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Poor laws—Great want of employment—Large number of helpless poor— Great difference between England and Ireland, as respects the value of property assessed for poor-rate—Property adequate to the support of the poor in the greater part of Ireland–Difficulty of collecting rates— Danger of pauperising the rate-payers in some districts—Necessity of enforcing payment from all who are able to pay—Union-rating considered—Average area and population of unions and electoral divisions much greater than those of unions and parishes in England—Parochial system considered—Management and taxation should be localized— Great extent of some unions and electoral divisions—Injurious effects —Management by local committees proposed—Objections answered— Inequality of taxation–Clearance system—Law of Settlement—Irish paupers in England—Removal of paupers sometimes very oppressive —Objections to localizing the taxation—Some electoral divisions unable to support their poor—A national rate considered—If any district be overburdened, aid should be given by the state—Supposed case of Manchester, in the event of a total failure of the cotton crop—Suggestion of Professor Hancock—Collection of rates must be enforced— Means of facilitating it—Appointment of inspecting officers suggested —Necessity of a middle class for efficient working of poor law.
To discuss the value of the poor law as a means of improvement may now seem useless. It exists. Its good or evil consequences mainly depend on the way it is worked. It remains for us, by judicious and economical management, to render it efficient for the relief of the destitute, without pressing too heavily on the resources of the country. This is a work of no small difficulty. The law comes into operation at a most unfavorable time, when a national calamity, unprecedentedly great, has reduced so many of the poor to destitution, and has so much lessened the means of those who were heretofore rich. Under such circumstances, with so few whose education and position in society fit them to assist in the work, the attempt to carry into operation the untried provisions of a new law presents difficulties of no ordinary character. The loss of the potato crop in 1846, deprived a large proportion of our population of the means of support. During the succeeding winter, they were maintained by employment on public works; and in the spring and summer, by rations distributed under the temporary relief act. They are now again without the means of subsistence, and the ordinary sources of employment are utterly insufficient. In some parts, the farmers, though in want of labourers, seem to be without the money to pay them. A gentleman writing from Castlebar, in the county of Mayo, under date 27th of September, says: “This is, without exception, the worst “country for the employment of labourers, that has “come under my observation. I have seen crowds “ of men standing in the streets of this town, with O
“reaping hooks in their hands, offering their day's
dows, and orphans, and those who are disabled by sickness or infirmity, old age or infancy. They were formerly supported by the charity of the ablebodied poor; now they have no resource but the poor-rates. In many places this is a very numerous class. The government inspecting-officer of a union in Mayo, estimated them as being fully 10,000 out of a population a little exceeding 70,000. Heretofore, the poor law afforded no relief except within the walls of the workhouse ; but the act of last session has extended it, so as to empower the guardians to grant out-door relief to the sick and infirm, and even to the able-bodied, when specially directed by the Commissioners to do so. The temporary relief act was worked by money advanced from the Exchequer. Such advances are now at an end. The poor are wholly dependent on the collection of the rates. If these cannot be obtained, the law provides no resource. They must starve. Can the poor-law be carried into effect throughout the whole of Ireland 2 can it be rendered efficient, so as to keep the destitute from starvation ? If not, in what parts of the country is it at present impracticable 2 and what remedy can be suggested 2 Will the rates be paid willingly 2 and if not, how can they be best en
forced 2 May we anticipate that enough will be collected for the efficient working of the law 2 and if not, by what means can the deficiency be supplied ? These are most important questions, which time alone can fully solve, but which are well worthy of examination in the mean time. There are many unions in the west of Ireland, in which fully nine-tenths of the able-bodied population have heretofore been without employment in winter. How are these to be supported ? To keep them in idleness would exhaust the finances of a nation, and is certainly beyond the capability of an impoverished union. The law never contemplated having to support this class of men ; but rather, that the danger of such enormous charges would force the owners and occupiers of land, to combine their efforts to afford employment to the able-bodied, and thus prevent them from coming on the rates. The land improvement act of last session was intended to facilitate this employment. If its provisions be taken advantage of, and the labourers employed, the rates will be greatly lightened, the land improved in value, and the people saved from pauperism : the poor law will have so far worked well, and will have been really useful to the country. But with the greatest care and economy, the burden must be very heavy throughout the whole country, the amount of property is so small when