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rights which the small farmer may have besides, in respect of improvements, are not now, as a general rule, disregarded in any part of Ireland; and, almost everywhere, his superiors are very much better than the law of the land. Unhappily, however, instances of wrong and oppression necessarily sometimes occur ; and then, the law being essentially unjust, and showing that general injustice is possible, the result appears in wide-spread discontent, in a pervading sense of want of security, in dislike of the whole system of tenure, in serious and dangerous moral disorder.
The great and decisive vice, therefore, of the system of occupation in Ireland is, that the law of tenure fails to protect the just rights of the mass of the peasantry. As in England, in the fifteenth century, the lands of the kingdom were overrun by a vast system of private trusts, to which the common law would afford no sanction, and this led to disputes and confusion ; so in Ireland, at this moment, the small farmers are, as a rule, entitled to a variety of equities in their holdings, and these, not being made law-worthy, wrong and disorder inevitably ensue. It is the peculiar misfortune of Ireland, however, that evils in the system of the occupation of land are aggravated by evils in its system of ownership. In by far the greater part of the island, the settlement of landed property rests on a basis of confiscation and conquest, upheld and strengthened by evil laws, disastrous in their protracted effects; and it has never rooted itself in the hearts, the sentiments, and the traditions of the people. After a series of forfeitures and distributions of land, unparalleled perhaps in the annals of Europe, the revolution of 1688 placed the ownership of the bulk of the soil, in three of the four Irish provinces, into the hands of a dominant caste, differing from the nation in origin and faith, and made hostile to it by generations of discord, while the conquered race remained in occupation, to serve and toil for their alien superiors. It was difficult for kindly feelings to grow up between classes, set in this way in the close relation of landlord and tenant, yet morally sundered, and of old foes; and the Penal Code, which, it must be remembered, continued unchanged until 1778, increased the breach between them, and made it durable. The results appeared in an aristocracy of the most harsh and ungracious kind, cut off in sympathy from its dependents, and divided from them by an impassable barrier, in absenteeism ruinous and wide-spread, in property maintained by force only, and unadorned by social affection, in hatreds and animosities of class, and in a peasantry down-trodden and depressed, which cringed to its masters but loved them not, and which gave no willing or loyal obedience. A variety of circumstances tended to prolong the consequences of this state of things; and though the influences of this century, Time, the abolition of unjust laws, and a system of government generally impartial, have done much to obliterate its effects, they are, nevertheless, distinctly traceable. To this day, in Leinster, Munster, and Connaught, the large majority of the landed gentry are, as a body, wholly distinct from their tenantry, opposed to them in politics and religion, and though generally just and humane, not united with them in real concord. To this day, absenteeism throws its cold shadow over immense districts and makes them barren of regard for their owners; and to this day, the relations of landed property, in too many instances, wear a stern, rude, and ungenial aspect. The result has been that, as the people have grown in knowledge, and proved their power, they have learned to dislike this condition of affairs; territorial influence has dangerously declined ; and the very institution of ownership in land is assailed by revolutionary passion. In Ulster only, where during more than two centuries society has reposed upon foundations completely different, a better state of feeling exists, and landlords still have very great power; though even in Ulster other causes have caused some jealousy of landed dominion.
The two features, then, in the land system of Ireland which we must keep distinctly before us are, that, as regards the bulk of the peasantry, the conditions of occupation are unjust, and that the system of ownership is not popular. It is not our present purpose to consider the variety of schemes which have been put forward as remedies for this state of things the conversion of the tenantry of Ireland into owners of land at a fixed quit-rent, the universal extension of the tenant-right of Ulster, the transformation of all tenancies at will into leaseholders for a definite period. The Government Bill is founded on views entirely different from these projects, which, however excellent they may be in the abstract, are confessedly innovations of a serious kind, and have the special defect of applying a single and inflexible rule to rights of a very varying character, and of thus doing considerable injustice. The Bill treats the land system of Ireland on the side of occupation, and on that of ownership, and seeks to deal with it under both aspects. Taking it up on its first and most complex side, it proceeds upon the sound principles of giving the support and efficacy of Law to those equities of the Irish occupier at present without that permanent sanction; of extending those equities in some measure to all analogous cases, with large variations ; of discriminating and adjusting these, according to their extent and degree, by the machinery of a judicial process, doing justice in individual instances, and of vindicating them for the benefit of their possessors, whenever they may be in need of them, interfering, however, as slightly as possible with the existing relations of landed property. The scheme, in a word, setting out with the notion of recognizing and establishing existing facts, endeavours to reform the conditions of occupation by bringing these facts into our legal system ; aims at strengthening the position of the Irish tenant by a wide and liberal interpretation of them; and seeks to improve and raise his status, and to alter really the nature of his tenure, but, nevertheless, without violent change, in a gentle, gradual, and easy manner, and without rude disturbance of his superior. To effect these objects, the Bill divides the occupiers of the soil into three great classes, according to their respective equitable rights, and deals with each in a separate manner.
The first class are the powerful body who, whether they hold by lease or at will, have the benefit of the custom of Ulster; and, as to these, the Bill simply gives the efficacy of law to the usage, in all cases where it really exists, excluding them from any further advantage. The operation of this custom is to confer upon the tenant of Ulster an interest in the land beyond his tenure, this interest, however, being very different in extent and value on different estates; but, as the custom is not law-worthy, his superior always has possessed the power of weakening or destroying his tenant-right, these wrongs, however, being very uncommon. The Bill effectually prevents such acts; and by legalising the custom in its integrity, assures to the Ulster tenant his right, whatever it may be, in its existing status. The result practically will be to convert many estates in Ulster into mere manors, in which the lords will have the rents and services, and the tenants will usually hold the lands without disturbance, and with a power of disposition of the tenant-right, according to the conditions of the custom.
