This book has been compiled at my request to put together the main arguments against continuance of the present system under which Ireland is governed, and in support of the demand for Home Rule.
The demand for Home Rule means no less and no more than this: Ireland asks for an Irish Parliament, with an executive responsible to it, to deal with purely Irish affairs, subject to Imperial supremacy.
In other words, we ask that laws relating to Ireland alone shall be made by a popularly elected assembly sitting in Ireland, having leisure to deal with the necessities of the case, and possessing first-hand knowledge of them: and that responsibility for the administration of Ireland shall be confided to a Ministry chosen by Ireland, and going out of office when Irish public sentiment demands a change.
Surely this is a common-sense proposal.
What maintenance of the present system means is this: That laws relating to Ireland shall be made by a Parliament, five-sixths of whose members have no knowledge of Ireland's special circumstances, and which, even if Irish affairs were removed from its control, would still be hopelessly overburdened with work.
That Ireland shall be administered in all its departments by one Member of an English Ministry, which may be brought in or thrown out against the wish of four-fifths, of Irishmen.
That the same laws, the same scale and method of taxation shall apply to Great Britain, a country enormously wealthy, crowded with a population, four-fifths of it urban and industrial, and to Ireland, poor, under-peopled, almost entirely agricultural.
Surely this is contrary to common sense.
That under the name of Union one country shall be administered by a dozen ministers, each with his Parliamentary subordinate, while in the other the Chief Secretary shall exercise at once the functions of the Home Secretary, of the Minister for Education, of the Minister for Agriculture, of the Minister for Public Works, of the President of the Local Government Board. That, in fact, all the offices which a series of Englishmen, Welshmen, and Scotchmen perform for Great Britain shall be united for Ireland in the person of one Minister, who may be Scotch, Welsh, or English, but never Irish, and whom Ireland has no voice in selecting.
Surely this also is contrary to common sense.
All these things are certainly contrary to the usage of the British Empire.
In every other part of the King's dominions local autonomy is given, local patriotism is encouraged.
Can it be argued that the government of Ireland by England has been so successful as to justify a departure from this principle?
That is the question which is dealt with in the first part of this book. And if in answering the question what is England's record in Ireland, bitter memories are revived, that is in no wish to perpetuate bitterness.
We desire merely to bring English opinion face to face with the facts. England's record of honour, her record of service to freedom is rich and ample; but it lies elsewhere. We ask her to bring her policy in Ireland into conformity with her own record.
To-day Mr. Gladstone's name stands far otherwise than as it did in 1886; it is lifted above the vulgarities and belittlements of Party controversy; and to-day Mr. Gladstone's utterance on this matter may be heard as it merits. This is what he said in concluding his speech for his first Home Rule Bill: Ireland stands at your bar, expectant, hopeful, almost
p.viisuppliant. Her words are the words of truth, and soberness. She asks a blessed oblivion of the past, and in that oblivion our interest is deeper than even hers. My right hon. friend (Mr. Goschen) asks us to-night to abide by the traditions of which we are the heirs. What traditions? By the Irish traditions? Go into the length and breadth of the world, ransack the literature of all countries, find, if you can, a single voice, a single book-find, I would almost say, as much as a single newspaper article, unless the product of the day, in which the conduct of England towards Ireland is anywhere treated except with profound and bitter condemnation. Are these the traditions by which we are exhorted to stand? No, they are a sad exception to the glory of our country. They are a broad and black blot upon the page of its history, and what we want to do is to stand by the traditions in which we are the heirs in all matters except our relations to Ireland, and to make our relations to Ireland conform to the other traditions of our country. So I hail the demand of Ireland for what I call a blessed oblivion of the past. She asks also a boon for the future; and that boon, for the future, unless we are much mistaken, will be a boon to us in respect of honour no less than a boon to her in respect of happiness, prosperity, and peace. Such, sir, is her prayer. Think, I beseech youthink well, think wisely, think not for a moment but for the years that are to come, before you reject this Bill.
These words of a great Statesman surely deserve to be weighed. The main argument against Home Rule is that Irishmen are disaffected and disloyal. Englishmen should ask themselves, as reasonable sons of liberty, whether such government as England has meted out to Ireland could produce loyalty; whether any nation but a nation of slaves could feel any sentiment but disaffection to such a rule.
Those who read these pages will find it clearly set out that attempt after attempt was made by England to
p.viiiexterminate the Irish race. Is that the way to win loyalty? And although the actual proscriptions ceased long ago it is not too much to say that within living memory a view was widely held that the fewer Irishmen remained in Ireland the better it was for England. In the terrible exodus which followed the famine the Times could exclaim gleefully:The Celts are going with a vengeance!
We ask for redress; but the redress we ask for is only liberty to attempt by our own resources to cure our own diseases, to cope with our own problems. This Imperial Government is not fitted for the task. Lord Morley said finely the other day that Ireland had suffered as much from an absentee Parliament as from absentee landlords. The complaint is no new one. The Earl of Kildare wrote to Cardinal Wolsey:You hear of a case as it were in a dream, and feel not the smart that vexeth us. We ask, as the Earl of Kildare asked, for a Government more closely in touch with, more quickly responsive to the needs of Ireland.
What we mean by Home Rule is the continuous government of Ireland according to Irish ideas carried out by Irish Ministers responsible to the Irish peopleservants of the Crown, but not holding office at the will of a Parliament in Westminster.
This would constitute an entirely new departure, although it would be an act of restitution. Ireland had a Parliament, of antiquity almost as great as that of England, and possessing larger powers than are claimed under Home Rule. Yet it was far less democratic, far less representative than what we ask for, because it was based on a principle of religious exclusiveness, and because its Ministry was not responsible to its vote.
Still, under that Parliament in the brief years when it exercised real power, Ireland prospered and grew strong. It was because Ireland grew strong that Pitt and his Ministry decreed the extinction of her Parliament.
It is fair to say that in Pitt's time statesmanship had scarcely reached to the conception of reconciling local autonomy with the Imperial idea. Englishmen of to-day have not that excuse, and the opposition comes only from England, Scotland, Wales, and all the oversea Dominions are united in the proposal to extend to Ireland the principles of Self-Government within the Empire. Even in England the majority against Home Rule is the bare majority of a baker's dozen of seatsit has been dwindling with extraordinary rapidity, as men have grown familiar with the idea.
The arguments that are employed now to confirm opposition to Home Rule are dealt with in the second part of this book, and I believe that candid examination will show them to be arguments of prejudice, not of reasoned belief.
What lies at the root of this whole controversy is a feeling in the predominant partner that to concede Ireland's demand would be to accept defeat; that justice cannot be done now without admitting injustice in the past, and that Ireland's victory must be England's humiliation.
Such an attitude of mind is natural enough after a struggle so long protracted: yet it is unworthy of a great country. In such a matter statesmanship and generosity go hand in hand. That has been proven in South Africa. Ireland remains to confirm that noble example.