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Pre-Famine Ireland: Social Structure Copyright © 2000 by Desmond Keenan Hard copy of book available from and

Chapter Sixteen

                     The Irish Government I

Summary of chapter. In this chapter the functions of the principal Offices of State in Ireland are described.

(i) The Structure of the Irish Government

(ii) The Lord Lieutenant and Irish Secretary

(iii) The Chief Offices of State

(iv) The Revenue Boards

(v) The Post Office

(vi) Personnel and Recruitment


 (i) The Structure of the Irish Government 

            By Government is meant the body of persons, or the officials, charged with governing the state, or part of the state. The Irish Government thus defined was composed almost entirely of Irishmen, whether one considers the politicians or the civil servants. Normally one important official at least, at any given time, either the Lord Lieutenant, the Lord Chancellor, or the Irish Secretary, was British. 

            The structure of the Irish Government was somewhat simpler than that of Britain.  There were no departments of War and Colonies, or Foreign Affairs, no Lord Privy Seal, Lord President of the Council, Treasurer of the Navy, Admiralty, India Board, nor Board of Trade. But all the chief offices were the same.

            The offices of the Irish Government were mostly housed in Dublin Castle. This, despite its name was no mere castle, but a collection of offices and staterooms, etc., from which the administration of the country was conducted. 'The Castle' in Ireland meant what 'Whitehall' meant in Britain, the Offices of government or civil service. There were twenty one Offices or Departments, most of them very small with not more than half a dozen people in them. Officials, Ministers or Secretaries, headed some of these Offices; Boards controlled others when it was felt advisable to share the responsibility among several. The total number employed in the civil service was about 4,700. Most work of an important department like the Post Office was put out to contract. None of the great Offices of state were hereditary, but all were by royal appointment. The word Office had a two-fold meaning: a position of government or administration and the building appropriate to the position, as for example in Post Office. 

            The principal executive officer was the Lord Lieutenant. His secretary, called the Irish Secretary assisted him.  The office was not therefore really separate from that of the Lord Lieutenant; the Secretary just undertook the day to day management of the Lord Lieutenant's affairs. The administration of justice, local government, and some administrative matters were under the direction of the Lord Chancellor, and his Office did not come under the supervision of the Secretary. The Law Officers of the Crown represented the Executive in Parliament and in the courts. The office of Lord Treasurer was, as in Britain, discharged by a Treasury Board, which had ultimate control over public expenditure. There were also Revenue Boards to collect revenue, and a Chancellor of the Exchequer to manage the budget. The Chamberlain was in charge of ceremonial affairs. The Secretary for Home Affairs was known as the Under-Secretary for Civil Affairs. Despite the title the Under-Secretary was the official head of the Office. This Office was particularly involved with treasons, conspiracies, and subversions. The army was under the control of the Under-Secretary for the Military Department. He likewise was the head of the Military Office, which corresponded to that of the British Secretary at War. Military supplies were the responsibility of the Ordnance Board. Barracks and fortifications were under the Barrack Board/Board of Works. There was no Board or Office dealing with the navy.  But in the nineteenth century a naval officer of flag rank was stationed in Dublin. The Royal Mail was under the Post Office which was headed by joint Post Masters General. The Press came under the control of the Stamp Office that was however primarily a Revenue Board. The Office of Principal Secretary of State was abolished at the Act of Union and any duties attached to it were transferred to the Lord Lieutenant's Secretary who was henceforth called the Irish Secretary. After 1836 the police force, except in Dublin, became a national body under the direct control of the Secretary. 

            The Established Church was an independent body subject to the crown and Parliament, but the Lord Lieutenant exercised patronage, or appointment to offices.  

            There was a tendency to replace offices with Boards of Commissioners. Some of these Offices, like that of Lord Treasurer, (or Lord High Admiral) were ancient, and were ordinary departments or offices of state. More often, as in England, Boards of Commissioners who were not Members of Parliament, were appointed to deal with modern needs, some of which might be only temporary. These latter Boards were not part of the Government strictly speaking, with Offices directly responsible to Parliament.  

            The Commissioners were given certain instructions by Parliament, and sufficient funds to carry them out, and were not free to vary the instructions. If it were necessary so to do recourse was had to Parliament again. They were described as a body of persons officially appointed for the transaction of some particular business.  

