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THE ECONOMIC CONDITION OF IRELAND

I have shown something of the incubus of taxation which overpowers Ireland from the fact that she the poorest country in Western Europe is bound to the richest in such a manner that the latter has not the common prudence to recognise the flagitious injustice which she is inflicting, while, by a refinement of cruelty, she repeats her assurances that Ireland is a spoilt child, and for this reason alone does not appreciate the blessings of British rule. In the light of the facts before us one may well ask whether it was an extreme hyperbole of which Grattan made use when he declared that “Ireland, like every enslaved country, will be compelled to pay for her own subjugation.”

When we are urged to put into practice the counsels of perfection and study the virtue of patience while we wait for the opportune moment for reform, from the point of view of English party politics, our reply is that things have reached so desperate a pass that to submit to the delays entailed by the exigencies of political strategy is a suicidal policy which we cannot afford to endure without protest.

The inhabitants of Great Britain had their Imperial taxation cut down in the nineteenth century by one-half, that of the Irish people was doubled. Every year that passes without radical change in the relations between the two countries makes it more serious, and makes the changes more drastic which will be required when the need for them is at last fully realised.

At the present day more than ten millions per annum are raised by taxation in Ireland. Of these seven and a half are spent on the home government of the country, which in 1890 cost only just over five millions, while that of Scotland at this moment costs a little more namely, five and a half millions.

If one looks at the case of Denmark one finds a rich agricultural country with a population of six and a half millions, which is able to maintain her home and foreign government, a Royal Family, a debt, an army with a war strength of 70,000, a fleet, and the expense of three colonies, on an expenditure of four and a half millions.

Sweden, to take another case, with a population of six and a half millions, a large commerce, and many industries, is able to support her whole government, army, navy, diplomatic and consular service on a budget of little more than five millions; and the cost of civil government of Belgium, with a greater population and four times the trade, is one-half that of Ireland. The relative cost of home government per head of population, which amounts in Ireland to L1 14d., in England and Wales to L1 3s., and in Scotland to L1 3d., illustrates in a striking manner the ruinous condition of the present incidence in Ireland.

If this administrative waste is palliated by the statement that it retains money in Ireland, the reply is that the excess of administrative expenditure which is included in this sum is enough to effect large measures of social reform in the country, the benefit of which is not to be named in the same breath with the present mode of maintaining an extravagant staff of highly-paid officials. As things are, however, all motives to secure economies in the Irish services are vitiated by the existing system by which any economies in Irish administration go, not to Ireland, but to the Imperial Treasury, and in this way economical government is not merely not encouraged but actually discouraged, and hence it is that one has such contrasts as that to be seen in each year’s Civil Service Estimates, where, under the item of stationery and postage in respect of public departments, the amount for the last year which I have seen is, for Scotland L24,000, and for Ireland,L43,000, and that the Department of Agriculture, out of a total income from Parliamentary Grant of L190,000, spends no less than L80,000 on salaries and wages, and another L10,000 on travelling expenses.

Sir Robert Giffen has calculated that the incomes of the wage-earning classes in Ireland are, man for man, one-half those of the members of the same classes in England. Statistics of every kind bear out the striking difference in the conditions of the two countries. The average poor law valuation in Ireland is about equal to that of the poorest East London Unions, where it is L3. Though the population is between one-seventh and one-eighth of that of England, the number of railway passengers is one-thirty-seventh, the tons of railway freight is one-seventeenth, the telegrams are one-eighteenth, the postal and money orders are one-nineteenth of those of England.

Ireland, to take another test of prosperity, is the fourth meat-producing country in the world and the sixteenth meat-eating, while England, by a curious coincidence, is the sixteenth meat-producing, but the fourth meat-eating, country in the world. The one direction in which the extension of the powers and duties of the Executive has often been urged has not been pursued. I mean the matter of railways. Though in 1834 a Royal Commission recommended that Irish railways should be built with money from the British Treasury, and should be subject to State control, nothing was done in the matter. Lord Salisbury and Lord Randolph Churchill were in 1886 in favour of the nationalisation of Irish railways, but at that date again no steps were taken. Mr. Balfour, it is true, when Chief Secretary, secured the passing of the Light Railways Act, under which powers were obtained to open up the Congested Districts by means of light railways, such as those which have been built to Clifden, in County Galway, and to Burtonport, in County Donegal. But the policy which was followed in this Act was to build the railway out of a Treasury grant, and after it had been built to hand it over to one of the existing railway companies.

