Зображення сторінки

extension of the area of rating, would probably be highly injurious, under the present circumstances of Ireland ; inasmuch as it would render nugatory the hopes of improvement, which have been entertained, from the poor-law enforcing a better cultivation, and the expenditure of more labour on the soil. It would also remove many of the checks on the extravagant administration of out-door relief, and tend to promote a system of wasteful expenditure; in which every one would endeavour to get the most he could for his own neighbourhood, thinking that his proportion of the increased expenditure was so trifling, that it was not worth regarding.

This subject deserves further investigation, with the view of considering whether it would not be judicious, to make some change in the contrary direction, by reducing the extent both of electoral divisions and unions.

In appendices R. and S. will be found a statement of the poor-law unions and electoral divisions of Ireland, with the area and population, arranged under the several counties; also, similar statistics as regards the unions and parishes of England and Wales, so far as the writer has been able to obtain them from parliamentary documents. From these it appears that :

The average area of 533 unions in England is . . . 54,018 acres, 22 ,, 130 ,, Ireland . . . 155,460

[ocr errors]

Out of 533 unions in England and Wales, there are only 42 whose area exceeds 100,000 acres, while of the 130 unions in Ireland, there are 107 exceeding this extent; of these, 25 exceed 200,000; and one of them, the union of Ballina, contains 507,154 acres. Part of this union is more than forty miles from the poor-house.*

The average population of 587 unions in England is . . . 23,445 persons,

3 * 3 × 130 35 Ireland . . . . 62,879 ,, The , , area of 14,490 parishes in England . . . 2,520 acres, 2 3 33 2,049 electl. divisions in Ireland 9,863 , , The ,, population of 14,490 parishes in England . . . 1,097 persons, 32 33 2,049 electoral div. in Ireland . 3,989 ,

It is needless to remark further on the greatly increased difficulty, of managing unions and electoral divisions of such extent and population. If we compare the different parts of Ireland with each other, we obtain the following result:

[ocr errors][merged small]

The unions and electoral divisions of Ulster and Leinster, though far beyond the average in England, as respects extent and population, are yet 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 circum

* Since the above was written, the writer has been given to understand that the union of Ballina is now divided, and that a new workhouse will be built at Belmullet.

stances 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


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 management, 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.

« НазадПродовжити »