« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
The policy of administrative reform and of material improvements baving advanced so far, the Irish Parliament turned its attention to the system of finance. It was time that it did so, because the Irish Executive Government had been seeking to regain in influence what it had lost in prerogative; and had employed the revenues for that purpose. In this it was encouraged by the great Irish families, who formed an aristocratic oligarchy strongly opposed to popular liberties and never sympathetic to the principles of Grattan and his friends, who maintained that, subject to the preservation of the connexion with Great Britain, Ireland should be governed according to Irish wishes and Irish interests.
To check the hostile intentions of the Irish Ministers and Executive, the Parliament imposed a limitation on the grant of pensions; acquired control over the hereditary revenues by granting in lieu of them a fixed Civil List to the King; took steps to reduce the enormous expense of the collection of the revenuethe fruitful means of jobbery; and it excluded placemen from Parliament-though on this point its intentions were frustrated. The general effect was to bring the country's finances completely under Parliamentary control, but at the cost of increased ill-will between the Parliament and the Irish Executive.
At the time I am speaking of—the year 1793—the total Irish revenue, including miscellaneous receipts, amounted to 1,837,6921., and the total expenditure, including cost of collecting the revenue, to 1,855,2231. Practically, there was equilibrium between income and expenditure. The revenue, it is true, was 500,0001. more than in 1782 ; but the increase was largely due to the greater productivity of the then existing taxes, owing to the increased prosperity of the country. The expenditure was 300,0001. more than it had been ten years before; but, if regard be had to the extraordinary improvement in the condition of the country, the increase will excite no surprise. The debt, funded and unfunded, was only 2,252,6571., which bore a much smaller proportion to the wealth of the country in 1793 than did the lesser debt of ten years before to the country's wealth at that time. These figures bear eloquent testimony to the success of the Irish Parliament's financial administration during the preceding ten years.
From that time forward the Parliament's difficulties increased. The opposition of the Irish Ministry and Executive to the grant to Catholics of the full Parliamentary franchise which Protestants were, then, willing to concede, created unrest in the country. Adverse seasons depressed trade and reduced the revenue. In February 1793 France issued her declaration of war against England, and Ireland, ever the loyal supporter of England's military honour, readily contributed in money and men to the
war's expenses. Thenceforth expenditure and debt grew rapidly. In 1795 the annual expenditure had risen to 3,268,0001. ; in 1797 it was 5,185,0001., and the debt 10,135,0001. Then came the Rebellion of 1798, which the English Cabinet did so much to provoke?; and in 1799 the expenditure was 7,250,0001. and the debt 23,000,0001. During the last five years of the Irish Parliament's existence, the country was overwhelmed in the disasters which preceded the Union.
The Act of Union enormously aggravated the financial difficulties under which Ireland was labouring when the Act was passed, though Castlereagh confidently assured Parliament that it would bring relief to the country. While taking away the country's legislative independence, the Union left her separate financial system untouched. After the Union, as before it, each country retained her own system of taxation, her own local expenditure, and her own public debt. But the Union effected one great change : for the voluntary contributions to Imperial purposes which Ireland made to England during Grattan's Parliament it substituted the obligation of contributing, to the common purposes of the Empire, a sum which bore to Great Britain's similar contribution the proportion of 1 to 7), or 2 to 15.
The basis of that proportion was found in two comparisons : the first comparison was between the average value of the imports and exports of the two countries during the three years preceding the Act of Union; and this comparison yielded a proportion of 7 to 1.
The second was between the value of the malt, beer, spirits, wine, tea, tobacco and sugar consumed in the two countries in the same period; and this comparison yielded the proportion of 71 to 1 --the mean was taken at 71 to 1, or 15 to 2.
The fairness of this proportion was vehemently challenged at the time, and impartial men will now allow that the data adopted
1 The English Cabinet had determined to resist the emancipation of the Catholics, contrary to the dominant sentiments of the Irish Protestants, and it therefore directed its Irish representatives to endeavour to kindle an antiCatholic feeling in Ireland, and exert its enormous influence to organise an Irish party of resistance ... Such instructions in the existing state of Ireland meant nothing less than a revival of the old religious warfare. They meant that while the United Irishmen were seeking to obliterate the distinction between Proteetant and Catholic, the English Government in order to perpetuate a system of proscription, were endeavouring to make that distinction indelible and to stimulate and manipulate Protestant jealousies.'-Lecky, History of Ireland in the Bighteenth Century, vol. iii. pp. 328-9. These words have a singular appropriateness and significance at the present time when, ostensibly under the auspices of the great Unionist Party, an attempt is being made in Great Britain as well as in Ireland to defeat Ireland's claim for a subordinate Legislative Assembly for purely Irish affairs, by fanning into flame the dying embers of religious fanaticism. The attempt shows an unsuspected survival in the twentieth century of the savagery of the political methods of the eighteenth.
were far too superficial for such a great adjustment. But Pitt and Castlereagh (quite honestly, I believe) thought the proportion fair; and Lecky suggests that if the Peace of Amiens had been a permanent one, it is possible that the proportion might not have been excessive.' It is useless to speculate on what might or might not have been. Instead of peace, came the great Napoleonic wars; the proportion proved disastrous in actual practice; and in fifteen years it brought Ireland to the verge of
At the date of the Union the total revenue of Ireland was 3,328,2901., and her public debt was 27,792,9751. ; in 1816, the revenue had been increased to 7,301,6441., while the debt had grown to 134,596,6771. (of which nearly 23,000,0001. was redeemed but undischarged debt).?
