Зображення сторінки
PDF

there is no probability of our exports of grain much exceeding the imports. The reduced price of food will certainly facilitate the feeding of poultry and the rearing of pigs, but we cannot expect that either of these will be as numerous as before, for a long time to come. As respects cattle and sheep, the case is different ; and we may hope that their numbers will increase. Linens and linen-yarn are the only manufactured articles, the value of which constitute important items in our exports. But all these added together will surely be very insufficient to pay for clothing and imported luxuries, to the extent to which we have heretofore consumed them. The whole population will have less to live on. The capital of the country is lessened, and with it the means of profitable employment. The loss of the potato has converted a large portion of the population, who formerly supported themselves, into idle dependents on the public bounty. All classes must feel the difficulty, and bear their portion of the suffering. It will be long before the country regains the position it has lost. The disproportion existing in most parts of Ireland, between the number of labourers and the demand for labour, is the great evil which causes, or at least greatly increases, most of the other evils affecting the country. From it result the poverty and ignorance of the labourers themselves, and the want of skill, and inability for continued exertion, which in many cases make their low-priced labour really more expensive than the well-paid labour of other countries. How can men work hard, when their wages are insufficient to feed them properly 2 Can we expect to find skill and industry and energy in an unfortunate man, who gets nothing but potatoes to eat, whose lodging is a wretched cabin without window or chimney, the roof letting in the rain, and the furniture often only an iron pot and some damp straw to lie on ? From this disproportion results the extremely low rate of wages, where they are paid in money; or the poor remuneration for labour, where it is paid for by an allotment of land. From it result the ruinous competition for land, and the lawless violence and outrage made use of to retain possession of it. From it results the subdivision of farms, by which they are sometimes divided into portions so minute, as to be insufficient to supply a family even with potatoes, From it results the system of letting land on con-acre, as the only means of enabling the peasant to live, who cannot obtain employment Until this disproportion be removed, it is vain to expect improvement. To raise the labourer in the social scale requires that he should be constantly employed, fairly paid, well

clad, and comfortably lodged. These objects never can be effected while the present disproportion exists. Some employers may pay their labourers better, and lodge them comfortably; and they will probably be amply repaid for so doing, by the increased value of the services performed ; but such partial instances cannot influence the general standard, or free the country from its evil consequences. How this disproportion has been affected by the present calamity is a most important question. Is the number of men looking for employment greater or less than formerly 2 Before the potatoes failed them, the labourers, whether holders of con-acre or cottiers, were enabled to live without employment for five months in winter, depending for support on the produce of their own gardens. This is now at an end. The small farmers also were usually idle in winter for the same length of time, living much in the same manner as the labourers they sometimes employed. Few of them will now be able to do so. The many farm servants who have been discharged form an unexpected addition to the number of labourers. Certainly the number of men who will require employment this winter must be much greater than formerly. But what are the probabilities of their obtaining employment 2 Has the demand for K

labour increased or diminished 2 The serious losses which the landed gentry have already experienced, —their incomes in some places being greatly diminished by non-payment of rent, and by the heavy taxation for the support of the poor, which they have never before been required to pay—have so far crippled their resources, as to forbid us to expect that they will be able to employ even their usual number of labourers. Rather will they in many cases be forced to economise, by dismissing all they can do without, and deferring many important works to a future day, when they may be better able to afford to pay for them. But what are the extraordinary sources of employment, which have been provided to relieve the labour-market 2 how far will they go in supplying this want of demand 2 The extraordinary sources of employment are drainage and other improvements, under the late act, Vict. 10th, cap. 32; and the construction of railways. This act of parliament authorises the expenditure of £1,500,000 in various improvements on the land. It is not very likely that the whole sum will be expended ; but let us suppose it all expended in the six months of the coming winter and spring, and let us take £1,000,000 as the expenditure on railways during the same period, which is, probably, much over the amount ; the whole sum of £2,500,000 would employ about 240,000 labourers for six months, at the rate of eight shillings per week, which is a low rate in railway work. This amount, if each labourer maintained a family of five persons, himself included, would support a population of 1,200,000 persons. This then is the very utmost limit of extra employment; but it may safely be affirmed that the actual result will be very much less. The numbers supported by the temporary relief act, for a considerable period of last summer, amounted to 3,000,000 ; and during that period, the number supported by railway works was probably larger than at present. We may take another mode of comparison. The total expenditure on public works last winter probably amounted to about £5,000,000. It is not likely that the expenditure in the construction of railways, will be greater during the coming winter and spring, than it was during the last. The parliamentary grant of £1,500,000 is therefore the only source of increased public expenditure during the coming season, being £3,500,000 less than was found necessary last year.” In whatever point of view we regard it, there

* The accounts not having been yet presented to parliament, it is impossible to state the exact amount of expenditure on public works. The above estimate is founded on the best information to which the writer has access.

« НазадПродовжити »