A NEW DEPARTURE IN IRISH ADMINISTRATION.
To the average English Member of Parliament, the passing of an Act "for establishing a Department of Agriculture and other Industries and Technical Instruction in Ireland and for other purposes connected therewith," probably signified little more than the removal of another Irish grievance, which might not be imaginary, by the concession to Ireland of an equivalent to the Board of Agriculture in England. In reality the difference between the two institutions is as wide as the difference between the two islands. The chief interest of the new Department consists in the free play which it gives to the pent-up forces of a re-awakening life. A new institution is at best but a new opportunity, but the Department starts with the unique advantage that, unlike most Irish institutions, it is one which we Irishmen planned ourselves and for which we have worked. For this reason the opportunity is one to which we may hope to rise.
Before I can convey any clear impression of the part which the Department is, I believe, destined to play on the stage of Irish public life, it will be necessary for me to give a somewhat detailed description of its functions and constitution. The subject is perhaps dull and technical; but readers cannot understand the Ireland of to-day unless they have in their minds not only an accurate conception of the new moral forces in Irish life and of the movements to which these forces have given rise, but also a knowledge of the administrative machinery and methods by which the people and the Government are now, for the first time since the Union, working together towards the building up of the Ireland of to-morrow.
The Department consists of the President (who is the Chief Secretary for the time being) and the Vice-President. The staff is composed of a Secretary, two Assistant Secretaries (one in respect of Agriculture and one in respect of Technical Instruction), as well as certain heads of Branches and a number of inspectors, instructors, officers and servants. The Recess Committee, it will be remembered, had laid stress upon the importance of having at the head of the Department a new Minister who should be directly responsible to Parliament; and, accordingly, it was arranged that the Vice-President should be its direct Ministerial head. The Act provided that the Department should be assisted in its work by a Council of Agriculture and two Boards, and also by a Consultative Committee to advise upon educational questions. But before discussing the constitution of these bodies, it is necessary to explain the nature of the task assigned to the new Department which began work in April, 1900. It was created to fulfil two main purposes. In the first place, it was to consolidate in one authority certain inter-related functions of government in connection with the business concerns of the people which, until the creation of the Department, were scattered over some half-dozen Boards, and to place these functions under the direct control and responsibility of the new Minister. The second purpose was to provide means by which the Government and the people might work together in developing the resources of the country so far as State intervention could be legitimately applied to this end.
To accomplish the first object, two distinct Government departments, the Veterinary Department of the Privy Council and the Office of the Inspectors of Irish Fisheries, were merged in the new Department. The importance to the economic life of the country of having the laws for safeguarding our flocks and herds from disease, our crops from insect pests, our farmers from fraud in the supply of fertilisers and feeding stuffs and in the adulteration of foods (which compete with their products), administered by a Department generally concerned for the farming industry need not be laboured. Similarly, it was well that the laws for the protection of both sea and inland fisheries should be administered by the authority whose function it was to develop these industries. There was also transferred from South Kensington the administration of the Science and Arts grants and the grant in aid of technical instruction, together with the control of several national institutions, the most important being the Royal College of Science and the Metropolitan School of Art; for they, in a sense, would stand at the head of much of the new work which would be required for the contemplated agricultural and industrial developments. The Albert Institute at Glasnevin and the Munster Institute in Cork, both institutions for teaching practical agriculture, were, as a matter of course, handed over from the Board of National Education.
The desirability of bringing order and simplicity into these branches of administration, where co-related action was not provided for before, was obvious. A few years ago, to take a somewhat extreme case, when a virulent attack of potato disease broke out which demanded prompt and active Governmental intervention, the task of instructing farmers how to spray their potatoes was shared by no fewer than six official or semi-official bodies. The consolidation of administration effected by the Act, in addition to being a real step towards efficiency and economy, relieved the Chief Secretary of an immense amount of detailed work to which he could not possibly give adequate personal attention, and made it possible for him to devote a greater share of his time to the larger problems of general Irish legislation and finance.
