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“ reaping hooks in their hands, offering their day's “ labour for eight pence and ten pence per day, “ and no one to hire them ; although the corn was “ over ripe, and much of it shedding on the ground. “ If such be the state of the labour market in the “ height of the harvest, what must it be in the 66 winter ?”
In many parts of the west of Ireland, there are hardly any persons in the habit of employing labourers to work for them. The whole number employed during the week ending 11th September, in the union of Milford, county of Donegal, according to a very particular return made out by the government inspecting-officer of that union, was only 779 men and 287 women, out of a population of 38,108 persons. The number of persons receiving constant employment was only 341 men and 152 women. In one electoral district, with a population of 2,006 persons, there were but four labourers employed. The daily wages were eight pence and four pence. It is evident that the employment even at harvest time would only support about 4,000 out of a population of 38,108. Unless some means not now existing, be provided for the employment of the able-bodied poor of these remote districts, they must starve, or fall back on the poor-rates for support.
To these must be added the helpless poor, wi
dows, and orphans, and those who are disabled by sickness or infirmity, old age or infancy. They were formerly supported by the charity of the ablebodied poor ; now they have no resource but the poor-rates. In many places this is a very numerous class. The government inspecting-officer of a union in Mayo, estimated them as being fully 10,000 out of a population a little exceeding 70,000.
Heretofore, the poor law afforded no relief except within the walls of the workhouse ; but the act of last session has extended it, so as to empower the guardians to grant out-door relief to the sick and infirm, and even to the able-bodied, when specially directed by the Commissioners to do so. The temporary relief act was worked by money advanced from the Exchequer. Such advances are now at an end. The poor are wholly dependent on the collection of the rates. If these cannot be obtained, the law provides no resource. They must starve. Can the poor-law be carried into effect throughout the whole of Ireland ? can it be rendered efficient, so as to keep the destitute from starvation ? If not, in what parts of the country is it at present impracticable ? and what remedy can be suggested ? Will the rates be paid willingly ? and if not, how can they be best enforced ? May we anticipate that enough will be
collected for the efficient working of the law ? and if not, by what means can the deficiency be supplied ? These are most important questions, which time alone can fully solve, but which are well worthy of examination in the mean time.
There are many unions in the west of Ireland, in which fully nine-tenths of the able-bodied population have heretofore been without employment in winter. How are these to be supported ? To keep them in idleness would exhaust the finances of a nation, and is certainly beyond the capability of an impoverished union. The law never contemplated having to support this class of men ; but rather, that the danger of such enormous charges would force the owners and occupiers of land, to combine their efforts to afford employment to the able-bodied, and thus prevent them from coming on the rates. The land improvement act of last session was intended to facilitate this employment. If its provisions be taken advantage of, and the labourers employed, the rates will be greatly lightened, the land improved in value, and the people saved from pauperism : the poor law will have so far worked well, and will have been really useful to the country.
But with the greatest care and cconomy, the burden must be very heavy throughout the whole country, the amount of property is so small when
compared with the number of poor. Appendix P. gives, with other statistical information, the proportion of the annual value of the property liable to be taxed for poor-rate, averaged for every 100 inhabitants, and for every 100 acres of area, in each of the counties in Ireland ; and appendix Q. gives similar information as respects England and Wales. Some particulars may be stated here, viz. : Average of England and Wales £171 p 100 acres, £393 P 100 inhabitants Do. of Ireland
161 Highest English Co. (Hereford) 125*
595 Do. Irish Co. (Dublin) 251 Lowest Welsh Co. (Glamorgan) 74
217 Do. Irish Co. (Mayo) 21
76 , This shows a very great difference between the two countries, as to their present capability of supporting the poor. The annual value of property liable to be rated for this purpose in England, is about two and a half times as great as in Ireland, when compared with the number of inhabitants ; while all will admit, that there is a much larger proportion of the people of Ireland who are destitute, and require relief. The proportion to be
* This and the two following statements are arranged according to the proportion which the annual value of property bears to the population. Hereford being a thinly peopled county, the valuation is low when compared with the area of land. If arranged in proportion to area, Lancashire would be the highest, except Middlesex, the valuation being £471 for every 100 acres. The proportion for Middlesex amounts to £4061.
relieved is at least twice as large, and the means applicable to their relief little more than one third.
But it must not be inferred that no part of Ireland can support its poor. Unquestionably, there is sufficient property to do so in the greater part of the country. If we compare the different provinces, we find the proportion of property liable to poor-rates in each of the four provinces to be as follows :
or, if we compare some of the best circumstanced counties of Leinster and Ulster with the worst of Munster and Connaught, we find:
Clare Munster....... Kerry
Leitrim Connaught ... > Mayo
£100 P 100 acres, £316 P 100 inhabitants. 75
Certainly almost the whole of Leinster and Ulster, and a large part of Munster, ought to be able to support the poor, without any assistance temporary or otherwise. It only requires judicious and economical management of the funds, and firmness in collecting the rates.