§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
To ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland whether he can now give full particulars of the plan adopted by the Irish Government for dealing with urgent distress in districts affected by the potato blight last autumn, for the supply of sound potato seed in cases where, owing to the failure of last year's crop and to poverty, the people are unable to procure a supply of sound seed.
(Answered by Mr. Birrell.) The Government are adhering as closely as possible to the course of procedure for the relief of distress which was indicated by my predecessor in his reply to the hon. Members Question of December 5th.†I am glad to be able to state that Mr. Bryce's favourable forecast as to the conditions and prospects of the small landholders has been justified. The numbers in receipt of poor relief throughout the winter have been low, and at present are even lower than they were this time last year. Any abnormal distress that exists is confined to very limited areas in certain exceptionally poor districts in the West, where the failure of the potato crop was most serious, and where the rates are high and much poverty at the best of times is always present. In these localities the Local Government Board are applying the balance of the distress funds in their hands for the purpose of affording employment to the very poorest people through local committees, on which the district and county councillors and the clergy are represented. These committees are selecting the workers and inquiring into the needs of the applicants, and, where necessary, are affording employment on works of utility. Where they consider it expedient to do so, they are making arrangements for the importation of fresh seed on which the workers may spend their earnings. The guardians of the poor are, however, by law responsible for the relief of distress, and, so far as these special arrangements do not adequately provide for all classes of destitute poor, the guardians must exercise their powers under the ordinary laws, supplemented, if
†See (4) Debates, clxvi., 941–4
necessary, by the provisions of Section 13 of the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898. The Agricultural Board in the Department of Agriculture had voted a sum of £10,000 for the purpose of enabling advances to be made to the people for the purchase of seed through the medium of agricultural banks. In addition to there measures the scheme of the Department outlined in Professor Campbell's evidence before the Royal Commission on Congestion, a copy of which has been handed to the hon. Member, has been put partially into execution. It will be more fully carried into effect as funds become available.