Poor Law—Ireland; Date, April 28, 1837

Daniel O’Connell

Citation Information:Daniel O’Connell, “Poor Law—Ireland; Date, April 28, 1837,” in Cusack, M. F. The Speeches and Public Letters of the Liberator, v. 1. Dublin: McGlashan & Gill, 1875.

One of O’Connell’s most carefully prepared speeches, containing a mass of invaluable information on the state of Ireland.

Mr. O’Connell—I confess that it has been my most anxious wish to address the House upon this subject at the earliest possible period of the discussion. The regulations of the French Chamber would be more suited to my object than the rules and orders that prevail in this House. There, the speakers are divided into those who speak for a measure, against a measure, and upon a measure. My intention was to speak upon this measure. I am not for it. I do not think that it is likely to succeed. My own deliberate judgment is, that, not only that it will not succeed in mitigating the evils to be found in the present state of the poor of Ireland, but that its tendency will be to aggravate them much; therefore I cannot advocate the measure. I do not mean to vote against it. I think it has now become inevitable that we must have some measure of Poor Law for Ireland. I yield to the necessity, while I regret it. There has been for some time an opinion prevailing in England, that a Poor Law in Ireland will prevent the evils arising from the emigration of the Irish labourer, and mitigate the English poor. Many men, too, in Ireland, have taken up strong opinions lately in favour of a Poor Law, whose opinions formerly were in opposition to it. Several of the Catholic clergy, too, are anxious for the measure. There are also many influential persons who heretofore imagined that political amelioration would produce improvements in the state of the peasantry generally, and are now disposed to make this experiment. I confess that I am not decidedly opposed to it. It is, I know, an untried experiment. I am deeply convinced that Ireland never can obtain prosperity until she has a legislature of her own. That is my thorough—that is my decided conviction. The people are disposed to try whether that is a mistaken conviction; so am I. I find it is impossible to have the people of England consider that the experiment has been fairly worked out, as long as that portion of the experiment which relates to Poor Laws is untried. For these reasons I yielded to the Bill. I do not mean to vote against it at any stage. I will not vote against it; if necessary, I shall vote for it. I repeat it, I yield to the necessity without being at all convinced. In looking to a measure of relief for the poor of Ireland, the first course for the House to pursue is, to understand the nature and extent of the distress that prevails there. The noble lord who introduced this subject to the House omitted that topic altogether. He made a speech which was an extremely perspicuous one in all its details, and having the very best quality of a speech, it being impossible for anyone who attended to it not to understand the subject from one end to the other. But then, he rather took for granted the distress than described it. It was not difficult for him to assume that great distress prevails in Ireland. He entered into none of the details. He state that there was overwhelming distress; but he did not at all trace out any of the causes that have produced the distress in that county. And yet, it is impossible to find out the proper means for putting an end to the prevailing distress, unless the causes of that distress are first ascertained.