The newly created powers of the Department, which were added to and co-ordinated with the various pre-existing functions of the several departments whose consolidation I have mentioned above, fairly fulfilled the recommendation of the Recess Committee that the Department should have 'a wide reference and a free hand.' These powers include the aiding, improving, and developing of agriculture in all its branches; horticulture, forestry, home and cottage industries; sea and inland fisheries; the aiding and facilitating of the transit of produce; and the organisation of a system of education in science and art, and in technology as applied to these various subjects. The provision of technical instruction suitable to the needs of the few manufacturing centres in Ireland was included, but need not be dealt with in any detail in these pages, since, as I have said before, the questions connected therewith are more or less common to all such centres and have no specially Irish significance.
For all the administrative functions transferred to the new Department moneys are, as before, annually voted by Parliament. Towards the fulfilment of the second purpose mentioned above--the development of the resources of the country upon the principles of the Recess Committee--an annual income of £166,000, which was derived in about equal parts from Irish and imperial sources, and is called the Department's Endowment, together with a capital sum of about £200,000, were provided.
It will be seen that a very wide sphere of usefulness was thus opened out for the new Department in two distinct ways. The consolidation, under one authority, of many scattered but co-related functions was clearly a move in the right direction. Upon this part of its recommendations the Recess Committee had no difficulty in coming to a quick decision. But the real importance of their Report lay in the direction of the new work which was to be assigned to the Department. Under the new order of things, if the Department, acting with as well as for the people, succeeds in doing well what legitimately may and ought to be done by the Government towards the development of the resources of the country, and, at the same time, as far as possible confines its interference to helping the Irish people to help themselves, a wholly new spirit will be imported into the industrial life of the nation.
The very nature of the work which the Department was called into existence to accomplish made it absolutely essential that it should keep in touch with the classes whom its work would most immediately affect, and without whose active co-operation no lasting good could be achieved. The machinery for this purpose was provided by the establishment of a Council of Agriculture and two Boards, one of the latter being concerned with agriculture, rural industries, and inland fisheries, the other with technical instruction. These representative bodies, whose constitution is interesting as a new departure in administration, were adapted from similar continental councils which have been found by experience, in those foreign countries which are Ireland's economic rivals, to be the most valuable of all means whereby the administration keeps in touch with the agricultural and industrial classes, and becomes truly responsive to their needs and wishes.
The Council of Agriculture consists of two members appointed by each County Council (Cork being regarded as two counties and returning four members), making in all sixty-eight persons. The Department also appoint one half this number of persons, observing in their nomination the same provincial proportions as obtained in the appointments by the popular bodies. This adds thirty-four members, and makes in all one hundred and two Councillors, in addition to the President and Vice-President of the Department, who are ex-officio members. Thus, if all the members attended a Council meeting, the Vice-President would find himself presiding over a body as truly representative of the interests concerned as could be brought together, consisting, by a strange coincidence, of exactly the same number as the Irish representatives in Parliament.
The Council, which is appointed for a term of three years, the first term dating from the 1st April, 1900, has a two-fold function. It is, in the first place, a deliberative assembly which must be convened by the Department at least once a year. The domain over which its deliberations may travel is certainly not restricted, as the Act defines its function as that of "discussing matters of public interest in connection with any of the purposes of this Act." The view Mr. Gerald Balfour took was that nothing but the new spirit he laboured to evoke would make his machine work. Although he gave the Vice-President statutory powers to make rules for the proper ordering of the Council debates, I have been well content to rely upon the usual privileges of a chairman. I have estimated beforehand the time required for the discussion of matters of inquiry: the speakers have condensed their speeches accordingly, the business has been expeditiously transacted, and in the mere exchange of ideas invaluable assistance has been given to the Department.