            The Barrack Board was formed in 1699, followed by the Ballast Board in 1707 and the Linen Board in 1710. The Board of Works had its origin in a board set up in 1730 to improve the navigation of the Shannon. It was then called the Board of Inland Navigation. In 1799 the Barrack Board was absorbed into the Board of Works, and in 1831 the Board of Inland Navigation was also merged with it. The Board of Works itself was established in 1761 to replace the Office of the Irish Engineer and Surveyor General who had charge of fortifications and publicly owned property.  A Board of Education was established in 1813, and a Board of National Education in 1831, the first charged with the supervision of endowed schools, the other with the supervision of schools directly aided by the Government. A separate Poor Law Board was hived off from the general Poor Law Board. Some boards were later developed into ministries or departments of state. A Board, nominally under the Lord Chancellor, but in practice under the Catholic bishops, looked after the College of Maynooth. A Board of Charitable Bequests under the Lord Chancellor was established at the end of the eighteenth century to decide on disputed bequests, the older procedures having proved virtually unworkable. 

            The various Offices and Boards had been drastically overhauled and modernised at the end of the eighteenth century partly for reasons of economy and efficiency, and party to secure direct and undisputed control by the Irish Parliament

            Responsibility for some public affairs was handed over to private bodies. University education was at first the sole responsibility of Dublin University though ultimate responsibility lay with the Lord Chancellor. The sale of poisons and drugs were made the responsibility of the Apothecaries Hall. Medical practice and standards was the responsibility of the College of Physicians and the College of Surgeons. Legal education was supposed to be controlled by the Benchers of the King's Inn. The theatre seems to have been the responsibility of the Deputy Master of the Revels a member of the Lord Lieutenant's Household. Moneys were also voted by Parliament for the support of charitable bodies such as the Foundling Hospital. [Top] 

(ii) The Offices of Lord Lieutenant and Irish Secretary 

            The Lord Lieutenant was the chief executive officer in Ireland. As his name implies he was the king's personal representative or delegate in Ireland, and he acted as king with delegated authority. He held his court in Dublin, the vice-regal court. He had authority similar to that of the king of issuing Orders in Council to make particular provisions of an Act of Parliament effective. This he did in Ireland, after consulting the Irish Privy Council, by means of 'proclamations'. He appointed the sheriffs and magistrates in the counties, and bailiffs in the towns, and could remove them if necessary. He could exercise the prerogative of mercy and hear appeals against all sentences, but not against the verdicts themselves, and could pardon all crimes except treason, and remit all fines. Appeal therefore in such matters could be made to him from sentences imposed by the Lord Chief Justice, or by the Chief Baron of the Exchequer. He could also commute all sentences, including the death sentence. Frequently appeals for clemency were made to him, and he always reviewed the evidence with the Law Officers of the Crown. As chief magistrate he could issue any writ or warrant any lower magistrate could. He had general oversight over all financial matters with regard to expenditure and taxation, saving the rights of the House of Commons in this latter. He was in charge of the permanent fortifications and other military fixtures. He had overall responsibility for the armed forces but could not make war or peace, conclude treaties, appoint or dismiss the senior officers.  The power of calling out the militia, by a special act, was reserved to him. With regard to the Established Church he appointed to all benefices in the royal grant, and recommended suitable candidates to the chapters of dioceses for the election of bishops. (As they always followed his recommendation, he in fact, appointed the bishops.) He spoke for the Government on Irish Affairs in the House of Lords. 

             He had to keep up an appearance of state for which the official salary was inadequate.  He had to maintain a court and ceremonial officers like the Ulster King of Arms, the Herald of Arms, the Master of the King's Music, the Master of the Revels, beside his own household. (The Deputy Master of the Revels had control of the theatre in Ireland.) 

            The office of Lord Lieutenant was always given to a member of the party in office in Westminster, but it was not regarded as a particularly important one. Indeed, after the Act of Union it was questioned whether it was needed at all. It was regarded as suitable for a nobleman towards the end of his career. Though the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary had a general oversight of Irish affairs they did not normally interfere with the activities of the Irish Government. This was especially true up to 1830, after which date Irish affairs thrust themselves before the cabinet. Yet even then the cabinet was concerned only with the larger areas of policy, not routine administration. 

            During the absence of the Lord Lieutenant his powers were exercised by a Commission of Lords Justices which invariably included the Lord Chancellor, and usually the archbishop of Dublin. In the nineteenth century the Lord Lieutenant spent most of his time residing in Ireland, so the commission was rarely invoked. 

