Congested Districts Board for Ireland
The Congested Districts Board for Ireland was established by The Rt. Hon. A.J. Balfour, P.C., M.P., the Chief Secretary, in 1891 to alleviate poverty and congested living conditions in the west and parts of the north-west of Ireland.
William Lawson Micks worked with the Congested Districts Board (C.D.B.) for the full term of its existence, first as Secretary and from 1909 as a member. The board was dissolved in 1923 by the new Government of the Irish Free State and its staff were absorbed into the Irish Land Commission when its functions were assumed by the Department of Fisheries and Rural Industries.
The C.D.B. was part of the Conservative policy of 'Constructive Unionism' or 'killing Home Rule with kindness'. The purpose of the C.D.B. was to alleviate poverty by paying for public works, such as building piers for small ports on the west coast, to assist fishing, modernising farming methods or sponsoring local factories to give employment and stop emigration from Ireland – the wider effect would see indigenous (and non-Government funded) initiatives. In the Aran Islands, a knitwear industry was established which to this day provides Aran knitwear on a commercial basis using local skilled knitters & designers. Regions under the Board's authority were areas where the rateable valuation was less than 30 shillings. The entire area which was so categorised came to 3,500,000 acres (14,000 km2) in 1901 with a population of 500,000.
Funds for the C.D.B. came from the Church of Ireland, but by 1912 other funds had been allocated and its assets totalled £530,000 (equivalent to £40 million at 2010 values).
Following the Wyndham Land Purchase Act of 1903, the C.D.B. was authorised to purchase extra land from large estates to enlarge the small holdings of tenants. In 1909, it was granted compulsory powers of purchase and began redistributing over 1,000 estates totalling 2,000,000 acres (8,100 km2).
It was acutely criticised by the nationalist Frank Hugh O'Donnell in 1908. O'Donnell considered that the C.D.B. that was run by local Catholic priests, was not properly supervised by the British Government and was being used to fund church projects such as Industrial schools where the young workers were underpaid. He felt that capital loaned to real businesses would be more effective than advancing the money to parish councils run by priests. He considered that the £100,000 paid to build St Eunan's College and the Cathedral of St. Eunan and St Columba in Letterkenny was too great a burden for its 2,000 inhabitants, and found that the C.D.B. head, Bishop O'Donnell of Raphoe, had indirectly applied grants towards the buildings.
Irish historian Joseph Lee in his book The Modernisation of Irish Society evaluated the C.D.B. in the following words: "The Board's promise, in short, generally far exceeded its promise" (p. 129). He pointed out that the C.D.B. invested heavily in uneconomic projects in the west of Ireland and in County Donegal in the west of Ulster, projects that floundered once they stopped being subsidised. As a result, the flow of emigration from the west and north-west of Ireland was not converted into internal migration to the more developed east, as might have been hoped.
- The Congested Districts Board, 1891-1923 Ciara Breathnach 2005 ISBN 1-85182-919-9
- Micks, 1925, p.2
- A Dictionary of Irish History, D.J.Hickey & J.E.Doherty, Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1980. Pp. page 87. ISBN 0-7171-1567-4
- O'Donnell, F. H. (1908) Paraguay on Shannon. Dublin: Hodges & Figgis
- Micks, W. L. (1925) An Account of the Constitution, Administration and Dissolution of the Congested Districts Board for Ireland from 1891 to 1923. Dublin: Eason & Son
- (Disposal Of Funds) Regulations, 1928. Irish Statute Book.