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Of the two subjects discussed in the following pages, the first respects an important element in the condition and character of the Irish peasantry, viz., their disposition to organized crime and disturbance, and the causes which have led to the existence of this disposition. On the general question of the state of the Irish poor, the Report of the Commission of Inquiry will doubtless furnish all the information to be desired; but the connexion between crime and poverty in Ireland, and the true origin and objects of the disturbances which unhappily have been so prevalent in that country, are questions, allied indeed with the problem proposed to that Commission, but not necessarily forming a part of it.
Lest an inquiry of so much interest should remain unattempted, I have sought to collect all the information to which I had access on the subject of Irish disturbances, and to take a connected view of the whole ; with the purpose of ascertaining by what means it may be possible to establish permanent tranquillity among the peasantry. This subject I have pursued with great detail through its different parts; and although the explanation which results from it is only one element in the decision of the arduous problem of the expediency of a poor-law for Ireland, it is nevertheless an element of great importance, and one which involves the consideration of the characteristic evils in the condition of the agricultural labourers of that country.
With regard to the mode of treating the subject, it appeared to me that in a question so vexed with contradictory opinions, a bare appeal to evidence, to which the reader might not have the means of referring, would be unsatisfactory and inconclusive. I have therefore extracted at full length all the chief statements bearing on each point which I was able to find; and although in so voluminous a mass of evidence, some testimonies may have escaped me, I am not aware of any material fact which is not sufficiently illustrated by the statements of trustworthy witnesses.
The substance of the remarks on the Irish Church question, which I have subjoined, has already appeared as an article in the third number of the London Review. 'The different questions relating to Ireland are so inti
mately connected, that no apology is required for combining the discussion of these two subjects in the same volume. This connexion is especially perceptible in the present case; as not only the character of the measures themselves, but the order in which they are to be carried into effect is of paramount importance. The motives for a mal-administration of the poor's fund have been found to be sufficiently numerous in England; but how much will the difficulty of a frugal and impartial distribution of relief be increased, if a sectarian spirit is superadded; and if the cause of the Catholic pauper is zealously supported against the parsimony of the Protestant landlord and rate-payer ! If, therefore, the difficulty of administering an Irish Poor Law would be great under any circumstances, how much greater must it be while the Church question remains unsettled.
It is earnestly to be desired that no impatience of interest, or of party zeal, should precipitate the decision of the various Irish questions which must shortly occupy the attention of the Legislature. Events have now reached a crisis, at which one false step might never be retrieved. Ireland is still as clay under the potter's hand : the elements of society in that country are still floating in chaos, and await the hand of power to fix and fashion