ABSTRACT

Sir E. O'Brien said, 1 that before the House proceeded to the important business of the day, he wished to point out to the gentlemen around him, the very dreadful and calamitous situation to which a great portion of his countrymen were reduced. There were at that moment thousands of persons in Ireland, who, in consequence of the failure of the late potatoe [sic] crop, were reduced to a single meal a day, and that meal generally consisted of oatmeal and water. It was well known that, generally speaking, the whole population of the South of Ireland lived, during a great portion of the year, upon potatoes; but, during the last year, the incessant rains which prevailed, had totally decayed and destroyed that vegetable in the ground. At the late assizes in his county. 2 the distressed state of the people was taken into consideration, and a representation of that distress was made to the lord lieutenant. 3 He had 110 doubt of the benevolent intentions of the noble lord who now filled the office of lord lieutenant, but it was impossible to extend relief to that poor and suffering country, without the interference and aid of parliament. It was a lamentable fact, that at that moment the counties of Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Mayo, and Roscommon, in fact, the whole provinces of Munster and Connaught. were in a state of actual starvation. If the counties of Lancaster, or Warwick, or Stafford, were suffering as Ireland now was, what, he would ask, would be the feelings of that House? What were the people of that unfortunate country to do? How were they, deprived as they were of money, of any resource, to relieve themselves from the difficulties under which they laboured? He well remembered the situation in which Ireland was placed in 1817. Great as the distresses of the country were at that period, there was still a circulation of money, and a high price of corn, which afforded many openings of relief. But, what was the situation of the country now? There was scarcely a town in the south of Ireland, in which hundreds of strong, able-bodied men, were not to be seen walking about without any means of getting employment. The question for the consideration of the House was—what had produced this state of things? One-third of the respectable people of the county of Clare had been reduced to absolute distress; they had neither money nor means to relieve themselves. He was aware that there was plenty of corn in the market; but, what did that do towards relief, when the distressed parties had no money to buy? It was true that the gentry of the county were, in many instances, ready to cooperate with the magistrates in affording relief; but how was it possible for a few individuals to afford permanent relief to 150,000 men? In making this statement, he did not appear before the House as a mendicant on the part of his country. All he asked was, that government would make advances to relieve the present distresses of unfortunate Ireland. For these advances the county rates could be pledged, and the money might be laid out in repairing roads, or in such other manner as might be best calculated to afford relief. It was well known to many of his friends, that thousands were at that moment dying from famine in Ireland. He was most anxious to make this statement at the earliest period, with a view to draw the attention of government to it; for unless relief was promptly afforded, the unfortunate population must suffer the last stage of misery. A short time ago, potatoes, the principal food of the peasantry, of Ireland, were sold at from one penny to three halfpence per stone; during this year they were sold at 6½d. per stone. And, while this general article of Irish consumption was so raised, oatmeal had also risen from 13l. to 15l. per ton. The hon. baronet, after pointing out with great feeling the other distresses under which the people of Ireland laboured, adverted to the fact of the poor people in Ireland being actually obliged to rob for their subsistence. He had himself been informed by the head police officer in his county, that if they were to commit all the persons who took provisions for their support, no gaol in the country could hold them; nay, farther, that the parties so arrested, if they could get their families around them, would think that they had made a happy exchange in getting into prison. The hon. baronet concluded by expressing a hope that parliament would take into its serious consideration the suffering state of Ireland.