the measure was hardly what they had a right to expect from a Unionist administration. In their opinion it unsettled the agricultural mind, and encouraged judicial tenants to go to law at the expiration of the first fifteen years’ term instead of bargaining amicably with their landlords.
In the autumn of this year was published the report of the royal commission on the financial relations between England and Ireland. Mr Hugh C. E. Childers was the original chairman of this commission, which was appointed Financial relations. in 1894 with the object of determining the fiscal contribution of Ireland under Home Rule, and after his death in 1896 The O’Conor Don presided. The report—or rather the collection of minority reports—gave some countenance to those who held that Ireland was overtaxed, and there was a strong agitation on the subject, in which some Irish Unionists joined without perceiving the danger of treating the two islands as “separate entities.” No individual Irishman was taxed on a higher scale than any corresponding citizen of Great Britain. No tax, either on commodities or property, was higher in Ireland than in England. The alleged grievance was, however, exploited to the utmost extent by the Nationalist party. In 1897 a royal commission, with Sir Edward Fry as chairman, was appointed to inquire into the operation of the Land Acts. Voluminous evidence was taken in different parts of Ireland, and the commissioners reported in the following year. The methods and procedure of the Land Commission were much criticized, and many recommendations were made, but no legislation followed. This inquiry proved, what few in Ireland doubted, that the prices paid for occupancy interest or tenant right increased as the landlord’s rent was cut down.
The session of 1898 was largely occupied with the discussion of a bill to establish county and district councils on the lines of the English Act of 1888. The fiscal jurisdiction of grand juries, which had lasted for more than two Local Government Act 1898. centuries and a half, was entirely swept away. Local government for Ireland had always been part of the Unionist programme, and the vote on the abortive bill of 1892 had committed parliament to legislation. It may, nevertheless, be doubted whether enough attention was paid to the local peculiarities of Ireland, and whether English precedents were not too closely followed. In Ireland the poor-rate used to be divided between landlord and tenant, except on holdings valued at £4 and under, in which the landlord paid the whole. Councils elected by small farmers were evidently unfit to impose taxes so assessed. The poor-rate and the county cess, which latter was mostly paid by the tenants, were consolidated, and an agricultural grant of £730,000 was voted by parliament in order to relieve both parties. The consolidated rate was now paid by the occupier, who would profit by economy and lose by extravagance. The towns gained nothing by the agricultural grant, but union rating was established for the first time. The net result of the county council elections in the spring of 1899 was to displace, except in some northern counties, nearly all the men who had hitherto done the local business. Nationalist pledges were exacted, and long service as a grand juror was an almost certain bar to election. The Irish gentry, long excluded, as landlords and Unionists, from political life, now felt to a great extent that they had no field for activity in local affairs. The new councils very generally passed resolutions of sympathy with the Boers in the South African war. The one most often adopted, though sometimes rejected as too mild, was that of the Limerick corporation, hoping “that it may end in another Majuba Hill.” Efforts not wholly unsuccessful were made to hinder recruiting in Ireland, and every reverse or repulse of British arms was greeted with Nationalist applause.
The scheme for a Roman Catholic University—of which Mr Arthur Balfour, speaking for himself and not for the government, made himself a prominent champion—was much canvassed in 1899, but it came to nothing. It had not been forgotten that this question wrecked the Liberal party in 1874.
The chief Irish measure of 1899 was an Agricultural and Technical Instruction Act, which established a new department (see the section Economics above) with the chief secretary at its head and an elaborate system Board of Agriculture. of local committees. Considerable funds were made available, and Mr (afterwards Sir) Horace Plunkett, who as an independent Conservative member had been active in promoting associations for the improvement of Irish methods in this direction, became the first vice-president. The new county councils were generally induced to further attempts at technical instruction and to assist them out of the rates, but progress in this direction was necessarily slow in a country where organized industries have hitherto been so few. In agriculture, and especially in cattle-breeding, improvement was formerly due mainly to the landlords, who had now been deprived by law of much of their power. The gap has been partly filled by the new department, and a good deal has been done. Some experience has been gained not only through the voluntary associations promoted by Sir H. Plunkett, but also from the Congested Districts Board founded under the Land Purchase Act of 1891. This board has power within the districts affected by it to foster agriculture and fisheries, to enlarge holdings, and to buy and hold land. In March 1899 it had from first to last laid out a little more than half a million. The principal source of income was a charge of £41,250 a year upon the Irish Church surplus, but the establishment expenses were paid by parliament.
At the opening of the session in January 1900 there was a formal reconciliation of the Dillonite, Healyite, and Redmondite or Parnellite factions. It was evident from the speeches made on the occasion that there 1900. was not much cordiality between the various leaders, but the outward solidarity of the party was calculated to bring in renewed subscriptions both at home and from America. It was publicly agreed that England’s difficulty in South Africa was Ireland’s opportunity, and that all should abstain from supporting an amendment to the address which admitted that the war would have to be fought out. Mr John Redmond was chosen chairman, and the alliance of Nationalists and Gladstonian Liberals was dissolved. The United Irish League, founded in Mayo in 1898 by Mr William O’Brien, had recently become a sort of rival to the parliamentary party, its avowed object being to break up the great grass farms, and its methods resembling those of the old Land League.
The most striking event, however, in Ireland in the earlier part of 1900 was Queen Victoria’s visit. Touched by the gallantry of the Irish regiments in South Africa, and moved to some extent, no doubt, by the presence of the duke of Connaught in Dublin as commander-in-chief, the queen determined in April to make up for the loss of her usual spring holiday abroad by paying a visit to Ireland. The last time the queen had been in Dublin was in 1861 with the Prince Consort. Since then, besides the visit of the prince and princess of Wales in 1885, Prince Albert Victor and Prince George of Wales had visited Ireland in 1887, and the duke and duchess of York (afterwards prince and princess of Wales) in 1897; but the lack of any permanent royal residence and the long-continued absence of the sovereign in person had aroused repeated comment. Directly the announcement of the queen’s intention was made the greatest public interest was taken in the project. Shortly before St Patrick’s Day the queen issued an order which intensified this interest, that Irish soldiers might in future wear a sprig of shamrock in their headgear on this national festival. For some years past the “wearing of the green” had been regarded by the army authorities as improper, and friction had consequently occurred, but the queen’s order put an end in a graceful manner to what had formerly been a grievance. The result was that St Patrick’s Day was celebrated in London and throughout the empire as it never had been before, and when the queen went over to Dublin at the beginning of April she was received with the greatest enthusiasm.
The general election later in the year made no practical