HC Deb 22 June 1891 vol 354 cc1074-5
MR. MAC NEILL (Donegal, S.)

I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whether his attention has been directed to a letter of the Most Rev. Dr. O'Donnell, Lord Bishop of Raphoe, appearing in the National Press, of 1st June, and of the reports published in the same journal on the 12th and 13th June, in which it is stated that North West Donegal has been excluded from all participation in relief works; whether a line of railway from Letterkenny to Dunfanaghy and Gweedore was amongst the lines scheduled by the Lords Justices in Council as desirable to have constructed and approved by the Grand Jury of the County of Donegal; and why, having regard to the admitted failure of the potato crop and the destitution of the people, and the increased mortality produced by such destitution, have no relief works, such as the construction of railways, and piers and harbours, and the making of roads, been instituted in North West Donegal?


I have to say that the letter of Bishop O'Donnell and reports published in the National Press as to the distress in Donegal have been brought to my notice. It is perfectly true, as stated, that the line of railway from Letterkenny to Dunfanaghy and Gweedore was amongst the lines scheduled by the Lords Justices; but the hon. Gentleman must bear in mind, in the first place, that a much larger number of lines were necessarily scheduled than there was money forthcoming to construct; in the second place, that the line he refers to was not accepted by the Grand Jury of the County of Donegal; and, in the third place, that the County of Donegal has obtained a full share of the money voted by Parliament for the purpose of constructing light railways. The condition of the people in the north-west of Donegal has been the object of the constant and anxious attention of the Government. On the whole, we have been of opinion that no destitution existed of a sufficiently severe character to justify the institution of relief works. I have not been able to obtain information enabling me to compare the mortality during the present spring with that during previous springs, and to discover that any mortality arising out of the destitution of the people and the partial failure of the potato crops exists in the district.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is evidence to show that a large proportion of the population is invalided, that the death-rate has more than doubled, that the Relief of Distress Fund is administered on the principle that no relief is given to any family a member of which is able to work; and whether the principle of administering that fund cannot be relaxed in the case of persons able to work but who are unable to get work to do?


It is true that the Relief Fund is confined to families in which there is no able-bodied person capable of earning money, or else to families precluded by severe sickness among its members from work. The hon. Member has been misinformed as to his facts, because the information in my possession does not bear out the view as to the amount of destitution and sickness in West Donegal. A large number of members of families are either in Scotland, or on the way to Scotland and the Eastern Counties for the purpose of obtaining agricultural work.