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Star of the Sea : A Postcolonial/Postmodern Voyage into the Irish Famine

Russell's Relief Policies of Non-Interference

When Lord John Russell became Prime Minister as the Whig government came to power in June 1846, there was plenty he desired to change from Peel’s former policies. Most of all, it was important to move away from the expectation Peel had created: that the British government would automatically supply the Irish with food. According to Christine Kinealy, “It had not been the intention of Peel’s government to feed the distressed people, but rather to keep the price of food down” (This Great Calamity 74). The food price had been kept at an agreeable level, but there’s no way of truly knowing what Peel’s true intentions were. Russell was joined in the criticism of both Peel and Ireland in his cabinet from Charles Wood and Lord Henry George Gray who felt that “Ireland was not overpopulated but underdeveloped; it lacked not capital, but the will to create wealth” (Gray, The Irish Famine 48). This stereotype went together with the British opinions on the Irish, and how they were completely dependent on the British. Russell also deemed the blight as an act of Providence, and therefore was committed to as little interference as possible. Therefore, Peel’s government relief system was to be phased out by August 1846.

While the administrator Charles Trevelyan understood that “the deaths would shock the world and be an eternal blot on the nation, and the government will be blamed” if they did not put into effect at least a minimal relief system, he strongly believed in a non-interference policy with Ireland (O'Grada 78). This non-interference belief was adopted and followed by most of the Whig government as they chose to implement a policy that was either totally or limited non-interference, depending on the part of the country. However, it was mostly Trevelyan that lived by this system, as his main concern was “to teach the people to depend upon themselves for developing the resources of the country, instead of having recourse to the assistance of the Government on every occasion” (Gray, The Irish Famine 40). By teaching the Irish how to handle the famine through self-dependence, Trevelyan believed that the British could stop wasting their resources on Ireland.

Instead of reviving Peel’s relief committees, Russell decided that it would be more beneficial to open food depots in Ireland, moving most of the relief over to the responsibility of the Irish. According to Helen Litton, “they were only to be opened in areas of greatest need, and to be used as a last resort” (47). This would be the case to prevent unnecessary financial expenditures for the British government. Therefore they could eliminate the stronger districts and leave them without relief. Food depots were established in order to distribute immediate food relief to the most distressed areas of Ireland.  The Sligo food depot “issued ninety-eight tons of oatmeal” between August and September of 1846, which was larger than many other regions (Harzallah 320). Inhabitants of Sligo were able to access this oatmeal, and three times as much oatmeal was issued by the end of September as in early August. Sadly, the Whig government ordered towards the end of 1846 that only the existing depots from Donegal to Skibbereen in West Cork could be utilized under great distress, and none others could be opened. While the Irish were clinging to the available depots and the corn, the exports to England still continued as more depots closed.

Furthering the Whig government and Trevelyan’s non-interference policy, Prime Minister Russell made the Rate-in-Aid Act into law on May 24th 1849. The Rate-in-Aid Act was “part of a long-standing Whig policy to place the burden of relief squarely on the shoulders of the Irish” (Nally, Human Encumbrances 152). They wanted to create self-dependence in Ireland not because it would benefit the Irish, but so England could stop spending their financial resources on the allegedly lazy Irish. This act was a famine tax to redistribute the Irish wealth, forcing "the better off unions in Ireland to subsidize the most distressed unions" (Smyth, "The Longue Duree" 52). However, this plan damaged the better off unions and depleted the little resources they had. The Whig administration found the perfect way of putting the blame on the Irish since they were now in charge of the distressed areas. The British non-interference policy had reached its all-time high, and the Whigs proved how they only cared about saving English money and resources, despite Ireland's inclusion in the United Kingdom and its status under British government. 

Works Cited
Gray, Peter. The Irish Famine. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers, 1995. Web.

Harzallah, Mohamed Salah. “Food Supply and Economic Ideology: Indian Corn Relief During the Second Year of the Great Irish Famine (1847).” Historian 68.2 (2006): 305-322. Web.

Kinealy, Christine. This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-1852. Ireland: Gill & MacMillian, 2011. Print.

Litton, Helen. The Irish Famine: An llustrated History. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1994. Print.

Nally, David P. Human Encumbrances: Political Violence and the Great Irish Famine. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011. Print.

O’Grada, Cormac. Black ’47 and Beyond: The Great Irish Famine in History, Economy, and Memory. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999. Print.

Smyth, William J. “The Longue Duree—Imperial Britain and Colonial Ireland.” Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. Ed. John Crowley, William J. Smyth, and Mike Murphy. New York: New York University Press, 2012. Print.
Researcher/Writer: Ellen-Marie Pedersen
‚ÄčTechnical Designers: Derek Rachel and Amanda Lundeen

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