There are to-day 3,000 odd miles of railway in Ireland a mileage scarcely exceeding that of a single company, the Great Western Railway, in England. They are owned by nearly thirty companies, each with a separate staff of directors and salaried officials, the directors alone being over 130 in number. The railways of the country are, without exception, notoriously bad, the delay and dislocation incident to the transfer of goods from one line to another, and the high rates which prevail, inevitably serve to impede any traffic in goods, especially if they are of a perishable character.

It is not traffic that makes communications, but cheap communications that make traffic. The Belgian Government, fifty years ago, took over the railways of that country, and reduced the freights to such a degree that in eight years the quantity of goods carried was doubled, the receipts of the railways were increased fifty per cent., and the profits of the producers were multiplied five-fold. I am not quoting this instance by way of plea that the present remedy for the grave economic problems of Ireland lies in nationalisation of railways. I have said enough to show the extravagance and irresponsibility of the present Executive system, and in view of that no sane man would propose to endow it with further powers than those which it already possesses; but let me say this, that if the present state of diffusive impotence which rules in the matter of transit in the country continues, some very drastic remedies may before long have to be devised.

The cheapest freights for grain in the world are those between Chicago and New York, and the reason why this is so is that there exists keen competition on the part of the inland waterways. Of the 580 miles of canals in Ireland a considerable part are owned by the railway companies, and their weed-choked condition shows the use to which they are put in the national economy.

Whoever it was that said the carriers of freight hold the keys of trade was stating what appears almost an axiom, and an illustration is afforded of the results of reduced rates in an analogous business in the way in which the establishment of penny postage sent up the receipts of the General Post Office.

The difference in the freights in the three kingdoms may be seen by a comparison of the average rate per ton of merchandise in the year 1900

In England In Scotland In Ireland

4.26d. 4.64d. 6.90d.

In the decade from 1890-1900 the figure in England and Wales decreased 8.79d., in Scotland 1.7d., and in Ireland increased by 1.92d.

Again, the control of the great English railway corporations over the small companies in Ireland has led to a state of things by which freights for imported goods are relatively lower than are those for purely internal carriage, and by this means the railways of Great Britain maintain their grip of the carrying trade, and incidentally destroy the industry of Ireland.

The trade of Ireland is not two per cent. of that of the three kingdoms, and this policy of swamping the Irish market with English-made goods at low rates to such an extent that over twelve million pounds’ worth of imported goods are sold annually in Ireland shows the manner in which the principles of free trade are applied to that country; and so it has come to pass that the opening up of the country by railways has often tended to destroy local industries and to substitute for their products articles manufactured in England and Continental Europe at a cheaper cost, carried in either case by English railways, which, in consequence, reap the benefit of the freight. The carriage per ton paid by eggs to London, to take one example, is 16d. from Normandy, 24s. from Denmark, and no less that 94s. from Galway.

The bearing of the transit question on the agricultural problem is seen by a consideration of the rates for every form of farm produce, which in Ireland are fifteen to twenty per cent. of their value. On the Continent the average is five to six per cent., and in the United States and Canada it is three per cent. The discouragement of such a tariff to agricultural enterprise has had a great bearing on the transformation of plough land into cattle ranches, and the extent to which this has occurred may be seen from the fact that there are to-day twelve million acres of pasture to three millions of arable land in the island, and fertile land, like that of the plains of Meath, is to be seen growing, not corn for men, but grass for cattle. The success of the country in stock-raising may very easily be rendered nugatory if the exclusion of Argentine and Canadian cattle from the English market be ended by the passing of an Act giving the Board of Agriculture a discretionary power to maintain or remove the embargo on their importation, according as the danger of an introduction of cattle disease exists or disappears. The enormous import trade which is done in Danish butter, Italian cheese, and even Siberian eggs, shows the commercial possibilities of farm produce when freights are low. As a tangible example of the discrimination which the railways pursue may be mentioned the fact that the freight for goods per ton from Liverpool to Cavan is 10d., while that from Cavan to Liverpool is 16d. The numbers employed on agriculture have diminished, not only in proportion to the population but also relatively to its decrease. According to Mr. Charles Booth land employs as many people to-day in England as it did in 1841, and it probably supports nearly as many, and though in that country, building and manufacture employ a vast number more, in Ireland there has been in the same time a decrease of nearly eleven per cent. of those so employed the total decrease being 626,000.

