HC Deb 05 December 1906 vol 166 cc941-5
MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland whether he is now in a position to make a full statement as to the result of inquiries conducted by the Irish Government into the extent of the failure of the potato crop in Ireland this year; whether, in some districts, the potatoes will be exhausted before the 1st of January, and there will be no seed fit to be planted; whether the Irish Government propose to take any special steps to deal with the situation and, if they do, what measures they have in contemplation; whether any special investigation has been made as to the causes of the failure, and the possibility of taking effective measures against failure of the potat crop in future years; and whether the Irish Government propose to publish any special Report on this subject.


The result of the inquiries made by the Irish Government into the failure of the potato crop in Ireland may be summed up as follows—omitting counties in which the failure has not been serious and will not create any special demand for relief. I regret to say that in the counties of Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Leitrim, Ross common, Galway, Clare, Kerry, and the West Riding of Cork, there has been a failure in the potato crop which, varying from place to place, is, except as presently to be stated, approximately two-thirds, and in some favoured places, three-fourths of an average crop. The quality of the potatoes is much below the average, but the proportion of small potatoes is relatively largo, and that of blackened or diseased potatoes relatively small, as compared with other "blight" years. In certain areas, especially in parts of Mayo and Galway, the crop is below half the average, and in a considerable part of the Union of Belmullet it has been almost a total failure. On the other hand, the harvest of other crops has been a good one, and the season, except as regards potatoes, has been favourable for farmers. Live-stock are in good demand at high prices, and the fishing has in most places been good. The Department of Agriculture, after a special investigation, have arrived at the conclusion that the causes of failure, apart from the bad weather which was favourable to blight, are chiefly to be found in a neglect of spraying or of spraying in the best manner, and in faulty methods of cultivation. Except possibly in the Belmullet Union it is believed that the potatoes will not be exhausted till much later than January, and happily the crop no longer forms the sole food supply of the Western peasantry. The Government have under consideration the question of the sufficiency of the seed supply for next season's planting, and at a suitable time will make a further statement. The Irish Government are unwilling to contemplate exceptional procedure for the relief of distress, since experience has shown that demoralising results follow special measures which are not absolutely necessary to save life, and they consider that the Local Government Act lays down a procedure which should be adhered to. The union is primarily responsible; and the county council, who have the best means of knowing the circumstances of the different unions within the county, have it in their power to supplement the efforts of those unions which cannot, without aid, extend the necessary relief to the inhabitants of their area. If a county council declines to put the Act into force the Government must suppose that in the opinion of the council the circumstances of the unions in the county do not call for special procedure. In all cases where the Act is made operative the circumstances will be carefully watched by the Government, and if necessity for Government help is apparent the Government will not hesitate to follow the procedure of 1905, and will give substantial assistance to those unions which are unable to bear any appreciable addition to their rates. The Government desire also to see public works of permanent utility, which in any case they desire to execute, deeming them to be desirable on their own merits apart from any question of distress, begun at the earliest possible moment in several of the coastal districts where distress is most to be apprehended. For most of these funds are available under the Marine Works Act, and as to some a decision has not yet been finally reached, though it is hoped this may very soon be done. The general question of preventing the recurrence of scarcity in the Western districts has engaged the earnest attention of the Government, and a general scheme has been prepared by the Department of Agriculture. The funds at their disposal for this purpose, however, require to be supplemented if this scheme is to be carried out in its entirety. At present the amount available each year for agricultural work in the congested districts amounts to £7,000, and it seems doubtful whether an increased allocation of funds for this purpose from the Department's endowment can be looked for at present. The Government are, however fully sensible of the importance of carrying out measures which will avert the recurrence of distress in the districts which usually suffer from it, and they are considering whether such a Report as is referred to in the latter portion of the Question can be prepared. My hope is that scientific inquiry may do much to improve the agricultural methods in use in Ireland, and may perhaps succeed in getting rid of the potato blight altogether.


asked whether the defective spraying was not due to the neglect of the Board of Agriculture since they took over that part of the work of the Congested Districts Board, and whether the right hon. Gentleman would consider the desirability of preventing the Department from paying away any portion of the scanty funds to private associations such as the Agricultural Organisation Society, when admittedly they had not funds enough to carry out most essential works in the West of Ireland.


said he had no reason whatever to think that the neglect of spraying was the fault of the Board of Agriculture, which had, in fact, issued the directions for spraying. The reason why spraying had not been more resorted to was partly that the people were disheartened by the wet weather, and partly because the previous season was so good that they had no apprehension of the danger of neglecting to spray. The question of the Agricultural Organisation Society's subsidy was being looked into. He hoped it would be possible from time to time to make statements with reference to public works to be undertaken.


complained that the inspector visiting one district in Cavan simply called at one or two houses along the roadside in order to ascertain the amount of distress that really existed.


said he believed the inspectors had done their best to ascertain the amount of distress and to deal with it. If, however, the hon. Member had any details he could give him he would cause inquiry to be made into them.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Vice-President of the Agricultural Department is a gentleman who has the profound distrust of the Irish Party?