Front Page Titles (by Subject) 324.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 6 NOV., 1846, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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324.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 6 NOV., 1846, P. 4 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE CONDITION OF IRELAND 
For the context, see No. 306. This unheaded first leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A sixteenth leading article on Irish affairs, in the Morning Chronicle of 6th Nov. 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 62).
we cannot think that the mode of affording relief and employment to the distressed Irish, which has sprung up, if we may so speak, under the Lord-Lieutenant’s proclamation,1 would have been adopted by any Government deliberately and with forethought. Having a people to feed, and the choice what to do with their labour in return, we do not think that any Government would have selected by preference to make them work for the sole gain of a few individual landowners. That was not, in fact, the original intention. It never was contemplated or foreseen by Parliament. What Parliament and the Government itself intended was something totally different. The public was to pay and feed the people, and to the public their services were to be given. They were to be employed on “public works.”2 Unhappily, public works were understood in too limited a sense. Roads and bridges are not wanted in indefinite quantity, and in some states of the industry and trade of a neighbourhood are hardly wanted at all. Every one, therefore, applauded when it was found that the money voted by Parliament was not to be all expended in these useless or premature undertakings. Draining the land, to make it yield better crops, was at least something useful. The works for which the baronies made such large presentment were either useful in a much less degree, or altogether superfluous. Every one saw with pleasure that when a large sum of money was to be spent, and a large amount of labour to be employed, the Irish Government took whatever of responsibility was involved in deciding that the labour should be productive, and that the money should be so spent as to be of permanent use to somebody.
So far well, and we have no desire to qualify the praise bestowed on Ministers for this amendment in the provisions hastily made, at the end of a fatiguing session and the beginning of a Ministry, by the Legislature. But it is no disparagement to say that the measure thus adopted on the spur of the moment, in order to substitute something for a set of arrangements whose failure had taken Ministers and the country by surprise, bears on it unmistakeable marks of the peculiarity of its origin. Not this measure, or any like it, we feel assured, would have been proposed to Parliament, with time for consideration, and in the calmness of deliberate legislation. If it had been foreseen six months ago that drainage and other improvement of land, whether waste or cultivated, was the best purpose, and would, in fact, be the purpose to which the apparatus created for the employment of Irish labour would be turned, most assuredly it would only have been sanctioned after some previous consideration of who was the right person to profit by it, and why. We are surely not giving too much credit to Ministers and Parliament when we assume that they would in that case have seen fit to maintain the integrity of the principle, that when public money is expended it is the public that should reap the benefit. The improvement of land is as fit to be a public work as anything else; in Ireland, fitter than most things else. But then, it must be improvement for the public. We do think that if the subject had been dealt with in the way of regular legislation this would have been seen. We do think that it would have seemed to everybody, except Irish landlords, a thing at once ridiculous and intolerable that the Treasury should set up in business as a drainer and improver of landed estates, for the profit of their proprietors. We cannot believe but that this must be the real opinion of Ministers themselves, and that if they seem to countenance such a scheme, it can only be temporarily, and because nothing more rational occurred to them as capable of being done at the moment.
But the consideration which could not be given at the moment may be given now. If the measures of the Irish Government are successful, if the labour they are ready to feed and pay is judiciously directed and vigilantly superintended, the result will be a large, perhaps a very large, permanent accession to the produce and wealth of the country. We will assume that this prospect is realised, that the inefficiency and jobbery which have been the curse of all public undertakings in Ireland, will not prevent this great addition from being made to the aggregate riches of the country. And now comes the time to enquire whether it is by any inherent necessity, any indefeasible law of nature, that this creation of wealth, by the public counsels and the public means, must all be made away with by the landlords. For theirs, and theirs only, will it be, to the last penny, on the present system of unrestrained competition for land. The extra food produced on the improved land, after reserving to the cottiers their potato diet or its equivalent, will continue, as at present, to be exported to feed England, and the price to be paid away in rent. Now, must this be so? Is the cause in the nature of things, or only in human stupidity? Has political wisdom no means of obviating such a result? Does it need a miracle to make so curious a thing come to pass as that the public should reap where the public only has sown?
Such are the questions to which answers must be found by Lord John Russell; and we cannot think that there needs be a moment’s hesitation what those answers must be. It would be an actual crime to bestow all this wealth upon the landlords, without exacting an equivalent. The equivalent may be of two kinds; we do not see that any third kind is possible. The State may demand, from those whose land it improves, a money payment to itself, or it may stipulate for advantages of some sort to the occupiers and cultivators of the soil. As for profit to itself, beyond a fair interest for its expenses, the thing ought not to be thought of; though, compared with giving all to the landlord, even that would be wisdom. The remaining plan is, to make advantageous conditions for the tenants. And what can those conditions be, except a limitation of rent? But a limitation of rent, if made binding on the landlord, is another word for perpetuity of tenure. It implies that so long as the tenant pays the fixed rent he cannot be ejected. If he does not pay it, of course the landlord ought to have the power of ejecting him, or rather of compelling him to sell, as indeed ought any other creditor.
The means of carrying this plan immediately into practice are simple and obvious; it would even save much responsibility, and a rather invidious office, to the Government or its subordinates, in selecting the fittest recipients of the pecuniary subsidy offered by the State for the improvement of lands. Let the preference be given to those landowners who will grant, in return, the most favourable terms of perpetual tenure to the farmers. There would be some difficulties in carrying out this principle in complete detail, from the necessity of sometimes including lands belonging to many proprietors in a single extensive draining operation. But these difficulties might be met; the owners of two-thirds, or some other preponderant proportion of the lands of a district, might have power to bind the remainder; or, if this were thought objectionable, the Government might make its arrangements for the whole, whenever satisfied with the terms offered by the majority; and the recusant minority, who would obtain their share of the benefit, might be made to pay the full value for it. These are small impediments, easily removed by minds thoroughly in earnest about the principle. It is rare, indeed, that any great work is to be achieved in which the difficulties are so few. There is nothing to daunt, and everything to encourage, a minister who once clearly sees that the thing proposed is desirable; and on him who does not will devolve, and immediately too, what he will find the far more onerous duty of contriving and proposing something better.
[1 ]See No. 313.
[2 ]Under 9 & 10 Victoria, cc. 1, 108, 109.