             On important occasions he was obliged to consult the Irish Privy Council or some of the councillors. As in England the office of Privy Councillor was largely an honorary one, and most councillors were rarely if ever consulted. Particular affairs entrusted to the Privy Council and the Privy Council Office were the affairs of cities and corporate towns, the approval of officials in corporations (this latter in contrast to the counties which came under the Lord Chancellor), the coinage of the realm, and public order or public disturbances like insurrections. The Irish Secretary directly supervised the Office. 

            Membership of the Irish Privy Council was by appointment only. The chief Officers of State and the leading bishops were appointed and retained membership even after they left office. Before a proclamation putting an Act or part of it into force in the whole or part of Ireland the Council had to be consulted. Only those members resident in Dublin were summoned and the names of those present were listed in the proclamation. The Baronial Constabulary Act (1787) was applied on a county-by-county basis by means of proclamations. 

            The office of Secretary was regarded as suitable for a young man at the beginning of his career, a position in which he could learn much about various aspects of Government in a short time. Several Irish Secretaries went on to be Prime Ministers. Until 1800 this officer had been precisely the Lord Lieutenant's secretary, but after 1800 the office was established as one in its own right as the Secretary for Ireland. The salary was now paid direct to the office holder, but was not included in the list of offices of profit under the crown. MP’s therefore did not have to seek re-election when taking the office. (In the Irish Government before the Union there had been the office of Irish Secretary which had become largely a sinecure. When the Secretary acted at all he joined with the Attorney General in bringing forward legislation in the Commons. After 1800 no further appointments seem to have been made to this office.) 

            The Irish Secretary supervised those matters pertaining to the Lord Lieutenant's office, in particular the Offices of the civil service. Succeeding to the title of Principal Secretary of State (though that Office had long been a sinecure) he became in fact the Chief or Prime Minister of Ireland. When writing officially to any body or person he did so in the Lord Lieutenant's name.  When he wrote in his own name he was merely conveying advice or information. He normally, but not ex officio represented the Irish Government in the House of Commons and spoke for it there. This followed the custom under the Irish Parliament. Though no powers were annexed to the office in itself a succession of very able Secretaries beginning with William Wellesley Pole began the process of developing it into the chief administrative post in Ireland. [Top] 

(iii) The Chief Offices of State 

                There were, besides the Lord Lieutenant, five principal offices. That of the Irish Secretary has already been described. The others were those of the Lord Chancellor, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Attorney General and the Solicitor General. 

            The Lord Chancellor presided over the Lord Chancellor's court or Chancery. He was entrusted with the oversight of the administration of justice, and with making legal appointments. As a judge he sat in the Court of Chancery the highest equity court. He issued the three commissions of assize twice a year to the judges of the various circuits. He appointed sheriffs and justices of the peace in the counties and had oversight of the civil administration of the Grand Juries, and the holding of elections. His court might administer disputed property, and he was responsible for dealing with disputed bequests. The Lord Chancellor had the particular duty of protecting the king's weakest subjects, lunatics and minors. This office was by far the most important after that of the Lord Lieutenant in the first half of the century. 

             The Chancery dated at least from the Angevin period. Like many medieval institutions this had a legal side and an administrative side. At first it was concerned only with the issue of documents requiring the king's seal, and the Lord Chancellor was the keeper of the Great Seal. It was later divided into a legal side, the Rolls Court and a fee-collecting side, the office of the Clerk of Crown and Hanaper, usually called the Hanaper Office. This Office was given charge of the civil administration side. The judges in assize reported to the Hanaper Office on their duties of civil administration.  

             The legal side was split into two courts in which the Lord Chancellor, in the king's name, was allowed to apply equity instead of strict law. The Chancery Court and Rolls Court will be dealt with under courts. The Chancery Office was the office for executing the decrees of the Court of Chancery. 

            The administrative side of the Court of Exchequer, had been principally concerned with receiving the moneys levied on the counties and other duties from the sheriffs and checking their accounts, for which purpose the chequered table had been devised. This business had dwindled to virtually nothing especially after the founding of the Bank of Ireland in 1784, and what business remained was handled by the Comptroller of the Pipe (Rolls). Most of the revenue in modern times was collected by the Revenue Boards and was paid into the Treasury (Bank of Ireland after 1784).  

