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“ nothing to relieve the distress, will have their “ poverty borne by us, until our properties are “ reduced to a similar scene of desolation and “ ruin. An estate free from debt, and prosperous, “ well cultivated, and with every thing to hope “ from its appearance, is, with its proprietor, to “ be suddenly pounced upon, and made to bear “ the burden of the neglect of others ; and thus at “ once the frugality of a life is rendered vain and “ useless." This is an extreme case, no doubt, but it may illustrate the injurious effects which must exist in many places to a lesser extent. We can scarcely conceive circumstances more discouraging to industry. It seems to hold out a premium to idleness. The industrious tenantry of a resident landlord are thus ruined, by being burdened with the wretchedness existing on the neglected estates of absentee proprietors, several miles distant.
The poor-law commissioners are empowered to vary the size of unions and electoral districts, and to divide and alter them as may appear needful from time to time; and it is to be hoped that they will exercise their powers in cases of this description. But if, in order to localize the management and taxation, in districts of a much smaller area than many of the present electoral divisions, it be considered advisable to make any general alteration, it will probably be necessary to effect this
by means of some special enactment, without which the Commissioners might not be willing to make such extensive use of their powers.
The arrangements adopted by the relief committee of the parish of Castletown, in the Queen's County, have been already referred to.* It was a voluntary association, supported by voluntary subscriptions, and managed by a committee of the subscribers. Relief was administered by those who were well acquainted with the locality, and the wants of the distressed. The destitute were efficiently and economically relieved. It answered the original idea of parochial care of the poor. Is not the Castletown voluntary association a fair model for legal relief? could not the same plan be carried into effect throughout the country ? The writer ventures to suggest, as an arrangement for this purpose, that committees should be elected by the ratepayers, for the care of the poor in each electoral division ; the present large electoral divisions being divided, where necessary. It should be their duty to administer out-door relief to the sick and infirm of their respective districts, and to report other cases for admission to the workhouse. The board of guardians to applot and collect the rates, and supply funds to these committees as required. The
* See note, page 103.
committee of each electoral division should elect one representative to sit on the board of guardians, which plan would secure a much more respectable and efficient board, than the present mode of direct election by the rate-payers. The workhouse, and all the financial concerns and accounts of the union, should remain under the care of the board of guardians.
The difficulty of obtaining suitable committees in many parts of Ireland may appear to present grave objections to this plan. The relief commissioners in their third report state, that“ for a gene“ ral arrangement, a trustworthy local management, “ in most cases, cannot be ensured for smaller limits " than those of a union;" but add, that“ in a great “ number of districts the complaint is not appli“ cable.” It is probable that this difficulty is more apparent than real, and that it would very much disappear in the working of local committees, not distributing food provided by government, but dispensing the money of the rate-payers by whom they had been elected, and by whom their actions would be closely observed. But so far as this difficulty does exist, other means should be taken to raise the character of the country in this respect; and it is surely safer in legislation, to anticipate an improved state of society, than to
enact laws which have a tendency to keep us from improving.
The most important objection to localizing the assessment in small districts, is the consequent inequality of taxation ; that some electoral divisions will have very low rates to pay, while others will be heavily burdened, and in some cases may even be totally unable to support their poor. This is certainly correct. In a well managed electoral division, where the labouring poor are employed, and the sick and infirm destitute economically relieved, the taxation will be moderate ; but where the owners of property neglect their duties, and allow the law to be badly administered, and a course of wasteful expenditure to be pursued, the inevitable consequence of their neglect will surely be felt, in a greatly increased amount of poor-rates. Such is the uniform result of prudent management or of negligence in every situation in life. And will not the institutions, which most closely connect prosperity with prudence in the management of public or private affairs, best conduce to the general prosperity of the state ?
But even with the greatest care and attention, there can be no doubt that some districts must be more heavily burdened than others. Under present circumstances, the country towns, in which
little trade or manufacturing industry exist, will feel the pressure of a superabundant population, which have for some time past sought refuge in them, when unable to obtain employment or land in the country. The rates in many electoral divisions in which such towns are placed, will probably be considerably higher than the average ; and the rate-payers in such cases may naturally think, that their interest would be served, by having a uniform rate over the whole union. But it is by no means certain that this would be the result; if the extension of the area for taxation lessened the attention to economy, the increased expenditure would in many cases raise the uniform rate above the highest amount previously paid, and thus all parties would lose by the change.
The danger of harsh measures being resorted to for the clearance of estates, affects any system of poor-laws, by which the property of a country is made liable for the support of its poverty, whether the assessment be on larger or smaller districts, and can probably be met only by a law of settlement. It is well known that such clearances took place, previously to the introduction of poor-laws into Ireland. The circumstances of many parts of the country render it necessary either to diminish the population, or to increase the capital for em