farmers. The work of land settlement is done for them, not by them, and it is in no way under their control ; neither do they contribute to its cost, except as all other taxpayers do.

I think that each of these departments was wisely and soundly constituted for its particular purpose. It is right that the farmers should control through their local assemblies the schemes of agricultural improvement which are best carried out under local management and at the expense of the locality. The power given to the central authority of withholding its contributions unless the schemes are satisfactory is sufficient; and it is right that this central authority should also be subject to the criticism of an assembly representing the farmers of the whole country, because the work to be done is in reality their work; they have a common interest in it, and they ought to have a common policy, and no one else is primarily concerned.

Equally it is right that the farmers should have no authority or control over the department which manages the purchase and redistribution of land. For they have no responsibility and no duties in the matter, once they have agreed to pay a price, except to pay it by the fixed instalments. It is not their work which is being done, nor are they paying for it; on the contrary they are in every case receiving freeholds for which they pay a terminable annuity less in amount than the annual sum they paid as rent. And further, and most important of all, they have and can have no common interest in the matter; on the contrary they have conflicting interests. There is not enough land in Ireland to go round, and there is bound to be a keen struggle for its possession. The first duty of an Irish Government is to prevent the employment of illegal methods ; its next duty, if it has undertaken to make a settlement—as the Imperial Government in Ireland has-is to make that settlement itself, on the best advice it can get, endeavouring to do justice as between individuals, classes, and localities, but working through its own officers and on its own responsibility. Popular control in this case can mean nothing except a struggle, in which the representative of each locality strives to obtain for his clients the largest share of the spoils ; and those spoils are the money provided by the Imperial Treasury for the improvement of land, and the privilege of occupying at a moderate price land which has been bought by Imperial funds at a market price which may or may not be moderate.

These considerations apply, in my view, to every part of Ireland ; but they certainly have most weight in the Congested Districts of the west, because the inhabitants there are poorer, more backward, less

accustomed to action and deliberation in common, and therefore less 9 capable of taking a wide view, and more dominated by the considera

tion of their individual interests, than in other parts of the country. It is therefore most important that they should be encouraged, not only to use their best individual efforts to improve their condition, but

VOL, LXV-No. 388

3 s

[ocr errors]


also to organise themselves in co-operative societies for business purposes, and to promote and manage, through their County Councils, schemes for the common benefit, for which they pay through the rates. It is equally important that they should not be encouraged to pervert representative institutions into an engine for the advancement of private interests--an evil from which even English local authorities are not always free. When it is proposed to set up in Ireland a body in which representatives of the farmers would control the purchase and redistribution of land at the Government's expense, we can but humbly pray that Parliament may lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. The justification of the extraordinary experiment, which Mr. Birrell seeks to try upon the corpus vile of our country, is that in the scramble for the land, of which as I have said there is not enough to go round, other claims will be preferred to those of the 'congests.' It has been said that a special administrative authority is required to resist these claimants. But curiously enough the Royal Commission have found that authority in a body in which the representatives of the claimants will have an effective, if not a dominating voice. In the words of the Report, 'this is one of the chief causes which have led us to think that a semi-independent Irish body, with a large elective element, such as the new Board, is more likely to be successful in relieving congestion than an ordinary Government department. I am not surprised to find that my fellow-workers regard the proposal as one which will give back to chaos the beginnings of order.

For a full description of Mr. Birrell's scheme for dealing with the problem of congestion I must refer the reader to Part III. of his Bill. He abolishes the present Congested Districts Board but keeps its

Its place will be taken by a body on which representatives of the western farmers will have a working majority. To the new Board will be given large funds (250,0001. a year), with compulsory powers for the purchase and redistribution of land not only in the present congested districts, but also over an additional area of more than equal size, the whole comprising more than one-third of Ireland. Clause 13 constitutes an administrative committee consisting of six members of the Board, two ex-officio, two appointed, and two representative; but, whatever the functions of this committee, in all matters of policy they will be absolutely controlled by the Board as a whole.

Parliament will no doubt be told that the majority of the Royal Commission wholly dissent from the views I have expressed. It was inevitable that they should, as there was not upon the Commission s single member who had familiarised himself with the later theory of economic development in Ireland or helped to give effect to it in practice. They took evidence mainly from the spokesman of the communities which were to be relieved, from those who had come to regard the distribution of Government funds as the panacea for

• Par. 129 of the Final Report.



[ocr errors]


economic evils. To the experience of other countries which had solved similar problems on lines of enlightened statesmanship they did not appeal. Herein lies the fundamental difference between their procedure and that of the Recess Committee, and indeed the almost opposite character of the conclusions at which they respectively arrived. The unofficial, self-appointed, and yet surely representative, body founded their scheme of State assistance to agriculture and industry upon the three principles which appeared to have been universally applied to similar conditions on the Continent-education, representation, and organisation. In the Royal Commission's Report a Platonic affection for the last of these principles, and the belief of educated men in the first are to be found ; but the claims of democracy seem to have lent such paramount importance to representation that all considerations of administrative efficiency went by the board. The one member who had had any administrative experience among depressed rural communities--Lord MacDonnell—in the course of his memorable · Minute of Dissent,' gave expression to his own opinion of the policy under review in several trenchant paragraphs from which space forbids me to quote more than a single sentence. 'I object,' he wrote, 'to make the misery of the western peasant the occasion for a semi-political experiment which will indefinitely delay his relief.'

