Зображення сторінки
PDF

much more manageable than those of Connaught ; which present at the same time by far the greatest amount of destitution, scattered over the widest extent of country, and with much the smallest number of persons suitable to undertake the management. How is it possible for any board of guardians to administer out-door relief efficiently, and yet economically, in a union extending over 200,000, 300,000, or 500,000 acres 2 How greatly is the difficulty increased by the present circumstances of Ireland. The instinctive feelings of benevolence prompt us to relieve the want which we see immediately around us, while the distress of those at a distance affects us comparatively little. In the former case, we see the effect of our exertions, we are able ourselves to administer to the want we desire to relieve, and we have more certainty of the proper application of our bounty. The dictates of Christian morality take the same direction. We are called on peculiarly to assist our neighbours, those who come under our own personal observation. Some attention to the temporal wants of the poorer members of the congregation, has always been acknowledged as a Christian duty. On this, the parochial system is evidently founded. Its members formed a religious as well as a civil community, to some extent P

acquainted with each other, and presumed to meet weekly in the same place of worship. In a community thus circumstanced, relief may be given with kindness and acknowledged with gratitude; and the circumstances of the poor being easily known, imposition may be avoided, and yet none who are really in distress neglected. On this idea, the English system of poor-laws was based ; and appears to have been in substance a law to compel the performance of that, which was universally recognised as a Christian duty. It called upon every parish to assess its inhabitants, for the relief of the destitute among them. It localized the administration of the law and the collection of the funds, and for nearly one hundred and fifty years it appears to have answered the original intention, relieved casual distress, supported the aged and infirm destitute, and provided employment for the able-bodied. Various circumstances resulting from the unnatural position of the country, during the long war with France, and connected with the great changes in the value of property and the rate of wages, led to many abuses in the execution of the poor-law. Some alteration appeared necessary; and it was decided to form unions of several parishes joined together, for the purpose of more efficient manage

ment, but still making each individual parish liable for the support of its own poor only. It seems essential to the effective administration of out-door relief, to obtain the information of a committee, acquainted with the wants of the poor, and interested in economising the expenditure. Is there any plan so likely to secure this, as localizing the management and the taxation? If the district be limited in extent, it will be easier to obtain an efficient oversight of its wants, so that distress may be relieved and imposition prevented; and the committee will have a more immediate and individual interest in good management. This is particularly the case as respects relief to the ablebodied. It is of the utmost importance that they should be supported by labour, instead of burdening the poor rates. If the areas for taxation be large, they afford less inducement for individual exertion to provide employment. The case is very clearly stated in the following extract from resolutions passed by the grand jury of the county of Limerick :* “For if large electoral divisions be preserved, “individual rate-payers will feel that they can but “little diminish their rates, by giving increased “employment; and an inducement will be held out

* Times, 10th March, 1847.

“to them, to employ as few labourers as possible, “and to get for the poor in their own neighbour“hood as large a portion of the public funds as “they can: while in small electoral divisions, the “exertions of every proprietor will sensibly dimi“nish the amount of his taxation ; and when the “only choice left to him is, whether he shall pay “for the support of the poor in his neighbourhood, “ or employ them productively, he will of course “do the latter.” It therefore appears advisable that the districts for taxation should be much smaller than most of the present electoral divisions; both as respects the efficient relief of the sick and infirm, and especially for the sake of stimulating the rate-payers to endeavour to provide profitable employment for the able-bodied, and thus avoid taxation, promote industry, and improve the cultivation of the land. The division into townlands has been suggested, as the area for taxation ; but it is evidently unsuitable, the townlands being very unequal in extent, and many of them very small. The whole number in Ireland is stated by Captain Larcom to be about 66,700; the average area is therefore about 300 acres. The adoption of so small an area would evidently be to fall into the opposite extreme : there is a wide range between this, and the enormous extent of some of the electoral divisions in Connaught, several of which exceed 50,000 acres. Two of them, viz. Belmullet in Mayo, and Roundstone in Galway, have an area of 145,598 and 101,503 acres respectively. The statement of a case of peculiar hardship, may serve to explain the difficulty in which many are placed, by the present unwieldy size of some electoral divisions. It refers to a large electoral division in Connaught peculiarly circumstanced, inasmuch as it is divided by a range of mountains into two parts, which have very little intercourse with each other. One part is in fair cultivation. The other is almost wholly desolate. If separated, the better portion would probably maintain its population without any assistance; but if forced to contribute to the support of the other half, the amount of taxation will be overwhelming. One of the proprietors of land in the better part, thus alludes to the hardship of his position. Referring to the uncultivated part of the division, he says, “Joined to a district in which not an acre of tillage “appears for miles, where the people, if supported “at all, must be thrown on the out-door relief for “the whole of next year; where collecting a rate “is obviously impossible, because no property “exists to produce it; thus our ruin is clear and “unavoidable. We must pay; and the landlords “who have fled, neglected their estates, and done

« НазадПродовжити »