The Revenue was divided into two parts, the Hereditary and the Additional. The Hereditary Revenue was made up of the Crown rents, arising from confiscations during the reign of Henry VIII and following Tyrone’s rebellion; the quit rents, from similar confiscations after the 1641 rebellion; hearth money, a general tax on hearths first raised in the reign of Charles II; and certain customs and excise duties and licences for the sale of ale, beer and spirits. These formed a perpetual grant to the Crown for specific purposes of government, and as such they were outside the control of parliament.

Any shortfall or interest payments on loans had to be funded through the Additional Revenue, composed of additional duties and occasionally augmented by a state lottery. For the Additional Revenue parliamentary approval was essential. The Irish parliament was always strongly against levying a land tax, as was the case in England.

The budget was the natural ground for constitutional and administrative conflict, and this was particularly the case in the 1690s, while the English and Irish governments were establishing the perimeters of their post-Revolution relationship. Before 1715 the national debt had been approximately £16,000. In this year a special loan of £50,000 was raised to meet the extraordinary expenses of the 1715 rebellion. Thereafter the budget was balanced by a series of irregular borrowings.

This Additional Revenue required the biennial, and from 1783 the annual, consent of parliament, which jealously guarded the hold it thus acquired over the administration; for instance, in 1692 and 1769 an angry parliament threatened the government with a short Money Bill. By 1725 the debt stood at approximately £140,036, and by 1749 it had risen to £378,000. Then an unexpected run of surpluses enabled it to be paid off by 1753.

Because this surplus was in the Hereditary Revenue, which was a permanent grant to the Crown for the purposes of government, it provoked a major constitutional crisis over who, the king or parliament, had the right to dispose of it. Repetitions of this occurrence were avoided by loading the Revenue with grants for projects often of real but sometimes of ostensible utility; between 1751 and 1759 these grants rose from £8,500 to £61,500.

Part of this increasing budget deficit was because of the pension list. The king exercised the final decision in the granting of pensions, usually with the advice of his British ministers. The Irish pension list comprised a wide variety of people who, with varying degrees of merit, had established a claim on the royal benevolence. These included retired servants of the Crown, who today would hold official pensions; widows and orphans that had been recommended for one reason or another; and royal dependants.

The list had its notorious side as it was frequently used to reward people who could not with respectability be rewarded from English sources. For instance, between 1723 and 1733 the pension list rose from £30,000 to £69,000, and the additions included pensions to George I’s mistresses and their daughters. In 1763 pensioners included George II’s daughters, Mary, Princess of Hesse-Cassel and the Princess Amelia, who had pensions of £5,000 and £1,000 respectively; George III’s brother-in-law, Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick had a pension of £2,000 to which a further £2,000 was added in 1767. In 1770 pensions to the royal family amounted to £17,000 and persons unconnected with Ireland engrossed another £41,000. Not surprisingly, these aroused considerable resentment.

Alongside them were pensions that had been granted for long and faithful service to the Crown: for instance, Henry Boyle (0210), 1st Earl of Shannon had been 12 times a Lord Justice and 23 years Speaker of the House of Commons; he had also been a Commissioner of the Revenue and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Other pensioners were people like Richard Jackson (1076), MP for Coleraine: he was the Second or Ulster Secretary, had been ‘brought up in the Castle’ and ended his career with a pension and a small job. By the end of the century the holders of certain positions, such as long-serving Commissioners of the Revenue, were considered eligible for a pension.

By 1760 a new national debt had been created. This time the escalation was rapid and unrelieved. By 1761 the debt was £223,439; two years later it was £550,000 in 5 per cent debentures, and by the end of the decade it was £640,000. The problem grew worse as the slump of the early 1770s was followed by the American war. By the early 1770s attractive alternatives to taxation were being positively pursued, and additional borrowings at 4 per cent were supplemented by three tontine life annuities for £265,000, £175,000 and £300,000 in 1773, 1774 and 1777 respectively.

The war increased financial pressures, and in 1780 and 1781 the government ran two lotteries. Tickets cost £5 and prizes took the form of 4 per cent government debentures. Legislative independence brought no solution, although during the late 1780s strenuous efforts were made to restructure the debt. In 1787 debentures rose to par and the £1,118,240, 4 per cent, debentures were reduced to 3.5 per cent. There was a further series of lotteries in 1787, 1788 and 1789. By 1790 the pension list as a whole exceeded £100,800. In March 1792 the national debt was £1,118,240 in 3.5 per cent debentures and £600,000 permanent debt to the Bank of Ireland.

