HC Deb 22 July 1891 vol 356 cc2-32

1. £160,000, Relief of Distress (Ireland).

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

I presume that the Chief Secretary will make a statement upon this Vote.


I thought it might be considered convenient that I should wait until questions had been put to me rather than that I should open the discussion with a brief statement of what has been done. I will, however, endeavour, as well as I can, to give the Committee some idea of the proceedings which have taken place since last this matter was discussed. As the Committee are aware, I have, I think, on more than one occasion explained the general principles on which we were proceeding and the general method by which we desired to carry out the relief of distress. We had before us very little experience to guide us, and the experience we had chiefly showed us what we ought to avoid rather than what we ought to do. In 1880 the two Governments—for there was a change of Government while the relief was in progress—concurred in proceeding in the main by way of loans, and the expenditure on those loans was very heavy; indeed, they amounted, I believe, in the total to not less than £1,494,740 for baronial works and other matters of that kind, in addition to £647,000 for seed loans. These loans were granted, for the most part, at a very low rate of interest—1 per cent. for the one, while the seed loans bore no interest at all. Even where 1 per cent. was exacted from the borrowers, it was not exacted until two years after the loan had been granted. The result of this was not only an enormous charge on the Exchequer and the borrowing powers of the country, but no security was taken that these vast sums would go into the pockets of those whom they were intended to benefit. Nor was there any security that the persons who wanted to borrow would borrow in the districts where the distress prevailed, or that the money borrowed would go into the pockets of the people in the districts where distress prevailed. I will not dwell further on the various lessons learnt from the experience of 1880–81; I will only say that after much deliberation we were driven to the conclusion that if we were to cope with the distress at all, and if the money was to be used for the purpose for which it was intended, we must take the whole management and responsibility upon our own shoulders. The burden was a very serious one, because it in- volved nothing less than an organisation at short notice of a gigantic department not supplied, as ordinary departments are, with a practical staff or course of procedure. Everything had to be devised and invented, and with this machinery so improvised we had suddenly to cope with the very severe, though I am glad to say limited, distress which prevailed during the winter and spring of this year, the effects of which have not yet wholly disappeared in certain parts of the country. This expenditure for the relief of distress may be conveniently divided into three heads. First, as the Committee know, the Government largely relied upon railway construction to meet the crisis. The normal Railway Vote was discussed and disposed of last night. But there was a certain amount of abnormal railway expenditure, the full amount of which I do not know, but which cannot have been, much less than £14,000, connected with the employment of people in certain parts of the country. It would not have done for the Government to have taken railway construction into their own hands. We had to leave it to contractors, but we thought it right to bind them to employ local labour as far as possible, and in certain cases to employ that kind of labour which, if the contractors had been left to themselves, they would not have employed, seeing that it was not remunerative labour from a contractor's point of view. Moreover, there were certain methods of railway construction which were not the most economical to the contractor, and which necessitated the employment of a much larger number of persons than the more economical method would have done. For instance, if a cutting or an embankment had to be made it would have been the most economical course to utilise the labour of those who were making a cutting. The more economical course would have been to get to work at once and proceed to the completion of one section, so that it might be utilised for the rest. The contractors naturally required that they should be paid for the extra cost imposed upon them, and that extra cost will be found in the Vote now before the Committee, and not in the Vote which was passed last night. Then there were other matters, such as what are technically known as "long barrow leads," but I would ask the Committee to consider these things in the bulk, without requiring me to go into minute details. In addition to all this special expenditure, arrangements were made for the provision of huts for the labourers. Some of these huts are not even now occupied, but we felt that we could not expect men travelling far away from their homes to incur the cost of going backwards and forwards to their homes, and consequently diminishing their power to labour to a great extent. With two or three exceptions, however, it was found that adequate accommodation could be obtained in the neighbourhood of the work, and in order to meet the expense to labourers of having to come from a distance an allowance of 2s. a week was made towards the cost of lodgings. Thus the men were not obliged to spend all the wages they received, but were enabled to send back to their families a substantial portion of their earnings, and the ordinary wages paid to the labourers were at the rate of 12s. a week. This part of the scheme only applies to the construction of railways as a means of relieving the distress. I propose now to deal very shortly with the relief works proper. Perhaps the Committee will like to know the number of labourers employed from week to week since the question was last discussed.


Can the right hon. Gentleman also give the districts?


