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THE END OF THE WORKHOUSE

Kildare Observer 23 July 1921

The end of the Workhouse

The proposal of the Naas Board of Guardians to abolish the Workhouse has taken definite and practical form as a result of a special meeting on Saturday last. Provided the arrangements which have been made are satisfactorily carried out, and there is no reason why they should not be, the ratepaying public should have no reason to find fault with the change which has been made, while a more humane system of treating the aged and infirm is substituted for what was at all times regarded as a crude and unfeeling system which did no credit to our Irish life, and was always out of sympathy with the general outlook of the people. The present salaries of the officials who will be dispensed with under the new arrangements – master, matron, schoolmistress, carpenter, van-driver, cook, midwife, and attendant in maternity ward – amount in the aggregate to £945. 11s. 2d. a year, taking into account war bonuses. The new scheme provides for pension allowances aggregating £429 for the first year and £419 a year thereafter, that is an immediate reduction of £516, which in the normal state of things will diminish in process of time. The officials whose services are to be dispensed with can certainly entertain no feeling in the matter other than they have been generously dealt with, one and all. All aged and infirm inmates of the workhouse are to be allowed what will be described as county pensions of 15s. a week each until they attain the age of 70 years, when they become eligible for the State pension, which will then be supplemented by county pensions of 5s. a week each. Unmarried mothers are to be given a new start in life, some returning to relatives, while others will take up situations, the children to be boarded out and the mothers are expected to contribute a reasonable sum while the children remain a charge on the Union funds. In the case of the aged and the infirm we do not anticipate that the new system will represent any very great saving, for the average cost, apart from officials’ salaries, cannot amount to more than the 15s. pension they are to be allowed, if the figure at present is so high at all. With regard to the scheme for dealing with unmarried mothers it is simply an experiment which may prove successful. About that there will, no doubt, be a difference of opinion, but at any rate the children will be given a better chance of becoming useful members of the community, which they rarely become under the present system. Maternity cases will in future be sent to Dublin hospitals. Here again the prospects of economy, are remote. Orphan children in the workhouse are to be boarded out in suitable homes in the Union area. Married women who have been deserted by their husbands will be given a temporary allowance at the ordinary rate paid for nurse children to enable them to maintain their children outside. Epileptics and idiots are to be sent to Carlow asylum where the medical officer is satisfied they are suitable cases, other cases of this class to be regarded as infirmary patients. Persons who leave the workhouse or at present are receiving outdoor relief are to be paid their pensions in cash by the relieving-officers, who are to be known in future as county pension officers. Of course, in view of the additional work, which the new scheme will impose upon relieving-officers, these officials will doubtless have their stipends increased, and this charge will diminish to some extent the savings effected in the first instance by the pensioning of intern officials. A wise discrimination will have to be exercised in the granting of county pensions or outdoor relief to new applicants if abuses are to be prevented, and if the new system is not to become more oppressive on the ratepayers that the one for which it is substituted. Again, the continuance of the pensions must be made conditional in some degree at all events on the recipients behaving themselves as decent, and as far as possible, industrious members of the community, otherwise it might be found that the pension system placed a premium on undesirable behavior. The position established is a delicate one from many points of view, and will need the strictest supervision in administration, combining a desire to ease the lot of the poor and afflicted so long as they show themselves worthy of consideration, while at the same time showing a rigid determination to suppress extravagance or abuse of the system in the interests of the ratepaying public. It is anticipated that the scheme will come into operation on 1st August. We trust, having regard to the interests of morals, economy and efficiency, that the scheme will prove a success.

An editorial from the Kildare Observer of 23 July 1921 on the ending of the Workhouse system


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