TOPICS OF THE DAY -
THE GOVERNMENT SCHEME FOR IRELAND.
LORD Join( RUSSELL'S scheme of measures for the redemption of Ireland is the only one practically before the country. It
would be unjust to compare it with any past project or suppositi- tious scheme; and we shall confine our criticism to its absolute merits, or to a comparison with its own purposes and the neces- sities of the case.
The greater portion of the Government scheme resolves itself into two classes of enabling measures, for the benefit of the poor, and of the landlords. For the poor, that is the working classes
or bulk of the population, there is present food ; a poor-law, giving security of food for the future, and relief from the cost of
maintaining the paupers, (which has hitherto fallen mainly on the poor); allotments of waste lands, apparently on easy terms, the lands to be reclaimed by Government; facilities for finding subsistence in the Transatlantic Colonies. For the landlords, there are loans to improve their own estates, at low interest, with twenty-two years for repayment ; grand drainage by the State;
remission of half their recently-incurred liabilities on account of the present distress ; and an advance of 50,0001. for seed. Other measures are less limited to the benefit of particular classes,—the change of long leaseholds into freeholds ; powers to sell portions of encumbered estates ; and encouragement of fisheries.
Lord John Russell does not propound this set of measures as the parts of a scheme one and whole, but simply as so many measures in some respects essentially separate; and we have not the advantage of any reasons stated by himself why he pitched upon the particular measures as they are shaped. He uses the words "opinion" and "principles," but uses principles as syno-
nymous with plans or methods : throughout his whole speech there is no statement of the real principles upon which any one of the measures is based, nor a single reason to support the opin- ions " avowed. There is also no statement as to the specific re- sults anticipated from any one of the measures. No doubt, such avowals might have subjected him, in case of error, to instant -
refutation, either controversial or practical : but that could hardly be his motive for the omission, as a measure which cannot dis-
play itself to every conflict of opinion stands a poor chance of ultimate success in working ; and the absence of some more ex- plicit statement has a serious present inconvenience. As Lord'
John has not furnished, in any instance, any statement of the principles from which he started, of the reasons by which he was guided, or of the distinct objects at which he aimed, judgment:is deprived of a very needful clue in doing justice to his scheme. This absence or reserve of reasons, indeed, is so pervading, seems, on the first blush, so improbable, and suggests of itself so many serious doubts, that we must not rest content with broadly as- serting it. On a reexamination of the separate measures, to elicit some idea of the specific reasons for their adoption from the internal evidence, the task does not prove very easy. The supply of food, indeed, has its justifying reasons only too palpable ; and we guesa that the instrumentality of the Relief Committees to be incorpo-
rated, in lieu of the ordinary machinery proper for such purpose—
the Poor-law machinery—may prove convenient in relieving not only the destitute, but also the landowners : were the Poor-law
machinery used, the subsidies would be palpably a paying of
Irish poor-rates out of English pockets. The ultimate effect of the present contrivance is the same, with the disadvantage of confusing the account between England and Ireland. In the present temper of the English people, there is no need to cheat them into assisting the Irish people; but there are very great moral advantages in letting the Irish people see the full extent and manner in which they receive practical and costly assistance from England. The precise form and limitations of the measure for making allotments of waste lands do not rest on any obvious reasons. If the measure is so good, why so little of it? If it is not worth a more extensive application, why spend a million of money on it? Three or four thousand "peasant proprietors" or small yeomen will not go far to redeem their class-fellows. Lord John begins what he says about emigration by talking of its difficulties, and of what Ireland could do without it ; and here he does give some reasons of a negative kind for a measure which
he does not adopt—an extensive scheme of Government emigra- tion. The principal reasons are two,—that if Government were
to interpose it would supersede the voluntary emigration now
made at private cost; and that there would be difficulty in pro- viding for-large bodies of emigrants in the Colonies. That is
true of the Canadian Colonies at this moment, and of the United
States • Lord John does not mention the Australian Colonies or New Zealand. The difficulty of providing employment for emi-
grants in the Colonies has a deeper source than any that he
points at. He makes no distinction between " emigration " or the going out of unconnected individuals in whatsoever numbers,
and "colonization," or the exode of organized communities to a new country prepared for their reception. To effect all that co- Ionization could do for Ireland, would not require the egress of
any larger number than already leaves her shores—fifty or sixty thousand yearly : but if, instead of suffering some fifty thousand to wander out every year, five hundred thousand, properly so. lected, were taken out at once, and no more for ten years to come; Ireland would feel some decided relief. As it is, the fifty *owe
sand wander out at private expense, and England is supporting two millions of souls on public works. Lord John says that the population of Ireland is not redundant : nor is it, perhaps, as compared with the land ; but it is so far redundant as compared with the labour-market, that more than two millions yearly are destitute, and destitution is thinning the population by starving. It is true, however, that there may be difficulties in deporting much larger numbers : the reasonis, that the Government of this colonizing country has all along neglected the duties of coloni- zation; and that no preparation has been made in the Colonies. Had such preparation been made ten years ago, in the drowsy reign of Lord Glenelg,—or five years ago, when the Colonies were handed over to the spites, quibbles, and practical obstruc- tiveness of Lord Stanley,—or even three years ago, when Mr. Charles Buller's great speech was applauded on all sides, and consigned to Hansard without result,—it would have been quite possible, at this moment, to carry away from Ireland as many as are now carried off by haphazard emigration, starvation, and disease.