The second class comprised in the Bill are the occupiers who, whatever their tenure, are entitled to the imperfect tenant-right which prevails in certain parts of the South, especially in the Midland Counties. This right, also, like that of the North, gives a tenant, practically, an interest in his holding of a proprietary kind beyond his tenure ; and like that of the North it is liable to be invaded and even annulled by the landlord. The usage, however, which sustains this right, is much less efficacious and mature than the ancient and honoured custom of Ulster; in fact, it hardly extends beyond acquiescence and forbearance on the part of the landlord ; and rights secured by it not only vary, as they do in the North, on various estates, and present various degrees of diversity, but are, speaking generally, less valuable, determinate, and distinctly defined. The Bill deals with this usage on the same principles as with the Ulster custom, except that, as is not unjust, it modifies what is crude and inchoate according to sound and rational views; and it offers the occupier instead of the rights conferred by it, an alternative choice which it assumes will usually be a benefit to him. It declares in substance that the tenant-right of the South shall be made law(1) Sect. 1.
(2) Sect. 2.
worthy like that of the North, in similar terms and in the like manner; that is, that wherever it exists, it shall attach to estates subject to it, according to its actual status; but it provides that claims in respect of arrears, of waste, and for breach of agreement, shall be a charge on the tenant-right as they now are under the custom of Ulster; and it exposes the tenant-right to forfeiture, in the event of unlicensed subdivision, except for the use of agricultural labourers, introducing here a condition necessary for the safety of landed property in Ireland. This is undoubtedly the meaning of the Bill, though its language is not happy or precise ; and the effect will be that the tenant of the South, in cases where he has a claim to it, will possess his right in the same way, and with the same security, as his northern fellow, subject only to the terms imposed by the measure on him in the general interest As, however, the tenantright of the South is often of comparatively little value, and incapable of satisfactory proof, the Bill provides that it may be commuted by the concession of a lease for thirty-one years, carrying with it a right to compensation in respect of improvements of a large kind; this being considered an equivalent for the tenant-right in ordinary cases and an alternative suitable to the tenant. If, therefore, the tenant takes the benefit of the terms offered him in this way, he will hold his lands for the period indicated, and his right will be considered exhausted.
The third class of occupiers referred to, comprises, with certain specified exceptions, the whole mass of tenants in Ireland who have not the tenant-right either of the North or the South, irrespective also of the quality of their tenure. The principle of the Bill as to this immense body is to legalise to the fullest extent, regard being had to existing contracts, the equities in the soil which they may possess or acquire in respect of improvements or otherwise; to set these apart for their exclusive benefit whenever a necessity shall arise ; to add besides a kind of variable tenant-right, under certain conditions, in all cases in which justice shall allow this charge, in order to defend the tenant's possession ; and yet to detract as little as possible from the rights of property in making these changes. For this purpose, the Billl reverses that most unrighteous presumption of law that whatever is added to land belongs to the owner; and, within a period of limitation, certainly vast, it makes all improvements the property of the tenant, whether made already or to be made, until proof be adduced to the contrary. It gives him also certain other advantages in respect of? away going crops, and of sums paid on obtaining possession, and it enables him to make title to all these claims, of what nature or kind soever, through predecessors of every description. The rights given in this way to the occupier (1) Sect. 5. (2) Sect. 7.
(3) Sect. 6.
such a car claim
are immense, and practically almost alter his status; and the only exceptions to these sweeping provisions arise in' cases—to speak broadly—in which improvements, with some restrictions, are or have been prohibited by the landlord, or may be paid or allowed for by him, or belong to him by antecedent contract, with a proviso that a lease for thirty-one years shall bar claims to some minor kinds of improvements, and that all such claims shall be liable to deductions on the part of the landlord in respect of arrears, of waste, or of breach of agreement. Considerable, however, as are the advantages conferred on the occupier by these means, they will affect his superior in a much less degree than would be supposed at first sight; for, so to speak, they will not vest in possession, no claims in respect of them will arise, until the tenant shall voluntarily leave his holding: even in that case they will not charge his landlord if he obtains permission to dispose of the land, after the analogy afforded by the Ulster custom; and, accordingly, they will fall easily on property in the great majority of instances, while they will assure an ample boon to the farmer. Nevertheless the Bill does not stop at this point in affording protection to the Irish tenant. In the case of all future tenancies whatever, and of all existing tenancies at will, it engrafts on the tenure a kind of tenant-right, ranging at maximum sums from seven to two years' rent, the scale decreasing with the value of the farm; and it makes this the property of the tenant, an interest akin to that under the Ulster custom. This interest, however, is not to be realised unless the landlord “disturb" the tenant; in that event it is to be paid as a penalty on eviction and a compensation for it. Thisstatutable tenant-right is rendered subject to the regulations already referred to, as regards the tenant-right of the South; that is, it is made liable to certain deductions on the part of the landlord, it is capable of forfeiture on unlicensed subdivision, and a thirty-one years' lease will exhaust it upon the terms before maintained. Existing leaseholds are alone exempted from this new and potential charge, perhaps the boldest innovation in the Bill; as to these it obviously would be unjust completely to alter the nature of the contract.
It will be observed that, speaking generally, and with exceptions to be presently noticed, this scheme of remedial change embraces the whole body of occupiers in Ireland, without regard to the nature of their tenure. At first sight, therefore, it may appear to go beyond legitimate bounds in extending advantages not only to the peasant but to the capitalist farmer; and it has been argued that it is not just to apply legislation of the same kind to those who can and cannot protect themselves. In fact, however, the Bill draws a broad. (1) Sect. 4. (2) Compare sects. 4 and 12. (3) Sect. 4. (4) Sect. 3.
(6) Sect. 3.