After the famine, outdoor relief was abolished or reduced to minimum levels. The Poor Law Commissioners and guardians attempted to revert to their pre-famine role. The medical profession sought to limit the expansion of the Commission’s role in medical matters.
The Medical Charities Act of 1851 established dispensaries funded by the Poor Law rate and administered by local committees. They comprised poor law guardians and certain property holders. The Poor Law Unions are divided into 723 dispensary districts.
There was at least one dispensary in each district. Committees were responsible for the management of the dispensary and the appointment of a medical officer and a midwife. The consent of the Poor Law Commission was required.
By 1867, more than half of the cost was met by central government. Medical assistance was available on the basis that applicants were unable to afford the fees charged by doctors. This encompassed the bulk of the population.
Those authorized, were given a ticket to attend the dispensary of if they were very sick, to be attended as home. Unlike the Poor Law itself, qualification for the medical relief did not stigmatize a person as a pauper in the same manner as entry into the workhouse.
The Poor Law Commissioners sought to bring in the county infirmaries and few hospitals within their system. This did not succeed in the Commission under the Poor Law Ireland Amendment Act 1862 provided for the admission of poor people suffering from non-contagious diseases into workhouse infirmaries. More complicated cases involved transfer to the county infirmary and might be met from Poor Law funds.
The 1862 Act abolished the prohibition on persons receiving indoor (although not outdoor relief) with the holdings of more than a quarter of an acre. It provided a system of boarding out for orphans and deserted children under eight. The age for boarding out was later increased to fifteen years.
Under this Public Health Act 1866, the Poor Law committees were constituted as board of health responsible for sanitation. The committees comprised Poor Law guardians and ratepayers. They were given power in relation to nuisances, street cleaning, sewers and water supplies.
The powers were extended and consolidated in the Public Health Ireland Act 1878. See the separate section under local government law on this cornerstone act which was critical in the evolution of Irish local government. The Poor Law Boards became Sanitary Authorities. The expanded functions of the Poor Law Commissioners into sanitation and medical services was by the Catholic Church and the medical professions.
The Poor Law Commission was abolished in 1872 and replaced by the Local Government Board for Ireland. Its members comprise the chief secretary vice president and Commissioners. They assumed the control of the embryonic local government system in Ireland.
The Labourers Act Ireland 1883 to 1906 allowed the guardians to construct and improve housing for labourers engaged in agriculture. State subsidies were allowed to meet the cost of construction and percentage of loan payments.
The authorities were permitted to build cottages and let them at low rents. Later state subsidies reduced the burden of the cost on rates which incentivised the increased use of the Act.
The take-up of the legislation increased after 1898 with a greater number of tenant farmers being represented on Councils. By establishment of the Irish Free State over quarter million persons were accommodated in labourers cottages.
Later Nineteenth Century
Outdoor relief increased from the 1860s onwards and by the end of the century, the numbers exceeded the number of inmates in workhouses. Stays in the workhouse became increasingly shorter.
Outdoor relief assisted evicted tenants in the Plan of Campaign, in the course of pressing for land reform in the later 19th century. This coincided with the increasing representation of tenant farmers on the poor law bodies.
By that late 19th Century, workhouses catered increasingly for older and sick persons. The percentage of healthy inmates reduced. The vast majority of inmates stayed for less than a year. The quality of care increased, and the punitive quality reduced in the latter half of the 19th Century. The separation of married couples was removed and conditions became slightly better.
In the later 19th Century, the landlord element or representation on the Poor Law boards reduced. Poor Law elections were held annually. By 1872, the franchise in central and local government had widened considerably.
The Catholic Church and members of religious orders became more involved in the Poor Law towards the end of the 19th Century. Poor Law guardians were increasingly taken over by nationalist and catholic interests.
The 1903 Vice-Regal Commission was appointed on Poor Law reforms. A Royal Commission in 1905 was appointed in respect of the United Kingdom as a whole. Both reports recommended significant reform, but due to opposition from various sectors, this did not occur.