Ultimately, Sir Horace Plunkett’s strong personality, his manifest singleness of purpose, and the intrinsic merits of his proposal carried the day. A committee, truly representative of all that was best in Irish life, was brought together, and commissioners were despatched to the Continent to report upon those systems of State aid linked with voluntary organisation which appeared to have revolutionised agriculture in countries not otherwise more favoured than Ireland itself. A large mass of most valuable information was collected. In less than a year the committee reported. The substance of the recommendation was
“That a Department of Government should be specially created, with a minister directly responsible to Parliament at its head. The Central Body was to be assisted by a Consultative Council representative of the interests concerned. The Department was to be adequately endowed from the Imperial Treasury, and was to administer State aid to agriculture and industries in Ireland upon principles which were fully described."
With the general policy of these recommendations the Irish Government were in hearty sympathy, and the Bill of 1897, already referred to, was a first attempt to give effect to it. But in the absence of popularly elected local authorities an important part of the machinery for carrying out the proposals was wanting.
A reform of local government in Ireland had long been given a place in the Unionist programme, but the magnitude of the undertaking and the pressure of other business had hitherto stood in its way. It was now decided to take up this task in earnest, on the understanding that other measures relating to Ireland should be postponed in the meantime. The Irish Local Government Bill was accordingly introduced and passed in the following session (1898).
Of this Act, which involved not merely the creation of new popular Authorities, but also an entire re-arrangement of local taxation, and some important changes in the system of poor relief, I will only say here that it must be counted as another of the great remedial measures which Ireland owes to the Unionist Party, and which it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to carry out in a satisfactory manner without assistance on a generous scale from the ample resources of the Imperial Exchequer.
The way was now open for the measure to which I had looked forward from the first moment of my going to Ireland, and which was to constitute the final abandonment of the old laissez faire policy in connection with Irish agriculture and industries. Great care and labour were devoted to the framing of the new Bill, and I was in constant touch throughout with members of the Recess Committee. It contained