The second function of the Council is exercised only at its first meeting, and consequently but once in three years. At this first triennial meeting it becomes an Electoral College. It divides itself into four Provincial Committees, each of which elects two members to represent its province on the Agricultural Board and one member to represent it on the Board of Technical Instruction. The Agricultural Board, which controls a sum of over £100,000 a year, consists of twelve members, and as eight out of the twelve are elected by the four Provincial Committees--the remaining four being appointed by the Department, one from each province--it will be seen that the Council of Agriculture exercises an influence upon the administration commensurate with its own representative character. The Board of Technical Instruction, consisting of twenty-one members, together with the President and Vice-President of the Department, has a less simple constitution, owing to the fact that it is concerned with the more complex life of the urban districts of the country. As I have said, the Council of Agriculture elects only four members--one for each province. The Department appoints four others; each of the County Boroughs of Dublin and Belfast appoints three members; the remaining four County Boroughs appoint one member each; a joint Committee of the Councils of the large urban districts surrounding Dublin appoint one member; one member is appointed by the Commissioners of National Education, and one member by the Intermediate Board of Education.
The two Boards have to advise upon all matters submitted to them by the Department in connection, in the one case, with agriculture and other rural industries and inland fisheries, and, in the other case, in connection with Technical Instruction. The advisory powers of the Boards are very real, for the expenditure of all moneys out of the Endowment funds is subject to their concurrence. Hence, while they have not specific administrative powers and apparently have only the right of veto, it is obvious that, if they wished, they might largely force their own views upon the Department by refusing to sanction the expenditure of money upon any of the Department's proposals, until these were so modified as practically to be their own proposals. It is, therefore, clear that the machinery can only work harmoniously and efficiently so long as it is moved by a right spirit. Above all it is necessary that the central administrative body should gain such a measure of popular confidence as to enable it, without loss of influence, to resist proposals for expenditure upon schemes which might ensure great popularity at the moment, but would do permanent harm to the industrial character we are all trying to build up. I need not fear contradiction at the hands of a single member of either Board when I say that up to the present perfect harmony has reigned throughout. The utmost consideration has been shown by the Boards for the difficulties which the Department have to overcome; and I think I may add that due regard has been paid by the administrative authority to the representative character and the legitimate wishes of the bodies which advise and largely control it.
The other statutory body attached to the Department has a significance and potential importance in strange contrast to the humble place it occupies in the statute book. The Agriculture and Technical Instruction (Ireland) Act, 1899, has, like many other Acts, a part entitled 'Miscellaneous,' in which the draughtsman's skill has attended to multifarious practical details, and made provision for all manner of contingencies, many of which the layman might never have thought of or foreseen. Travelling expenses for Council, Boards, and Committees, casual vacancies thereon, a short title for the Act, and a seal for the Department, definitions, which show how little we know of our own language, and a host of kindred matters are included. In this miscellany appears the following little clause:--
Now the real value of this clause, and in this I think it shows a consumate statesmanship, lies not in what it says, but in what it suggests. The Committee, it will be observed, has an immensely important function, but no power beyond such authority as its representative character may afford. Any attempt to deal with a large educational problem by a clause in a measure of this kind would have alarmed the whole force of unco-ordinated pedagogy, and perhaps have wrecked the Bill. The clause as it stands is in harmony with the whole spirit of the new movement and of the legislation provided for its advancement. The Committee may be very useful in suggesting improvements in educational administration which will prevent unnecessary overlapping and lead to co-operation between the systems concerned. Indeed it has already made suggestions of far-reaching importance, which have been acted upon by the educational authorities represented upon it. As I have said in an earlier chapter when discussing Irish education from the practical point of view, I have great faith in the efficacy of the economic factor in educational controversy, and this Committee is certainly in a position to watch and pronounce on any defects in our educational system which the new efforts to deal practically with our industrial and commercial problems may disclose.
There remains to be explained only one feature of the new administrative machinery, and it is a very important one. The Recess Committee had recommended the adaptation to Ireland of a type of central institution which it had found in successful operation on the Continent wherever it had pursued its investigations. So far as schemes applicable to the whole country were concerned, the central Department, assuming that it gained the confidence of the Council and Boards, might easily justify its existence. But the greater part of its work, the Recess Committee saw, would relate to special localities, and could not succeed without the cordial co-operation of the people immediately concerned. This fact brought Mr. Gerald Balfour face to face with a problem which the Recess Committee could not solve in its day, because, when it sat, there still existed the old grand jury system, though its early abolition had been promised. It was extremely fortunate that to the same minister fell the task of framing both the Act of 1898, which revolutionised local government, and the Act of 1899, now under review. The success with which these two Acts were linked together by the provisions of the latter forms an interesting lesson in constructive statesmanship. Time will, I believe, thoroughly discredit the hostile criticism which withheld its due mead of praise from the most fruitful policy which any administration had up to that time ever devised for the better government of Ireland.
