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But when we look to the unions along the western coast, including nearly all Connaught, the case is widely different. There the poverty is much greater, and the property assigned to its support much less. The proprietors, with great territorial extent of property, are yet in many cases so heavily encumbered, that they are, in fact, very poor. The land is subdivided into very small holdings, and very many of the tenants are paupers themselves. As a general rule, neither landlord nor tenant will pay as long as he can avoid it, though there are many honourable exceptions. The property of the tenant consisting chiefly of cattle, a seizure is in many cases easily avoided. There seems great reason to fear, that it will be found quite impracticable to collect a rate at all equivalent to the present necessity; and that unless assistance be given from some other quarter, the people must die.
If we look more closely into the mode of operation prescribed by the act, we find, first, a board of guardians, consisting partly of members elected by the rate-payers, and partly of ex-officio members—that is to say, magistrates having property in the district. Neither party are desirous of burdening themselves with heavy taxation; and there is no sufficient public opinion in the neighbourhood, exterior to themselves, which might compel
them to respect the claims of the destitute : therefore they hesitate to strike a rate; and even when struck, they use no diligence in collecting it. The rates due by the guardians themselves are often the worst paid, and the collectors feel that it is not their interest to attempt to enforce them. The poor-law commissioners have a remedy, in case the guardians refuse to strike a rate. They may displace them, and appoint paid guardians to manage the affairs of the union; but it does not appear that they possess any sufficient remedy for an inefficient collection.* But let us suppose the guardians really willing to do their duty, or that they have been displaced, and efficient paid guardians nominated in their stead, the difficulty is only removed one degree farther off. Proper collectors are appointed, and an attempt is made to collect. The small farmers refuse to pay, pleading poverty. The collector attempts to distrain; but there are various ways of defeating his intention. Perhaps one man in the district pays, and whenever the collector is out, all the cattle are driven on to his ground, and thus are safe from seizure. It becomes a contest between the ingenuity of the collector and that of the rate-payers. If he succeed in effecting a seizure, it is by superior management. Even when the seizure is made, there is still danger of forcible rescue and the refusal to purchase. Unless the tenant have paid up his rent in full, he cannot stop the rate from his landlord, which in many cases practically debars him from stopping it at all. The landlord can only be reached through the tenant, and has therefore no interest in compelling him to pay. Nevertheless, many of these difficulties will vanish before an energetic determination to enforce the law.” Another most important portion of the rates is that on the holdings valued at £4 and under. Of these, there are in Connaught upwards of 120,000, embracing more than 800,000 acres, being about one-fifth of the whole province. Any attempt to collect from these tenants is evidently useless. The law makes the immediate lessor liable for the amount, and gives the remedy by action in the su. perior courts, or by civil bill, or by distress. This may perhaps be available as respects the resident proprietor; but how can the non-resident be come at He has no property to be distrained. But even here other difficulties arise. The proprietor of the fee is perhaps not the immediate lessor; there is a middleman who has no tangible property. The head landlord, the proprietor of the ground, is safe. There is nothing due by him, and the rate is lost. It is easy to enforce payment from the resident gentry, and from the shopkeepers and mercantile class in the towns, who constitute almost the only semblance of a middle class existing in the west of Ireland. The Commissioners may appoint their own paid guardians, and may enforce payment from all those who have tangible property to be distrained ; and having failed in collecting from the others, they may proceed to re-assess the arrears again and again, until they have thoroughly broken down the solventrate-payers, or forced them to leave the country, and thus cleared it at once of all property and educated intelligence, and reduced the inhabitants to one uniform level of pauperism. This picture may appear overdrawn. The writer does not anticipate that it will ever be realised. He feels confident that no such extreme course will
* There are no officers in Ireland exactly corresponding to the overseers in an English parish. Under the Irish poor-law, the board of guardians applots the rate, appoints collectors, and gives all instructions respecting its enforcement: in England, the guardians call on the overseers, who are bound to collect the rates, and who therefore stand between the guardians and the rate-payers,
* The remarks in the text are only intended to refer to a few of the unions in the west of Ireland. They do not apply to those parts of the country in which the greater value of fixed property facilitates the collection of taxes. It is understood that, generally speaking, the rates have been well collected in Ireland; and even this year, the amount received is much beyond what might have been anticipated. The collector's powers are greater than in England, and ample for the greater part of the country.
be adopted ; but he is equally confident, that if the law be stringently carried out, and no assistance afforded from elsewhere, such must be the
result.* The impression seems generally entertained in England, that the Irish poor-law must eventually occasion the confiscation and sale of portions of the estates of embarrassed landed proprietors. The writer cannot see how it can have any such result. The whole annual produce of the land is liable to the payment of the rates, prior to any other claim ; but the fee of the land itself is not liable. The owner may desert it, and leave it untilled. There is nothing to distrain. His rates are unpaid ; but there is no means of enforcing the claim against the land itself. Even where an action is brought against a proprietor, on account of rates due on holdings under £4 annual value, it may perhaps result in the appointment of a receiver over his property, but he cannot be forced to sell. The debt is merely personal, and the estate passes after his death to the heir of entail perfectly free.f
• It may be stated, in proof of the remarks in the text, that several persons of this class, who have property to lose, have already left the country, dreading the impending rates.
f It is thought by some that a judgment in the superior courts would have a more extensive effect; but as no case has yet come before a court of law, the question is still undecided. It was evidently the intention of the legislature, to give the poor the first claim upon the produce of the land ; but it cannot be supposed that it was ever intended to confiscate