I know how wearisome it must be to the House to enter into a subject of this description; but we are now making a new experiment in the administration of Irish affairs, and before we do so, we are bound deliberately to look to the causes—to trace them to higher sources than any that are immediately before our eyes. I do not distinctly say, that this ought to be done, because I am convinced that it is my duty to trace the evil to its source. The poverty and distress that have prevailed in Ireland for ages in my opinion are owing to political causes. If any one remembers the nature of the Government in Ireland, this must be admitted. I need not go far back. It is unnecessary for me to go further than the last century and a half; and, looking at that, no one can be surprised to find Ireland in the state that she is in. I allude merely to two heads of those which are called penal laws. By two distinct branches of those laws, ignorance was enforced by Act of Parliament, and poverty was enacted. Such were the effects of the penal laws. I will mention the statutes. By the 7th William III, chap. Iv., sec. 9, and 8th Anne, chap. iii., it was enacted, that no Catholic should teach or have a school in Ireland. Such instruction of youth was prohibited. No Roman Catholic could be an usher in a Protestant school; it was an offence punishable by confinement or banishment. To teach a Catholic child was a felony punishable by death. The Catholics were prohibited from being educated. For any child receiving instruction there was a penalty of L10 a-day, and when the penalty was two or three times incurred, then the parties were subjected to a praemunire—the forfeiture of goods and chattels. To send a child out of Ireland to be educated was a similar offence; to send it subsistence from Ireland was subjected to the same forfeiture; and what was still more violent and unjust, even the child incurred a forfeiture of goods and chattels. By these laws there was encouragement given to ignorance, and a prohibition imposed upon knowledge. I am not now to be told that these laws were part of ancient history—they were in full force when I was born. Another part of this code of laws prohibited the acquisition of property. No Roman Catholic could acquire property. He might, indeed, acquire it; but, if he did so, any Protestant had the right to come into a court of equity and say, “Such a man has, I know, purchased an estate—such a man is Roman Catholic; give me his estate;” and it should be given to him. To take a lease beyond thirty-one years was prohibited; and even if within thirty-one years, and the tenant by his industry made the land one-third in value above the rent he paid for it, it could be transferred to a Protestant. These were laws that were in force for a full century. For a full century we had laws requiring the people to be ignorant, and punishing them for being industrious—laws that declared the acquisition of property criminal, and subjected it to forfeiture. For one century ignorance and poverty were enacted by law as only fit for the Irish people. The consequences of a system of that kind are still felt. Nobody can say that this is exaggeration. It has been said you have to address yourself to the poverty and ignorance of Ireland; and we know that no ingredient can be so fatal in the history of a country—no greater impediment can be discovered to its improvement. When you see that you are at once shown the source from which such misery has flown. There are sufficient political causes for the present state of Ireland. I now wish to bring the attention of the House to the effect of some statistical facts with respect to Ireland. They may not, at first, appear to bear directly upon the question; but they afford the materials for thinking, and are likely to lead you to a just conclusion. These documents show you accurately the political economy of that country. First, then, as to the contrast between England and Ireland. There were in England 24,250,000 cultivated acres. In Ireland the quantity of acres under cultivation is 14,600,000. The proportion is not more than two to one of cultivated acres. The agricultural labourers in Ireland are 1, 131,715; the number of agricultural labourers in England is 1,055,982. This gives an excess to Ireland of 75,733 agricultural labourers. The value of the agricultural produce of England is L150,000,000; the value of the agricultural produce of Ireland is L36,000,000. The quantity of hands is two to one as compared to England; the quantity of produce by England is four to one as compared with Ireland. England produces four times as much as Ireland, although she ought only, considering the fertility of the soil of Ireland, to produce twice as much. Agricultural produce is the source of wages to the labourer. In England the wages paid to the labourer is from 8s. to 10s.; in Ireland the wages paid is from 2s. to 2s.6d. This shows that agricultural produce is the source of wages. Let it be recollected that this is the state of Ireland—this is the state of her agricultural produce when she ought naturally to produce comparatively more than England, because the soil of Ireland is more fertile comparatively than that of England. If there was an equality of cultivation, Ireland would produce much more, according to its extent, than it now produces less. The diminution of its produce, that by which it is so much less than it ought to be, is to be attributed to the want of capital to be expended in cultivation—it is to be attributed to the poverty of the proprietors of the soil; it shows that there is a diminution where there ought to be an increase in the quantity. You are not to be surprised that there is not that capital. You perceive that there is not a sufficiency of capital to have that produce what it ought to be. It was not to be wondered at that such a country as this should be in such a state of destitution. In Ireland it appears that there are 585,000 heads of families in a state of destitution—persons who for more than seven months in the year are without employment. This is the number of the heads of families, and comprising, on an average to each family, not less than 2,300,000 individuals. It has been said that destitution has been created by the undue bidding for land. The competition for land has been declared to be one of the great causes of the present destituion, and it has been said that if you could diminish that competition, you would diminsh the destitution. Accordingly, the Secretary to the Poor Law commissioners has been publishing pamphlets and declaring that he has found out the secret of Irish destitution. All, he says, that is to be done, is to take away the demand for land, and that the moment you do so you will give relief—that by putting an end to the exorbitant rents now demanded you will afford relief to the destitute. See how little foundation there is for such an assertion. Because there are 585,000 heads of families in a state of destitution he would thus relieve them. Now there are not less than 567,441 of these persons who have not an inch of land; they, then, were not poor by reason of the competition for land; and he would only give relief to 17,000 heads of families that have land.

Without, then, referring to a Poor Law there were 567,000 who had no land; these persons were to be swept away before they could come to the panacea to prevent the competition for land, and which could only affect 17,000 persons. I state these facts because they can be no longer disputed. I wish to show the state of society in Ireland. There is this overwhelming excess of agricultural labourers in this miserable state; there is this inferiority of agricultural produce; there is this attributable to the poverty of the landlord and the tenant equally. Let it be recollected (although I have not the document here to prove it) that it has been calculated that the landlord receives 50s. in England for every 20s. that the Irish landlord gets. I have now presented facts to you to show the situation of the peasantry, and to prove to you that they are in the most extraordinary state of destitution. I have the evidence of this fact from every county in Ireland. I begin with the—

“COUNTY ANTRIM.—Dr. Forsyth observing a poor man’s cabin locked up on Sunday, he was induced to make inquiry, and found that he had not risen from his bed during the day, having nothing to eat.”

The Rev. Mr. Brennan states “it would make your blood run cold to hear the tales of woe and misery that are told me in my confessional—the hardships of the poor are beyond endurance.”—”First Report,” p. 401.

“COUNTY WESTMEATH.—Instances have been known of persons having committed trifling offences for the purpose of being sent to prison, in order that they might obtain food and shelter.”—”First Report,” p. 408.

“COUNTY CLARE.—At all times of the year a large body of able-bodied men are out of work, but in summer there is the greatest scarcity of employment. The poor are then reduced to the greatest extremity, and are obliged to put up with just as much food as will keep body and soul together. Many is the man who thinks himself well off at that time with one meal a day. The following case give an idea of the distress to which these poor women were reduced when the cholera hospital was estalished. Notwithstanding the dread which was entertained of the disease, three poor widows feigned sickness to get admittance. “—”First Report.”

“COUNTY LONDONDERRY.—The widows are frequently reduced, with their children, to six pounds of potatoes a day. Spinning is the only employment to which they can have recourse.”—”First Report.”

The habits are as follows:—

“To or three families occupy one room. We have found four families in a room; in one corner a woman, who had just been delivered, lying on a little straw; no other straw in the room.”— “First Report.”

“COUNTY ANTRIM.—Many cases of death arise from starvation.”

