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The present law is nearly similar to that of England in these respects. When the parish of Cholesbury became unable to support its poor, the land was not sold. It was useless to its owners for the time, because they could not get any one to rent it; but when the parish righted itself again, the owners resumed possession.
The law in Ireland might no doubt be altered, if it be judicious to alter it, so as greatly to facilitate the recovery of poor-rates ; and to give that power of confiscation, which the English press seems to think so desirable. The landlords might be made primarily liable to poor-rate, as they have been to tithe rent-charge, being entitled to add the tenant's portion to the rent. Summary powers might be given to the poor-law commissioners, in case of the rates not being duly paid, to appoint a receiver, or to sell the property in whole or in part. Such powers would be very severe and arbitrary, and would be a wide departure from the English practice, but they would be efficacious. Whether it would be wisdom and good policy, thus to root out a large portion of the landed proprietary of Ireland, and introduce new men, is another question. There are certainly many of them, who, by their conduct under the recent circumstances of the country, have not merited such a fate.
the fee of the land itself. Under the Irish poor-law, the unpaid arrears on each tenement remain a charge on that tenement; there is no power of remission, as in England. It is therefore possible that arrears might accumulate, until the amount exceeded the value of the fee; in which case, an act of parliament would be necessary, in order to remit the arrears, and so enable the land to be cultivated.
While it may be necessary to afford assistance to those parts of Ireland, where the property is evidently unequal to the burden thrown on it, it is also necessary to enforce the payment of rates from all those who possess any means of paying them. To allow men to escape payment by intimidation or maneuvre, would be an encouragement to roguery, and most disheartening to the honest man. It would inflict a serious wound on the moral feeling of the country. If it be necessary to advance money from the Treasury, and there be no means of repayment, it should at once be given explicitly as a grant ; if it be a loan, the repayment should be strictly enforced. Arrangements may surely be made, short of the extreme measures above alluded to, which may facilitate the recovery of poor-rates, so that they may be collected as fully at least as any other tax.
But the area for rating is by electoral divisions, not unions : and even in the west, there are many electoral divisions which will be fully able to support their own poor; the value of property being greater, or the means of employment better. There are other electoral divisions, where
the property is small compared with the population, where the landlords are non-resident, and no attempt has been made to afford employment, which are evidently unable to support the burden of the poor-rate. In order to meet this difficulty, many have said, why not extend the area for rating, and throw all on the union ? Others have proposed a national rate. These propositions have found favor with many in England, because they expected in this way to make the property of Ireland support all its poor. In considering the provisions of an Irish act, they have chiefly looked to English interests, and in so doing have evinced a very short-sighted policy; for surely that which will best suit the circumstances of Ireland, will eventually be the best for both countries.
To provide against this difficulty by an extension of the area for rating, appears a very questionable remedy. It would certainly lessen the inequality of taxation, but it would at the same time almost wholly take away the inducement, which now exists, to endeavour to provide sources of employment for the able-bodied poor, instead of feeding them in idleness ; because the efforts of any one individual employer would be inappreciable, in diminishing the amount of rates, if they were spread over so great an extent of country. The effects of such
extension of the area of rating, would probably be highly injurious, under the present circumstances of Ireland ; inasmuch as it would render nugatory the hopes of improvement, which have been entertained, from the poor-law enforcing a better cultivation, and the expenditure of more labour on the soil. It would also remove many of the checks on the extravagant administration of out-door relief, and tend to promote a system of wasteful expenditure; in which every one would endeavour to get the most he could for his own neighbourhood, thinking that his proportion of the increased expenditure was so trifling, that it was not worth regarding.
This subject deserves further investigation, with the view of considering whether it would not be judicious, to make some change in the contrary direction, by reducing the extent both of electoral divisions and unions.
In appendices R. and S. will be found a statement of the poor-law unions and electoral divisions of Ireland, with the area and population, arranged under the several counties; also, similar statistics as regards the unions and parishes of England and Wales, so far as the writer has been able to obtain them from parliamentary documents. From these it appears that : The average area of 533 unions in England is ... 54,018 acres,
„ „ 130 , Ireland ... 155,460 »
Out of 533 unions in England and Wales, there are only 42 whose area exceeds 100,000 acres, while of the 130 unions in Ireland, there are 107 exceeding this extent ; of these, 25 exceed 200,000; and one of them, the union of Ballina, contains 507,154 acres. Part of this union is more than forty miles from the poor-house. *
area of 14.4:30 parcia
The average population of 587 unions in England is . . . 23,445 persons,
, Ireland .... 62,879 , The „ area of 14,490 parishes in England ... 2,520 acres,
2,049 electl. divisions in Ireland 9,863 , The „ population of 14,490 parishes in England ... 1,097 persons,
„ „ 2,049 electoral div. in Ireland . 3,989 ,
It is needless to remark further on the greatly increased difficulty, of managing unions and electoral divisions of such extent and population.
If we compare the different parts of Ireland with each other, we obtain the following result:
Ulster . . 43 740 126,9797,378 54,933 3,192 Leinster . . 33 484 141,621 9,656 58,602 3,995 Munster . 35 554 171,585 10,840 69,581 4,396
Connaught . 19 271 214,246 15,021 75,943 5,324 The unions and electoral divisions of Ulster and Leinster, though far beyond the average in England, as respects extent and population, are yet
* Since the above was written, the writer has been given to understand that the union of Ballina is now divided, and that a new workhouse will be built at Belmullet.