I will obtain that information, but I have not as yet had it worked out for all the districts. The paper I have before me gives an abstract of the work done in each county, but does not specify the particular districts. The total number of labourers employed—including men, women, and boys—was on the 28th of February 6,812; on the 28th of March, 7,767; on the 25th of April, 11,600; on the 23rd of May, 14,000; on the 20th of June, 13,000; and on the 11th of July the number had fallen to 11,000. Of course this number is vapidly diminishing, and the works are being closed. In Donegal there is one work already finished; four others will be finished by the 1st of August, and three others will be completed by the beginning of September. In Sligo there is one work finished; another will be finished by the 1st of August, and another by the 31st of August. In Mayo there are four already completed, and four others will be finished by the 31st of August. In Galway five are already finished, and the rest will be completed by the end of August. In Kerry there is only one work, which will be finished by the end of August. In Cork three are completed, 10 will be finished by the 1st of August, and five before the end of the same month. In Cavan there is only one work, which will be finished by the 1st of August. The total figures with respect to the works show that 13 works are already completed, that 80 works will be completed by the end of the present month, and that 22 works will go on and be finished by the end of August. There are some cases in which the works will be extended beyond the month of August in order to meet the still existing distress, and there are others in which the distress in the districts has not altogether ceased, but has been largely diminished, where it will be desirable to go on until the works are completed, to whatever period they may extend. I do not know whether there is any other information the Committee may desire to have in regard to the construction of railways and other relief works. I will now deal briefly with the relief work proper. With regard to the potato loans, although the expenditure does not come under this Vote, there is an item for an Inspector which does. The total loans for this year amount to £276,500, as a gainst £600,000 odd applied for in 1881, and the difference in the two amounts is partly due to the fact, as hon. Members are aware, that this year payment has been exacted for the potatoes supplied, and that the distress has been less widely spread over the whole of Ireland than was the case in 1880–81. The responsibility of buying and distributing the potatoes rested entirely with the Local Authorities; but the Government thought they were bound to supply them with professional and other advice. We had Inspectors at the ports of export and entry, we inspected as far as we could the potatoes when they arrived at the place of distribution, and the result of that inspection was that many consignments were rejected that might otherwise have been received, so that the contractors got to understand that they could not with impunity supply indifferent or bad seed to their customers. The Government did not in any way control the kind of potatoes asked for by the Local Authorities, but permitted them to obtain the seed from Ireland, because it was found that they could be obtained much cheaper in the North East of Ireland than from Scotland. I may say that a rumour which has obtained some public currency, to the effect that potatoes were exported from the North of Ireland to Scotland for the purpose of being re-imported as Scotch potatoes at a higher price, has, as far as I am able to ascertain, little or no foundation. There were potatoes exported from Ireland to Glasgow for consumption in Glasgow; but I do not believe that any potatoes imported into Ireland as seed owed their origin to Ireland at all. I have been asked, by an hon. Member upon an earlier Vote, what precautions have been taken to prevent these relief works from interfering with the planting of potatoes. We have been keenly alive to the danger of inducing people to abandon those agricultural works which are absolutely necessary on their holdings; and during the month beginning, I think, on the 9th of March special arrangements were made by which the hours of labour on the relief works were diminished. The labourers were not given any choice in the matter, but were only allowed to work for six hours in the day, so that an ample opportunity was given to them to plant potatoes and to cultivate their fields. While that gave leisure to the head of the family, no other member of the family was allowed to work on these relief works; and, therefore, no one was tempted to leave the work which was necessary on their holdings. There is one other point of interest connected with the supply of seed potatoes which I mention to the Committee with pleasure. We found that in some of the islands the Guardians refused to make any advance of potatoes at all. These islands had paid no poor rates for many years, and the Guardians thought that they had no security for the repayment of the loans, and so refused to make any advance to the tenants. The plan which we adopted in those cases was to give, or rather to lend, seed potatoes ourselves, to establish relief works, and to make it a condition of the advance that the sum should be repaid by the labour of those who borrowed. The relief wages were 7s. a week; half of that was paid in money or in kind to the labourer, the other half was retained until the whole loan was repaid. The potatoes had to be supplied early in March; at that time no security could be given, and, as it was impossible that the loans could be paid off, we had to trust entirely to the word of the people in this matter. The result has, I think, been very creditable to all concerned. There were 12 cases in which this procedure was adopted—11 islands and one exceptional case on the mainland. In the Island of Achill, £126 10s. was so advanced, the amount unpaid is £2 18s. 8d.; in Clare Island, £84 5s., all paid off; in Innishboffin, £149, fully paid off; Innishark, £25, all paid off; Innisheer, £31, all paid off; Innishmaan, £13, all paid off; Innishmurray, £42 14s., amount unpaid £1 10s. 4d.; Innishmore, in Galway, £177 10s., amount unpaid £2 0s. 8d.; Innishturk, £16, fully paid off; Tory Island, £85 10s., amount unpaid £11 2s. 4d. This is the worst, but in the case of Tory Island the work was stopped after it had been started, and the same opportunity did not exist in that island for the people to work off their liability. In Turbot Island the amount advanced was £42 5s., which has been fully paid off; while in the Letterys the same amount was advanced and fully paid off. I think that the Committee will admit that if the rest of the seed loan, for which special legal obligations were undertaken by the borrower, were as well paid off as it has been where there was no legal obligation, we may look back with great satisfaction to the result. There is one other item which I ought to mention, and that is the money spent for steamers. My idea at one time was to ask the Admiralty to lend their gunboat which was stationed on the coast, and if need be to supply us with other boats. I found, however, that these departmental transactions are of a very cumbrous and difficult character, and I also found that a good steam-tug was far better for all the purposes which I had in view than one of Her Majesty's gunboats. Therefore, on our own responsibility we engaged three steamers for carrying on all the operations. The Committee are aware that to those who are responsible for meeting distress in Ireland the great problem to deal with is the islands. They are separated from the mainland by a relatively short distance, but that distance has to be traversed frequently over a very stormy sea, so that they are cut off from the mainland. It might well happen that the general shopkeepers, who, in good times, would supply the people with the necessary articles of food, knowing that great distress was prevalent, would decline to do that which they were under no legal obligation to do, and we might find ourselves face to face with a population absolutely without means of subsistence. I had a careful survey made of these islands, and ample precautions were taken, and I am glad to say that we have passed through the winter, spring, and early summer without any catastrophe such as might have been feared. With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for South Tyrone, as the hon. Member had no time for developing his criticisms—because you, Mr. Courtney, pointed out that the proper time to discuss the intrinsic excellence of the work was upon this Vote, and not upon that for the Chief Secretary—I may say generally that we have taken the greatest pains to secure that these works shall not be merely useful for the temporary purpose of relieving distress, but shall be a permanent addition to the convenience and welfare of the population. I may add that Major Peacocke, a very distinguished Royal Engineer, who was placed at the head of the relief works, has worked indefatigably in carrying out the views of the Government, sparing neither time nor labour, and he has devoted his great knowledge of the subject to securing, as far as possible, that the works we have undertaken shall be, I will not say a monument of his skill, though that would not be an excessive thing to say, but a proof of the industry and public spirit of the organisation of which he is the head. We have been absolutely inundated with letters from priests and others in the localities, expressing a very high appreciation of the utility and excellence of the works. These testimonies have been so numerous that it has not been possible to tabulate or digest them in any way, but I can assure the Committee that, whatever may be the case with regard to particular items, the works generally will be found to come up to the high standard which from the first we have set ourselves to attain. I do not know that I can say anything more. I think that I have touched upon all the main points with regard to these relief works, and I shall wait to hear the observations of those who have taken an interest in this great problem. All that I can say is that, as far as we are concerned, without the slightest desire to exaggerate what has been done, taking all considerations into account, the extreme difficulty of finding out where the poverty of the population was of a character that made it a proper subject with which to deal by relief works, the difficulty of designing these works and of carrying them out, the difficulty of supervising them so that the labour should be real work, earning and deserving real wages, rather than a mere desultory waste of time and money, the great difficulty of having efficient supervision, and selecting from among a large population those who really ought to be allowed to have work on the relief works, as compared with the vast number who desired to be employed upon them; considering all these difficulties, which it is easy to enumerate, but which no one who is not intimately acquainted with the real condition of Ireland can properly weigh and estimate, and which, of course, have made the problem a very hard one with which to deal, while I do not say that our solution has been absolutely perfect, I think that any critic who weighs the inherent difficulties of carrying on a vast system of relief extending from the extreme North of Ireland to the extreme South, entirely under Government supervision, will, at all events, think that this is a episode in the history of Irish Government which has not been discreditable to those concerned.

