Irish Land Acts - Second Irish Land Act, 1881

Second Irish Land Act, 1881

The Land Law (Ireland) Act 1881 gave tenants real security, though by this time the Irish were demanding proprietorship. The Act established the principle of dual ownership by landlord and tenant, gave legal status to the Ulster Custom throughout the country, provided for compensation for improvements and created the Irish Land Commission and a Land Court. In Gladstone’s words, the intention of the Act was to make landlordism impossible. However it was a complicated piece of legislation though it did provide for land purchase, three-quarters of the money to be advanced by the Land Commission, and to be repaid over 35 years at 5% interest. Under the Act, 731 tenants became proprietors. More important was the fact that tenants had the right to take their rents to the Land Court for reduction under the Fair Rent clause, where in most cases a reduction of 15 to 20% was awarded.

Despite a short term reduction of rents (by about 20% by 1882) this act can generally be seen as economically ineffective. Instead of cutting costs or increasing productivity, Irish farmers increasingly turned to the Irish land courts to cut their rents and jack up their dwindling incomes. The land purchase element can be described as counterproductive because the conditions tenants now enjoyed under this act gave them no incentive to buy, furthermore, some economic historians dispute the effectiveness of land purchase as a solution to the Irish land problem. Land purchase significantly reduced the amount of capital in Ireland that could have been invested to improve efficiency and competitiveness of Irish farms. Therefore some headway is made towards lower rents but this is at the cost of lower rates of productivity growth in Irish farming.

The 1882 Amending Act, the so called Arrears Act, was the result of the No Rent Manifesto and the subsequent Kilmainham Treaty made between Parnell and Gladstone by which the Land Commission was empowered to cancel arrears of less than thirty pounds due by tenants. Two million in arrears were estimated to have been written off . The Act was further amended by Lord Balfour with the 1887 Land Act extending the terms of the Act to leaseholders.

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