IRISH LOCAL GOVERNMENT. T HE cry that Irish Local Government, as
at present con- stituted, is something peculiarly bureaucratic and centralised—that Ireland, in fact, is governed like a Poland —has been a cause of grave doubt and difficulty to many Liberal Unionists. They have seen clearly enough the absolute impossibility of altering Irish Local Government at the present moment, of revolutionising the internal administration while the country is in a condition of veiled rebellion, and when any concession in the direction of the popularisation of the system would not be accepted in the spirit in which it was granted, but would be used instead as a political lever by which to extort from England measures calculated to lead to virtual, if, indeed, not to actual separation. They have thus had to acquiesce with considerable searchings of heart in leaving the reform of Local Government in Ireland till the condition of the country is more favourable to wide administrative changes. If, however, the real state of Local Government in Ireland were more clearly understood, such doubts and difficulties would disappear, and men's minds would be far easier on the subject than they are at present. We have heard the Parnellites talk of Castle tyranny and Castle interference, of the bureaucratic oppressions, of Castle functionaries and of the official hierarchy that rules Ireland, till we have really got to believe that Local Government is carried on in Ireland on some system far more centralised and far more despotic than in England. Yet, as a matter of fact, England and Ireland are, in the main, governed locally under the same system. If the differences are insisted on, they are probably in favour of Ireland. In writing thus, however, we must not be taken to mean that we consider that the political and Parliamentary aspect of Irish Local Govern- ment is good, or can be defended for a moment. The defects there are visible enough. It is the actual work of internal ad- ministration that can be shown to be quite as liberal and quite as well conducted as in England. It is the Parliamentary portion of Irish Local Government which is the blot on the whole system, and which gives it its bad name. The centralisation is Parlia- mentary, not administrative. It is in Westminster, not in Dublin, that the centralisation takes place. Men look doubtful at the proposal to make one more Irish Secretary. In truth, there might well be three more Parliamentary officials responsible for Irish administration. If there were, then English people would begin to see that the talk of a Polish despotism in Ireland is utterly beside the mark. For England there is in Parliament one Minister—the Home Secretary—to answer for matters like police and justice. Another—the Vice-President of the Council—to deal with education and cattle-plague. A third —the President of the Local Government Board—to manage matters connected with the Poor-Law and with county and municipal affairs. A fourth—the Commissioner of Works— to represent the Office of Public Works. While every important Department in England has thus a Parliamentary representa- tive, the whole Administration of Ireland is represented by the Irish Secretary, on whom is imposed a series of multifarious duties. He is the only person seen, and, accordingly, he is talked of as if he alone governed Ireland. If, however, we go behind the Chief Secretary, we find a number of Departments each independent of the other, which correspond to those in England, and which practically perform the same functions. Because the Castle is Government property available for the purpose, most of these Departments are located at the Castle ; but for this reason to talk of " Castle government," has about as much meaning as to talk of " Whitehall government" merely because many of the English public offices are situated in Whitehall. The one is no more a bureaucratic tyranny than the other. The publication by Messrs. Cassell and Co. of an excellent pamphlet--" Local and Centralised Government in Ireland, by W. F. Bailey "—will enable the English public to see for themselves what is the existing state of things in Ireland. Mr. Bailey's work, which is no party pamphlet, but a plain statement of facts without political colour, is an admirably concise and yet clear and intelligible sketch of a very difficult and complicated subject. His work shows how the Irish system differs in many details from the English, yet how in effect it is conducted on the same principle as that which obtains in England,—that is, it is an administra- tion locally conducted, but supervised, and to a certain extent controlled, by special Boards or Departments at head-quarters. His account of the Dublin Boards shows what Castle government really is. Among the Departments at present located in the Castle buildings, besides the offices of the Chief Secretary and the Lord-Lieutenant, are,—(1), The Dublin branch of the Paymaster-General's Office ; (2), the General Prisons Board of Ireland—(our readers may be re- minded that similar Boards exist in England and Scotland, and this is not a torture-chamber specially designed by Mr. Balfour) ;—(3), the Reformatory and Industrial Schools Office ; (4), the Office of Inspectors of Lunatic Asylums ; (5), the Commissioners of Asylums for Lunatic Poor ; (6), the National School Teachers' Superannuation Office ; (7), the Fisheries Office. Besides, there are various offices connected with the Army, the Records, and the Royal and Dublin Metro- politan Police. It will be seen by this list that the Local Government Board, the most important of all the Departments, the Board of Works, and the Board of National Education, are not geographically in the Castle at all. Were they directly represented by special Parliamentary chiefs, it would be equally plain also that they are no more morally under the Castle than the English Education Office is under the Prime Minister's despotic will. We cannot enter here into all the details which Mr. Bailey brings forward to show the true facts in regard to the so-called Castle administration. If our readers examine his pamphlet, however, they will see that the crude suggestion for substituting Elective Boards for the present Departments would be as much out of place as to instal Elective Boards at Whitehall and Somerset House. Central control over local elective bodies by