(1.30.) MR. T. M. HEALY

I hoped to have had some statement as to the County of Donegal, a county which, beyond question, has not received sufficient attention. The condition of Donegal has several times been raised in the House by Members not now present, and the Dungloe district has been specially brought to notice, and undoubtedly at the present time keen distress exists in that district. I do not pretend to local knowledge to enable me to criticise the action of the Government; but I take the experience of those who are best entitled to speak—the priests of Donegal—and I am led to think the efforts of the Government have failed in that county. It was a cutting observation the right hon. Gentleman made use of in a previous Debate to the effect that the distress could not be keen inasmuch as the people had continued to contribute to the support of the clergy in Donegal for the last six or eight months. In my judgment, a more offensive and fallacious test of the poverty of the people could not be applied. Of course we recognise it is the duty of those belonging to a religion to support the ministers of that religion. Those who preach the Gospel must live by the Gospel. To suppose that because well-to-do people subscribe for the support of the priest of the district therefore there is no poverty is absurd. As well might you point to the subscriptions in aid of hospitals in London, and say, therefore there is no distress. I regret the right hon. Gentleman should have imported this suggestion into his observations; that he should have indicated this as anything approaching a test of the distress in Donegal. However the priests of Donegal may be misled by over- benevolence, they have no object in exaggerating the amount of distress. It is not possible that, going among the people as they do, they can be deceived. Yon have but to look at the physical condition of the people, their rags, their huts, their land, to see that it is impossible that they can get a decent livelihood. Donegal is an out-of-the-way district, it occupies an isolated position, it has scanty railway communication, it is occupied by a poverty-stricken people, the descendants of those who were driven thither when the Scotch settlers took the better land. The priests, who dwell among the people, are a zealous, self-sacrificing body of men, and I trust the Government will not be misled by the political convulsions that have occurred there. A bitter cry comes up to us from Donegal. From Dr. O'Donnel, the Bishop of the diocese, the youngest Bishop in the Church, promoted at an unusually early age for his learning and piety, and from the priests under him, we know that the keenest necessity exists in Donegal. In considering the way in which relief has been administered through the instrumentality of the police and the Resident Magistrates, a considerable amount of feeling has been excited. No doubt it is difficult for the Government to get the proper means of information without calling to their aid some of the agencies already existing, and in peaceful times I would not object to a decent sergeant of the police being employed to collect information and administer the fund for relief; but at the same time, in districts where the police have been in sharp conflict with the people, it is most offensive, as it has been in some of the districts of Cork, that the fund should be administered by the very policemen who have been most active in making raids upon the people, and making arrests among them. I know an instance where the most offensive of the police have been made the almoners of the Government. I must say nothing is more likely to dry up all feeling of gratitude, to make charitable assistance repellant, and the workhouse a preferable means of relief. It seemed at one time the view of the Government—I do not say it is now—but before the catastrophe in the ranks of the Irish Party, that, if possible, the whole system of relief should be turned into a kind of political engine, that the people should be brought to the feet of the police who had been most sctive in carrying out the coercion policy. Well, that phase in the mind of the Government has passed away, but I must condemn the system fey which the police were employed as the means for distributing relief in those districts where they have previously been in sharp conflict with the people. The same remark applies to Resident Magistrates, few of whom have popular confidence, and I do not find that these few have been employed. In 1881 I induced Mr. Forster to put a small annual grant of £100 upon the Votes for the Glasnevin Model School, in connection with the Agricultural Department, for the purpose of encouraging the introduction to breed, if I may so say, new varieties of potato. I know, of course, that an interval of years must pass before we can expect any result; but I should be glad to learn if any result has been obtained. Again, I would press upon the Government that in a county where the potato is the staple article of food and where the cultivation is carried on in small patches of a few acres, every inducement should be offered by the Agricultural Department to improve that cultivation and the introduction of new varieties. We know the introduction of the "Champion" was an enormous boon, and this, I believe, we owe to a Scotch variety. Further, I would say, in view of these seed loans which are becoming part of the machinery of administration in Ireland, that in the coming Local Government Bill, Local Boards of Guardians, or other bodies, should be empowered to offer prizes to encourage farmers to produce new varieties of potatoes. This would, I think, be a useful form of expenditure, and would be well appreciated. I trust the Government will turn their attention especially to the condition of Donegal. I should like to have heard some more explicit information as to the roads which have been constructed. So far as my limited knowledge goes, this work has been well done, and I think it is a useful form of expenditure as opening the means of communication to many picturesque but poverty-stricken districts.

