The Irish Famine Tribunal
The purpose of the Tribunal is to assess the impact of the Great Irish Famine (also known as the Great Hunger)on the Irish population, and to examine its political, economic, cultural and physiological legacies, all within a legal framework.
Account will be taken of the extent of excess mortality occurring in Ireland between 1845 and 1852 arising from starvation, malnutrition, famine related‐ diseases and exposure. The consequences of death, dislocation and the lack of natural increase on the economic and political development of Ireland in the decades following 1852 will also be examined. Additionally, the longer‐term psychological impact of the tragedy upon those who remained in Ireland and those who left will be considered.
The Tribunal will investigate the nature of the catastrophe and the various steps taken to counteract its severity by the responsible institutions of governance, not least the Imperial Parliament at Westminster. It is intended to consider the overall situation in the widest appropriate context with discussion of contemporary responses within the United Kingdom and by comparison with the responses of other Continental powers to food shortages in their countries.
The Tribunal will endeavour to correlate the experience of death and dispossession with both the official – and legal ‐ policy of eviction, and unofficial practice of property surrender, forced removal and deportation via emigration schemes.
The efficacy of the Poor Laws and the workhouse system will be examined with a view to determine whether the optimum level of counter‐famine protection was afforded by the Government and local authorities to those most in need of assistance. In particular, the legal responsibilities afforded by Poor Law legislation –both in Ireland and in Britain ‐ will be explored.
The role of laissez‐faire economics, providentialism, anti‐Irish racism, propaganda, counter‐insurgency, colonial governance and institutionalized sectarianism, amongst other factors, will be considered in order to determine if such issues had a detrimental effect on the people of Ireland in the midst of a crisis.
An examination will be made of the relative importance of private charity in redressing the crisis. This will extend to British and Trans‐Atlantic assistance, as well as consideration of theefforts of the Society of Friends and others from further afield who had no direct connection with Ireland. The significance of internal and international migration will be discussed taking account of estate sponsored, state‐assisted and other forms of population transfer, both during the period of Famine and in the post‐1852 period.
All of the above issues will be addressed within a legal framework, with expert witnesses from a wide range of disciplines being called upon to provide evidence.