HC Deb 03 February 1891 vol 349 cc1727-31
(11.45.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)

I desire to call attention—and I will do so very briefly at this hour—to the inadequate manner in which the Relief of Distress Act is administered. The Government have undertaken a great responsibility by this Act, and very properly they have undertaken it; but they are now acting in a manner—hanging up the Act and not working it—that will really intensify the distress very much, and put the people in a worse position than they would be in if the Act had not been passed at all, and that for many reasons. The people now will be relying on the operation of the Act, and but for the Act there might be more assistance from private sources and from America. It is true that in isolated instances, and chiefly on the sea coast, the Act has been put into operation, and I do not say that the Government have not used it in the most distressed districts. But the House will be aware, from an answer given by the Chief Secretary, that in the greater part of Galway and Mayo the potato crop has failed to the extent of a half or two-thirds, but no relief works have been started in these districts. What I know to be true of Galway and Mayo I believe is also true of Donegal, Kerry, Clare, and other counties. All I ask the Government to do is to immediately put the Act in force to a moderate extent, which they can do at a trifling expense. They have already fixed the rate of wages, and the rate is so low that only dire necessity will induce anybody to apply for the work. Consider what it means, that in August the people had only half or a third of the expected yield of potatoes. By this time, in most instances, the stock must be exhausted, and the consequence is that upon the Chief Secretary's own showing the people are without food, and such, I believe, is really the state of the case. It may be said the people should come under the Poor Law. But they are a class of people whom it is very difficult to relieve by the ordinary Poor Law administration. The Poor Law Guardians will relieve the old and destitute; but the people who are suffering now are just above that class. In many instances they have a pig, a calf, a few sheep perhaps, or a horse and cart, and eke out a livelihood by cartage, and the Guardians cannot relieve them unless, first, the people have parted with their property. What the people want is a small amount of work to relieve them at once, and I would urge the Government at once to start relief works on a moderate scale. In the West of Ireland, not only on the sea coast, but elsewhere, and more especially in Galway and Mayo, a few weeks' work until seed time would do an immense amount of good. The Government have the power; they have assumed great responsibility, and I hope they will take into consideration the extreme necessity, and put the Act into immediate operation.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Relief of Distress Act should at once be put in operation over a larger area."—(Colonel Nolan.)

(11.49.) MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)

I will only detain the House for a moment or two in seconding the Motion. There is a certain amount of unfairness in the distribution of relief, and among my own constituents there is a strong feeling that because they did not make a poor mouth about it soon enough they are entirely neglected. It is true Inspectors were sent to different parts of Ireland, and an Inspector was sent to Cavan. He put up at an hotel and enjoyed himself; he drove over the country with one of the Relieving Officers; but he did not consult a single Guardian of the Poor, ex officio or elected. I was present at a full meeting of Guardians called to consider the subject, and each one of them complained that he had not been consulted by the Inspector. These Inspectors come down and spend a few days in a place; they do not consult the clergy, or those who know the condition of the people; they do not consult the Guardians, and then, I suppose, they go back to Dublin Castle and report that there is no distress in the district. That is the sort of exclusive information in the possession of the Chief Secretary. The people of the district, who alone have knowledge as to whether there is distress or not, are not consulted. Guardians have since made representations stating that they can point out many families in great want, and that they are ready to point out these families, and prove the existence of distress to the satisfaction of the Inspector if the Inspector will come down again; but though a month has elapsed no Inspector has been sent down, and nothing whatever has been done to inquire into the existence of the distress, or means taken to relieve it. I do not want to embarrass the Government, whose task in this matter is difficult; but I do think it is their duty to do what they can to find out how much distress exists in other places besides the immediate neighbourhood of the Western seaboard.

(11.54.) SIR J. COLOMB (Tower Hamlets, Bow, &c.)

Speaking from personal knowledge of certain portions of Ireland, I disagree absolutely and entirely from what has fallen from the previous speakers. It would be disastrous, in my opinion, were the Government to put this Relief Act into operation over a larger area than that which the Official Inspector has determined is the proper area wherein relief should be applied. Speaking of a remote part of the West of Ireland with which I am acquainted, I am thankful that such measures have been taken as the Government have adopted not with the advice of those gentlemen always ready to err on the side of too much liberality, but by measures adapted to the justice and necessities of the case.


The time at my disposal is very limited; but even had I much more I do not think the House would expect or desire that I should now enter into any detailed statement upon the important subject which has been brought before the House in a moderate and temperate manner by the hon. and gallant Member. I will, shortly, remind him of the position of affairs. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary obtained some time ago a Vote for a nominal sum in respect of the works undertaken by the Government in Ireland for the relief of exceptional distress in certain districts. On that occasion my right hon. Friend stated the general character of the works to be undertaken by the Government, and his statement met with the approval of both sides of the House. It will be necessary, however, before the conclusion of the present financial year, to have that question again brought before the House for the purpose of taking a Vote for a substantial sum; and it is the intention of the Chief Secretary to state on that occasion in detail the measures which are undertaken for the relief of distress in Ireland. Therefore, if I had more time than the Rules allow, I ought not now to anticipate any statement that will have to be made. I assure the House that all possible means are being adopted by my right hon. Friend to ascertain the precise necessity of the different districts in Ireland to which reference has been made. The hon. Member for Cavan has referred to the information before the Chief Secretary as exclusive, but I can assure him it is nothing of the kind. Every means has been taken to procure the best information through the medium of disinterested persons in a position to know the exact state of the facts.

It being midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed to-morrow.

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