American Relief Committee.

Oral Answers to Questions — Ireland. – in the House of Commons at on 21 April 1921.

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Sir F. HALL:


asked the Chief Secretary whether his attention has been called to the statement issued by the American Committee for Relief in Ireland in appealing for funds in which, among other statements, it is alleged that famine is about to add thousands of innocent victims to the hundreds of thousands already in need of the bare necessities that keep body and soul together; whether the death-rate in Ireland since 1914, apart from the unprecedented number of murders committed by the Sinn Feiners, compares very favourably with that of England; and whether any protest has been addressed to the American Government regarding the activities of this and other anti-British organisations?

Photo of Mr Denis Henry Mr Denis Henry , Londonderry South

The answer to the first two parts of the question is in the affirmative. The statement appeared as a full page advertisement in the "Washington Herald" of the 24th ultimo, over the name of a Mr. Hugh Reilly, who is described as treasurer to the American Committee for Relief in Ireland. With regard to the third part of the question, I have not at present before me the corresponding figures for the mortality in England, but the latest figures of the Irish death-rate are the lowest for many years and the health statistics generally are exceptionally favourable. No protest has been addressed to the American Government in the matter as the Committee is entirely unofficial in character, but a statement setting out the true facts of the situation was issued to the American Press on the 14th instant. I will arrange for a transcript of that statement to be included in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

The following is the statement:

The following official statement was issued from Dublin Castle to-day [14th April, 1921].

"The attention of the Irish Government has been called to statements which have recently been published in America in the name of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland to support appeals for funds, and which so grossly misrepresent conditions in Ireland as to call for refutation.

'Famine,' it is alleged,' is about to add thousands of innocent victims to the hundreds of thousands already in need of the bare necessities that keep body and soul together. In every Irish village and town sickness, pestilence and death invade the humble homes striking swiftly and surely the mother and children incapable of resistance through months of struggle against cold and hunger.' … 'Children of tender years, ragged and wretched, trudge daily through the cold to a school now used for a relief station to obtain the one meal a day on which they live—a piece of bread and a warm drink.'

There is not one word of truth in this statement.

Conditions in Ireland are far from being as stated. Neither failure of crops nor stoppage of food imports has occurred to give rise to a food scarcity. Food supplies in Ireland, except in the case of a few imported articles such as tea, are in fact rather greater than normal. Food prices are considerably less than in England, and are still falling. Farm butter at 60 cents a pound, fresh eggs at 3 cents each, were the average prices realised last week in the seven leading markets of Ireland, and at smaller markets prices as low as 2 cents each for eggs and 42 cents a pound for farm butter were quoted. Potatoes were marketed and sold in the seven leading markets at an average price of approximately two dollars per 112 pounds, and supplies obtained in country districts from local growers were obtainable at very much cheaper rates. Flour is scarce in a few places, but only by reason of the fact that armed rebels as a measure of boycott have deliberately burnt or interfered with the supplies which normally flow into these districts. Indeed, the one cause likely to give rise to hardship and distress in the near future is the insensate destruction wrought by the Irish Republican Army, who in parts of the West of Ireland have deliberately blocked all communication by the destruction of roads and bridges and have compelled the stoppage of railroad traffic by wanton and unprovoked attacks upon trains. For hardship so caused the communities which harbour the perpetrators of the damage cannot be absolved from responsibility any more than they can be saved from the suffering which must arise as a result.

Not only are food supplies at the present time ample, but there is no shortage of money with which to buy food. It is a fact that Ireland as a whole is less affected by the present trade depression than either England or Scotland. As an agricultural country it has had, not only during the War, but also since its stoppage, a period of unequalled prosperity, and labour has commanded the highest wages in Irish history. As a result the returns of poverty and destitution are considerably below their pre-War levels, notwithstanding that the population (estimated for the year 1921 at 4,502,000) has increased, and is increasing. Ulster, for example, had for the year 1920 a daily average of only 5,518 sick, infirm, and destitute inmates of workhouses as compared with 7,759 in 1914; Munster had 7,869 as compared with 10,782; Leinster 8,062 as compared with 12,326; and Con-naught 2,478 as against 3,182. Of poor and needy persons in receipt of relief who were nevertheless not inmates of workhouses, there were, during 1920, for the whole of Ireland a daily average of 36,550 as compared with 38,212 during 1914, a decrease which, if not very marked, is sufficient nevertheless to refute suggestions of abnormal destitution. Statistics for the first quarter of 1921 are not yet complete, but they show no change for the worse. In fact their trend is best suggested by the movement which is on foot among a number of local authorities (county councils, etc.) for the amalgamation of poor law unions and the abolition of workhouses which are superfluous.

In this connection it may be added that Ireland, as a result of the famines of years ago, has special administrative machinery for the immediate detection and relief of destitution. Four hundred and fifty relieving officers are posted throughout the country, in whose power and whose duty it is to provide immediate relief to any case of destitution pending adjudication, of the case by the local board of guardians. Even if one of those officers had no funds available, his written order upon a shopkeeper for food would be a debt due by the Board and legally recoverable by law. This machinery is quite independent of the Government.

The statement alleging the conversion of schools into relief stations is a particularly high flight of fancy. The National Board of Education has no knowledge of a single case of the kind.

The statement as to 'sickness, pestilence and death invading humble homes, etc.,' is equally mendacious. The health statistics of Ireland are at present exceptionally favourable, and not for many years has the death rate been so low. Dublin's mortality, usually the highest in the country, was for the past quarter at the rate of only 19½1 per thousand inhabitants per annum as against 26½4 for the preceding ten years. Reports from the Local Government Board's medical inspectors indicate that the country generally has never been so free from disease. As further indications of a healthy prosperity it may be added that the birth rate and the marriage rate for Ireland for 1920 exceeded all records.

Nor is unemployment, though serious in the linen and shipbuilding industries of the North, in any way comparable with the unemployment that exists in England. The Committee for the Relief of Unemployment for the United Kingdom, which has several millions of pounds of funds at its disposal, has received applications for grants from only 13 of the 100 urban district councils in Ireland. Unemployment figures have risen in the past three months, it is true, owing to world trade depression, and in the whole of Ireland 103,556 persons are now registered as out of work. But of this number 78,752 are receiving full unemployment benefit under the Act passed by the British Parliament last year and 12,537 more are receiving the out-of-work donation payable to ex-soldiers and sailors. These gallant Irishmen served with Americans in the Great War, and because they served many of them are now boycotted and cannot therefore secure employment in Ireland, their native country. A number have indeed been murdered in cold blood.

From the facts set out above it will be seen that neither in the matter of famine, nor of poverty, nor of disease, nor in any other of the details mentioned does the state of Ireland to-day approximate to the harrowing conditions described in the appeal which is being made to the generosity of American citizens. The use of inaccurate statements such as these does little to maintain the claim of the organisation that employs them to be 'non-political and non-sectarian,' and precludes any such claim being made for the sources from which that organisation's information about Ireland is derived."

Sir F. HALL:

In sending that transcript would it not be possible also to state the death rate per thousand in England and also the death rate per thousand in Ireland—to set them down plainly alongside this extremely monstrous statement?

Photo of Mr Frederick Macquisten Mr Frederick Macquisten , Glasgow Springburn

In sending out these particulars, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman also point out that there is no restriction on the standard strength of beer in Ireland; also that they have unlimited quantities of pre-War whisky, and no Liquor Control Board; and also that they are in a better position in this matter than Great Britain, and in an immeasurably better position than the United States itself?