The local authorities created by the Act of 1898 provided the machinery for enabling the representatives of the people to decide themselves, to a large extent, upon the nature of the particular measures to be adopted in each locality and to carry out the schemes when formulated. The Act creating the new Department empowered the council of any county or of any urban district, or any two or more public bodies jointly, to appoint committees, composed partly of members of the local bodies and partly of co-opted persons, for the purpose of carrying out such of the Department's schemes as are of local, and not of general importance. True to the underlying principle of the new movement--the principle of self-reliance and local effort--the Act lays it down that 'the Department shall not, in the absence of any special considerations, apply or approve of the application of money ... to schemes in respect of which aid is not given out of money provided by local authorities or from other local sources.' To meet this requirement the local authorities are given the power of raising a limited rate for the purposes of the Act. By these two simple provisions for local administration and local combination, the people of each district were made voluntarily contributory both in effort and in money, towards the new practical developments, and given an interest in, and responsibility for their success. It was of the utmost importance that these new local authorities should be practically interested in the business concerns of the country which the Department was to serve. Mr. Gerald Balfour himself, in introducing the Local Government Bill, had shown that he was under no illusion as to the possible disappointment to which his great democratic experiment might at first give rise. He anticipated that it would "work through failure to success." To put it plainly, the new bodies might devote a great deal of attention to politics and very little to business. I am told by those best qualified to form an opinion (some of my informants having been, to say the least, sceptical as to the wisdom of the experiment), that notwithstanding some extravagances in particular instances, it can already be stated positively that local government in Ireland, taken as a whole, has not suffered in efficiency by the revolution which it has undergone. This is the opinion of officials of the Local Government Board, and refers mainly to the transaction of the fiscal business of the new local authorities. From a different point of observation I shall presently bear witness to a display of administrative capacity on the part of the many statutory committees, appointed by County, Borough, and District Councils to co-operate with the Department, which is most creditable to the thought and feeling of the people.
It would be quite unfair to a large body of farmers in Ireland if, in describing the administrative machinery for carrying out an economic policy based upon self-help and dependent for its success upon the conciliatory spirit abroad in the country, I were to ignore the part played by the large number of co-operative associations, the organisation, work and multiplication of which have been described in a former chapter. The Recess Committee, in their enquiries, found that, in the countries whose competition Ireland feels most keenly, Departments of Agriculture had come to recognise it as an axiom of their policy that without organisation for economic purposes amongst the agricultural classes, State aid to agriculture must be largely ineffectual, and even mischievous. Such Departments devote a considerable part of their efforts to promoting agricultural organisation. Short a time as this Department has been in existence it has had some striking evidence of the justice of these views. As will be seen from the First Annual Report of the Department, it was only where the farmers were organised in properly representative societies that many of the lessons the Department had to teach could effectually reach the farming classes, or that many of the agricultural experiments intended for their guidance could be profitably carried out. Although these experiment schemes were issued to the County Councils and the agricultural public generally, it was only the farmers organised in societies who were really in a position to take part in them. Some of these experiments, indeed, could not be carried out at all except through such societies.