            The office of Chancellor of the Exchequer was connected with the administrative side of the Court of Exchequer, and also with the administration of the Treasury.   The Chancellor of the Exchequer was officially the under-treasurer of the Court of Exchequer. His confusing name is explained by the fact that he was once a clerk of the Lord Chancellor, and also because he held the seal of the Exchequer Court. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was technically an equity judge, but unlike the Barons could not hear Common Law cases. The two sides of the court had long been separated. 

            The office only became important when the office of Lord Treasurer became a sinecure and the administration of the Treasury Department was entrusted to the Chancellor of the Court of Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had exclusive charge of such public spending which was voted by Parliament.    His Office therefore prepared the budget, and supervised Government finances, which in practice meant supervising the Bank of Ireland.  

            The Chancellor, up to 1817, had to present the budget to Parliament, and so had to have a seat in the House of Commons. In the budget was set out the expenditures on the Civil and Military Lists, the other expenditures normally voted by Parliament such as for the Foundling Hospital and Maynooth College, the interest on the National Debt, the various taxes required to raise the sum required, and also the amount of borrowing necessary, and how the borrowing was to be done. 

            The legal side of the Exchequer Court, which was chiefly concerned with financial matters in which the crown was involved, was headed by the Chief Baron of the Exchequer and will be dealt with under courts. 

            The Irish Treasury was originally a secure building in the yard of Dublin Castle into which the moneys collected by the Revenue Boards was carried. This was discontinued in 1784. There were still Treasury Offices in which business with members of the public was conducted. Historically, the Court of Exchequer was the collecting department while the Treasury was the spending department. But as noted above the Exchequer collected very little money while the Treasury came under the direction of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as far as spending was concerned.  

            The office of Lord Treasurer had long been a sinecure, and the functions were discharged by Vice-Treasurers, or in Parliament by the Attorney General. In 1793 a Treasury Board replaced these. The object of the change was to ensure that responsibility for each and every disbursement of public money was in the hands of the House of Commons. Before that the Lord Lieutenant could issue letters ordering money to be spent for particular purposes. In 1793 too all revenues from whatever sources or for whatever purposes were joined into a single Consolidated Fund. A single Civil List of payments to His Majesty, to members of the Royal Family, and to His Majesty's public servants, and pensioners, was drawn up at the same time. A Military List describing the disbursements on the armed forces was also drawn up. It had no connection with administration and was abolished, along with the Chancellorship of the Exchequer, in 1817. Between 1793 and 1817 the Irish Treasury Board never established itself as the most influential office as did the British Treasury Board, where the Prime Minister is First Lord of the Treasury.

            Public Revenue was derived from various sources. The important Revenue Boards will be described separately. The sheriffs had still to present the minuscule returns from the medieval revenues of their counties. There were also crown and quit rents (in Ireland public not royal revenue) especially from lands disposed off at the dissolution of the monasteries, revenues from the Post Office, fines imposed by the courts, and treasure trove. The Chief Remembrancer was the chief bailiff of the Court of Exchequer and was responsible for collecting moneys owed to the crown like fines or arrears in taxes. A State Lottery (farmed out to contractors) had been started by the Irish Parliament and was continued into the nineteenth century. (Specific royal revenues, profits, and casualties were collected by special commissioners for those revenues.) 

            The Commissioners of Imprest Accounts that had been established in 1766 did public auditing. They audited the accounts of various Government Boards or Departments. This Board seems to have been aimed originally at checking the spending of the Executive and not the peculation by the Revenue Boards.   

            Though medieval monarchs had employed lawyers to act for them in the courts and elsewhere the two law offices do not seem to have been formalised before the sixteenth century. The Law Officers, the Attorney General and the Solicitor General advised the Government on legal matters and acted for it in the courts or in any case in which the State was a party. They advised the Government on legal matters and prepared or revised legislation. The Government (or others) could ask their opinion on the legality of various actions. They were officers of the Government not of the courts. 

            The Attorney General was the principal legal officer of the state empowered to act in all cases in which the state is a party. He acted as state prosecutor when the crown was initiating the action, for example in trials for treason or seditious libel. He had powers, dating from the Middle Ages, to over-ride the verdict of a Grand Jury which found no true bill and could himself bring the action to court acting on ex officio information. 