“COUNTY CORK.—Doctor Fitzgibbon is disposed to attribute much of the disease, which is at all times prevalent, to the use of bad food, and to the miserable state of the poor as to the bedding and bed-clothes. He has often found sick persons lying with only a little damp straw between them and the ground.”— “First Report.” P. 323.

“the huts that labouring people live in are often such that they have scarcely a place to lie on, on account of the rain.”

“In point of clothing the state of a great portion of the labouring class is very wretched. The clothes, or rather rags, of many labouring men are utterly insuffient to protect them from the cold; many have no blankets, but make use of the clothes they wear during the day for the night covering.”

The hon. Member next referred to a return from the county Carlow, showing the destitution of the class of small farmers, and observed that it was intended by an Act of Parliament to tax that class of persons, and make them pay poor-rates.

He next referred to the—

“COUNTY MAY0.—Numberless instances were known of families, being unable to procure straw, cutting rushes for beds; still more, that for want of bed-clothes they lie in the clothes they wear by day. Independent of rain from the roof, they cannot but be damp from their situation, as the most valueless (that is swampy) piece of land is always selected to build on for them, for fear of wasting any that might be profitable.”—” “First Report.” P. 202.

“The Rev. Mr. Hughes mentions a case in which he was called on about three months ago, to administer the rites of religion. The family had been attacked by the fever; he found the father, and four, out of the five, children sick, and all together on one bed of moist rotten straw; their only covering a single fold of what is called a poverty blanket, half wool and half tow.”— “First Report.” P. 292

“in the parish of Burrishoole, in a population of 10,553,931 were men and women destitute of necessary raiment; 9,553 of the total population were lying at the best on straw; and of those 7,070 were on the cabin floors.”— “First Report.” P. 375.

In the parish of Kilmore Erris (Mr. Lyons says), according to a census which I made, there were 751 men who had no shoes; and out of a population of 9,000, 3,136 persons, male and female, who within five years had not purchased any article of clothing. According to the same census, of 1,648 families in the parish, 388 have two blankets each; 1,011 have one blanket each; and 299 have no blankets at all. You may well be surprised at this; it surprised myself, although many years resident as parish priest.”— “First Report.” P. 386

Now look to the effect of a Poor-law in one parish of the county Mayo, the parish of Burrishoole:—

“Statement showing the acreable extent, the population, distinguishing the number without employment, and those unable to work, and the rental and tithes in the parish of Burrishoole, county of Mayo, deduced from the evidence in the first Report of Commission of Poor Law Inquiry (Ireland), Session, 1835 (369), pages 375-6.


Number of acres of arable and pasture land,


Number of acres of reclaimable mountain and pasture land,


Number of acres of irreclaimable land,



Total number of acres


Number of persons capable of labour without employment seven months in the year,


Number of persons destitute and unable to work,


Population in 1834,



Rental.—Amount paid to absentees or mortgagees,


Amount paid to the resident landed proprietors,


Amount of Tithes as compounded,



Total amount of Rental and Tithes,


“Estimates and inferences drawn from the foregoing statement, assuming that relief was to be entirely drawn from the land, and that at the lowest possible calculaion, without reference to the expense or workhouse, or management, &c.


“Of the amount it would annually take to provide support for the destitute unable to work, at 2 1/4 d. per head per diem, L1,953; or more than one-fourth of the rental and tithes.

Of the amount it would take to provide for the persons left without employment seven months in the year, at 3d. per head per diem, L18,579.

Of the amount it would annually take to provide for both classes—those destitute and unable to work, and those seven months in the year out of employment, L20,532, or nearly treble the rental and tithes.


“Proportion per acre on the cultivated land it would annually take to provide for the destitute unable to work, 2s. 5d.

Proportion per acre on the cultivated land and that reclaimable it would annually take to relieve both classes, 13s.

Proportion per acre on the cultivated land it would annually take to relieve both classes, those unable to work and those seven months out of employment, 25s. 7d.”

I mean to read but one other statement, I assure the House I am confining myself to a few of the many extracts I have made upon this subject:—

“COUNTY LONGFORD.—Those who have a plot of early potatoes dig them before they are half grown; they often have dug them out when they ought to be beginning to ripen; eating these unripe potatoes causes sickness; many men are put into their graves by this bad food; they are pounded with salt and vegetables to give them a substantial body, otherwise they could not be eaten, they are so wet and tasteless; they are soft as mushrooms.”—See “First Report.”

“COUNTY KILDARE.—It is a matter of frequent occurrence to find able-bodied persons committing offences for the purpose of being sent to gaol and getting food and shelter there.”— “First Report.” p. 400.

“There are, at least, 200 families without straw to lie on, and without any potato-ground, and as they get little employment, it is a miracle how they live.”

“COUNTY TIPPERARY.—The poor have to live on phrassagh (yellow-weed), or on unripe cabbages or potatoes. Even in ordinary seasons no small number of labouring men are compelled to allow their wives and children to have recourse to begging.”— “Report.” p. 453.