As I am addressing myself principally to English readers, I wish to confine myself to that part of the case which can be argued on admitted facts and general principles. I think that everyone who assents to the arguments I have used as to the process of land purchase by funds borrowed from the State, will agree with the conclusion that a body controlled by the beneficiaries is not the proper body to direct the process. This conclusion applies with still greater force if the purchase is to be carried out by compulsion. I do not intend to argue the question whether compulsion is necessary in order to relieve congestion ; but supposing it necessary, the proposed Board is wholly unfit to exercise it.

If we turn to the other spheres in which the existing nominated Congested Districts Board has been active, what is the state of the case? These subjects are the encouragement of fishing, technical education, including domestic economy, the starting of industries, and most of all, the introduction of better methods of farming. For all these the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, as has been explained, provides in the rest of Ireland outside the Congested Districts, with the exception that the Department has no power to assist industries other than those subsidiary to farming. There have, therefore, been two authorities in Ireland dealing with these subjects

[ocr errors]


8 Much has been made of this point as a reason for the proposed new Board. If additional powers are needed in certain districts they can be given to one authority as easily as to another.

on different lines—the Congested Districts Board working through its own officers and in a paternal manner, the Department working through the local authorities, and so far as possible on the principle of self-help. The result of having these two authorities working on different lines was, as might be expected, to cause great confusion in border districts. The matter is explained clearly in the Report of the Royal Commission (paragraphs 63 to 67), where are also set forth the measures which Mr. Wyndham took, when Chief Secretary, for the purpose of putting an end to the confusion. The administrative details are complicated and not very important. The point is that the step taken was in the direction of handing over to the Department part of the business hitherto done by the Congested Districts Board. What was done was not sufficient, and has not been effective to prevent administrative difficulties. But the right principle was asserted, the principle that the paternal method is temporary and should give way at the earliest possible moment to the method of self-help. I submit that if the time has come to legislate further for the Congested Districts—and I think it has—the opportunity should have been taken to complete what Mr. Wyndham left imperfect, and to hand over to the Department and to the County Councils all these functions inside the Congested Districts, as in the rest of Ireland. The Bill, however, expressly reserves to the new Congested Districts Board the control of fisheries, industries, the teaching of domestic economy, and agriculture except as regards agricultural education and practical husbandry. The scope of this exception is not perfectly clear, but it is clear that for the two very important subjects of industries and fishing duality of administration is to be perpetuated, and also, what to my mind is of much greater importance, a very real and confusing conflict of principle. The fisheries on the coast of Galway are to be dealt with by one department of Government, and those on the coast of Wexford by another; in County Cork the coast is to be divided between the two authorities; industrial training is to be managed on one principle in West Cork, and on another in East Cork. The principle of self-help, instead of gaining more territory, is to lose part of what it has already gained, for the Congested Districts are now to be twice the size they have been. In this new territory those who have begun to build up a business character, by dealing with a department which helps people strictly in proportion to the extent to which they help themselves, are now to be taught to look for favours to a board bound by no such rules, a board amply endowed and able at its discretion to distribute funds according to its own ideas of merit.

It is only fair to point out that the members of the Royal Commission were not unanimous in this part of their recommendations I have already referred to the Minute of Dissent' by Lord


• This anomaly is recognised but not removed by the addition to the next administrative machinery of a consultative committee on fisheries. See clause 46.


MacDonnell, who was supported by Mr. Conor O'Kelly, M.P., in his

opposition to the new Board. The majority of the Commissioners 2

appear to me to have been carried away by their zeal for democratic institutions which is apparent in the Report. I share that zeal, and for seven years my chief work was that of delegating the local work of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction to local authorities, and as far as possible keeping the democratic

element, which, as I have explained, is attached to the central 3 body, in touch with its work. But the Report proposes to apply

representative government in the wrong manner, and in a sphere for which it is unfit. Again, I think that in struggling with the immense mass of evidence given before them in all parts of the

Congested Districts, the Commission has a little lost sight of the principle which should have guided its inquiries. It seems to

me that the point the Commissioners should have attempted to settle in each place is whether the character of the people in that

district is or is not so depressed by poverty or other causes, that they are unable to help themselves if they get a chance. If it is so far depressed, there is a case for paternal government; if it is not, then

the treatment which is good for the rest of Ireland is good for that ;

place. My own opinion, founded on many visits and much inquiry, is, that there is a case for paternal government in part of Connemara and Erris, in some of the islands, but in no other part of Ireland.

An undue insistence on physical circumstances and a comparative disregard of the element of character are, I submit, also apparent in the Commission's treatment of the distribution of land. Their proposals seem to me to be based on a view which, because it is assumed, though not stated, by most agrarian agitators, I have called the agrarian view. That view subordinates every other social and

economic factor in the rural problem to land tenure. In its practical application it is the parent of the fatal fallacy, that if you give a man a farm

you make him a farmer ; whereas it would be less untrue to say that if you make him a farmer he will find himself a farm. 10 6

This idea is deep-rooted in Ireland ; it is due to the predominance of rural over urban industry. It is not, as in industrial countries like England, a question for each man in a country neighbourhood whether his disposition and his circumstances fit him better for working on the land or for working in a town. There is no work for him to do in the towns, and the only question is whether he has and can hold, or has not and can obtain, a piece of land to live on ; his fitness to make the best use of it does not enter into consideration. I put the case simply and crudely, because I am describing, not so much the facts, as the set of the popular mind which the facts have produced.


10 I have dealt fully with this question in Chap. II. of Ireland in the New Century. Third (cheap) edition. (John Murray.) Also I may refer to my memorandum on • The Problem of Congestion, published in vol. iii. of the Royal Commission Report.

« VorigeDoorgaan »