            The chief function of the Solicitor General was to take the part of the state or the crown in suits concerning the public interest. In Ireland, early in the nineteenth century, he began to act as prosecutor in cases where the crown was not involved, but where public interest was. For example, if there was a case of murder of a private individual by a private individual, and no relative or other interested party was prepared to bring the action, the Solicitor General, after the coroner's verdict, could himself bring the action. In cases of murders by secret societies there was great reluctance to bring such actions.  In the public interest the Attorney General caused all affidavits sworn before the magistrates to be sent to Dublin, and some of these cases were selected by the Solicitor General for prosecution. Grants of public money for these public prosecutions amounted to £21,000 in 1804 and £33,000 in 1828.  

            Those of a 'patriotic' tendency disliked this extension of the activities of the crown but there was no alternative to the development of a public prosecution service. The establishment of an effective police meant that they could undertake the prosecution in minor cases without awaiting a complaint from a member of the public. [Top] 

(iv) The Revenue Boards 

            The Revenue Boards or (Revenue Commissioners) were three in number, the Customs' Board, the Excise Board, and the Stamp Board. Each of these Boards had an Office from which they supervised the activities of the tax collectors in every part of Ireland. Revenue came from four principal sources: customs duties on imports which were largely taxes on luxuries; excises on production which were of the nature of a sales or purchase tax; assessed taxes on things like windows, servants, carriages, and so on; and stamp duties which were imposed on all transaction involving the use of paper. The Boards had duties of collection only, though early in the century some money was retained in the hands of the local Collectors for disbursement locally, accounts only of the sums involved being sent to Dublin.  

            The assessed taxes appear to have come under the Excise Board. The Collectors collected the assessed taxes by placing advertisements in the newspapers stating on which days they would attend at particular inns or hotels in various towns to receive the money. For the collection of customs duties the ports around the coast were placed under various Surveyors (supervisors) of Customs each with his staff of tide and land waiters (watchers). The former went on to the ships, the latter did not. The Board also maintained revenue cutters to patrol the coasts. Excises were collected not on the basis of what was actually produced, but on the size of the equipment for producing it, like stills for whiskey, or tanning pits for leather. The law required that these should be situated in places easily visited by inspectors. The excisemen, often assisted by units of the army, and later by the police, had to search for illicit distillation. 

            The excisemen had a reputation at the turn of the century for taking bribes, and John Foster made a point of seeking out and dismissing corrupt officials. In 1808 a fixed salary replaced the fees payable to excisemen. In the 1820's an enquiry into corruption among excisemen showed that Irish officials were more honest than the British. Even minor offices in the Revenue Service were filled by patronage, this being exercised by the Irish Secretary, not the Treasury Board. In the 1820's the Board of Customs, under the direction of George Villiers, later Earl of Clarendon, began the laudable practice of appointing solely on the grounds of fitness and capability.  

            The Act of Union (1800) provided that customs duties between Great Britain and Ireland would be harmonised, then reduced, and finally phased out after twenty years. Up to that date drawbacks or rebates were payable on exported goods for which excise had previously been paid. This proved valuable to historians charting imports and exports. All customs duties were assimilated by 1822, and the differences in excises and stamp duties were reduced. The British and Irish Boards were united in 1830 but separate accounts of customs duties had not been kept at Irish ports since 1825. 

            A Stamp Act was finally passed in Ireland in 1774. The Stamp Office, or Stamp Commissioners, collected taxes on all articles that involved printed paper, parchment, etc.  The most important stamp duty was that on newspapers. Newspapers were taxed by the simple means of making the printers buy all their newsprint pre-stamped from the local Stamp Office. There were local offices in 31 stamp districts in Ireland. There was a separate stamp duty payable on all advertising as well. From the start the Stamp Act was seen as a possible measure for controlling 'seditious libels'. [Top] 

(v) The Post Office 

             A regular 'Irish Mail' dates from the reign of Edward VI (c.1550), though of course correspondence had passed between the king's officials and Ireland on an irregular basis long before that.  Under Charles I a weekly post between London and Holyhead was established. The Post Office, or the Office of the Post Master General more properly can be dated from the reign of Charles II in the seventeenth century when the king increased his revenues by allowing the Royal Mail to carry private letters. A separate Irish Post Office was established in 1784 as a fiscal measure to broaden the Irish tax base. It happened by coincidence that in that year the first rapid stage coach carrying the mails ran from Bristol to London, and the Post Office services in the two kingdoms developed rapidly after that. Post before that had been carried by postmen on horses. 