I suppose there is not a civilised country in the world, except Ireland, where such details of misery are to be found. It is heartrending. It is so extensive as to be almost incredible. But let it be recollected—let the House remember—that this evidence has been collected by gentlemen of intelligence and humanity; that the Lord Archbishop of Dublin, that the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, that Mr. Blake, aided by a number of Assistant-Commissioners, vouch for the accuracy of those statements, which underwent investigation on the spot. There was a Report published in 1830. See what a description it gave. Mr. Nicholls, who paid a flying visit to Ireland, reported that there were great and encouraging prospects of happiness and comfort of the Irish. The Report of 1830 stated it was gratifying to them to notice the progress of improvement. Mr. Mahony declared that “the state of the peasantry was improving very rapidly,” and that “the peasantry were now better clothed than formerly.” Then there was Mr. Wayne, of the Woods and Forests, who said that every corner in Ireland was rapidly increasing in prosperity. There was, too, Mr. Wigans, an English land agent, stating that there was very great improvement in Ireland within the last twenty-two years. He stated that he conceived there was even an improvement in the morality of the people! This was the evidence in 1830; but I have been reading for you the evidence in 1835. There you find that these prospects of improvement all end in this miserable display of wretchedness! I assure the House I have shrunk from half the selections I have made. The Report says that the population is increasing rapidly. I know that it is generally believed that the increase of the Irish population is greater than that of the English. The fact is not so. The population increases more rapidly in England that in Ireland. The ratio of increase from the year 1821 to 1831 in England has been sixteen per cent; in Ireland, in the same period, it has been thirteen per cent. This ratio shows that it is totally false that the great increase in population can be made fairly accountable for the distress that exists. You see the pictures of misery that Ireland presents—you behold it in its present condition; that condition is attributable to the most frightful code which a Satanic imagination could have invented. That is the condition of a country blessed by nature with fertility, but sterile from want of cultivation, and whose iinhabitants stalk through the land miserable wretches, enduring the extreme of destitution and of mistery, living upon bad potatoes, feeding upon wild weds seasoned with salt, with no blankets to covr them, no beds to lie upon, nothing to shelter them from the rain, exposed to the worst ills of life, and without any of its consolations. Who did this? You—Englishmen—I say you did it. I say that the domination of England did this. You—you cannot accuse us. This horrible poverty is all your doing. It is the result of your policy and your system of government in that country. The blessings of Providence to Ireland are superior, perhaps, to those bestowed upon any other country. Recollect her navigable rivers—recollect the extent of her agriculture—recollect her situation for commerce—then add to that her fertility, and then regard her wretchedness; it is not an imaginary picture—it is taken on the spot—the portrait is painted from living subjects. This, then, is the natural consequence of your rule. Agricultural produce has been comparatively decreasing—the number of labourers comparatively increasing.

There is a great debt due to Ireland. I have no hesitation in saying that the real remedy which the Irish people have to look for is self-government. In the discussion of that question I had to encounter column after column of figures, which were displayed against me. They were commented upon to show the increase of wealth in Ireland. What now becomes of the columns of figures, contrasted with the Poor Law Commissioners? They remark, at once—political causes have reduced the country to its present condition. I come not here to make a polemical or political speech. I wish only to state facts; to trace the cause of misery and destitution that are unequalled on the face of the globe. To be sure, it may be said that I am making a case for a Poor Law. Certainly, I am for a provision for the poor, and affording to them relief; but whether that is to be by a Poor Law is another question. I am here making a case to interest your humanity. I am here making a case to excite your compassion, and to afford every possible stimulant to assist me in taking Ireland from the situation in which you have placed it. You know now what is the condition of Ireland at present. It is crying out for a remedy. I ask you for the remedy. What remedy do you propose? We require some remedy. It is admitted upon every hand that the case calls for a remedy. What do you propose? You gave L20,000,000 to the negroes, or to their masters; will you give L20,000,000 to the Irish? Twenty millions would do a great deal. Will you give a grant, or send money over to Ireland? Or will you give an annuity or the twenty millions? Will you give L600,000 a year, and apply it to the benefit of the Irish people? No; but you come out upon me, and say, if you have your five shillings in one pocket, we will give a shilling out of one pocket and put it in the other, in order that, according to the proverb, you may not say you are poor, having, “money in both pockets.” You say to us, we will give you leave to tax yourselves. This is the mode in which you will relieve our misery and distress. The Carlow farmer, who is dying from not being able to have a refreshing draught to wet his lips in fever—that man is to be taxed. Will you compel him to give relief to support wretches who are not, perhaps, half as miserable as he is himself. I believe that you ought to bethink yourselves whether or not you will give to Ireland some annuity. Will you form a proper system of emigration? Emigration is now going on. The noble lord has very properly remarked that the expense of emigrations is now defrayed by emigrants themselves, and that, if the system were altered, those persons would not go without assistance from Government. Why not take the waste lands of Canada? Why not dispose of them in such a way as to promote an effectual emigration? Why not take the colonial waste lands as the American Government does? Why not make them a fund? Nobody would miss them. Such a step might, perhaps, put an end (to a certain extent) to the Land Company; but it would enrich the Canadian people by sending out to them great numbers of healthy, able-bodies labourers. There would be something in that; but you do not talk of doing it. What is it that you propose to do? Do you mean to give us public works? I know the noble lord told us that no permanent good could result from public works undertaken merely for the purpose of giving employment for the time. I admit that; but there are works of a different description that might be undertaken. Read the Report, and then tell me of whether there are not public works from the undertaking which there might not follow an increase of revenue and of national prosperity. I do not propose to dig holes one day and fill them up the next, as was once proposed by a celebrated statesman in this House. I propose works of public utility. I propose the construction of roads, and means of communication through mountains and bogs. I propose the drainage of land where the capital required goes beyond the means of individuals to supply. My hon. friend near me suggests the opening of the Shannon. Perhaps that might come within the works I should propose. But you have nothing for me except this Bill.