Both for the sake of efficiency in its educational work, and of economy in administration, the Department would be obliged to lay stress on the value of organisation. But there are other reasons for its doing so: industrial, moral, and social. In an able critique upon Bodley's France Madame Darmesteter, writing in the Contemporary Review, July, 1898, points out that even so well informed an observer of French life as the author of that remarkable book failed to appreciate the steadying influence exercised upon the French body politic by the network of voluntary associations, the syndicats agricoles, which are the analogues and, to some extent, the prototypes, in France of our agricultural societies in Ireland. The late Mr. Hanbury, during his too brief career as President of the Board of Agriculture, frequently dwelt upon the importance of organising similar associations in England as a necessary step in the development of the new agricultural policy which he foreshadowed. His successor, Lord Onslow, has fully endorsed his views, and in his speeches is to be found the same appreciation of the exemplary self-reliance of the Irish farmers. I have already referred to the keen interest which both agricultural reformers and English and Welsh County Councils have been taking in the unexpectedly progressive efforts of the Irish farmers to reorganise their industry and place themselves in a position to take advantage of State assistance. I believe that our farmers are going to the root of things, and that due weight should be given to the silent force of organised self-help by those who would estimate the degree in which the aims and sanguine anticipations of the new movement in Ireland are likely to be realised.
And it is not only for its foundation upon self-reliance that the latest development of Irish Government will have a living interest for economists and students of political philosophy. They will see in the facts under review a rapid and altogether healthy evolution of the Irish policy so honourably associated with the name of Mr. Arthur Balfour. His Chief Secretaryship, when all its storm and stress have been forgotten, will be remembered for the opening up of the desolate, poverty-stricken western seaboard by light railways, and for the creation of the Congested Districts Board. The latter institution has gained so wide and, as I think, well merited popularity, that many thought its extension to other parts of Ireland would have been a simpler and safer method of procedure than that actually recommended by the Recess Committee, and adopted by Mr. Gerald Balfour. The Land Act of 1891 applied a treatment to the problem of the congested districts--a problem of economic depression and industrial backwardness, differing rather in degree than in kind from the economic problem of the greater part of rural Ireland--as simple as it was new. A large capital sum of Irish moneys was handed over to an unpaid commission consisting of Irishmen who were acquainted with the local circumstances, and who were in a position to give their services to a public philanthropic purpose. They were given the widest discretion in the expenditure of the interest of this capital sum, and from time to time their income has been augmented from annually voted moneys. They were restricted only to measures calculated permanently to improve the condition of the people, as distinct from measures affording temporary relief.
I agree with those who hold that Mr. Arthur Balfour's plan was the best that could be adopted at the moment. But events have marched rapidly since 1891, and wholly new possibilities in the sphere of Irish economic legislation and administration have been revealed. A new Irish mind has now to be taken into account, and to be made part of any ameliorative Irish policy. Hence it was not only possible, but desirable, to administer State help more democratically in 1899 than in 1891. The policy of the Congested Districts Board was a notable advance upon the inaction of the State in the pre-famine times, and upon the system of doles and somewhat objectless relief works of the latter half of the nineteenth century; but the policy of the new departure now under review was no less notable a departure from the paternalism of the Congested Districts Board. When that body was called into existence it was thought necessary to rely on persons nominated by the Government. When the Department was created eight years later it was found possible, owing to the broadening of the basis of local government and to the moral and social effect of the new movement, to rely largely on the advice and assistance of persons selected by the people themselves.
The two departments are in constant consultation as to the co-ordination of their work, so as to avoid conflict of administrative system and sociological principle in adjoining districts; and much has already been done in this direction. My own experience has not only made me a firm believer in the principle of self-help, but I carry my belief to the extreme length of holding that the poorer a community is the more essential is it to throw it as much as possible on its own resources, in order to develop self-reliance. I recognise, however, the undesirability of too sudden changes of system in these matters. Meanwhile, I may add in this connection that the Wyndham Land Act enormously increases the importance of the Congested Districts Board in regard to its main function--that of dealing directly with congestion, by the purchase and resettlement of estates, the migration of families, and the enlargement of holdings.