*(1.15.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

I think Irish Member can fail to appreciate the energy with which the crisis in Ireland has been encountered. When I was about to make some observations on a previous Vote, and you, Sir, pointed out that those remarks would be relevant to the present Vote, I had no intention of finding fault; I merely wished to obtain some information as to the relief works in Mayo. I have no personal knowledge of the works, they have been undertaken since I travelled through the county in November. I am informed that these works have had the effect of keeping the people from their spring work upon their own holdings which is absolutely necessary, for the sake of a mere pittance of 7s. a week offered to them at the relief works. I am not finding fault; of course, I know these things will occur. I rose to ask when these works will be closed. Potato digging will not commence until October. Are the works to be carried on until the new potato crop is ready to be used? From the first I have thought that road making was an objectionable form of relief works, and that it would have been preferable to undertake drain age works for the permanent benefit of the holdings. The hon. and learned Member for Longford has referred to Donegal, and the Chief Secretary has heard a good deal about that county. I should be the last to stand in the way of anything being done for the county, but it may be said that Donegal has fared fairly well so far as railway works are concerned, two lines being constructed almost entirely at the expense of the State—


Through gentlemen's domains.


Whether that be so or not these works give employment, and the railways must benefit Donegal. But the north-western part of the county has a strong claim to relief, for there the distress is most acute. I should be glad to hear that something will be done in that portion of the county. With regard to the subject of the mode in which the relief has been distributed, I think that the Government were bound to avail themselves of the experience of other Governments in the past. Those Governments distributed relief through the clergy of all denominations, with the result that a large amount of the relief was wasted. The clergy of either denomination are the last people in the world to resist any appeal for relief that is made to them, and I think that the Government exercised a wise discretion in intrusting the distribution of the relief to the police instead of to the clergy, while receiving the advice and assistance of the clergy. I congratulate the Committee upon the fact that the crisis has been successfully tided over, and I think that everybody must feel thankful to the Government and to the Chief Secretary for the large measure of success that has been attained in relation to this matter. There was past experience to guide the Government, but it was mainly in the direction of what they ought to avoid.

*(1.23.) MR. WEBB (Waterford, W.)

I congratulate the Chief Secretary upon his changed demeanour on this question of relief, and I think we may date that change from the time of his visit to the West of Ireland, when he saw with his own eyes the real necessities of the situation. We have had remarkable testimony to-day to the honest intentions of the poor people on the islands, and I think the Committee must have been impressed with the facts given, for these are the districts where, during the late agitations, the people were said to be the most disaffected, and animated only by the desire to rob and defraud. We have seen how, unbound by other than moral obligation, they have loyally repaid the advances made to them; and this experience is only in accordance with what we have had in land purchase transactions, in relation to which only an exceedingly small amount of arrears remain outstanding. My ex- perience and recollection of relief works extend as far back as almost any Member of the House, for I was, though young at the time, brought into close relation with the distress in Ireland during the terrible famine times of 1846–7. It would not be candid if I did not now congratulate the Chief Secretary upon the success of his efforts. I think a larger amount of money has gone to the absolute relief of suffering than on any previous occasion, there has been excellent organisation, and the utmost good has been got out of the relief works provided. But that in no degree lessens my feeling of bitter humiliation, as an Irishman, that this continual assistance should be necessary; it in no way reconciles me to a system which, so long as it continues, will make these grants necessary. In fact, it is the necessity, of these grants that shows more clearly how entirely wrong, how unstable the foundations of society in Ireland are. Of course, the system is demoralising. It may be that in some respects the country is in a better condition than in the past, but when the Government come forward and ask for Votes like these, it raises in our minds the most serious considerations for the future. I am quite certain that when, nearly a century ago, that great alteration was made in the relations of the countries, it was never expected, even by those who entertained the most sanguine belief regarding the benefits that would accrue from that change, that a state of things would exist such as exists now. We are treated to alternate systems of coercion and coddling—enough to take the heart and manhood out of any people, and that this has not been the effect upon the people of Ireland is strong testimony to the natural qualities of my countrymen. There appears to me, under the present régime, no end to this system. Prom time to time periods of distress arise, discontent, outrage, repression, then a period of relief works. These alternations should inspire anxious thoughts in the minds of those interested in the welfare of our country. The worst, the saddest consideration is the danger that lies in the tendency that may be encouraged of localities to look for relief to the central authority. The inheritance of the danger of the present system will some day descend to us. There is a disposition to consider that these are charitable grants from England to Ireland, but that is not so; it is but the return of money taken from Ireland. This system of grants to different parts of the Kingdom into which we are more and more falling cannot, I think, be productive of good in the end; this system by which money is collected in the Exchequer and handed out again by rule of thumb to different parts of the country, England, Scotland, and Ireland receiving each their portion. It is not a good system, and I hope to see a change under which the money to meet the requirements of the one Country shall be raised within that country. In the United States there has been strenuous opposition, by the most thoughtful portions of the community, against Congressional grants for education to the Southern States, but here we have fallen head and heels into the system. While I recognise the present necessity, and acknowledge the grant has been well administered, I think it affords evidence of the necessity for a practical reform in the relations of the two countries.