In 1793 there was a general restructuring of the Revenue system, 33 Geo. III, c. 34. The king relinquished his control of the Hereditary Revenue in return for a civil list of £145,000 p.a., and government and opposition agreed that the pension list was to be gradually reduced to £80,000 p.a. Government also had at its disposal the equivalent of a petty cash fund known as concordatum money, but this had to be accounted for and was frequently overspent in the innumerable legitimate sundry expenses in running a large establishment.

The reorganisation included a secret service grant which was accompanied by ‘an additional £10,000 under the Head of Concordation for Royal Bounties, and such articles of immediate necessary expense as could not be foreseen, or which might arise from accidental circumstances’. This secret service fund has also been described as ‘a general housekeeping and contingency fund’.

Although a secret service fund of £5,000 was authorised in 1793, there is evidence that for a long time before this the government had, as Lord North admitted, ‘continued to obtain in a private manner such small supplies as were necessary for the ordinary conducting of government & yet of such a nature as could not properly be divulged’.

The grant was administered at the discretion of the Chief Secretary. Payments under the 1793 act were authorised by the Chief Secretary ‘for secret service in detecting, preventing or defeating treasonable or other dangerous conspiracies against the state in any place within this kingdom’, and attempts were made to enforce accountability through audit and by oath. In the 1790s it was used to pay informers such as Dr Edward Trevor, who, as medical attendant and superintendent of state prisons, obtained confidential information about disaffected prisoners including Robert Emmet.

In 1793 war broke out with France, and the national debt escalated with frightening rapidity thereafter, largely due to wartime borrowings in London and ever-increasing military expenditure in Ireland, partly as a result of the social unrest accompanying the 1798 rebellion. Further attempts to control the expenditure were made in 1795, but the trend continued.

By 1797, when commissioners were appointed for the reduction of the national debt, the national finances were in chaos. By the end of that year the total debt was £9,485,756, the interest on it was £698,829, and expenses were exceeding income by approximately £2,700,000. By August 1798 these figures had risen to £14,452,422 with interest of £1,034,825, while expenses were exceeding income by an estimated £3,033,310. At the same time parliamentary grants had risen rapidly, and by 1797 the sum allocated for permanent and annual grants was £350,000.

Meanwhile the Crown, caught by the French war, also increased its demands by extending the Irish pension list. Among the additions were Frederick Christian Rynhart de Ginkel, £2,000, while in exile, for the services of his ancestor; the Princess Royal, £5,000 sterling p.a. on her marriage; the queen’s nephew, the Prince of Mecklenburg Strelits, £2,000 p.a. for life; Earl St Vincent, Viscount Duncan and their two next descendants, £1,000 stg p.a. each. All of these were to be outside the £80,000 ceiling fixed in 1793.

At the time of the Act of Union in 1800 the debt stood at £25,662,640, and the interest was not much short of the total revenue a decade earlier. Under the terms of the Act of Union Ireland was expected to contribute two-seventeenths of the revenue of the United Kingdom. Given Ireland’s size and population this figure was not out of proportion, but it was increasingly beyond the country’s resources to sustain. The trend of escalating debt serviced by increasing loans continued. By the middle of the Napoleonic wars interest was exceeding revenue, and by 1816 the national debt stood at £80,500,000. Ireland was irremediably bankrupt, and in 1817 the British and Irish fiscal systems were merged.

Tax Collection

The collection of the Revenue was the responsibility of commissioners officially appointed by the king through the Lords of the Treasury in London. Immediately following the Revolution various attempts were made to collect the Additional Revenue through a poll tax, but this proved difficult and eventually the government came to rely on hearth money – a tax on hearths that was collected throughout the country – and additional duties. Until 1706 taxes were farmed to a collector who bid for the area of his choice at the annual cant or auction in Dublin. After 1706 taxes were collected by centrally appointed collectors overseen by supervisors.

The salaries of these officials were fixed at £40 p.a. and £60 p.a. respectively. However, despite their apparently modest remuneration, the positions became increasingly sought after and a major source of political patronage. In practice they were lucrative; in 1788 Thomas Conolly (0459), MP for Co. Londonderry, explained to parliament that it was: ‘well-known that when a gentleman solicited from a minister, a hearth-money collection, that instead of £40 a year, its nominal value, that he considered it as from 1 to £200 a year, and whence did this arise, but … by taking indulgence money’.