During these fifteen years the financial administration of Ireland was synonymous with the imposition of fresh taxation, and the raising of loans to make good the annual deficits between the revenue and the obligatory payment. The sums which Ireland paid in connexion with the common purposes of the United Kingdom during the sixteen years, 1801-1817, are stated to have exceeded 150,000,0001., but it must be remembered that, as nearly two-thirds of the sum was the proceeds of loans, which in 1817 were amalgamated with the British National Debt, the responsibility of Ireland so far became little more than nominal.
In regard to fiscal amalgamation, the Act of Union contained two separate conditions, both of which needed fulfilment before amalgamation could be legally effected. The first condition was, that the debts of both countries should stand to each other in the same proportion as their contributions—that is, as 15 to 2; and the second condition was that the Parliament of the United Kingdom should be satisfied that the respective circumstances of the two countries permitted of their contributing indiscriminately to the further expenditure of the United Kingdom by equal taxes imposed on the same articles in each. If these conditions coexisted, then Parliament should be competent to declare that all further expenses and charges of both countries should be met indiscriminately by equal taxes imposed on each country. It has been pointed out that no such inquiry as the Act of Union seemed to demand was made by the Imperial Parliament previous to the amalgamation of the two Treasuries, and that, in fact, the second condition did not exist in 1816. But the first condition did exist, although, contrary to Pitt's expectation, it came into existence by an enormous increase of the Irish debt, instead of by a decrease of the English one. Its existence was deemed sufficient to justify
* See Appendix to the Report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Irish Taxation, 1864-5, pp. 317-428.
the Government in putting an end to the Irish fiscal system, and in bringing Great Britain and Ireland under the uniform rule of liability to indiscriminate taxation, and of enjoyment of indiscriminate expenditure. This bilateral contract has & peculiar
a importance for us to-day.
The procedure by which the fiscal amalgamation of 1817 was effected may have been irregular, but the bankruptcy of Ireland a direct consequence of the burden laid upon her by the Unioncould be most readily avoided by the complete amalgamation of the fiscal systems of the two countries. That amalgamation was effected; and Ireland was relieved from the necessity of bearing alone the enormous pressure of that debt which she had incurred for the benefit of the United Kingdom. From that time the separate Irish Exchequer disappeared, and with it the last vestige of Irish financial independence.
The financial history of Ireland, so far as I have sketched it, embraces five periods. The first period covers the time when the charges of Irish government were met from the hereditary revenues alone. During that period the Irish Government was merely a disbursing authority, and nothing like a financial system, in our meaning of the words, existed, or could exist.
The second period covered three-quarters of the eighteenth century. During it the financial policy of the Irish Government seemed to aim at ear-marking, for particular Irish civil purposes, as much of the hereditary revenues as possible; and in that way increasing the amount to be met by supplies, which were more under Parliamentary control.
The third period covers the first ten years of Grattan's Parliament, if precision be insisted on, but, speaking roughly, it may be regarded as extending to the recall of Lord Fitzwillia'm in 1795. It was the halcyon period of Irish political and financial history, a period of astonishing prosperity and progress.
The fourth period covers the last five years of the century, when Ireland, sunk in political disaster and manifold distress, abandoned all efforts at economy, doubled her revenue, and increased her debt sevenfold. The period was one of financial chaos.
The fifth period covers the interval of sixteen years between the legislative and the fiscal union. The taxable capacity of the country was strained to breaking-point : taxation, already heavy in 1800, was more than doubled within the following fifteen years. Yet it was far in the wake of expenditure, which called for constant loans, raised on most onerous terms, until the annual interest on the stock equalled, or nearly equalled, the entire revenue of can there be said to have existed any true 'Finance of Irish Government.'
The final outcome is, that throughout Ireland's troubled history up to 1817, only for the first thirteen years of Grattan's Parliament
From 1817, when Ireland ceased to have even nominal fiscal independence, until the present time, the revenue collected in Ireland has been merged in the revenues of the rest of the United Kingdom, and disposed of, without regard to its place of origin, at the dictation of the Treasury in Whitehall. The Irish Government has prepared and submitted estimates for the information of the Imperial Treasury, has offered advice as to the objects on which the money should be spent, has persistently begged for a larger share of it, and has rendered an account of its disbursements to the auditing authorities. But a controlling influence in the framing or adoption of financial policy it has not exercised for more than a century. Still, there are a few words to be said on the financial policy pursued in Ireland by the Treasury Board since the fiscal union, before I come to the facts of the present day.
The forty years following the fiscal union formed part of England's transition period from the agricultural to the industrial state.
A fiscal system suitable for the agricultural stage of economic development is very different from that adapted to the industrial stage.
Tariffs beneficial to the one are oppressive to the other. As industrialism advanced in England, the tariffs which impeded its progress were altered, and greatest among these alterations was the remission of the import duties on manufactured articles, raw materials, and on corn. Thus, not only was the industry of Great Britain freed from oppressive taxes during this period, but the taxation per head of the population was very sensibly lessened.
The case was different with Ireland. The alterations of the tariff which were beneficial to England were either ineffective in Ireland or positively injurious, as in the case of the corn duties. Instead of a reduction, the period brought a steady though small increase in the taxation of the country. While the estimated true revenue of Great Britain, which in 1820 stood at 51,500,0001. (round figures), fell in 1840 to 46,250,0001., the estimated true revenue of Ireland, which in 1820 stood at 5,250,0001., stood in 1840 at nearly 5,500,0001. During this period, therefore, the financial administration which greatly benefited the industries of Great Britain and relieved her fiscal burdens, conferred on Ireland no benefit.
The Irish burden was increased between 1852 and 1858 by the extension of the income tax and the enhancement of the spirit duties to an equality with those in force in Great Britain. But, in fairness to the British financiers of that day, the increase should not be judged apart from the policy of which it was an integral part. That policy was the exemption from taxation of the prime