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

We have had sad experience in former years of relief of distress in Ireland, but the work of the present Administration, under the Vote the Committee are now considering, is the most successful effort I have known to deal with the temporary difficulty in a common-sense and practical way. I can endorse much that has fallen from the hon. and learned Member for North Longford, and I trust the Chief Secretary will turn his attention to the necessity of establishing on a wider basis some sort of Agricultural Teaching Department in Ireland. I much fear, as the hon. and learned Member has stated, that the periodical necessity of providing funds to supply the Irish peasants in the West with potato seed has become almost a regular part of the machinery of the Government of Ireland, The hon. and learned Member has suggested a means by which the best seed may be ascertained and selected; but, in my opinion, the question is not so much the supply of good seed as the teaching of good cultivation. The potato failure last year was confined almost entirely to the congested districts. Why was that? Not because those districts have a much worse climate than other parts of Ireland, but because of inefficient cultivation. The peasants in those districts really do not seem to know the rudiments of cultivation, and in some districts it is hardly possible to see the potato plant for the weeds surrounding it. If a paternal Government is to supply seed to the Irish peasant at the public cost whenever there is a potato failure, it will become their duty to establish some machinery to teach the people in the West at least the first principles of potato culture. I do not believe the state of things I have referred to is altogether the result of idleness on the part of the peasants. It is the result of sheer ignorance. In some districts the people allow the dock weed to grow and remain among the corn crop. I have seen peasants in districts in Kerry cutting the corn and carefully sparing the dock weeds in the absurd belief that they keep the ground warm. Considering that Ireland is wholly an agricultural country, I earnestly hope that the Congested Districts Board will make it not the least important feature of their work to instruct the young people in the primary principles of agriculture. If such a course as this is taken something really effective will be done to prevent distress in the future.

(1.38.) MR. FLTNN (Cork, N.)

The harrowing picture drawn by the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken, if it is correct, only shows the deplorable results of the last 90 years' supervision of Ireland by the Imperial Parliament, and furnishes the strongest possible argument why the Irish people should be left to govern themselves. But I traverse the statements of the hon. and gallant Member; they are gross exaggera- tions. To talk of peasants cutting corn with a knife in order to spare the dock weeds is really abusing the credulity of the Committee. We might look for a parallel of such things in the adventures of Baron Munchausen, but not in Ireland. As an Irishman I have never seen such a thing, and I believe the hon. and gallant Member is absolutely in error. Moreover, as to the failure of the potato crop last year, that failure was of the most inexplicable and erratic character. The crop failed in some districts and not in others in the same locality; in one part of a parish it failed and not in another, yet there was no difference apparently in the conditions. I am ready to congratulate the Chief Secretary on the fact that he has done much to grapple with the distress in Ireland, but, at the same time, I must point out that the allocation of this money would never have been necessary if the Government had listened to the representations of the Irish people and Members before Parliament dissolved last year, for it was then already known that the potato crop had failed. It would have been better if money had been advanced at 1 per cent. to solvent farmers for the employment of labour, and to small farmers for the cultivation of land, than that it should be spent on road-making. I am glad to hear that in this case the roads have been well made, but it would be well if the Chief Secretary were to give details as to the districts in which the roads have been made, and the amount which has been expended upon them. The hon. Member for South Tyrone has said that Irish Members would be afraid to go before their constituents and say that they were against these grants. I would not be afraid to do so. In my opinion, it is high time for the Irish people to find some other system, and to maintain their own poor out of their own resources. I see that there is a sum of £2,350 for salaries of Inspectors and others specially employed. I assume that refers to the employment of police sergeants and others. I do not think the police are the best persons to employ. The Relieving Officers, who are to be found in every district, and who are acquainted with the resources of the people, would be much more fitted for the work. But if policemen are to be em- ployed, travelling expenses ought to be sufficient for them. I have seen it stated in some West of Ireland newspapers that on some of these road-making works the police are paid as much as £1 a week for supervision. The money ought to be made to go as far as possible in relief of distress, and the police ought to be expected to do the work as a work of love. I trust that if I remain a Member of this House it will never be my lot to witness the passing of another Vote of this kind. If you change your system, and let Ireland look to her own resources, Votes of this kind will not be necessary.

(1.48.) MR. RENTOUL (Down, E.)

The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Longford began his remarks by a reference to County Donegal, of which I am a native and in which I lived 20 years. I know a good deal of the county, and during the last 12 months I have been in each of the four districts of the county. I found that the county was, during the last winter, in a greater state of prosperity than at other times when there was talk of distress. The people were in a greater state of satisfaction with their surroundings than I have ever known them to be in their history. If a less amount of relief were given it was because a less amount was needed. The amount of money given to the clergy has been referred to. That is always considered an infallible test of the condition of the people. The Presbyterian Church is very strong in Donegal, a full and complete financial report is published by it every year, and it is always considered that the prosperity of the county can be estimated by that report. As contributions to the churches go up or down, so does the prosperity of the people. It is natural that it should be so, because when the people have bad years they cannot be expected to contribute to the support of their clergy or their religion at the same rate as in prosperous years. If the people are living below their ordinary income, the clergy will naturally do the same thing. I am sure the Catholic clergy, many of whom I know and respect, would refuse to receive large contributions from the people when the people are in distress. If the amount voluntarily paid is not a test of the condition of the people, then we are in the awkward position of admitting that the clergy accept and seek large contributions from the people when the people are not in a condition to pay them. I am not aware that the contributions last year were larger than in the year before, but if they were, it is a good test of the prosperity of the people. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley spoke of the people allowing docks to grow among the corn. There is another plant called the hen weed. This is grown all over the country, and it is urged by a great many people that it is advantageous to grow it as it keeps the land warm. I can support what the hon. Member has said about this being done. As another illustration in the same direction, it is the constant experience of those who know the country districts in Ireland that the people assert that the less cultivation that is given to the land for flax the better it is for the flax crop. That may be a mistake, for in other countries—notably in Belgium, where a great deal of flax is grown—a contrary view is held, and the land under flax is carefully cultivated. From my own knowledge of Ireland, I am bound to say this, that the relief works have given unbounded satisfaction throughout the country. The warmth of the reception given to the Chief Secretary during his tour in the West is proof that the people are satisfied, contented, and prosperous to a degree seldom reached before. The hon. Member who last spoke said that representations from his side of the House and from his Party were ignored. Well, I am perfectly willing to admit that an Irishman ought to be allowed three or four times as much time for talking as a man of any other nationality, but even allowing that large grace to Ireland, I think it cannot for a moment be justly felt that the Irish National or Home Rule Party in this House have not abundance of time given to them. It is, in my judgment, impossible for them to say with any show of justice that they are at all overlooked or passed over in carelessness by the Chief Secretary. Complaints might possibly be made against some Members of the Government, and it might, perhaps, be said that they do not pay the amount of attention to the representations made to them that they might pay; but if there is one Member of the Government against whom that charge cannot possibly be made with any foundation it is the Chief Secretary. It is, in fact, doubtful whether the right hon. Gentleman does not attach too much importance to the unfounded complaints which are too often made. I do not intend to insinuate that hon. Gentlemen opposite state what they believe to be untrue. On the contrary, I believe that they aim at telling the truth, but sometimes they make remarkably bad shots. I always receive their statements as believed by themselves, but it frequently happens that, owing to bad information or something of that sort, they miss the point they intend to make.