The population of England has in the last century been multiplied by four, that of Scotland has increased threefold, while that of Ireland has decreased by one-fourth. If we take the last sixty years it will be seen that the people of England have doubled their numbers, but those of Ireland have divided by two. It would be idle to pretend that the great exodus which took place after the famine was in all respects to be regretted. The abnormal increase in population which took place in the first forty years of the nineteenth century was in itself out of all proportion to the increase of productive capacity in the country, and was closely related to the unnatural inflation of prices, and consequent spurious appearance of prosperity, due to the great war. When the climax came this was rapidly followed by a reaction, and when emigration reduced the numbers of eight million people who were in the island in 1841, the modified competition in the labour market and in the land market tended to restore prices to a normal figure.

Emigration was at one time a well-recognised remedy with English statesmen for Irish ills. Did not Michael Davitt once say that manacles and Manitoba were the two cures for Ireland which they could propose? Even then, no attempt was made to regulate emigration by the State. The ball which was thus set rolling at that date has been in motion ever since, and that which half a century ago was regarded as the hand of the deus ex machina setting right a grave economic problem has continued, so that it has become at this day a problem no less grave, which to an equal degree presses for solution.

Four million people in the last sixty-five years fled from the country, and though the figures, as they are published, seem to show a slight decrease each year, the apparent diminution is to a large extent fallacious, since the residue of population from which emigrants are drawn becomes each year less, and an apparent decrease may in truth be a relative increase.

We heard much a few years ago in England of the evils of immigration into the British Isles of aliens, whom the Board of Trade returns show amount to eight thousand per annum a figure which appears paltry when compared with the forty thousand people who leave Ireland every year. It is a cry which one is told should make the thirty-seven million inhabitants of England and Scotland burn with indignation that this number of foreigners land on their shores every year. Surely we Irishmen have a far greater cause of complaint in the fact that out of a population of four and a half millions, less than is that of London, a number greater than those of a town of the size of Limerick emigrate every year. Most of these emigrants are in the prime of life. Their average age is from twenty to twenty-five, and more than ninety per cent. are between the ages of ten and forty-five years. Here is the crucial fact, that it is the young, the active, and the plucky who are being tempted by promises of success abroad, to which they see no likelihood of attaining at home, and in this way is established a system of the survival of the unfittest, an artificial selection of the most malignant kind, which is leaving the old, the infirm, the poor, and the unadventurous behind to swell the figures of pauperism and to propagate the race. All the authorities are agreed in attributing to this cause the lamentable increase of lunacy, which is one of the most terrible factors in the economy of modern Ireland. The last Census report shows the total number of lunatics and idiots to have been in 1851 equal to a ratio of 1 in 637 of the population, and to be in 1901 equal to a ratio of 1 in 178. The proportion is, as one would expect, highest in the purely agricultural districts and lowest in the neighbourhood of cities, such as Dublin and Belfast, where industrial conditions imply better wages and food, and a less monotonous existence.

It should be remembered that the proportion of imbéciles in Great Britain has risen in the period of fifty years as it has in Ireland partly, no doubt, owing to a better system of registration of lunacy but, at the same time, the fact remains that the average in Ireland is very much greater than in England and Wales, rising in some Irish counties to a proportion twice, and in another to a ratio thrice, as high as that of the average of the whole of England and Wales.

If urban industrial conditions militate against an increase of lunacy, on the other hand it must be remembered that in most Irish towns there is an appalling amount of overcrowding. The death-rate of Dublin the highest of any city in Europe is, in consequence, no less than 25 per 1,000, as against 16 per 1,000 in Paris and New York, and 17 per 1,000 in London. The percentage of families, consisting on an average of four persons, living in one room is in London 14.6, in Edinburgh 16.9, in Glasgow 26.1, in Cork 10.6, in Limerick, 15.8, while in Dublin it reaches the appalling percentage of 36. In Belfast, which, unlike any other of the cities which I have mentioned, is for the most part modern, the percentage is not higher than 1, and this fact has a very great bearing on the industrial conditions in that city. Side by side with these figures may be placed those of the death-rate from tuberculosis, which from 1864 to 1906 in England decreased from 3.3 per 1,000 to 1.6, in Scotland decreased from 3.6 per 1,000 to 2.1, and in Ireland increased from 2.4 to 2.7 per 1,000.

