« НазадПродовжити »
The evils of the system of public works rendered a cessation of this mode of relief imperative, and the temporary relief act, 10 Vict. cap. 7, was adopted by the legislature early in last session. By this act, which expired on the 30th of September, all the destitute, of whatever class, were to receive daily rations, without any labour being required in return. The machinery adopted consisted of a relief committee for each electoral di. vision, a finance committee for each union, a government inspecting-officer for each union, and a board of commissioners in Dublin. The funds were to be supplied from the Treasury, by loans advanced on the security of rates, and by grants in aid of rates, and in aid of local subscriptions. The electoral division committees were appointed by the Lord Lieutenant, and included the local magistrates and poor law guardians ; the three highest ratepayers, as being those who had the greatest interest in economical management; and the ministers of religion living in the district, as those who ought to be best acquainted with the wants of the poor These committees prepared lists of the destitute in each electoral division, which, when approved by the finance committee, were transmitted to the relief commissioners in Dublin ; and being certified by them, the requisite amount of money was transmitted from the Treasury to the finance committee ; and thus the electoral division committee was enabled to purchase the food required for the support of the destitute within their limits.
This new mode of relief was by no means popular at first. It was much more troublesome to the managing committees than the public works, and the daily rations were much objected to by those who had been in the receipt of money wages. The commissioners insisted that the rations should be cooked, wherever practicable; which created great dissatisfaction with almost all parties. To feed such numbers of able-bodied men in complete idleness, seemed to offer reasonable ground of complaint; and their daily attendance being required, necessarily produced great crowds, lounging for several hours each day about the food depots, spreading the infection of fever, and increasing the demoralization of the labouring classes. These objections, whether well or ill founded, were evidently inseparable from this mode of relief, which was probably as well calculated to effect its object as could readily have been devised. In the gratuitous support of so large a portion of the population, rendered destitute by an unexpected calamity, many abuses were unavoidable. It was only a choice of evils.
The complete operation of the new system of relief was delayed for some time, through the disinclination of the relief committees in many places, who hoped, by deferring the necessary proceedings, to force the continuance of expenditure on public works; but the judicious arrangements and steady determination of the commissioners at length succeeded in carrying the act into effective operation throughout almost all those districts in which it was required. The public works were discontinued gradually ; and the change from one mode of relief to the other was effected with so much prudence and caution, that no serious difficulty was experienced. The orders of the commissioners were ably carried out by the inspecting-officers, who appear to have been in general peculiarly well qualified for the duties allotted to them ; and also by the finance committees, which were composed of from two to four gentlemen of each union, whose energy and intelligence fitted them for the important post assigned them. When at its highest amount, the number of persons receiving daily rations exceeded 3,000,000, and the average cost of each ration was about two-pence. The whole expense of this system of relief appears to have been about £1,676,268.*
* This sum is taken from the 7th Report of the Relief Commissioners, and includes £119,055, 16s., granted for temporary fever hospitals, but it does not include the local subscriptions raised under the act, which however, were not large in amount.
The reports of the commissioners have stated, that in those districts where the relief committees worked together with zeal and in good faith, the administration was excellent, checking fraud and imposture, while it relieved the really distressed. But in some districts this was unhappily not the case. Abuses existed, varying from apathy and neglect to connivance at frauds and misappropriation of the funds. Gross impositions were daily practiced by the poor; the dead or absent were personated; children were lent for a few days, in order to give the appearance of large families, and thus entitle the borrowers to a greater number of rations. Almost the whole population in many places alleged poverty, and looked for relief; and then, conceiving the receipt of cooked food a degradation, they endeavoured to compel the issue of raw meal. One universal spirit of mendicancy pervaded the people, to which in several places the committees offered no opposition. Yielding to intimidation,* or seeking for popula
* The report of the Relief Commissioners alluded to several instances of intimidation. The following is given on the authority of a gentleman of landed property, as showing the manner in which a Roman Catholic clergyman was abused for refusing the unreasonable demands of some of the more powerful of his parishioners :
“I know of the most shocking instance of this, where shameless “ worthless farmers came in bodies, and compelled the priest by threats
to give them the meal intended for the poor. In this very parish, a
rity, they were willing to place the whole population indiscriminately on the lists, to be supported by public charity. In some cases they even sought for a share of it themselves. It is stated in the reports of the commissioners, that gentlemen of station and property were not ashamed to sanction the distribution of rations to their servants and labourers, or to their own tenants ; the same persons, while willing to give to those who did not need it, frequently disregarded the sufferings of the starving poor. This painful subject may be concluded in the words of a gentleman, who had full opportunity of knowing the abuses practised in one of the worst parts of the country: “ Had I not been an eye-witness, I could scarcely
“ scene occurred truly scandalous. The British Association gave our “ parish priest three tons of meal. On its arrival, the riotous conduct “ of the population was such, I had to go out, and the priest begged “ of me to take in the meal and store it for him. I did so. On the “third day after, he took it to the parish chapel, where a scene occurred “ that baffles description ; and in the end this donation was totally mis“ applied, as the destitute got nothing, and those well off every thing. “ I can prove that persons retailing meal, whose houses at the moment "contained many hundred pounds weight of it, received large quantities. “ The priest, poor man, came to me afterwards, and said that for the “ universe he would not distribute another pound of meal.' It ap. “pears that when he attempted to do what was right, a regular scene of “ intimidation ensued; he was threatened with even personal violence, " and the instant demolition of the chapel itself; and he was absolutely “ obliged to give away the food to those who did not require it. Now “this is only one instance; but one under my own eye, where an “ honest man was made the victim of this species of intimidation,"