I have already shown you that it is not competition for land that makes the misery in Ireland. Then what is it that causes the distress and wretchedness of the country, and of what value is this Bill to remove them? I will not now canvass any of its details, which may be more suited for discussion in committee. I take only its great principles. In the first place, it is founded upon Mr. Nicholls’ report. Ought any Act of Parliament be founded on that man’s report? I find it impossible to speak of that report in the terms one ought to use in this House. It is impossible, with due regard to the decorum of Parliament to speak of it in the terms of execration in which it ought to be held. What did Mr. Nicholls do? On the 22nd August, being in London, he fits himself out for his Irish expedition, deliberately takes his way to Ireland, and by the 15th of November has prepared his report, and safely returned to London. This report is drawn up entirely from his own observation; for, with contemptuous indifference, Mr. Nicholls cast aside altogether all the information that could have been afforded by the Poor Law Commissioners who had been sitting upon the subject of Poor Laws in Ireland. Mr. Nicholls, having spent rather more than two months in his survey on the state of Ireland, certainly begins his report in rather a comical manner; for, says he, remembering of course the weary period he had engrossed in the service, “it is only by personal inspection that the state of Ireland can possibly be known.” After a personal inspection of six or eight weeks, Mr. Nicholls actually advances an opinion that Irishwomen were chaste! Of a truth, he must be a might keen observer; but I agree with him that it is by personal inspection only that Ireland can be known, though it would perhaps have been well if the personal inspection of Mr. Nicholls had been carried somewhat further before he cast aside from him, as wholly unworthy of observation or regard, the report of the Irish Poor Law Commissioners. I have inquired a little of Mr. Nicholls’ mode of proceedings whilst he was in Ireland, and I understand that, although several of the Commissioners were resident in Dublin during the time he was there, he only thought it worth while to seek out one of them, Mr. Vignolles, upon whose experience and understanding he might certainly have put implicit faith. Disregarding, however, any information he might have received from that gentleman, Mr. Nicholls decides upon establishing in Ireland one hundred poorhouses. That is the scheme to relieve Ireland from all her distress and all her misery. One hundred workhouses! I will canvass this scheme a little more particularly presently. Mr. Nicholls with his one hundred workhouses, talks of giving relief to 80,000 poor persons in a hundred poorhouses. Is not this preposterous? Is it not much worse than preposterous? I will not insult the good sense of the House by dwelling upon it. I will not pursue Mr. Nicholls through all the absurdities of his scheme, but I will call the attention of the House to the charities that now exist in Ireland, and, comparing the number and extent of these charities with the misery that exists with them, and in spite of them, I will then ask the House how far the confinement of 80,000 poor persons in one hundred workhouses is likely to alleviate the sufferings of my unhappy and destitute countrymen? In the city of Dublin alone the sums annually granted by this House towards the support of charitable institutions amount to L44,450. There are besides a number of other charities supported by private subscriptions, of which the annual amount is L29,360 19s. 10d., and beyond these there is another series of charities, the amount of which in pounds, shillings and pence, has not been exactly ascertained; but, including all the sums distributed by the Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of Charity in Dublin, the annual amount cannot be less that L30,000. So that, in the city of Dublin alone, the sums given in charity by Parliament, by private subscriptions, by collections at Protestant churches and Catholic chapels, by religious and charitable societies, amounts in the aggregate to L103,800 per annum. And, with all this, is the destitution of the people relieved? Is there no misery, no wretchedness in Dublin? Is there a city in the world where there is so much wretchedness or so much misery? Then, if L103,800 a year be insufficient to relive the distress of one city, how can it be supposed that L312,000, the estimated expense of the hundred workhouses, will be sufficient to relive the distress of the whole country;; recollecting, too, how many sources of private charity will be dried up the moment a general measure of this kind is passed? I will put this fact in another point of view. I have in my hand the statistics of the medical charities of Ireland. It seems there are in the provinces four hundred and eighty-two dispensaries, sixty-seven fever hospitals, thirty-six county and city infirmities, eleven district lunatic asylums, including that at Cork, and in Dublin eight infirmaries and six hospitals, making a total of six hundred and ten establishments for the distribution of medical charity in Ireland, supported at an annual expense of L164,994. This is equal to one-half of the sum calculated by Mr. Nicholls as the annual amount of the money to be distributed under the provisions of the Bill now before us. The average number of persons admitted into the infirmaries and fever hospitals in Ireland amounts to 40,000, and the expense, as I have already stated, amounts to L164,994 a year. Do you suppose by doubling the number of persons to be relieved, and the sums to be employed for that purpose, that you will include all who stand in need of relief in Ireland, or that you will have sufficient pecuniary means to remove all the distress of that country? Stopping the sources of individual charity, do you suppose that, by simply doubling the amount now expended in medical chariti4es, you will be increasing to the people of Ireland the aids they at present receive. Have I not describe to you the distress that exists everywhere in Ireland? Have I not at the same time given you the amount of the charities that are maintained in that country? Have I not shown that upwards of L250,000 a year are annually expended in charitable institutions and medical establishments? What, then, becomes of Mr. Nicholls’ calculation that L312,000 a year is to do everything for Ireland? It is a dream—a wild dream: L312,000 a year will do nothing. I tell you that this law must be confiscation or nothing. Make your minds up to that—make the experiment if you please, but prepare to take the consequences. I should mention that Mr. Nicholls put in a postcript to his report. It is said that the material part of a lady’s letter is generally to be found in the postscript. Mr. Nicholls, being a man of gallantry, thinks this, I suppose, a proper mode of following the example of the ladies, and accordingly he puts in his most important calculation by way of postscript.