The rate war of the steamship companies, which reduced the cost of passage across the Atlantic in 1904, caused the emigration returns to rise from 45,000 to 58,000 in a single year, and at the same time there were employed in Ireland two hundred emigration agents of one company alone the Cunard each of whom received six shillings a head for each banished Irishman and Irishwoman whom he got safely out of the country. It is easy for the Irishman to wax eloquent about the exiles who, from the time when O’Neil and O’Donnell weighed anchor in Lough Swilly at the very beginning of the seventeenth century, sailed from their country to seek their fortunes abroad in Church or State or camp, since proscription deprived them of the carrière ouverte aux talents at home. The history of the “wild geese” in the service of France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Prussia, and of Russia; of the Irishmen who were respectively the first Quartermaster-General of the United States Army and the first Commodore of the United States Navy, or of the seven Irish Field Marshals of Austria, or of those who served as Viceroys to Chili, Peru, and Mexico, is the story of the citizens of no mean city. Catholic Europe is flecked with the white graves of the Irish exiles of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; from Rome to Valladolid, from Douai to Prague, from Salamanca to Louvain, and from Tournai to Paris you will find their bones. But the pathos of this is, to my mind, as nothing compared with the pathos of what is occurring now. For one thing, it was only men in those days that went in any large numbers, while to-day it is both men and women. From the point of view of England the result has been in no small degree serious. Of the four million people who have emigrated since the great tidal wave began with the famine, nearly ninety per cent. have gone, not to British Colonies, but to the United States. Of the fifty thousand who emigrated in 1905 more than forty-four thousand went to the North-American Republic.

Coelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt; the Ulster Protestants who were driven from their country by the commercial restrictions of the eighteenth century formed the nucleus of the most implacable enemies of Great Britain in the War of Independence half Washington’s army was recruited from Irishmen in America; and in the same way the exiles of the nineteenth century became, and have remained even to the second generation, irreconcilable adversaries of the system of government which, by affording for too long no relief to the conditions in Ireland, was responsible for the flight from their home to a land which was, by comparison, flowing with milk and honey.

Side by side with emigration goes on another factor in the social life of the country which is very significant of the stress under which, in some districts, the Irish peasant ekes out an existence. I am referring to the migratory labourers, of whom nearly 18,000 leave their homes in Ireland every year to work in the harvest fields of England and Scotland, that they may there secure a wage by which they are able to make both ends meet in a manner which the uneconomic nature of their holdings does not permit. How small is the diminution in this annual migration is seen by the fact that the highest figures in connection with it recorded in the last quarter of a century are those of 1880, in which year nearly 23,000 migrated, while within the last six years in 1901 the figures were as high as 19,700. More than three-quarters of these labourers come from Connacht, and of the total number more than one-half from County Mayo, from which every year 47.8 per thousand of the population migrate, and if one takes the adult male population i.e., that of men over twenty years of age one finds that the number of migratory labourers represents a proportion of 177.4 per thousand. Nearly three-quarters of them go to England, and the harvest fields of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire are in a large measure reaped by their hands. From February till June the migration occurs, and the labourers return in the late autumn to their homes. The fact that the sum brought back by them is, at the highest estimate, said to be about L18 after nine months of labour, and that the wages which they earn amount to an average of 17s. a week, while, in addition to the cost of living for three-quarters of the year, about L2 is spent on their railway fare, all serve to show the nature of the economic conditions in the West of Ireland which make such a migration for such a wage worth while on the part of nearly twenty thousand people. One factor in this connection which should be noted is that the number of girls who migrate every year is said to be increasing, and is estimated to amount to nearly half the total throughout the country. The precariousness of a dependence on such a means of subsistence as this, is seen from the fact that a bad harvest in England or a development in agricultural machinery would put an end to the source of livelihood which it provides. If from no other point of view the problem should be regarded seriously by Englishmen in the light of the depopulation of the English countryside, with its direct bearing upon the material for recruiting the army and navy, and the problem of unemployment in general.