I have now said enough about the aims and objects, the constitution and powers, and the relations with other Governmental institutions, of the new Department, to enable the reader to form a fairly accurate estimate of its general character, scope and purpose. From what it is I shall pass in the next chapter to what it does, and there I must describe its everyday work in some detail. But I wish I could also give the reader an adequate picture of the surge of activities raised by the first plunge of the Department into Irish life and thought. After a time the torrent of business made channels for itself and went on in a more orderly fashion; practical ideas and promising openings were sifted out at an early stage of their approach to the Department from those which were neither one nor the other; time was economised, work distributed, and the functions of demand and supply in relation to the Department's work throughout Ireland were brought into proper adjustment with each other. Yet, even at first, to a sympathetic and understanding view, the waste of time and thought involved in dealing with impossible projects and dispelling false hopes was compensated for by the evidence forced upon us that the Irish people had no notion of regarding the Department as an alien institution with which they need concern themselves but little, however much it might concern itself with them. They were never for a moment in doubt as to its real meaning and purpose. They meant to make it their own and to utilise it in the uplifting of their country. No description of the machinery of the institution could explain the real place which it took in the life of the country from the very beginning. But perhaps it may give the reader a more living interest in this part of the story, and a more living picture of the situation, if I try to convey to his mind some of the impressions left on my own, by my experiences during the period immediately following the projection of this new phenomenon into Irish consciousness.
When in Upper Merrion-street, Dublin, opposite to the Land Commission, big brass plates appeared upon the doors of a row of houses announcing that there was domiciled the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, the average man in the street might have been expected to murmur, 'Another Castle Board,' and pass on. It was not long, however, before our visiting list became somewhat embarrassing. We have since got down, as I have said, to a more humdrum, though no less interesting, official life inside the Department. But let the reader imagine himself to have been concealed behind a screen in my office on a day when some event, like the Dublin Horse Show, brought crowds in from the country to the Irish capital. Such an experience would certainly have given him a new understanding of some then neglected men and things. While I was opening the morning's letters and dealing with "Files" marked "urgent," he would see nothing to distinguish my day's work from that of other ministers, who act as a link between the permanent officials of a spending Department and the Government of the day. But presently a stream of callers would set in, and he would begin to realise that the minister is, in this case, a human link of another kind--a link between the people and the Government. A courteous and discreet Private Secretary, having attended to those who have come to the wrong department, and to those who are satisfied with an interview with him or with the officer who would have to attend to their particular business, brings into my not august presence a procession of all sorts and conditions of men. Some know me personally, some bring letters of introduction or want to see me on questions of policy. Others--for these the human link is most needed--must see the ultimate source of responsibility, which, in Ireland, whether it be head of a family or of a Department, is reduced from the abstract to the concrete by the pregnant pronoun 'himself.' I cannot reveal confidences, but I may give a few typical instances of, let us say, callers who might have called.
First comes a visitor, who turns out to be a 'man with an idea,' just home from an unpronounceable address in Scandinavia. He has come to tell me that we have in Ireland a perfect gold mine, if we only knew it--in extent never was there such a gold field--no illusory pockets--good payable stuff in sight for centuries to come--and so on for five precious minutes, which seem like half a day, during which I have realised that he is an inventor, and that it is no good asking him to come to the point. But I keep my eye riveted on his leather bag which is filled to bursting point, and manifest an intelligent interest and burning curiosity. The suggestion works, and out of the bag come black bars and balls, samples of fabrics ranging from sack-cloth to fine linen, buttons, combs, papers for packing and for polite correspondence, bottles of queer black fluid, and a host of other miscellaneous wares. I realise that the particular solution of the Irish Question which is about to be unfolded is the utilisation of our bogs. Well, this is one of the problems with which we have to deal. It is physically possible to make almost anything out of this Irish asset, from moss litter to billiard balls, and though one would not think it, aeons of energy have been stored in these inert looking wastes by the apparently unsympathetic sun, energy which some think may, before long, be converted into electricity to work all the smokeless factories which the rising generation are to see. Indeed, the vista of possibilities is endless, the only serious problem that remains to be solved being 'how to make it pay,' and upon that aspect of the question, unhappily, my visitor had no light to throw.
