HL Deb 03 March 1882 vol 267 cc1-6

rose to ask the Lord Privy Seal, Whether the Government are prepared to regulate the holding of fairs in Ireland; and, if not, whether they will introduce a measure for the regulation of fairs and markets? The noble Viscount said, that for many years over the whole South and West of Ireland fairs had been held in the different country towns at which the greater part of the general trade of the district was carried on. Those fairs were usually held under patents granted by the Crown, and were either under the management of the descendants of the original grantees, or under the management of lessees, to whom the right of collecting the tolls had been demised. In some few instances they were held under the management of the Town Commissioners, who had taken leases from the owners. During the course of last summer a very considerable number of these fairs were supplanted by what were called Land League fairs. Notices were posted up in the different districts announcing that fairs would be held on the same day upon which the fairs were usually held; but that instead of being held in the fair field, where they were held usually, they would be held in the streets, or some other place appointed by the Land League. In several instances that had been done, and cattle had been sold in the streets and lanes of the towns under the auspices of the Land League. The first instance in which it occurred was in Dunmanway, in West Cork, and subsequently fairs of a similar description were held in Midleton and other places. There were three different classes who were seriously in- convenienced by this change. In the first place, the inhabitants of the towns were put monthly to the inconvenience of having the streets crammed with cattle, and the flagways and paths left in a very filthy state. Then the buyers were inconvenienced by not knowing, as they did previously, where to get the description of stock they wanted, they being forced to wander through the streets and into the lanes to find out the cattle that suited them. The sellers also found that, under such circumstances, the prices they obtained for their cattle were very much lower, and that whenever such fairs had been removed they had been seriously injured. The last class injured were the owners of the tolls. He fancied that the original object of the Land League was, in the first place, to please the publicans, who were the only class benefited by the alteration; and, in the second place, to divert a certain portion of the revenue which accrued to the landlords. Considering the small tolls charged and the expense of keeping the fair grounds in order, and of managing the fairs, the profit derived by the owners was much smaller than the Leaders of the Land League supposed. The question then arose how this evil was to be remedied. He believed it would be possible for any inhabitant of the town to bring an action for obstruction against any party so offending for wilfully obstructing the street. He believed, also, it was possible for the owners of the tolls to bring an action against those who exposed cattle for sale other than in the authorized place for disturbance of the rights of his fair. But that would be compelling private individuals to remedy what, in reality, was a public nuisance. He had seen an opinion of Mr. Justice O'Hagan before his elevation to the Bench; and his advice on this point, in reference to which he had been consulted, was that the Town Commissioners should be compelled by mandamus to clear the streets, which it was their undoubted duty to do. Unfortunately, in many instances, the Town Commissioners owed their election to the persons interested in holding these illegal fairs, and they were loth to take any action in the matter. The question then arose who should apply for the mandamus, and Mr. Justice O'Hagan was of opinion that it should be applied for by the public authority. The public authority in Ireland was the Local Government Board, represented either by the Chief Secretary, as ex-officio President, or by the Under Secretary, who was his representative. The powers possessed by the Local Government Board seemed to be ample in this respect. The Towns Improvement Act of 1854 expressly mentioned the exposing for sale of cattle, horses, sheep, &c., in anyplace otherwise than in the authorized fair field as an offence against the Act; and provided, further, that wherever that offence was committed within view of any constable or officer appointed under the Act, that constable or officer should, without warrant, take into custody and convey before the magistrates sitting at Petty Sessions any person guilty of an offence. Indeed, words could hardly be clearer than they were. If there was any difficulty from a legal point of view, it was amply provided for by the 10th section of the Local Government Board Act, 1874, which gave the Board full power to make any alterations that were necessary at the places where fairs were held. He contended that it was most important that it should be known who were the authorities who could move in the matter, and that it should not be left to private individuals to take action against offenders. In cases where fair greens were furnished with all proper means and appliances for holding fairs, should not orders be given to the Constabulary to clear the streets if it were attempted to hold a fair in them, as being illegal and inconvenient to the inhabitants? The holding of such fairs was a lawless proceeding, and intended so to be by the parties who attended the fairs. He hoped that the Government would say that they had sufficient powers; and, if not, that they would bring in a measure for the purpose of regulating all markets and fairs in Ireland. The law should, at any rate, be enforced by the Government, and it should not be left in the hands of private persons who might desire to take action as a matter of public duty. Fairs held in streets was an offence against the law, and they should be put down by the law.


said, he was afraid that he could not give the noble Lord an answer which would be considered satisfactory. The noble Lord had called his attention to what occurred at Midleton, and there were other similar cases. There had been a careful inquiry into the matter, and the Irish Government were instructed that they had no power to regulate the holding of fairs and markets in Ireland. As to the cases where there were fair greens, it rested with the legal owner of any fair to pursue his private right of action against the parties who held a fair in an unauthorized place. The noble Lord said he could not understand why the Constabulary did not do more to prevent these proceedings in the streets; but he (Lord Carlingford) was informed that the Constabulary in the South of Ireland had, in some cases, cleared the streets and prevented any sale of cattle in them. That was the case at Dunmanway. There was this difference between the circumstances of that place and of Midleton—that the former did not enjoy the advantage of having Town Commissioners, whereas Midleton did. In the latter town the Constabulary wished to know what they should do in respect of preventing sales in the streets; and they were advised that they could not act without being called upon to do so by the Town Commissioners, and that body would not move in the matter. That made it impossible for the Constabulary to render any service, though, if they did act, he doubted whether they could restore the noble Lord's fair to its original condition, which was the object to be aimed at. As to the power of the Local Government Board, he was surprised to hear the noble Lord say that there was a clause in the Act of 1874 which enabled them to do certain things; because he had heard from the Board that they had looked into the Act, and they had not found that they had any power which would enable them to interfere to prevent the holding of any fair in an unauthorized place. After what had been stated he would make further inquiry into the matter. As to a Bill for the purpose of regulating fairs and markets in Ireland, no doubt such a measure would be very useful, but it would necessarily be one of considerable complication and difficulty, and it was quite impossible for him to give any pledge on the part of the Irish Government that they would introduce such a Bill, at any rate, at present. He could only say, with respect to the action of the Local Government Board, that he should take care to inquire into the matter.

House adjourned at half past Five o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.