It is a surprising thing that the support of home industries, which was one of the foibles of Dean Swift, who advised Irishmen to burn everything that came from England except its coal, has only of very recent years been resuscitated. So much is this the case that the action of the South Dublin Board of Guardians, who in 1881 insisted that the workhouse inmates should be clothed in Irish produce, was conspicuous by its exceptional nature. At this day all are agreed, whatever be their religious or political opinions, on the advocacy of this form of exclusive dealing at which economists may scowl as at a deliberate attempt to fly in the face of the regular play of the forces of supply and demand, but the success which has so far attended the concerted policy of insisting upon being supplied with Irish produce, and the fact that it is, after all, the only mode of restoring to their natural functions the economic forces in a country where industrial conditions were, by artificial means, thrown out of their natural course, is the justification for its employment.

If for no other reason, the activity displayed by “religious” in Ireland in the encouragement and development of local industries as a check on emigration should protect them from the attacks which have been made upon them, as tending to encourage the uneconomic aspect of the situation in Ireland. To name only a few that come into one’s mind, the nuns’ co-operative factories, which have revived Irish point lace at Youghal, Kenmare, Gort, Carrick-on-Suir, Carrickmacross, and Galway, are instances. Father Dooley, in Galway, has started a woollen factory, with a capital of L10,000, in which nearly two hundred girls are employed, of whom many earn L1 10s. a week. Father Quin, at Ballina, has founded a co-operative shoe factory, and at Castlebar Father Lyons has established an electric power station. The work of the Sisters of Charity at Foxford is well known, and stands in need of no praise, and at Kiltimagh, in Mayo, they employ a hundred and twenty girls at dress and lace making; while Father Maguire, at Dromore, in Tyrone, has established a lace and crochet factory on co-operative principles, which has over a hundred employees; and at Lough Glynn, in Connacht, a carpet and cheese making industry has been built up solely through the efforts of a religious order of nuns. These are random examples, and I do not claim that they are typical. They are, on the other hand, not exceptional.

It is impossible to exaggerate the effect of the English commercial policy towards Ireland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Wool, cotton, sailcloth, sugar refining, shipping, glass, the cattle and provision trade, were all deliberately strangled. And besides the loss of wealth to Ireland which was the consequence, one must take into account the fact that traditions of commercial enterprise perished through desuetude, so that in the industrial revolution at the beginning of the nineteenth century Ireland was too severely crippled to derive any benefit from the new order, as to which she was still further handicapped by the poverty of her coal fields.

The land system, which is only now disappearing, served, moreover, not to inculcate habits of thrift, but positively as a discouragement of economic virtues. Until the legal recognition of tenant-right had been secured, the tenant who made improvements was liable to have his rent raised, and was aware that he had no legal right to compensation for them on his removal from the holding. Further, the judicial fixing of rents, which, as the time for rent revision has approached, has presented to the tenant the temptation not to make the best of his land, and so run the risk of an augmentation of rent, has been a source of insidious demoralisation to the occupant of the soil.

The social upheaval resulting from land purchase will nowhere be more marked than in this respect in the stability which it will produce in the financial conditions of the country, and it may be expected to do something to remedy the lamentable state of things which so far has but little altered from that of twenty years ago, when it was estimated that five-sixths of the total capital of the country was invested abroad. A great opportunity presents itself at the present moment. It was stated a few years ago that eleven millions of rent were spent out of the island. At this day when, under the Land Purchase Act, an immense amount of property is being realised, the patriotic Irish landlord seeking an investment for his money can, by starting industries in Ireland, at one and the same time do a patriotic work by providing against the stream of emigration, and can secure a safe and profitable investment for his purchase-money. There are very nearly eighty million pounds of capital to be set free under the Act, and it is scarcely too much to expect that a large proportion of it will be invested by the expropriated landlords in their own country. The possibility of an industrial revival in Ireland is well illustrated by the increase in the number of co-operative societies, in which there are at the present day 100,000 members, while less than twenty years ago there were only fifty.