The next visitor, who brings with him a son and a daughter, is himself the product of an Irish bog in the wildest of the wilds. His Parish Priest had sent him to me. A little awkwardness, which is soon dispelled, and the point is reached. This fine specimen of the 'bone and sinew' has had a hard struggle to bring up his 'long family'; but, with a capable wife, who makes the most of the res angusta domi--of the pig, the poultry, and even of the butter from the little black cows on the mountain--he has risen to the extent of his opportunities. The children are all doing something. Lace and crochet come out of the cabin, the yarn from the wool of the 'mountainy' sheep, carded and spun at home, is feeding the latest type of hosiery knitting machine and the hereditary handloom. The story of this man's life which was written to me by the priest cannot find space here. The immediate object of his visit is to get his eldest daughter trained as a poultry instructress to take part in some of the 'County Schemes' under the Department, and to obtain for his eldest son, who has distinguished himself under the tuition of the Christian Brothers, a travelling scholarship. For this he has been recommended by his teachers. They had marked this bright boy out as an ideal agricultural instructor, and if I could give the reader all the particulars of the case it would be a rare illustration of the latent human resources we mean to develop in the Ireland that is to be. I explain that the young man must pass a qualifying examination, but am glad to be able to admit that the circumstances of his life, which would have to be taken into account in deciding between the qualified, are in his case of a kind likely to secure favourable consideration.
And now enters a sporting friend of mine, a 'practical angler,' who comes with a very familiar tale of woe. The state of the salmon fisheries is deplorable: if the Department does not fulfil its obvious duties there will not be a salmon in Ireland outside a museum in ten years more. He has lived for forty-five years on the banks of a salmon river, and he knows that I don't fish. But this much the conversation reveals: his own knowledge of the subject is confined to the piece of river he happens to own, the gossip he hears at his club, and the ideas of the particular poacher he employs as his gillie. His suggested remedy is the abolition of all netting. But I have to tell him that only the day before I had a deputation from the net fishermen in the estuary of this very river, whose bitter complaint was that this 'poor man's industry' was being destroyed by the mackerel and herring nets round the coast, and--I thought my friend would have a fit--by the way in which the gentlemen on the upper waters neglect their duty of protecting the spawning fish! Some belonging to the lower water interest carried their scepticism as to the efficacy of artificial propagation to the length of believing that hatcheries are partially responsible for the decrease. As so often happens, the opposing interests, disagreeing on all else, find that best of peacemakers, a common enemy, in the Government. The Department is responsible--for two opposite reasons, it is true, but somehow they seem to confirm each other. We must labour to find some other common ground, starting from the recognition that the salmon fisheries are a national asset which must be made to subserve the general public interest. I assure my friend that when all parties make their proper contribution in effort and in cash, the Department will not be backward in doing their part.
At the end of this interview a messenger brings a telegram for 'himself' from a stockowner in a remote district. 'My pigs,' runs one of the most businesslike communications I ever received, 'are all spotted. What shall I do?' I send it to the Veterinary Branch, which, with the Board of Agriculture in England, is engaged in a scheme for staying the ravages of swine fever, a scheme into which the late Mr. Hanbury threw himself with his characteristic energy. The problem is of immense importance, and the difficulty is not mainly quadrupedal. Unless the police 'spot' the spotted pigs, we too often hear nothing about them. I am sure it must be daily brought home to the English Board, as it is to the Irish Department, that an enormous addition might be made to the wealth of the country if our veterinary officers were intelligently and actively aided, in their difficult duties for the protection of our flocks and herds, by those most immediately concerned.
So far it has been an interesting morning bright with the activities out of which the future is to be made. The element of hope has predominated, but now comes a visitor who wishes to see me upon the one part of my duties and responsibilities which is distasteful to me--the exercise of patronage. He has been unloaded upon me by an influential person, upon whom he has more legitimate claims than upon the Department. He has prepared the way for a favourable reception by getting his friends to write to my friends, many of whom have already fulfilled a promise to interview me in his behalf. His mother and two maiden aunts have written letters which have drawn from my poor Private Secretary, who has to read them all, the dry quotation, 'there's such a thing as being so good as to be good for nothing.' The young hopeful quickly puts an end to my speculations as to the exact capacity in which he means to serve the Department by applying for an inspectorship. I ask him what he proposes to inspect, and the sum and substance of his reply is that he is not particular, but would not mind beginning at a moderate salary, say £200 a year. As for his qualifications, they are a sadly minus quantity, his blighted career having included failure for the army, and a clerkship in a bank, which only lasted a week when he proved to be deficient in the second and dangerous in the third of the three R's. His case reminds me of a story of my ranching days, which the exercise of patronage has so often recalled to my mind that I must out with it. Riding into camp one evening, I turned my horse loose and got some supper, which was a vilely cooked meal even for a cow camp. Recognising in the cook a cowboy I had formerly employed, I said to him, 'You were a way up cow hand, but as cook you are no account. Why did you give up riding and take to cooking? What are your qualifications as a cook any way?' 'Qualifications!' he replied, 'why, don't you know I've got varicose veins?' My caller's qualifications are of an equally negative description, though not of a physical kind. He is one of the young Micawbers, to whom the Department from its first inception has been the something which was to turn up. He had, of course, testimonials which in any other country would have commanded success by their terms and the position of the signatories, but which in Ireland only illustrate the charity with which we condone our moral cowardice under the name of good nature. I am glad when this interview closes.