The country was divided into 34 tax districts, two centred in Dublin city and Co. Dublin and the rest in provincial towns and cities. For the actual collection of the tax the districts were divided into walks. A hierarchy of officials was responsible for its efficient collection, the chain of accountability ending with the excise collector who discharged the accounts for his district with the Exchequer.

This was not always easy, as in 1757 there were 72 collectors, dismissed between 1707 and 1737, that were still in debt. The method of Revenue collection left (often large) sums of money in the hands of collectors, encouraging peculation and poor accounting. Statutes to prevent frauds etc. in the Revenue were a feature of almost every session of parliament.

The Commissioners of the Revenue, established to collect the Hereditary Revenue in 1662, oversaw the collection of all taxes. For a very brief period in the early 1770s the Board was divided into Customs and Excise, but the division was short-lived and incomplete. The First Commissioner received a salary of £2,000 and the other Commissioners £1,000 p.a.

The Board was composed partly of English and partly of Irish nominees, but throughout the century the First Commissioner – who was chiefly responsible for the operation of the Board and, prior to 1771, the distribution of its patronage – was invariably an Irishman. The last holder of the office during this period was John Beresford (0115), MP for Co. Waterford. The Revenue Board also had its legal team, headed by the Counsel to the Revenue Board, which was an important position both in itself and as a stepping-stone to a more important position in the future.

Once collected, the Irish Revenue was administered through the ancient office of the Exchequer, which had both an administrative and a judicial function.

Its judicial section considered not only financial cases but also some cases of equity, and this legal side of the office was presided over by the Chief Baron and Barons of the Exchequer.

The Treasury side of the Exchequer administered the Revenue and was presided over by the Treasurer, assisted by the Vice-Treasurer and the Deputy Vice-Treasurer. Treasurer and Vice-Treasurer had become sinecure appointments, so the effective head of the Treasury was the Deputy Vice-Treasurer, who was responsible for the receipt, custody and issue of the Revenue, acting as both Receiver General and Paymaster General. During the period between the receipt and payment of the Revenue he was permitted to make private use of the balances in the Treasury, and was thereby able to exert a great influence over the bankers and the national economy.

Between 1727 and 1777 this office was held successively by two prominent politicians, Luke Gardiner (0841) and Nathaniel Clements (0414). Both made their fortunes and laid the foundation for the ennoblement of their families. Clements’ genuine abilities were perhaps overshadowed by Gardiner’s brilliance, which in turn had been magnified by the gross inefficiency of Gardiner’s predecessor, John Pratt (1721), who held this office during the reign of George I. Pratt became bankrupt in 1725, owing the Exchequer £51,724. None of this money was recovered until 1727, and £17,994 was still outstanding in 1753.

The Teller of the Exchequer acted as the state cashier. He was responsible for making payments, usually by debentures, and issuing receipts. Like the Deputy Vice-Treasurer, he could make private use of any balances in his hands so long as he could produce the money when it was required, although if these rose above £30,000 he was expected to use the excess for public purposes.

Financial arrangements of this complexity required great skill, and when Clements’ successor, Sir Henry Cavendish (0380), died in 1776 he owed the government £60,211 which his heir (0381) could repay only slowly and with great difficulty. Cavendish’s successor, William Burton Conyngham (0303), a much abler man, was required to give a bond of £40,000.

Lord Lieutenant Temple, during his viceroyalty in 1782–3, introduced a stricter system of accounting, and after 1783 government balances were lodged in the Bank of Ireland and the Teller granted an allowance of £1,700 calculated as the annual interest on £30,000. It is almost impossible to calculate the real as opposed to the nominal salary for most of these administrative offices; for instance, in 1795 the office of Receiver General, worth £500 a year, was suppressed and its holder was compensated with an annuity of £3,500 for life; in addition, his wife received a life annuity of £600 a year.

The cost of collecting the Revenue has been estimated at 15 to 20 per cent of the total, the higher figure applying to the end of the century. Again these figures are difficult to assess accurately, partly because the Revenue was paid into the Treasury after the Revenue officials’ salaries had been deducted.