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The most important policy the Conservatives passed during Russell's time in office was the Poor Law Amendment Act of June 1847. At the height of the famine, this act placed all the responsibility of providing for the Irish poor on the landlords and subsequently the small farmers of Ireland. The Poor laws were an extension of the English poor laws. Under the Poor laws, taxes were levied in order to finance workhouses. The workhouses were often harsh and involved intensive labor for meager wages. They were designed to instill and encourage a sense of self-reliance in the poor. The workhouses were could hold up to 100,000 people, but because they were unpopular only about 40,000 lived inside their walls before the famine. As of January 1847, only two years into the famine, the number of people in the workhouses exceeded 100,000 (Kissane 89).
When the burden of supporting the poor fell on the purses of the landlords, many landlords passed their burden onto their tenants. Many of the small farmers were starving, so there was no way they could pay the higher rent that the landlords demanded. As a result, many evictions occurred and even more people were forced to turn to the workhouses. The Poor Law Amendment Act created auxiliary workhouses and a system of outdoor relief, but even those measures were aimed to instruct the Irish poor on how to behave (Kissane 83). Outdoor relief was only given to those that could prove they were destitute and many times people had to work in the workhouses for a period of time before they could collect outdoor relief.
Finally the Poor Law Amendment Act created the hated 'Gregory cause.' The Gregory clause prohibited people who owned more than a quarter of an acre from collecting any type of relief. Landholders who owned just over a quarter of an acre, but who were still starving were forced, either to give up their land, or starve (link). Throughout the enactment of the Act, British public opinion supported the measures. Many people felt the landlords were responsible for the famine and therefore should be made to pay the price (Morash 61). Even after the collapse of the Poor Law system the British were unwilling to give money to the Irish. As James Donnelly states in his article "'Irish Property must pay for Irish Poverty': British Public Opinion and the Great Famine", "there was no widespread disposition to reassume any substantial share of the costs of relieving the mass destitution associated with the famine" (Morash 73).
From 1846 to 1851 almost a million people died and even more emigrated because of the famine. Out of a population of eight million before the famine, almost one and a half million people emigrated. Many of those who emigrated, climbed abroad ships that were so unsafe they were commonly referred to as 'coffin ships.' Many more died en route to America and Canada. The poor had to fit in the spaces they could find and many ships were overcrowded and rampant with disease. It is estimated that some 100,000 people died en route to North America (Kinealy 2). The famine left a legacy of emigration that continued until recently. As many as seventy million people worldwide can claim Irish decent (Irish Diaspora). This means that not only did the famine effect Ireland, it also shaped the face of many nations.
WHEN GENOCIDE BECAME "FAMINE" : IRELAND, 1845 - 1850
This petition seeks your support for a campaign to:
* Persuade relevant authors, editors and website content providers to stop using the word ‘Famine’ for what took place in Ireland between 1845 and 1850, and start using terms such as, "The Great Hunger" or 'An tOcras Mór
PETITION LINK- TO CHANGE THE WORD FAMINE http://www.petitions24.com/when_famine_became_genocide_ireland_1845_-_1850