HC Deb 15 August 1890 vol 348 cc1132-4
MR. DALTON (Donegal, W.)

I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whether he is aware that the potato blight has destroyed nearly all the potato crops in the western part of Donegal; and whether, in view of the certain famine that must ensue during the coming winter, he will make provision in the Railway Bill he has introduced into the House for the employment of the people on the making of railways?


The Reports so far received do not bear out the suggestion that the blight has destroyed nearly all the potato crop in the western part of Donegal.

MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)

Have not similar representations been made in reference to the existence of the blight at Gweedore for the last nine months?

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

And also in reference to the south-west of Cork.


Will the right hon. Gentleman also extend his inquiries to the coast of Kerry?


May I ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whether the Government propose to take any special action upon the numerous resolutions of the Boards of Guardians in the South and West of Ireland, declaring that there is danger of famine, owing to the almost total failure of the potato crop in many extensive districts; what precautionary measures are being adopted by the Irish Local Government Board; what steps are to be taken in case of special need arising during the Parliamentary Recess; and whether, in this event, the Government will be ready with such proposals as may be needful at the opening of next Session?


I am still of opinion that the House would be well advised in taking precautions against a possible calamity, but what I object to is the assumption that what may happen will necessarily happen. It is impossible, as yet, to form any conclusion. Some hours' sunshine may produce an improvement, and some hours' additional rain may be very injurious. There is very serious danger in some places and less serious danger in others. There is no ground for believing that the resources of the Poor Law will be insufficient to meet any calls that may be made upon them.


Statements have been made that in several districts in the South of Ireland the crop is a total failure.


It is now the 15th of August. May I ask whether, at this date, it cannot be decided whether the crop will be a failure or the reverse?

MR. LEA (Londonderry, S.)

May I ask whether, at the time of the famine 10 years ago, it was not predicted that in 10 years' time there would be a serious potato famine, in consequence of the use of the same seed over and over again; and whether the right hon. Gentleman cannot take some steps to provide for a fresh supply of seed potatoes?


I am very much alive to the fact that constant use of the same seed does tend to produce failure of the crop, and, as hon. Gentlemen are aware, I have brought in a measure dealing with the matter in the congested districts. I am very glad that I have tried an experiment very nearly similar in certain portions of the coast of Donegal. I supplied seed potatoes at cost price, but I am sorry to say that so many purchasers did not come forward as I had hoped, and the Treasury suffered a loss.


In regard to Gweedore and other parts of Donegal, will the right hon. Gentleman, in the event of the usual means of sustenance totally disappearing, take steps to relax the administration of the Poor Law, so that the people may be relieved without being compelled to break up their homes and go into the workhouse?


I have before told the House that, in my judgment, a relaxation of the Poor Law would be one of the most serious steps that could be taken.

In answer to Mr. SEXTON,

MR. A. J. BALFOUR said

The Local Government Board, with which I am in constant communication on this subject, are clearly of opinion that there is no reason to apprehend that the resources of the ordinary Poor Law will be found insufficient to meet any exceptional distress which may possibly arise from a deficient potato crop. I need not say that I shall carefully watch the progress of events, but I do not the least anticipate that any exceptional proposals will be necessary next Session.