“The population of Ireland,” says he, “being about 8,000,000, I assume that workhouse accommodation may occasionally be required for one per cent. or 80,000 persons;” and then in a foot-note, he remarks, by way of illustrating his proposition, that “in Kent, Sussex, Oxford, and Berks, the amount of indoor pauperism, as returned on the twenty-ninth of September last, was just one per cent. on the population. These four counties were among the most highly pauperised, have been longest under the operation of the new law, and are provided with the most effective workhouse accommodation.” Yes, one percent. of the population are relieved in the workhouses; but Mr. Nicholls forgets how many are relieved out of the workhouses—he omits that altogether—he totally forgets it; and it is upon this man’s report that you are going to act—upon such a report you propose to legislate for the relief of a nation. Would it not be wise to pause? Before you proceed, would it not be wise and well to ascertain the correctness of the grounds on which you are required to act? I have in my hand a calculation of the amount of in-door and out-door relief afforded in the four English counties mentioned by Mr. Nicholls. I have heard the amount of that relief rated much higher; but I will confine myself to the statements contained in the document before me. It will be recollected that Kent, Sussex, Oxford, and Berks are the counties which Mr. Nicholls describes as having been longest under the operation of the new law, and provided with the most effective workhouse accommodation. Well, then, the calculation I hold in my had demonstrates clearly that instead of one percent on the entire population, as calculated by Mr. Nicholls, the proportion relieved in-doors and out of doors is five percent.” and, therefore, proceeding on Mr. Nicholls’ own data, it follows that, not one hundred, but five hundred workhouses would be required; that 400,000 persons, and not 80,000 persons, must be accommodated; and that the amount of the annual charge must be L1.560,000 instead of L312,000. Will the house be content to proceed upon calculation which I prove to be so grossly fallacious? But why does Mr. Nicholls make the workhouses the test of destitution? What the noble lord (Lord J. Russell) stated was, that the able-bodied poor were to be relived in Ireland, and that the Bill should not be limited, as the Irish Poor Law Commissioners had suggested, to the relief of the sick and maimed alone; and then the noble lord, applying Mr. Nicholls’ test, said, “It will be a proof of destitution—of such destitution as demands relief—if they go into the workhouses we propose to establish?” Do you, then, want proof of destitution in Ireland? Is the wretchedness of the people a matter of doubt? Do you require proofs, such proofs as these, that they are starving? Such language sounds strangely indeed on the ears of those who know anything of Ireland. But in England it was said that the Poor Law system was so defective that until the new law was adopted nobody could dream of introducing it into Ireland. What did the Poor Law system produce in England? It produced laziness, dissipation, want of care; it took away habits of thriftiness and industry; it engendered profligacy, and made men destitute from their own incaution; it produced all these consequences in England. They became at length intolerable, and you said, “We will redress them; and in order that we may find out who are really destitute; we will adopt a test which none but the destitute will abide: we will separate the idle and vicious from the honest and industrious; we will relieve those only who stand the test we apply to them.” Accordingly a sort of prison discipline was invented for the government of all the English workhouses; a discipline, no doubt, to which none but the really destitute would be willing to submit. But do the Irish people require any stimulant of that kind to keep them from idleness or to induce them to work? Does even Mr. Nicholls say that the Irish people are idle and will not work? Is there any people on the face of the earth so anxious to procure wages by labour? Is there a civilized, or a cultivated, or a cultivable spot in the wide world where Irishmen are not found performing the heaviest and most incessant labours? What works are there requiring great physical strength and unrelaxed exertion where Irishmen are not the chief laourers? Must you imprison them, then, to make them work? No, no! the people of England would never have required such a stimulant for their industry, if you had not first demoralised them by your Poor Laws; and till you have demoralised the people of Ireland by the operation of a like system, you need not threaten them with imprisonment to make them work. The system of poorhouses, as proposed in this Bill, may hold out to the Irish landlords the delusive notion that there is an extent beyond which the rate for the relief of the poor will not go. Such a notion may for a time be entertained by the landlords, but it will be fallacious. It is, indeed, a delusion you are practising upon yourselves if you think you can with such a paltry sum do anything for the substantial relief of the people of Ireland. I would implore you before you plunge into this Bill to consider this—by adopting such a measure do you deprive the people of Ireland of nothing? Do you take from the poor of Ireland nothing? Your Report shows that the Irish poor receive at present in alms an annual amount varying from L1,000,000 to L1, 500,000. They do not receive it in coin, but in kind; and this is easy to the farmer who affords the relief. Has any farmer in Ireland told you that he would rather pay money than the produce of his land? No. Your humanity to the farmers is delusive—your inhumanity to the poor is obvious. You take away from them the L1.500,000 of charity they have at present, but do you take away from them nothing else? Do you take away from them no kindly feeling? Do you know the evidences that have been given of strong filial and parental affection in the Irish? Have you read nothing of their habitual kindness and consideration for all of kin to them? I have a multitude of passages in my hand, extracted from the Report of the Commissioners, passages which do the greatest credit to the affections of the unfortunate Irish poor. They are in misery and distress, but their kindly feelings never freeze under the chill hand of poverty and destitution. There they are—the son supporting the mother, the daughter supporting her aged parents; nay, with the latter it is often the speculation to marry young that they may have a partner to assist them in the office of maintaining those who can no longer support themselves.