The landlords of Ireland are to be the great medium for in- creasing employment at home, by means of improvements. The main reasons why they have not already provided increasing employment for the increasing population are, that as a class they have shown no capacity for the business of landlords, and also, now, that they are insolvent : gross improvidence in every gene- ration, from father to son, has reduced the landlord class to in- solvency, many of them being mere annuitants on their own lands. The present generation may plead that they are crippled by their fathers' acts, and that they are altered men. There is no evidence of radical change ; for the frantic vehemence with which huge sums have been " presented " to feed the starving, without superintendence of expenditure, often with hope that the advances would ultimately be paid by England, proves no greater prudence or energy or capacity for administering agricultural affairs. Under such circumstances, it is not easy to gather, from internal evidence, the reasons for the plan of providing increased employment by loans to landlords, with scrupulous freedom re- served to them in the use of the money lent, except that security is to be taken that they do not spend it in extravagancies " at Naples or Paris." What security ? Lord John also proposes to advance 50,000/. for seed—say a penny an acre ! What can be the reason for pitching upon that sum ? The projects less strictly applied to classes—the facilities for simplifying tenure and the encouragement of fisheries—are more obvious in their purpose. But it may be said, the reasons for the measures are to be sought in their effects. What will they be ? Who can say ? Reviewing the various parts of this scheme in order to discover what will be the specific effects of each, conjecture is quite baffled ; and it is no less difficult to deduce from the several projects what will be their mutual operation in aid of each other,—how much, if any, of the redundant labour will be absorbed by waste lands or the fisheries ; what will be the result of that throw of the dice the loans to landlords ; what portion of next year's crops will be due to the 50,0001.? No doubt, such calculations have been made ; no doubt, in devising each separate measure, Ministers have kept in view all the rest, and have apportioned to each its definite share of the whole effect desired : but any distinct clue to this mutual relation is not so apparent in the whole scheme as might be supposed,—so little, indeed, that it requires all the confidence which Ministers can claim for good sense and fidelity in their duty, to assume that any regard has really been had to the several projects as a connected whole. It remains equally a matter of assumption that the authors themselves have any de- cided expectations from it. For any internal evidence that it offers, it might be nothing but a haphazard collection of nos- trums—something adopted from every suggester, in order to please people all round. When, therefore, beyond the material effects, we ask what are the moral effects to be expected, we are no less baffled. The want of specific principles, distinctly enunciated, prevents our knowing really what Ministers are going upon; the want of specific reasons deprives them of that air of mastery which they might have at- tained. When, for instance, the advocates of a Government system of railways say that they propose it because so many railways will instantly absorb so much labour, we are forced to admit that fact : we may object on other grounds, but so far as that reason goes projectors know what they want and intend. The Premier advances no grounds so distinct for any one of his projects. The want of wholeness deprives the scheme of imposing breadth and grandeur. As the limitations are in many cases very stringent, are imposed without distinctly-stated reasons, they suggest the notion of timid- ity—of measures adopted without distinct purpose, and half re- tracted from self-suggested doubts.
Boldness and potency are essential elements for any effective scheme. The abuses of Ireland are so gigantic, so long-enduring, so ingrained in the habits of the people, that any agency of im- provement brought from without must possess in itself a still more gigantic strength, or compensating vigour and vitality, of action ; otherwise, as the weaker yields to the stronger, the alien agency will be vitiated and fall into the existing system, becom- ing only a new abuse. Such has been the case with the hundreds of auxiliary measures to improve Ireland,—the public works, the loans to landlords, Shannon river jobs, and the like ; and we could desire more evidence of substantive strength in the present exten- sive scheme. It is too little compulsory ; too much is left to the
discretion of landlords. It looks as if Government were anxious and hesitating ; it rebukes no disorder ; it is too much in the na- ture of a mere peace-purchasing donative to all classes, however turbulent, demoralized, and rapacious. Its several parts are defi- cient in motive power.
If it does possess one motive power, which might ultimately do all that is wanted,—though not so smoothly, so happily, or so peaceably, as if intelligent authority presided over the whole pro- cess of change,—that motive power is the new Poor-law. It appears to give to the Irish working classes, able-bodied as well as others, State security against starvation. That provision, no doubt, is guarded by every possible restriction • but there it is. The provisions of the bill may be imperfect—too feeble; but the principle is conceded, and the law will be developed sooner or later. The direct consequences of an effective poor-law involve a total and not a slow change in the social state of Ireland : it would bring the account between population and the means of subsist- ence to a balance ; would force the landlord class to take a direct interest in the wellbeing of the labouring class ' • would oblige landlords, under pain of " confiscation," to attend to the practical business of their order, or to relinquish their position and let in others more apt to the work. Here, if anywhere, is the really vital part of Lord John Russell's scheme. From the lottery of the rest good may come—good and perchance evil; but this is the part of which the operation may be distinctly foreseen—which possesses within itself a compulsory and self-moving power. We might have desired that the change which it will work should be accompanied by more intelligible and effectual auxiliary mea- sures ; but those must come. Undei the screw of a real poor-law, the landlords of Ireland will themselves become claimants for ap- pliances more suited to supply them with strength for the struggle.