HC Deb 15 November 1888 vol 330 cc1220-2
MR. MAC NEILL (Donegal, S.)

asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Whether he is aware that in the coast districts and the mountainous inland parishes of the County of Donegal the produce of the potato crop this year, owing to a cold wet summer, averages only between half and a third of the usual yield, and that in several places the return from the soil supplies little more than bad seed for next spring; that, owing to the aforesaid circumstances, the people have been compelled to sell off, at serious loss, the pigs which would have been kept for three months longer, and sold at a profit, if the potato crop had been good; and that, on failure of the potato crop, the small farmers of the County of Donegal have nothing to depend upon for subsistence except a scanty crop of oats; whether his attention has been called to the letter of the Most Rev. Dr. O'Donnell, Catholic Bishop of Raphoe, written to the four Members of Parliament for the County of Donegal, apprizing them of the matters above stated, and warning them that, unless the Government push on at once a scheme of railway and fishery development promised for next year, the project will come too late to save the people; and, whether, having regard to the fact that warnings of impending distress have so frequently in times past been disregarded, he will be able to give any, and, if so, what, assurance for expediting the railway and fishery development which is so much required in the County of Donegal?


asked, also, Whether the attention of the Government has yet been directed to the fact that in large districts of County Donegal, especially the coast and in the mountainous inland parishes, the potato crop averages less than half the usual yield, in many places the return supplying little more than bad seed for next spring, and that the people have, in consequence, been compelled to sell their pigs at serious loss because unable to feed them, while the small farmers have nothing to depend upon for food for themselves except a little oats; whether, if not fully informed, the Government will make immediate and careful inquiry into the condition of the district, and take adequate stops to meet any impending calamity; and whether it is the intention of the Government to proceed at once with any public works in any, and, if so, which, of the districts referred to?


I have caused careful inquiry to be made on the subject of these Questions, and find that, while the potato crop in part of the County Donegal is a good one, there are districts in which it is inferior both in quantity and quality; also, that the sale of pigs has recently been large; but that there is a demand for growing pigs, and good prices were obtained. On the other hand, the oat crop of this year is described as an excellent one, both in quality and quantity; while the supply of turf is abundant and well saved, and the prices of cattle and sheep are unusually good. There is, therefore, no reason to apprehend any abnormal distress, or such as could not be coped with under the ordinary Poor Law, should it arise. As regards legislation, the hon. Member is aware that we are anxious to deal with those parts of the Report of the Royal Commission which refer to railways and harbours; but these must necessarily wait until the proposals we have already made, based upon their earlier Report with regard to drainage, are dealt with by the House.


I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether his observations with regard to the oat crop and the prices of cattle and sheep do not refer rather to the more fortunately situated districts of the county; and whether they are not entirely inapplicable to the mountainous and coast districts referred to in my Question?


I imagine that the rise of prices is universal. The information given to me as to the oat crop is also a general Report for the county at large. I believe that where oats have been grown they have been profitable.


But is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the districts to which my Question refers there are no cattle for sale; that these districts are inhabited by very poor people, who are entirely dependent upon the potato crop, which has all but failed; and that such animals as they had they have been absolutely obliged to get rid of?


I am far from denying that in parts of Donegal there is this year, as in previous years, distress; but my contention is that the distress can be coped with by the ordinary Poor Law.