(2.5.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)

I wish to return the compliment to the hon. Member for Down, and to assure him that I believe he always says what he believes to be true—and his statements as to some agricultural facts are very interesting—but that his information is faulty, and causes him to miss the mark. I think he draws his bow rather badly when he says that the religious test is a means of ascertaining whether or not there is distress in the country. He may be right as to Presbyterians, but I know he is wrong when he comes to deal with the contributions received by Catholic clergymen as a test of the existence of famine or scarcity in Ireland. If you ask any Catholic clergyman in Ireland where he gets his living from, you will find that it is not from the very poor. He will tell you that from the very poor he does not expect anything—or very little if anything—but that it is from the strong farmers that he expects to obtain the means of subsistence. And the hon. and learned Member opposite must remember that when times are bad for the small farmers and peasantry it by no means follows that they are equally bad for the strong farmers. Take the condition of things last year as an example. The potato crop failed and the peasantry lost their main supply of food—that which they always look upon to feed them for nine months in the year. But high prices were secured for cattle, so that the strong farmers—amongst whom, I imagine, the experience of the hon. and learned Gentleman chiefly lies—continued prosperous. There is no doubt that last year the potato crop was almost a complete failure in the mountainous districts of Galway, and, according to an answer given to me by the Chief Secretary, in other parts of the county from one-half to two-thirds of the crop failed. And there is another matter which has very likely led the hon. and learned Gentleman astray. I heard from the hon. and gallant Gentleman who sits close to him that there had been a splendid crop in the North-east of Ireland—in the County Down. That would prejudice the hon. Member's mind, and when he went into other counties he would not be on the look out for the signs of distress. Such are the facts of the case, and such are the reasons why I think the statements of the hon. Member are somewhat wide of the truth or devoid of that accuracy which we all like to see prevail in the House of Commons. With regard to the relief works undertaken by the Chief Secretary, I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for anything he has done, but his faults of omission were undoubtedly great. The work done in the mountainous districts of Connemara and other counties has been very useful and good, but in other parts too little has been effected. I fear that in many places where little or no employment has been provided the people have come to the end of their resources. No doubt the Poor Law could be relied upon to keep the people from absolute starvation, but where there was a partial failure of the potatoes, and where instead of having food for nine months the peasantry had only sufficient for three or four months, they would be compelled to exhaust the supplies necessary for cropping the land during the next two or three years. It seems to me, therefore, essential that some system of public works should be extended to these people. The works in the mountainous districts have been undertaken with judgment. The scales of pay have been 13s. for railway work and 7s. on works nearer the homes of the labourers. These scales no doubt were sufficient, and were judiciously contrived, but in other parts of the country the small farmers who have been eating into the means of cultivating their farms, have not received sufficient assistance. The right hon. Gentleman's policy amongst these people, who live in a miserable state—in districts between those that are prosperous and those that are deeply distressed—has not been a sound one. He wanted to make his machinery self-acting. In these districts he had two sorts of relief. Where he wanted to employ the people he gave them 7s. a week, but where he did not wish to give relief he adopted the labour test and offered work at 5s. 6d. a week.


I offered a stone of meal; and it must be remembered that subsequently the price of meal rose, so that the relief became equal to 7s. a week.


The work was offered in these districts when the price of meal was low, but I do not understand that the offer was renewed when the price of meal had gone up. The question is one of administration and not of policy. I doubt if it was a wise thing to offer a stone of meal for a week's work. There is no doubt that a great deal of employment can be obtained at 7s., and if the right hon. Gentleman wished to give employment in these districts his machinery was undoubtedly bad. I thing the first charge on the £8,000,000 collected in Ireland ought to be the relief of distress. I do not look upon that as charity, but as an assurance provided by the taxpayers. I thank the Government for having done their duty in regard to the relief of distress. As far as seed potatoes are concerned the relief has not been given on the same scale as it was given 9 or 10 years ago, and it is impossible to predict whether it will be successful or not. The light railways do not exactly come within the category of works of distress. They were promised to us by the noble Lord the Member for Padding-ton (Lord R. Churchill) when leader of the House nearly five years ago, and that introduction was somewhat quickened by the apprehended scarcity in Ireland. I think the routes of these railways have been selected with very considerable judgment. You have a fringe of districts on the west coast of Ireland that are quite distinct from the other portions of the country, and I believe the extension of these railways will result in bringing that fringe into line with the requirements of civilisation. We are not yet in a position to judge whether the policy of the right hon. Gentleman will be successful or not. We cannot say at present that a very large portion of the peasantry has been injured by the bad crop; but if a second bad year should come after this, I think it will be shown that it would have been cheaper if the Chief Secretary had somewhat extended the area of his works.

