to Russell's government and the further entrenchment of Sir Charles
Trevelyan in the ministry of the exchequer, "rather than continue
the practice under which the treasury paid half the cost of projects
controlled by the Board of Works, it was ordained that in the future
all charges should ultimately be met out of local taxation."35
However, their plans were not feasible, because in the fall of 1846
it became apparent that the entire potato crop, not just the thirty
percent of the previous season, had failed.
As previously stated, Russell and Trevelyan hoped to forward the cost
of the Public Works back onto the local county governments in Ireland.
As part of their scheme to help reduce the "indolence" of
the Irish worker, they transitioned the public works system from one
in which the workers were paid a daily wage regardless of the amount
of work they completed to a "task system" in which the worker
was paid according to how much he or she produced. This system did not
wipe out indolence but rather resulted in disastrously low wages for
workers; people already weak from semi-starvation were asked to perform
heavy construction labor without appropriate tools or training. Workers
were unable to achieve more than a starvation wage, and overseers of
the public works recognized a physical deterioration of the laborers
as the works progressed.36 Despite all of these massive
inadequacies with the system of public works, at their peak-in mid-1847-they
employed over 700,000 workers.
The third and fourth parts of the British relief response to the famine
were linked by a recognition both of the inability of Public Works to
effectively cope with the famine and of its enormous expense. Beginning
in early 1847, the government, again acting with the help of the Commissariat
Department, began to establish a series of soup kitchens to provide
direct and free food to the population while at the same time attempting
to scale back and ultimately terminate the system of Public Works. By
June 1847 nearly the entire system of Public Works had been shut down.