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Poor Relief in Ireland, 1851-1914

Mel Cousins

This book examines the provision of poor relief in Ireland from the immediate aftermath of the Famine in the mid-nineteenth century to the onset of the Great War in 1914, by which time the Poor Law had been replaced by a range of other policy measures such as the old-age pension and national insurance. The study establishes an empirical basis for studying poor relief in this period, analysing over time the provision of indoor and outdoor relief and expenditure levels, and charts regional variations in the provision of poor relief. The author goes on to examine a number of issues that highlight political and social class struggles in relation to the provision of poor relief and also considers in fascinating detail the broader role of the Poor Law and the Boards of Guardians within local communities.

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Chapter 9 The Broader Role of the Boards of Guardians in Local Politics and Community 203

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Chapter 9 The Broader Role of the Boards of Guardians in Local Politics and Community This chapter examines the broader role of the boards of guardians in the politicisation of Irish society. The fact that two rather dif ferent approaches to the provision of relief have been identified indicates that the role of the boards was important in the development of policy. Boards had consider- able discretion in how they applied the law and could and did decide on the precise approach to the provision of relief. At the same time, the degree of continuity in poor relief patterns over the nineteenth century indicates that the major reconstruction of the boards in the 1880s did not lead to dramatic changes in poor relief policy. So if Nationalists took over ‘con- trol’ of the southern boards, what use did they make of their new powers? And why did they bother to take over control of the boards at all? These questions point to the broader importance of the boards in Irish society and, in particular, in the politicisation of the Irish population. The term ‘politicisation’ is used in the sense that the politicisation of a group or a society is the socio-historic action by which political issues penetrate the daily lives of the members of that group or society: in the words of Cath- erine Ford ‘the formation of a political consciousness’.1 While some authors have presented the issue of politicisation as a contrast between ‘archaic’ and ‘modern’ forms of politics,...

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