More Poor Law - The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)

John Mitchel
Author’s Edition (undated)

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that the Census Commissioners, in their Report for 1851, admit only 2,041 "registered" deaths by famine alone, in 1846.

A Whig Ministry, however, was now in power; and the people were led to expect great efforts on the part of government to stay the progress of ruin. And I am bound to say that O'Connell used all his power to make the people depend upon that expectation. In August it became manifest that the potato-crop of '46 was also a total failure; but the products otherwise were most abundant,—much more than sufficient to feed all the people. Again, therefore, it became the urgent business of British policy to promise large "Relief," so as to ensure that the splendid harvest should be allowed peacefully to be shipped to England as before; and the first important measure of the Whigs was to propose a renewal of the Disarming Act, and a further increase in the Police force. Apparently the outcry raised against this had the effect of shaming Ministers, for they suddenly dropped the Bill for this time. But the famine could not be correctly administered without a Coercion Bill of some sort; so the next year they devised a machinery of this kind, the most stringent and destructive that had yet been prescribed for Ireland. In the meantime, for "Relief," of the famine,—they brought forward their famous Labour Rate Act.

This was, in few words, an additional poor rate, payable by the same persons liable to the other poor rates; the proceeds to be applied to the execution of such public works as the government might choose; the control and superintendence to be entrusted to government officers. Money was to be in the meantime advanced from the Treasury, in order to set the people immediately to work; and that advance was to be repaid in ten years by means of the increased rate. There was to be an appearance of local control, inasmuch as barony sessions of landlords and justices were to have power to meet, (under the Lord Lieutenant's order), and suggest any works they might think needful, provided they were strictly unproductive works; but the control of all was to be in the government alone.

Now, the class which suffered most from the potato-blight consisted of those small farmers who were barely able, in ordinary years, to keep themselves above starvation after paying their rents. These people, by the Labour Rate Act, had an additional tax laid on them; and not being able to pay it, could but quit their holdings, sink to the class of able-bodied paupers, and enrol themselves in a gang of government navvys,—thus ...continue reading »

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