One more type--a Nationalist Member of Parliament! He does not often darken the door of a Government office--they all have the same structural defect, no front stairs--he never has asked and never thought he would ask anything from the Government. But he is interested in some poor fishermen of County Clare who pursue their calling under cruel disadvantages for want of the protection from the Atlantic rollers which a small breakwater would afford. It is true that they were the worst constituents he had--- went against him in 'The Split,'--but if I saw how they lived, and so on. I knew all about the case. A breakwater to be of any use would cost a very large sum, and the local authority, though sympathetic, did not see their way to contribute their proportion, and without a local contribution, I explained, the Department could not, consistently with its principles, unless in most exceptional--Here he breaks in: 'Oh! that red tape. You're as bad as the rest--exceptional, indeed! Why, everything is exceptional in my constituency. I am a bit that way myself. But, seriously, the condition of these poor people would move even a Government official. Besides, you remember the night I made thirteen speeches on the Naval Estimates--the Government wanted a little matter of twenty millions--and you met me in the Lobby and told me you wished to go to bed, and asked me what I really wanted, and--I am always reasonable--I said I would pass the whole Naval Programme if I got the Government to give them a boat-slip at Ballyduck.--"Done!" you said, and we both went home.--I believe you knew that I had got constituency matters mixed up, that Ballyduck was inland, and that it was Ballycrow that I meant to say.--But you won't deny that you are under a moral obligation.'
Well, I would go into the matter again very carefully--for I thought we might help these fishermen in some other way--and write to him. He leaves me; and, while outside the door he travels over the main points with my Private Secretary, the lights and shades in the picture which this strange personality has left on my mind throw me back behind the practical things of to-day. In Parliament facing the Sassanach, in Ireland facing their police, he has for years--the best years of his life--displayed the same love of fighting for fighting's sake. In the riots he has provoked, and they are not a few, he is ever regardless of his own skin, and would be truly miserable if he inflicted any serious bodily harm on a human being--even a landlord. It is impossible not to like this very human anachronism, who, within the limitations imposed by the convenience of a citizenship to which he unwillingly belongs, does battle
The reader may take all this as fiction. I am sure no one will annoy me by trying on any of the caps I have displayed on the counter of my shop. What I do fear is that the picture of some of my duties which I have given may have made a wrong impression of the Department's work upon the reader's mind. He may have come to the conclusion that, contrary to all the principles laid down, an attempt was being made to do for the people things which the new movement was to induce the people to do for themselves. The Department may appear to be using its official position and Government funds to constitute itself a sort of Universal Providence, exercising an authority and a discretion over matters upon which in any progressive community the people must decide for themselves. However near to the appearances such an impression might be, nothing could be further from the facts. If I have helped the reader to unravel the tangled skein of our national life, if I have sufficiently revealed the mind of the new movement to show that there is in it 'a scheme of things entire,' it should be quite clear that the deliberate intentions both of Mr. Gerald Balfour and of those Irishmen whom he took into his confidence are being fulfilled in letter and in spirit. It only remains for me to attempt an adequate description of the work of the Department created by that Chief Secretary, and, above all, of the way in which the people themselves are playing the part which his statesmanship assigned to them.