frederick Cavendish). He would request the right hon. Gentleman to devote the most serious attention to this subject during the Recess, and to come before Parliament with a practical scheme next year.


said, he hoped that the Government would not turn a deaf ear to the appeal of his hon. Colleague (Mr. Blake). He could bear witness to the truth of his statement, both as to the productiveness of the Irish fisheries, and to the sad fact that, from want of proper boats and nets, the coast population had the mortification of looking idly on while well-appointed boats from Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and even from France, reaped golden harvests in which they could not share. It would be said, why did they not show the same enterprize, energy, and industry as their rivals? He (Mr. Villiers Stuart) could assure them that the Irish fishermen were not wanting in energy and daring; but they were in the position of workmen who had lost their tools. Their boats had again and again been destroyed for want of proper shelter, and they were too poor to replace them; while their Cornish, Manx, and French rivals had long ago been provided with harbours on their Coasts. He was convinced that public money could not be laid out to greater advantage than in loans to these poor fellows, to enable them to procure boats and nets. Those were their stock-in-trade; and surely it was a legitimate proceeding to enable workmen who lost their tools to replace them, instead of leaving them to swell the ranks of pauperism, and increase the poor rates. If they had proper boats and nets, they would often take in a single season fish enough to repay the entire loan; and not only that, but the population for miles inland would be benefited by a wholesome supply of valuable food. The granting of this relief was the more important at the present crisis, when serious consequences were likely to arise from want of employment, both on the coast and further inland. He must mention that at Ardmore, where valuable fisheries existed, a pier might be built at a very moderate cost, which would enable the fishermen to benefit by the vast shoals of sprats, mackerel, and other fish, which annually visited their coast. He could say the same of Dungarvan Bay. In both these cases most favourable Reports had been made to the Government by the Inspector sent down for that purpose. He had had the honour of taking part in a deputation to the Treasury last Session, and he had understood the noble Lord (Lord Frederick Cavendish) to say on that occasion that the £5,000 annually granted would not be suspended in consequence of the Canadian loan. [Lord FREDERICK CAVENDISH dissented.] Well, he had a strong impression that the noble Lord had said so. It was unfair to relieve the West of Ireland at the cost of other distressed districts, which were equally in need of assistance.


said, he wished to remove a misapprehension which seemed to be shared by hon. Members. When a special grant was made last year, it was on condition that the ordinary annual grant should be suspended for a time. In the present year a certain sum had been taken for the completion of works begun before. Next year, and in subsequent years, the matter might be open for consideration.


remarked, that it was rather trying to Scotch and English Members to see so much time devoted to Irish questions. The whole of the early Sitting had been taken up by an Irish subject, and now another Irish question was before the House.


said, he thought the Irish fishermen could not expect much from the economy of the Financial Secretary. He was sorry this question had excited the indignation of an excellent Scotch Representative; but he must remind the hon. Gentleman that it was a question connected with the well-being of a much larger population than the poor fishing population. The Irish Members quite agreed that they could manage these matters without the patronizing assistance of the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, he was of opinion that Irish Members were much more competent to deal with Scotch affairs than Scotch Members were to meddle with Irish affairs. In his opinion, the only way in which the fishery problem in Ireland could be solved was by a series of comprehensive measures, including the opening up of cheap railways and what were called measures for the direct encouragement of the fisheries.

Amendment, by leave, Withdrawn.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.