*(2.24.) MR. JORDAN (Clare, W.)

I cannot undertake to settle the question between the hon. Member for East Down (Mr. Rentoul), and the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. T. Healy) as to whether the Church is a financial barometer, but I know the clergy, to whatever denomination they belong, are all anxious to get the loaves and fishes. Considering the appalling distress that was anticipated during last August, and the great difficulties he had to encounter, I think, on the whole, the statement made this evening is rather satisfactory. As far as I am concerned I never objected at all to light railways. I think the money that has been expended on them is good for the country, and I am pleased they have been made. I anticipate for Ireland a splendid success in the future when we get the management of affairs into our own hands, and these railways will then aid to develop the trade and commerce of the country. Some years ago, no matter what the state of the weather was, it was necessary to travel by car for long distances in the West of Ireland, in the total absence of railways, and when I went down first to see my constituents in West Clare, the nearest point I could get to the principal town of my constituency by rail was 20 miles away. I rejoice, therefore, at the making of these railways as well as the opening up of the country. My regret is that we have not got more of them. I hope the Chief Secretary will turn his attention, as he has not got the money now, to taking power to obtain more money in the future. As to the roads I think those which have been made are good roads, and I should like to have from the right hon. Gentleman a list of the roads in the different counties. I wish to know whether he has made a road in Glan, Cavan. An application was made by our Board of Guardians to him to make such a road, for in that district the people had to carry turf, and in some instances manure, on their backs for a considerable distance. The Catholic clergyman in that district I know feels keenly the want of such a road, and I never heard a man more effusive in his loyalty and attachment to the British Crown than he. He said if the people got proper consideration in that part of the country he himself would lead them against any attempt against disintegration of the Empire. I am delighted to hear that the Chief Secretary is going to "finish" the works, because in 1847 many of the works commenced ended in a bank, and they remain to this day a disfigurement to the country. I am delighted to hear that the Chief Secretary not only promises to make these roads but that he intends to finish them, and I hope in so doing that he will finish them with some degree of taste. The Government and Railway Companies have no right to go into the country and commence works as they did in 1847 which are merely a disfigurement, because in that year many of the works commenced ended nowhere. When speaking of these roads the right hon. Gentleman mentioned some other relief works but he did not indicate what they were. I should like to know what he meant by other relief works. He also spoke of women and boys being engaged on those works. This is the first time I have heard of women being so employed, and I should like to have an explanation from the right hon. Gentleman on that subject. Of course, it is all right that females should work, but at the same time they should only be put to employment suitable to their condition. As to the grant for seed potatoes I regard that as a great boon to the country. First, because it leads to a change of seed, and secondly, because such a change is regarded as absolutely necessary for the production of sound potatoes. It is my belief that the bad potatoes found in the West of Ireland are due to the continuous planting of bad refuse seed. If the grant leads to the production of a better class of potato, it will prove to be a boon not only to the poor, but also to those who are better off. I would, suggest that there should be some permanent arrangement by which there should be a periodical change of seed all over Ireland. There is no doubt of the excellence of the seed potato obtained from the north-east of Ulster—seed which is not surpassed by anything we get from Scotland. Our union bought this seed at the cheap rate of 6½d. per stone, and this is undoubtedly a great boon to the western inhabitants. I would suggest that the Chief Secretary should advise the appointment of a Minister of Agriculture for Ireland. I do not know whether the Government think Ireland too small for such an appointment, but at any rate there ought to be something of that nature. If it is thought that Ireland is too Small would it not be possible that the Minister for Agriculture in England should extend the sphere of his operations to Ireland. If this cannot be done, what objection is there to our having an Agricultural Department of our own? Ireland is eminently an agricultural country, and ought to possess a department of this kind. I was much struck by an advertisement in the papers I saw a few days ago. It was a Canadian advertisement asking for the services of a Scotch and an English farmer in that country, but nothing was said with regard to an Irish farmer. It was a case in which "no Irish need apply." They did not want an Irishman to instruct them in agriculture, or to receive instruction. I was very glad to hear the Chief Secretary speak of the way in which borrowed money had been paid up. It is gratifying to know that the poor people referred to have done credit to the confidence reposed in them by the Government. Whenever the Irish people are generously treated there is no people in the world more ready to respond. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will recognise this, and will see in the future that generosity and kindness go further with the Irish than coercion. I should have been very glad if, when the Chief Secretary was making his tour of the poorer districts in Ireland, he could have paid a visit to my own constituency. I would not have run him out of the district. Had he gone to West Clare it would have afforded me much pleasure to have shown him the more impoverished parts of the district, and I am certain that West Clare would not have lost one iota in consequence of that visit, because a gentleman brought up as he has been in luxury could not have been otherwise than deeply impressed by the poverty of the people. I should have preferred a visit from the Chief Secretary to a visit from the Lord Lieutenant. When the Chief Secretary saw the poverty of the country he granted money for its relief. The Lord Lieutenant is quite another thing, he is the deputy of Royalty, who goes about the country and is exceedingly suave and amiable, but can do nothing, and does nothing. He went to West Clare, but the Chief Secretary did not go there. The people waited on the Lord Lieutenant and presented him addresses. The highest and most respectable gentry in the country waited upon that nobleman.


Order, order! I hope the hon. Member will kindly keep a little to the Vote.