There is not a higher testimony to the moral qualities of the Irish poor than the evidence that has been placed before us relative to their condition. Do you wish to take all these away? You know it is a very natural thing for a son to say: “Why should I diminish my own means to support my infirm father, when there is the union workhouse to receive him? Why should I exhaust myself with labour to maintain my mother, when there is the same refuge for her? Why should I assist my blind cousin, or a lend a helping hand to my lame uncle—is there not the union workhouse to receive them?” This is only a natural train of argument. You will deprive the Irish poor, therefore, of the charity they at present have; you will extinguish in their bosoms those kindly feelings and generous emotions which are beyond all price, and you will reduce them to the same miserable and degraded condition out of which you are now seeking to raise a considerable proportion of your own agricultural poor. Again, then, I implore you, to hesitate before you plunge into this measure. I have mentioned many reasons that should induce you to do so. Are there no others? In Ireland, you have around the poorest and most destitute class a broad margin, composed of men who are not actually paupers, but who are scarcely able, by dint of the strongest and most incessant exertions, to eke out a livelihood. All these are for the future, under the operation of this Bill, to become rate-payers. Every man rented at L5 a—year is to become a rate-payer. This will include every man who at present saves himself from begging. There are multitudes of this class. I would have you recollect, then, that when you are taking away from the beggar the charity he at present receives, you are, at the same time, taking from the small farmers the means that hitherto prevented them from becoming beggars, also. Is there not another consideration? What is it that supports the Irish labourer at present? What fund is there in Ireland for the payment of wages? There is not capital enough to pay for labour in Ireland. Do you want to take away part of the funds that now exist? Is not every shilling levied for poor-rates a shilling taken from the means of paying the wages of labour? By imposing a rate, therefore, you will destroy the inadequate means that even now exist for the payment of wages. But it is said (and this no doubt would be a great boon, if it could be accomplished)—it is said a measure for the relief of the poor will tranquillise Ireland; there will be nor more insurrectionary movements in the country when the people find that their wants are supplied. To accomplish that end, you must carry your calculations much farther than you propose to do by this Bill. You must go the full length of the L1,500,000 of charity, which you will be putting aside if you hope to give permanent tranquility to Ireland. I confess that the measure as it now stands, does not appear to me to be calculated to give tranquility to that country. How does it proceed? There is to be no parachial relief. All relief is to be given in the workhouses. Perhaps Mr. Nicholls, in his sagacity and wisdom, will make rules for the government of those houses. What will be the consequence? You will give to every man whom you refuse to relieve a cause for praedial agitation. The man you refuse is the very man to resent in the worst way the refusal; he will go to others and induce them to adopt his quarrel; perhaps, to avenge what he conceives to be his wrong. Thus, instead of tranquillising Ireland, you will only be giving to her another source of discontent. Am I speaking imaginary things when I refer to the operation of a system of Poor Laws as a cause for praedial agitation? Was there not a period, and a recent one, when the rural districts of England were nightly illumined by the torch of the rustic incendiary? Am I, then, speaking only of imaginary things when I say that this law, instead of affording a protection against praedial agitation, will become only a new source of irritation and exasperation. If it do not, it will be only from the extreme extent of the relief you give. I conjure you to consider, whether you make your relief substantial and beneficial; you must not make it equal in amount to one-half, or, at any rate, one-third of the rent-roll of Ireland. If you enter upon this course of policy at all, you must not do it piecemeal; you must not dole out your charity in small driblets. Let it be as extensive as the evil, or do not attempt it at all. This, too, must be recollected—in the introduction of Poor Laws into Ireland you do not propose to establish any law of settlement. Now Poor Laws have been recommended for Ireland as tending to make landlords careful of the tenants on their estates; because, not taking care of them upon their estates they would have to support them by paying rates. But if you establish no law of settlement, you will not affect the landlord in that way. It is the union and not the landlord who will have to pay for the support of the poor wherever thy are found, and whatever the burden upon the landlord, it will only be shared by him in common with his neighbours. Thus, the inducement to the landlord to take care of his tenantry will be wholly lost, unless the Bill be accompanied by a law of settlement. Yet, I am not asking for a law of settlement. I know the difficulties that would attend the introduction of such a measure. Mr. Nicholls, to be sure, thinks it would be easy enough, because, says he, there would be no difficulty in procuring a certificate of births from the clergyman. That applies only to the Protestants. But how are the Roman Catholics whose priests succeed each other with great rapidity in almost every parish, especially those that are sickly, how are they to obtain certificates of their birth? I mention this only to show of what materials Mr. Nicholls’ mind is composed, when he says it would be the easiest thing in the world to do this or that. I approve of not introducing a law of settlement into Ireland; because, though there may be a prima facie case in favour of the introduction of such a law, the report of our own Poor Law Commissioners, as well as the experience of all foreign counties where a law of settlement obtains, proves that the effect of it is to enslave the paupers, by tying them to the soil where they are born, and hunting them like rats if they venture to remove from it, lest they should obtain a settlement elsewhere. Instances of this have been abundant enough in London, where women, actually in labour, have been trundled about from parish to parish by the overseers, each anxious to prevent the child from being dropped within the precincts over which he presided. A law of settlement cannot be introduced into Ireland; yet, by not introducing it, you prevent your Poor Laws from affording to the poor that security against the severity of the landlord, which you say you are anxious to establish.

