Amongst the most vocal opponents of the proposed ‘Rate in Aid’ scheme were the Dungannon workhouse officials. Suggested by the British government in 1849, the ‘Rate in Aid’ policy was designed so that struggling poor law unions and workhouses in the west and south of Ireland would be supported by those who were not financially pressed or overcrowded.
In February 1849 the board of guardians of the Dungannon union held a special meeting to discuss the matter and were strongly condemnatory of the proposed ‘Rate in Aid’, and there was similar dissension amongst the guardians of the Clogher union. Led by Joseph Greer, the Dungannon guardians denounced the idea of imposing a ‘Rate in Aid’ on northern unions, particularly since there was still a high mortality rate in the northern workhouses.
Mortality in Dungannon workhouse was still very high in 1848 through 1849. In the half year of recording deaths in 1849 to 29 September, 114 people died in the workhouse which still had a population of over 800 people. Almost 1,500 people were still receiving relief outside the walls of the workhouse, which was another drain on the union’s finances and proof that they should not accept the ‘Rate in Aid’ policy.
In March, things came to a head when a meeting held in the courthouse in Dungannon, with the Earl of Ranfurly in the chair, the guardians drafted a petition to the two Houses of Parliament in which they complained that ‘the measure contemplated by her majesty’s ministers would render a bad law worse and more oppressive than it had been before’ and that ‘it would tend to increase pauperism by encouraging idleness that it would be ruinous in its effects to owners and occupiers of land’. Joseph Greer proposed, and Robert Evans seconded a resolution that a committee be appointed to meet in Dungannon to carry out such immediate and protective measures as the emergency demands.
By the end of 1849, for many people connected with the workhouse, the feeling was that the worst excesses of the Famine had passed. Towards the end of that year an address of thanks was presented to the Earl of Ranfurly for the role in which he had carried out his duties as chairman of the union. Among those present to propose the thanks to the earl who was leaving the country were John Ynyr Burges, the chairman; Joseph Greer of The Grange, vice chairman; Robert Wray as deputy chairman, and James Eyre Jackson.