trained and skilled per- manent officials is the essence of our present system. To accept the proposal we have indicated, is to produce confusion between the executive and legislative, and to destroy that elaborite system of official supervision which has been growing up since the great reform of the Poor-Law and the creation of the Poor-Law Commissioners,—the Board which may be said to have contained the germ of our present system of Local Government supervision. That portion of Mr. Bailey's pamphlet which deals with Irish County Administra- tion is extremely interesting. In considering this subject, the important things for Englishmen to remember are,—(1), That the provinces, as divisions, are of a purely sentimental interest as marking ancient kingdoms, and have not the very slightest practical use or importance,—they no more serve any administrative purpose than does East Anglia, the province which has survived in England, while Mercia and Wessex have been forgotten ; (2), that the townland, not the parish, is the unit of administration ; (3), that the Barony is only a group of townlands, like the Hundred ; (4), that counties are administered by Grand Juries and Presentment Sessions, not merely by the whole body of Magistrates ; (5), that the County-Court Judge is also the Judge who conducts Quarter- Sessions. The Grand Jury, by which in Ireland most of the business done in England by Quarter-Sessions is transacted, though often represented as an engine of tyranny, is, in truth, a more popular body than that which now regulates English county business. The Grand Jury is appointed by the High Sheriff for all the assizes. It must not exceed twenty-three members, and must be selected from the .450 freeholders or £100 leaseholders of the county. One resident representative must be summoned from each barony. The Grand Jury has no corporate existence, and so cannot sue or be sued. Its officers, appointed by itself, are a treasurer, secretary, surveyor, and a rate-collector in each barony. Its principal duties are the conduct of public works, such as the construction and repair of bridges, roads, court-houses, and gaols, the making of con- tributions to lunatic asylums, infirmaries, industrial schools, &c., and the compensation of malicious injuries. " About one- fourth of the money presented by the Grand Jury," to quote Mr. Bailey's words, "consists of what may be termed impera- tive presentments, being obligatory on the Grand Juries by Act of Parliament. The other presentments are imposed and rated at the option of the Grand Jury." The Presentment Sessions, which are of two kinds, Baronial and County at Large Sessions, are the bodies which, as it were, petition the Grand Jury in regard to expenditure,-1.e., present that certain sums should be- expended for certain purposes. Both kinds of Sessions consist of the Magistrates of the county, excluding the Stipendiary Magis- trates. The Baronial Sessions, besides the Magistrates, are com- posed of a certain number of cess-payers fixed by the Grath Jury, not less than five or more than twelve, who are chosen by a ballot taken on a list of double the number to be elected, prepared from the hundred largest cess-payers of the barony. The County at Large Sessions consist of one cess-payer selected by each Baronial Sessions of the county, together with Justices, whether resident or not, and irrespective of pro- perty, who choose to attend. It should be added here that the cess raised by the Grand Jury is of two kinds, either for the whole county or for the barony, according as it is intended to benefit the county at large or only a particular district. The manner in which the interests of the cess-payers are guarded is worthy of notice. " If any application for a pre- sentment is twice refused by a Presentment Sessions, the applicant may memorialise the Judges of Assize, who may refer the application to an ordinary jury, and should the decision be favourable, the Judge can submit the presentment for the consideration of the Grand Jury." Any person " paying Grand Jury cess" may also traverse any presentment. Since all such traverses must be tried by a petty jury, there is little ground of complaint. To quote Mr. Bailey again,—" The- result is, that if any cess-payer objects to any presentment made by the Grand Jury, he can have the question decided by a petty jury of the county." It is thus evident that the Irish county system gives far more rights and far more power to the ratepayer than does the existing English arrangement, where none but the Magistrates have anything to say as to how the county rate shall be expended. Certainly the Irish system has enough guarantees against abuse, if it is honestly worked, to enable Liberal Unionists to postpone, with clear consciences, any immediate dealing with the Irish Local Government reform.
Before leaving Mr. Bailey's work, it may be worth while to point out the astonishing figures which he gives as to the growth of Poor-Law expenditure in Ireland. In the yeas 1856, £2,246 was expended in Ireland on out-door Poor-Law relief. In 1886, the expenditure under this head had reached the sum of £235,500. Of course, if 1886 had been a year of famine, or if the population had greatly increased, this increase need net have been put down to mere extravagance. We must remember, however, that the population is practically the same, and that the wealth of the people, as attested by the increasing sums they spend on drink and the amounts placed by them in the savings-banks, is obviously far greater. Those- who turn to Mr. Bailey's pages will see some more interesting figures in regard to the Poor-Law. They will also find in his work a capital table as to municipal expenditure, and another as to the religions of the provinces, in which the extremely Catholic character of some of the counties of Ulster is well: brought out. In Cavan, for instance, about 80 per cent. of the population is Catholic ; in Donegal, 76; and in Monaghan, 73. These facts, though they forbid hasty generalisations as to Ulster, cannot, however, interfere with the demand of Antrim, with its 74 per cent. of Protestants, and Down, with its 70, and of the other Protestant counties, not to be forced against their will to form part of a National Ireland, if the curse of Home-rule is ever to be inflicted in the name of justice on the- reat of the island.