The single most important event in the shaping of social policy in the 19th century was the great famine of 1845-1849 (Burke 1987). Discuss the impact of the famine on the Irish Poor Law and on the development of Irish social policy
and after the famine.
Before the Great Famine hit, Ireland was already one the poorest countries in Europe. Income per capita in Britain was over double what it was in Ireland (Ó Gráda, 1993). Despite the existence of poor laws in England since 1601, poor laws were only brought into Ireland in 1838, 7 years before the first signs of potato blight. The poor laws were finally introduced into Ireland after years of debate about how they should be implemented.
In 1833, Richard Whately was sent to Ireland to recommend how the poor and accepted by the government. Accoding to Edwards and Williams (1994)
Ireland unlike England which had a system dating back from Tudor time, was looked on as an unspoiled field where a poor law in complete accord with prevailing economic theory could be introduced.
As a result of this, the Poor laws introduced into Ireland were stricter than English Poor Laws. Kinealy (1995) cites three major ways in which the laws differed; firstly and significantly, relief was only given in workhouses in Ireland, outdoor relief was strictly forbidden. Secondly, no “right” to relief existed in Ireland. And thirdly the law of settlement, which stated that a person must have proof of permanent residence in a parish was not introduced into Irish Poor Law as it had been in English Poor Law. These differences meant that from the outset, Irish paupers were to be treated more harshly that their English equivalent. As Kinealy (2002) puts it
The differences between the two poor laws made it clear that the Irish Poor even less deserving than the undeserving English poor The laws were introduced quickly into the country. Within a few years of the laws introduction, the country was...