            Slow stagecoach services had been running between Dublin and some Irish towns since about 1720, but before a fast service could be introduced the roads had to be improved. A Scottish contractor named John Anderson undertook to improve the road from Dublin to Limerick in 1790 and to run a fast mailcoach service. Coaches provided additional security against mail robbery. 

            The general farming of the Post Office had been discontinued but individual contracts were placed with coach operators to carry the post between specified towns. Mail Contractors had to advance considerable sums as security and were given seven-year contracts. By 1815 Peter Purcell was the most important contractor. In 1843, at the height of the Repeal movement the Government accepted a lower contract from a Scotsman and this caused an enormous uproar.  The Government then did not dare give the contract for carrying the mails across the Irish Sea to the London and North Western Railway Company.  

            In the nineteenth century delivery to country areas was by a daily mailcoach setting out from Dublin in the evenings, but after 1815 a morning coach to the principle cities and towns was added. By 1825 post offices had been established in 400 Irish towns. There was no delivery to individual houses, so those sending or receiving mail went to the local office. This led to the custom, which still continues, of including the name of the nearest post town in every address, and the townland was also given. The receiver paid the cost of the postage. 

            From 1768 there was one Post Office packet boat sailing from the port of Dublin each day, weather permitting, between 10 p.m. and midnight depending on the tide. Later the packet sailed from Howth, and then from Kingstown. Paddle steamers were adopted for carrying the mail in 1821. In the early years of the century the Post Office ran its own boats, but later it reverted to the more normal practice of contracting out. The number of mail routes across the Irish Sea was also increased and in 1830 four routes were being operated, through Liverpool, Holyhead in north Wales, Milford Haven in south Wales, and Port Patrick (later Stranraer) in Scotland. The British Post Office adopted a shorter route from London to Holyhead through Shrewesbury, and insisted on tight schedules along the route. 

            About 1810 it was proposed to move the old General Post Office from a cramped site in the older part of Dublin to new spacious premises to be built in Sackville Street, now O’Connell Street. There was much protesting from merchants at being forced to walk so far. Nevertheless a new building was designed by Francis Johnson, and building commenced in 1815. 

            Within the city of Dublin itself there had been since the end of the eighteenth century a 'penny post' which came to involve 60 sub-post offices. Like modern sub-post offices their operation was chartered out to shopkeepers. A fixed price of one penny was charged for delivery between any two offices. In 1810 there were four daily deliveries between the offices and in 1822 there were six. In 1840 the pre-paid and pre-affixed penny stamp for the carriage of a letter to any distance within the kingdom was introduced. In 1826 the Post Office at the same time adopted British currency and the new imperial measures of weights and distances. In 1831 the British and Irish Post Offices were re-united. In 1850, under pressure from Lord's Day observance groups the General Post Office was closed on Sundays. This provoked so much protest that it was subsequently opened for a few hours to permit the transaction of the most urgent business. [Top] 

 (vi) Recruitment and Personnel 

            The Prime Minister made appointments to the major Offices when he was forming his government. Though the appointment was political the choice was often determined by the personal capacities of the individual concerned. Those appointed were often men of moderate political views who might be asked to continue in office by an incoming Prime Minister of a different complexion. William Saurin was a notable exception as Attorney General, but the Solicitor General at the time was the noted moderate Kendal Bushe. 

            From the time of Pitt's first administration in 1783 until 1830 the Tories were almost exclusively in office. It followed that an ambitious young man had to attach himself to that party to obtain any public office. It is alleged that the anti-Catholic Tory 'Orange faction' became entrenched in the Irish administration in this period. Yet the matter was more complicated and the Catholics were often the authors of their own misfortunes. When the Whigs were in office during the Ministry of all the Talents, had the Catholic leaders, John Keogh and Daniel O’Connell, been willing to accept exclusion from Parliament they could have secured many appointments to other offices. The same happened during the Regency, when the pro-Catholic Tories, Castlereagh and Canning, were in office. O’Connell compounded this by denouncing as 'Castle bishops' people like Troy who did ask for positions for relatives. 

            After 1830 the Whigs made considerable efforts to appoint suitable Catholics to the higher offices, but there was the difficulty that there were very few Catholics of sufficient education and ability to be appointed. O’Connell, once again, secured the exclusion of Catholics by forming his Repeal Party that never had a chance of taking office. 