There is another point for consideration. Any attempt to make labour productive by raising a poor rate will be abortive and end in disappointment. A labour rate has failed wherever it has been tried. I wish this to be fully understood before we proceed with the present measure. I have felt it to be my duty to spend a considerable portion of my time in reading everything I could get on Poor Laws, foreign and domestic. Perhaps my inquiries have led me into error. If so, I must certainly say that I have adopted my errors upon the most deliberate consideration that my mind is capable of bestowing upon the subject. To me it seems that no proposition has been so fully demonstrated, both by theory and practice, as this: that you cannot make labour productive by means of any fund you may raise for the purpose, where that labour has not been rendered productive by the enterprise of private and individual speculation. In America the price of labour is 5s. or 6s. a day. The poorhouses are full. Why do they not send their paupers out to labour? Because it is found that slave labour nobody will buy. A man, labouring upon compulsion, takes a pickaxe and employees himself with it for half-an-hour, making a hole large enough perhaps to put in his finger. The Americans have now gone back from the old system of Poor Laws, and remedy the evils of poverty and distress, not by levying a poor-rate on the industrious, but by turning out the idle from their workhouses, and leaving them, if they like to perish, which no man in America need do if he be willing to work. It is an idle dream to imagine that you can produce productive labour through the agency of a poor-rate. Neither can you produce a paradise in the midst of a wilderness by establishing colonies of the poor where there is an inch fertility. The attempt has failed in Holland as well as in Belgium. No; you may give relief in poorhouses, but never endeavour, for it is vain, to make labour productive at the expense of any poor-rate whatever. I have addressed the House at great length—greater, perhaps, than I ought to have done; but I feel a deep interest in the question. I have shown a case of great misery and distress in Ireland. I have traced it to political causes. I think, before you introduce your Poor Laws, it would be wise to see whether, by other political measures, you may not do something for the good and prosperity of Ireland. I do not wish to introduce anything polemical into the discussion, but I ask you to pause and consider, whether by other means you may not do more good to Ireland; and would conjure you, in the first place, to try the effect of an enlarged system of emigration. If you will not do that, I will implore you to go back to what is called the evidence of your forefathers; go back to the reigns of the Plantagenets and Tudors, when it was enacted that every man having an estate in Ireland, and not living half the year there, should be liable to a fine of 6s. 8d. in the pound on the gross amount of his rent-roll. Come out with an absentee law, and give me 6s 8d. in the pound on the rent-roll of all absentees. This may be called a dream; yet, after all, I believe it would give more permanent and more substantial relief to the poor of Ireland than your proposed Poor Laws. I know full well that some political economists have talked of absenteeism as not being a mischief to Ireland; but the doctrines of those men are now, I believe, derided by all. The nobleman whose rent-roll amounts to L50,000 a year, in the course of twenty years draws L1,000,000 from the resources of Ireland, no part of which he ever returns. To procure this sum for him all the corn, all the cattle reared upon the soil of which he is the lord must be sent to foreign markets. In the regular course of things the value of the corn and the cattle so exported should be brought back again. But it is not so in Ireland; no part of the price of her produce ever returns; and as well for these districts who had to support absentee landlords would it be if the ships which bore their produce from their shores sunk half channel over. This, after all, is the dreadful feature in the domestic economy of Ireland—nine-tenths of the rent-roll of the country are spent abroad. We have all the degradation and misery of a province, without the benefit of provincial protection. But I will trespass no further. I will close by saying, that I have a very strong conviction upon my mind that you will find it as much in vain to attempt to create Act of Parliament charity in Ireland as it has been to create Act of Parliament piety. I do not think you can generate virtues, and make them spread by Act of Parliament. I have certainly a strong impression that a Poor Law has never done good to any country where it has been adopted. I make that avowal frankly. I look at the Poor Law in England. I see it reducing wages to half the amount they were before; yet I know that it has been introduced under the most favourable circumstances and in the most prosperous times—in the reign of Elizabeth, when the recent discovery of the western hemisphere opened a source of the most extensive and wholesome emigration, and at the same time furnished the means of establishing a solid and secure currency in such quantities as the exchange of an active and enterprising people required. Yet the Poor Law of England, introduced under these favourable circumstances, arrived at length to such a pitch of abuse as to compel you, in spite of all the clamour and cry which even yet have not died away, to make a strong movement, and to repeal a considerable portion of that law. I do not hesitate to declare, then, that my own individual opinion is not favourable to a Poor Law, but least of all is it favourable to such a law as this which your propose to give Ireland. I would only implore you, before the step is decisively taken, to have it fully, maturely, and deliberately considered in all its bearings—to give nothing to the unholy cry of those who hold themselves out as the especial patrons and friends of the poor, because they are favourable to these laws. I entreat you to yield to no clamour of that kind, but fully and maturely to consider the Bill in every stage. Then, be the result what it may, I shall feel that I have done my duty. I have not, I own it, moral courage enough to oppose a Poor Law altogether. I yield to the necessity of doing something; but I am not deceitful enough to prophesy that you will reap any lasting or solid advantage from the introduction of such a law into Ireland.