TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE NEW IRISH AGITATION.
Cork this day week, presided over by the Lord-Lieutenant of the county, and addressed by landlords, Unionists and Nationalists alike, to demand what is called financial justice for Ireland, in the sense of the Commission which has just reported on the financial relations between England and Ireland. This meeting was followed up by a meeting on Monday of the Dublin City Council to endorse the same demand, in which Sir Robert Sexton, the leader of the Conservatives, seconded the resolution moved by the Nationalist Lord Mayor to the same effect. For once, therefore, all parties in Ireland are united in insisting that Ireland shall either be so taxed as to let citizens of precisely equal poverty or wealth as English or Scotch or Welsh citizens, be taxed at a lower rate because the country as a whole is poorer, or that if that be impracticable, the balance, amounting to some two and three-quarter millions annually, which is said to repre- sent the overtaxation of Ireland as a country, shall be paid back to Ireland, and there used for the development of Irish resources.
We do not wonder at all at the claim, considering that the Commission of Inquiry was (rashly, we think) granted by both parties in the State on the assumption that the taxation paid by Irishmen ought to beatleastin some degree measured not by the comparative wealth of Englishmen and Irish- men individually, in which case Ireland would not only have no grievance, but would be in some sense privileged, since the well-to-do classes there are exempted from several taxes which Englishmen pay, but by the comparative wealth of Great Britain and Ireland as a whole, the theory being that an Irishman worth a hundred a year ought to pay less than an Englishman of the same means, because in so poor a country it is more difficult to earn a hundred a year than it is in England. Now, this is a most revolu- tionary assumption which goes to the very bottom of our financial system. If it be admitted, the Highland crofter, the East Londoner, the Dorsetshire peasant, the East Anglian farmer, will have at once a claim to be taxed not on his means, but on his means considered in relation to the comparative difficulty or comparative ease with which those means are earned,—a problem not, we believe, really soluble with even the roughest approximation to justice. Hitherto equal taxation has always meant taxing the poor man little in proportion to his poverty, and the rich man much according to his wealth. But if we were to take into account all the conditions which make it easy or difficult, as the case may be, for the poor man to earn what he does, and the rich man to earn what he does, and to diminish the taxation where it has been difficult to earn, and increase it where it has been easy, the complexity and elaboration of the problem would surpass altogether human powers of computation. In that case, indeed, an able man, a man of genius, ought to be taxed more in proportion than a dull man of the same means, and a strong man, or one constitutionally healthy, ought to be taxed more than a weak, or a constitu- tionally infirm man, of the same means. Who would be equal to such a task as estimating such "taxable capacities?" But even if that be put aside as plainly impossible, it is perfectly obvious that we could not concede the principle in the case of Ireland, and refuse to concede it in the case of the poorest districts of Great Britain. Nothing can be more certain than that it is far more difficult for a Dorset- shire peasant or a London East-Ender to earn his pittance, than it is for an Irish farmer to earn the same pittance after all the legislation which has recently been passed in his favour. How could we possibly refuse to the poorest parts of Great Britain the same right to have the difficul- ties of their surroundings taken into consideration, which we had conceded to Irishmen of all degrees ?
Of course, what the Irishmen say, and say justly enough, is that at the time of the Union, the principle of treating Ireland as a unit and computing her contribution in re- lation to the contribution of Great Britain in proportion to her supposed capacity to bear taxation, was admitted. That is true, but it is also true that that policy altogether failed, and that the United Kingdom had, before twenty years were Exchequer, intimated that if Ireland were found to be over- taxed as compared with England, something should be done to rectify the grievance. But Mr. Goschen's language was extremely general and vague. He spoke of an inquiry into "the financial relations of the two. countries," and he proposed to include Scotland in the inquiry. But he certainly did not say that he meant to. estimate the just contribution of the three countries wholly in relation to their taxable capacities, and so far as we can see his language would certainly not be inconsistent with the assumption that if there were a general equality in the, taxation of persons of the same means in the three countries, if it could not be shown that Irishmen or Scotch- men of the same means have to pay more in Ireland or in Scotland than in England, this would satisfy in general his conception of financial justice, though it might be reasonable to take into account the general poverty of the country for minor adjustments. At all events it is quite impossible to say that Mr. Goschen by that vague and general statement committed Lord Salisbury's Govern- ment to the principle at which the recent Commission has arrived. We believe, indeed, that such a principle is utterly impracticable, and that it would lead to financial' chaos of the most disastrous kind. We hardly think that the Irish Conservatives and landlords who joined in the new agitation last Saturday and Monday were quite serious in their demand. No doubt they are many of them very sore at the acquiescence of the Government in the Irish Land Act of last Session, and are not sorry to have an- opportunity of making the present Government very uncomfortable.
We must, however, strenuously oppose the attempt to in- troduce so impracticable a standard of equality of taxation as to reckon it not by the equal taxation of individuals? but by the equal capacity of districts to bear taxation. We have no idea how such a principle could be applied with even an approach to equity and justice. And we may be sure of this, that what in a matter of that kind we concede to Ireland, we should have to concede later to the poorer counties and poorer districts of England Scotland, and Wales. Still, we gladly admit that the richer country does owe something to its poorer neighbours,. which, though it may be quite impossible to reduce to. arithmetical measures, should make the richer parts of any country willing to give any kind of reasonable aid to. its poorer neighbours, and this applies not only to the relations of England to Ireland, but also to the relations of England to the Scotch Highlands, or to impoverished East Anglia, or to the relations of wealthy London to, destitute London. We have always argued that the richer sections of great towns should help the poorer sections in carrying out those beneficial works which raise the poor out of their poverty. And of course we apply the same doctrine to Ireland. For example, we heartily hope that the present Government will grant Ireland a Catholic University with a handsome endowment paid out of the revenue of the United Kingdom. This would be just, and it would be a specimen of what England should be ready to do in other matters of like nature. We do not believe that this sort of aid can be in any way reduced to a question of figures. It should be done where there is a clear ease of need, and done liberally, but the need is the justification for it, and not any estimate of the difference between the taxable capacities of various regions and districts. It is the duty of the richer parts of the country to help the poorer, just as it is the duty of the richer citizens to help the poorer in all works that contribute to the advancement and self-respect of their poorer neighbours. No one now denies that what applies to social communities applies also to States in all cases- where it can be shown that the aid can be effectually and economically used for definite purposes so that there is no chance of waste. Mr. Morley said not long ago that it was very bad policy to compensate overtaxation by ex- travagant expenditure, and we entirely agree with him. But we deny the overtaxation where each individual in a State is taxed strictly in accordance with his means, and IRELAND is always with us. By far the most im- portant event of the Recess has been the meeting in over, to take over the Irish debt, and, with certain exceptions favourable to Ireland, to put Irish and English taxation on the same general basis. It will be said, again, indeed in Mr. Morley's letters to Wednesday's and Thursday's Times it is said, that when the Commission on the relative taxation of the two countries was granted. by the Unionist Government in 1890, Mr. Goschen, who was then Chancellor of the though we think that richer regions should help the poorer when they can clearly define the limits and objects of that aid, we are very far indeed from advocating extravagant expenditure. We think such aid should always be given for the most well-defined purposes and by methods that it would be easy to control, to inspect, and to verify.