            With few exceptions such as mayors the other public offices were filled by patronage or appointment. The Government appointed the higher officials and they in turn appointed the lower officials. Almost without exception those appointed were Irish. Daniel O’Connell in 1811 maintained that Catholics were excluded from 30,000 public offices (including those in the wartime navy) either by statute or by lack of patronage. (This figure would include the likes of doorkeepers in the law courts). 

            The Irish noblemen and gentlemen naturally sought the better-remunerated positions for themselves and their families, while others would seek positions like that of tidewaiter in the revenue service. But to get any position one had to be known to the patron, or know somebody who knew him, and was willing to intervene on one's behalf. O’Connell was hypocritical, complaining on the one hand if jobs were not given to Catholics, and also if Catholics like Archbishop Troy asked for positions for relatives. 

            There is no evidence that at the beginning of the century high standards, or indeed any standards of ability, zeal, or qualifications were required at most levels of Irish administration. However, from the middle of the eighteenth century proof of capability to carry out the duties of some offices began to be required. Every officer in the navy had to pass an examination in seamanship. Every officer in the Royal Engineers was given a formal training. Medical qualifications were required of physicians and surgeons given public appointments. A definite period of study was required in the major Churches of candidates for ordination. In the New Police, constables had to be able to read and write. The Revenue Boards began to promote on the basis of ability to carry out the duties. This trend was to become ever more marked, even when the system of patronage continued. The capability of the naval officers in Nelson's ships compared with the incapacity of most army officers during the Peninsular War has often been remarked.  

            If considerations only of political bribery, favouritism, nepotism, or repaying obligations, had prevailed in every case the holders of public office could have been a fairly worthless lot. But in practice, the patron had to satisfy demands on him from various quarters and at the same time appoint a reasonable number of capable persons. He could also appoint one person to an office while at the same time ensuring that he had a capable deputy. This was the usual practice when appointing a commander-in chief of the army, who always had to be provided with a capable chief of staff.  

            The were few offices remaining which could be bought and sold, for at least from the reign of Anne efforts were made to stamp out the practice. The purchase of commissions in the army (but not in the navy or engineers) was the most notable case. Masterships in Chancery were also purchased. 

            It is difficult to decide on the prevalence of corruption among officials, partly because of recognised customs, and partly because of secrecy. For example, until quite recently, requests to Members of Parliament or local councillors for assistance with regard to jobs, housing, or public contracts were often accompanied by a gift in a plain envelope 'for his trouble'. Some payments, like those to newspaper editors, had become customary and meaningless. Again, in the eighteenth century, Members of Parliament put a price on their vote, and exacted it from the Government, a practice that still continues in the United States. The price Congressmen ask is in the form of aid to their constituencies, not cash for themselves. 

            Down the centuries English administrators regarded the personnel of the Irish administration as very corrupt. One Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant in the eighteenth century referred to the 'douceurs' without which government could not be carried on. Peel, when he first arrived in Ireland, noted that favours had to be lavishly promised while at the same time fainting with horror at the mention of monetary transactions.  John Foster, when he was Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer, made a determined effort to remove corrupt revenue officers, and in 1823 a comparison of the British and Irish revenue services found the Irish the more honest. It was one of the naive beliefs of the 'nationalists' who formed the Young Ireland faction that corruption was the result of foreign rule and that there would be no corruption in a New Ireland. O’Connell himself had a more cynical eighteenth century view, though there is no evidence that he accepted bribes, or indeed any that he did not. 

            During the period 1800 to 1850 there was little evidence of an anti-British feeling in the administrative class. This feeling was endemic among Irish officials in most periods of history who resented interference from officials sent by Whitehall into what they regarded as their own affairs. These latter, not without reason, connected the hostility with a desire to preserve pockets of petty corruption. Yet the administrative ability of the officials from Whitehall tended to be markedly higher than that of their critics. The most noted critics of the Government like Swift, Grattan, and O’Connell, gave no evidence of possessing any administrative ability at all, and the last two always managed to avoid taking office when it was offered to them. It was no wonder that Dr Johnson defined a 'patriot' as 'a factious disturber of Government'.  

            Lord Macartney, himself an Irishman, when Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, had forthright views which were probably widely shared by British officials for a long time afterwards. An Irish Parliament, he felt, was irrelevant to the country's needs. What were required were good administration and the rooting out of the endemic incompetence and corruption among Irish officials. It would seem that the Irish officials themselves came to share these views. 



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.