Yes, Mr. Courtney, I will do so. I was only saying that these people waited on the Lord Lieutenant in reference to the construction of a pier at Redgap and a pier at Liscanor, which could be used by the two English Companies for the shipment of the stone flags from the quarries in the neighbourhood, whereby work would be found for 400 or 500 men at an outlay of from £30,000 to £40,000 a year. If the Harbour of Liscanor were deepened, I am told that 1,200 tons of flags per week might be sent away, therefore, it would be worth while to encourage that industry and raise the condition of the people by such a work as I have suggested. But the Lord Lieutenant did nothing. I hold that to help the people to earn their own living does far more good than all the charity you can bestow upon them. I hope the Chief Secretary will take this matter into consideration. On the whole I am satisfied with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and I think that if he would import into his general dealings with the Irish people, something of the manner in which he has dealt with the relief of the poor, he will find that Ireland will be more amenable to his Government.

(2.48.) MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)

I was not here when the Chief Secretary made his statement, but I shall be glad if he will explain how he justifies the statement he made the other night in regard to the condition of Donegal, and where he got his statistics as to the votive offerings of the people on the occasion of funerals. It seems to me an extraordinary thing that the Government should be able to lay their hands on information of that kind. An hon. Member opposite has twitted the Irish Members with the amount of time they consume in talking. Our complaint is that although we have opportunities of expressing our views, no attention is paid to what we say, and that in point of fact our representations are completely ignored. If the hon. Member consults the volumes of Hansard he will see that year after year, although specific grievances are brought before the House, they are only scouted. The moment we consider a Bill to be bad it is passed, and when we bring forward a good Bill it is rejected. With regard to the works to which so much reference has been made, I would suggest that in carrying out those works the Government should use as far as possible native material. I should like also to have some information as to the number of roads that have been, or are being constructed, and the counties in which they are being made.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co, Mid.)

I should be glad if the right hon. Gentle- man would state, in reference to the relief works of the western parts of the County of Cork, whether it is necessary for the Grand Jury to supplement those works by a sum of money. I should also like to know what is the amount to be paid to the Constabulary for the supervision of those works, and whether that amount includes the salaries of the Inspectors and others connected with the works. I hope also the right hon. Gentleman will give us some information as to the results of the experiments that have been made in the planting of seed potatoes. If any practical or useful results have been arrived at, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that they are published and sent to the Boards of Guardians, and other public bodies throughout Ireland.

(2.55.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR

With regard to the questions that have been put to me in reference to the roads which are being made I would refer hon. Member to a Return which was published on the 28th of February this year, and which contains a list of all the works, which are fully described, together with many important details. I will see that that Return is continued down to the present time, and that will probably give the information desired. With regard to the remuneration of the police engaged in the superintendence of relief works, they only get 6d. a day extra for the work of supervision, and whatever else they get is in accordance with the ordinary rules of the force when men are required to serve out of their own districts. As to the number of persons employed on relief works, I find that in Donegal on June 20 the number was 775; in Mayo, 5,725; in Galway, 4,771; and in Cork, 2,454. The hon. Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) has criticised what has been done in that county. He has complained that relief works were not started in the eastern part of Galway, but the fact is no less than three relief works were started and had to be abandoned because the wages were not sufficient to induce the population to seek employment upon the works. Yet the wages offered—2s. a day—were more than double the ordinary relief allowance. Judged by the test of experience, there has been no laches on the part of the Government in dealing with the distress which existed in the eastern parts of Galway. As to giving instruction in the cultivation of the potato and instituting an Agricultural Department in Ireland, I entirely agree with the spirit of the suggestions made, and hope I have done something to fulfil them. The Congested Districts Board will carry out that instruction as far as their funds will admit of their so doing, and the Land Commission have turned their attention towards doing for Ireland many of the functions performed by the Agricultural Board for England. I hope to be able to assist the Land Commission with funds for developing in every possible way the agricultural prosperity of the country. In the very forefront of the experiments to be made are the experiments with potatoes. Those cannot be carried on with success in any central situation such as Glasnevin, where the soil and climate are not those of the West of Ireland. Information derived in that way is not so likely to reach those whom it is intended to benefit as where it is derived from experiments carried on in farms in their midst. Information derived from experiments carried on at a distance they will be apt to regard as mere theoretical conclusions which do not apply to their cases, but if carried on in their midst they will be inclined to learn and take advantage of any beneficial results which may be arrived at. As to the distress in North-West Donegal, my remarks on a former occasion have been misunderstood. I was challenged to show that there was not in that district such a degree of distress as would justify the starting of relief works. As one of the indications I brought before the House, and only as one, I did mention, not the large sums of money which were given in the ordinary way for the support of the priests, but I mentioned the gifts at times of burial. Those gifts vary with the circumstances of the case and the position of the defunct person, and are not regulated by the requirements of the priests. I also mentioned a special testimonial given in one parish. I think it will be admitted by everyone that it is not irrelevant, and does not carry any reflection on the persons concerned, when it is alleged that great poverty prevails in a parish, to say that a very handsome testimonial has been collected in that parish recently. It never occurred to me to criticise the action of the priests in relation to distress in Ireland. On the contrary, I have received hearty support from ministers of all denominations. I believe the priests are glad to be relieved from a very serious responsibility, and they have certainly been very ample in their acknowledgments of the help given to those under their spiritual charge.


Has the right hon. Gentleman inquired into the condition of the Dungloe district?


If the hon Member for Longford had been in the House when the adjournment of the House was moved in connection with the subject of distress in Donegal, he would have been convinced that the Government have taken immense pains to satisfy themselves on that subject, and I can assure the hon. Member that the trouble they have taken in the past they will continue to exercise in the future.


I have a telegram just now stating that these people are still hungering.


On what basis did the Government go in deciding what roads should be constructed?


In starting relief works the Government looked rather to the necessities of the people than to the demand for roads.


Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to make special inquiries as to the state of the people in Dungloe?



Vote agreed to.

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