§ On the Motion that the Order of the Day be read,
Mr. D. BROWNE
rose to call the attention of the House to the state of distress in the county of Mayo. He stated that Mayo was the poorest county in Ireland; that it contained between 3,000 and 4,000 of the most wretched peasantry on the face of creation; that the greater number of the proprietors were absentees; and that every alternate year hundreds of the people were suffering under the pangs of hunger and the extremity of want. The accounts he had received from Mayo at this moment were of a most alarming character. If the facts which had reached him were true—and he had no reason to doubt their truth—the peace of society in that county was in imminent danger, not merely on account of the famine, but on account of the rashness to which the people might be precipitated from the pressure of despair. He had on a former occasion declared himself 1017 opposed to the principle of making the people of Ireland dependent upon the people of this country; but the facts which he was about to detail to the House would show the urgent necessity which existed for taking the most immediate steps for the purpose of meeting the calamity; otherwise, as he had said, the peace of society would be endangered. The information which he had received from Castlebar, Kilmain, and other parts of the county, represented that the potato crop had not merely failed, but that potatoes had almost completely disappeared; and that, consequently, those persons who were dependent for their subsistence upon that root, had not at the present moment a morsel to eat. There were no fewer than 42,000 persons in Mayo who were in a state of destitution. 22,000 of these had recently been employed by the local relief committees—leaving, however, 20,000 still without a single particle of any kind of food. He hoped he should not appeal in vain to English Gentlemen to urge upon the Government to take more immediate steps than could be taken under their own propositions to relieve the imminent distress in the county of Mayo. The last Administration had done well: they had excited towards them the gratitude of the people of Ireland; and he hoped the present Government would imitate their good example, He did not wish, by telling the House that the peace of society was endangered, to use any exciting language—he did not wish to make an inflammatory speech which would be carried elsewhere; but he conceived it to be his duty, as representative of the county of Mayo, to state the real facts of the case. He knew that the priesthood would do all in their power to preserve the public peace; but there were circumstances under which reason was unavailing—under which reason abandoned the unfortunate sufferers, and under which the law of nature became stronger than the law of the country or any other human obligations. The noble Member for Lynn had asked him two questions which some other Members might be disposed to put, namely, why the present harvest did not supply the people with labour and the means of existence?—or if it could not do so, why the people did not come to this country for work as usual? With respect to the first question, he begged to say, that the employment arising from the harvest in Mayo, and, indeed, in Ireland generally, was perfectly inadequate for the purpose; 1018 and with respect to the second question, his answer was, that formerly, when the people came to this country to the harvest, they were able to leave their families some provision till their return; but they were unable to do so at present. The hon. Member concluded by saying, that he was anxious to promote the best understanding between the people of this country and the people of Ireland; that the party to which he belonged, in the exercise of their capacity as Repealers, were anxious—if this country by proper legislation would allow them—to prove the identity of interests between the two countries; they were anxious to prove that mutual dependence, that reciprocal benefits, and above all, that equal and just laws, would best advance the prosperity and happiness of both countries.
The O'CONOR DON
said, that the attention of the Government had been fully awakened to the subject, and that they were devising means by which the people would be enabled to get over the immediate pressure of the distress, so that measures might ultimately be adopted to improve their condition.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
admitted the general truth of the pictures that were drawn of the distress existing in Ireland, although he believed that some of the details were exaggerated. The failure of the potato crop was this year much more extensive than it was last, and Ireland was therefore in a situation of peculiar difficulty, He could assure the House that the fullest attention of the Government would be given to the subject during the recess, after which assurance he trusted that he would not be expected to enter into details. The county of Mayo was at present, he believed, one of the most distressed parts of Ireland; and he feared the visitation with which the country was afflicted had fallen more heavily there than elsewhere. Still, however, some of the statements were, he believed, in some degree exaggerated. He was glad to find by the accounts from the markets there, that at Westport, lately, Indian meal was selling at less than 1d. per lb.; thirty tons were sold there recently at that price. Potatoes, also, were selling at 1½d. and 2d. per stone, though he admitted that they had been forced on the market because of their diseased state. It might, however, be said, that it was of no use provisions being cheap, if the people had not the means to buy them. That was very true; but, at the same time, he did not see how the present condition of 1019 the people in that respect was to be altered, unless there was a very cordial co-operation on the part of the landed gentry with the Government. He trusted that that co-operation would be afforded, and that those who were the natural guardians and protectors of the people would come forward on the occasion. Every means would be adopted by the Government to provide employment for the people, particularly in the county of Mayo. Colonel Jones', the head of the Board of Works in Ireland, having been recently in London, had been spoken to on the subject. In answer to inquiries, Colonel Jones wrote, on the 24th, the following letter:—
§ "London, August 24, 1840.
§ "Sir—In reply to your inquiries as to the employment of the distressed poor in the county of Mayo, I have the honour to state that on Monday last at Bellina I gave personal instructions to Mr. Brett, the county surveyor, not to stop any works where employment to afford relief was necessary, and moreover that he should put men upon additional works that might have been applied for at the special baronial sessions, and not commenced; and I left him with the full impression, that acting upon the orders I then gave him, he had full authority to afford employment to all those who might require it, until the measures to be adopted by Government should be known. I may also state that memorials were then under inspection, and I have no doubt have been reported upon ere this. As I leave London for Dublin by this night's train, the state of Mayo shall be immediately inquired into by me on my arrival there.—I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant,
§ "HARRY D. JONES.
§ "To the Right Hon. H. Labouchere."
§ He had already informed the House on a former occasion, that there was every reason to believe that the supply of grain, through the exertions of private individuals, would be sufficient for the markets. Except in some very extraordinary case of necessity, the Government would not interfere with either the wholesale or the retail trader. His attention having been called to the condition of the barony of Kinsale and the parts adjacent in the county of Cork, he had by that night's post written to Dublin, calling the especial attention of the authorities to the subject. And with respect to the great question, he could only repeat that the attention of the Government and of the Lord Lieutenant would be given incessantly to the state of the people of Ireland; and he hoped that with the active co-operation of the landlords they would be able greatly to mitigate the evils which threatened them. He could not help adding, that all the accounts he had received showed that the people had 1020 exhibited the greatest patience under these trying circumstances; and that the clergy, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, had done their best to promote peace and to check the spirit of exaggeration, and that tendency to panic which were calculated so much to aggravate existing evils.
§ Order of the Day read.