The effect of the Dairy, Agricultural, and Poultry Societies is very important, but perhaps of still greater importance are the Raffeisin banks, which aim at the promotion of farming by means of co-operative credit. The loans which they make, at an interest of five per cent. or six per cent., are dealing a death-blow at that curse of Irish life the gombeen man, whose usury used to mount up to thirty per cent. The extremely rare cases of default in the repayment of these loans for agricultural purposes will not be surprising to those who recall the tribute paid by Mr. Wyndham, in connection with land purchase annuities, to the Irish peasant as a debtor whose reliability is unimpeachable. More than twenty years ago the Baroness Burdett Coutts made a loan of L10,000 to the fishermen of Baltimore, with a view to the development of their industry, and the unfailing punctuality with which payments were made afforded another instance of the reliability which is a characteristic of the Irish peasant. This brings one to note in passing that of all others the fishing industry has probably suffered most from the lack of proper means of transit. The 2,500 miles of coast line offer great scope, but the catch of fish off the Irish coast is only one-eighth of that off Scotland, and one-sixteenth of that off England and Wales, and Irish waters are to a very large extent fished by boats from the coasts of Scotland, the Isle of Man, France, and Norway. Oyster fisheries used to abound the celebrated beds at Arcachon in the Landes were stocked from Ireland but they have fallen into disuse, and with their disappearance a very remunerative business has been lost. The need for extensive and scientific forestry one may also note is obvious, from the fact that there are seven million acres of former woodland which are now reduced to a waste. The results of planting a shelter bed of pines on the north and west coasts, as a protection from the Atlantic winds, would be very great, while the industrial effect of systematised forestry would be immense. Bark for tanning, charcoal, moss, resin, manure from fallen leaves, litter, fuel, and mushrooms are some of the bye-products of this reproductive industry, while by planting willows, which yield a rapid return, along bogs a basket weaving industry might very rapidly be developed. The need, however, for planting on an extensive scale and the inevitable delay before any returns for expenditure accrue, make forestry essentially an object not for private but for public enterprise.

It is not generally known that in 1831 Ireland grew one-fifth of the tobacco consumed in the three kingdoms, but that in that year the first Liberal Government which was in power for a generation put down a profitable industry for which the turfy soil of the country was particularly well adapted. With the help of a shilling rebate it is being shown, on an experimental area, that tobacco can be grown successfully in Ireland. At present the Treasury has refused to allow any extension of the area under cultivation, and it remains to be seen whether the united demands of Irish members Unionist as well as Nationalist will secure the removal of the prohibition against its growth, and so possibly lead to a re-establishment of its cultivation on a similar scale to that of three-quarters of a century ago.

Perhaps the most important and, one may surmise, far-reaching step which has been taken in respect of Irish industries in the last few years is to be found in the registration, under the Merchandise Marks Act of 1905, of a national trade-mark, the property in which is vested in an association, which, on payment of a fee, grants the right to use it to manufacturers of the nature of whose credentials it is satisfied. The value of this is obvious as giving a guarantee of the country of origin of goods at a time when the increased demand for Irish produce has added to the number of unscrupulous traders who sell as “made in Ireland” goods which are not of Irish manufacture. It is said that twenty years ago most of the tweed which was placed upon the market which had been made in Ireland was sold as Cheviot, and that to-day the roles are reversed, and it is certain that for many years the great bulk of Irish butter masqueraded in English provision shops as Danish. The income of the association is devoted to the taking of legal action against traders who fraudulently sell as Irish, foreign including English made goods. If an instance is needed of the results which the protection of a national trade-mark gives in the encouragement of industry, by the guarantee of origin which it entails, it is to be found in the success of similar action in the cases of the butter industries of Sweden and Austria. It is a great tribute to the Trade-Mark Association that within two years of its incorporation the Congested Districts Board has applied for the use of the trade-mark for the products of its lace classes and for its homespuns.

The task proposed by Henry Grattan to the Irish Parliament may well be taken to heart by the Irish people to-day: “In the arts that polish life, the manufactures that adorn it, you will for many years be inferior to some other parts of Europe, but to nurse a growing people, to mature a struggling, though hardy, community, to mould, to multiply, to consolidate, to inspire, and to exalt a young nation, be these your barbarous accomplishments.”