§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
I beg to move, "That, with a view to strengthening the hands of the Allies in achieving the recognition of the equal rights of small nations and the principle of nationality against the opposite German principle of military domination and government without the consent of the governed, it is essential without further delay to confer upon Ireland the free institutions long promised to her."
The Motion which stands in my name is an invitation to the whole House of Commons, to all parties in the House, to join in a united and genuine effort to settle the Irish question. I am therefore called upon to exercise very severe control over the language which I may use, and I am resolved, as far as I can, though necessarily I must touch on controversial topics, to avoid anything like a controversial tone. At the same time, we live in the midst of very troubled realities, and I certainly should not be doing justice to Ireland or to the House of Commons if I attempted to gloze over unpleasant facts by pleasant language. There are one or two preliminary observations. In the first place, this Motion of mine does not indicate, on the part of myself or my colleagues, any change in our attitude towards the War and its methods. I re-read just before I came into the House the Note which we addressed to the President of the United States in reply to the Note of the Central Powers. I re-read that admirable statement of our case which was made by the Foreign Secretary, and I subscribe to every word which he said in that Note, and I do so the more willingly because I think that it implies the concession of liberty to Ireland. Just one other preliminary observation. I find myself confronted with this fact of the recurrent difficulty in the relations between England and Ireland. I do not know whether nature so intended it, but it does happen that these two nations do usually misunderstand one another in the most deplorable way.
For instance, one generally accepted theory as to the relations between the two countries has been that you have on one side a just, a generous, and an open- 426 minded country, only anxious to do the right thing; and on the other you have an irrational country, demanding impossible things. That was the theory with regard to the previous pnases of our history. I do not suppose that anybody holds that theory now with regard to Irish history. Daniel O'Connell used to say, "You can always get an Englishman to be sorry for the sins of his grandfather, but he is quite in favour of the sins of himself." My position to-day is that the story of the relations of the two countries is absolutely similar, monotonously similar to the story of previous relations. For instance, with regard to the Treaty of Limerick, a great many people were willing to declare that the treaty was violated not by England, but by Ireland. To-day many people think that all the fault of wrecking the harmony of the two nations, in the middle of this great War, is due to Ireland. I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Donegal (Mr. Swift Mac-Neill) to trace out for me a passage which I was unable to trace myself in the hurry of making my notes, from Sir John Davies, one which is familiar to every student of Irish history, and has been quoted by my right hon. Friend on the Front Opposition Bench below. Sir John Davies played a great part both in Irish and English history. He was Attorney-General in Ireland and Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, and he was Lord Chief Justice of England, and he was one of the men, I think, who were largely concerned in the plantation of Ulster. Therefore, I do not think that anybody can regard him as a man unduly prejudiced in favour of the Irish people, and in the well-known work of his he winds up by these words, which have been quoted a million times. He says:For there is no nation or people under the sun that doth love equal and indifferent justice better than the Irish, or who rest better satisfied with the execution thereof, although it he against themselves, so as they may have the protection and benefit of the law when upon just cause they so desire.4.0 P.M.
That, Sir, seems to me the lesson of all the relations between the two countries, and when there is disaffection, or disloyalty, or hatred in Ireland towards England, it has been much more the fault of English want of statesmanship than of any weakness in the Irish character. I will recall to the memory—it is quite fresh, I think, in the minds of Members of the House—the very remarkable scene that took place here in August last. Nobody who was present can forget that at that 427 moment we were standing on the brink of a great war, though, perhaps, our imagination did not forecast a war so great as this has turned out to be, and the House of Commons undoubtedly, as I know from experience well, was under the spell of the tremendous issues upon which it was asked to decide. There were two remarkable speeches on that occasion. The first speech was by the late Foreign Secretary. I suppose everybody will remember the almost grave-like silence in which that momentous utterance was heard by the House of Commons. In the course of that speech, dealing with international relations and with the issues of the War, Sir Edward Grey, as he was then called, I think rather surprised and startled the House by an observation which seemed to me, and I think seemed to the House, almost casual and almost irrelevant, and this was the observation:The one bright spot in the whole of this terrible situation is Ireland. The general feeling throughout heland—and I would like this to be clearly understood abroad—does not make the Irish question a consideration which we feel we have now to take into accountWe all know that there was never a more cautious speaker in this House, who weighed his words more carefully, than the present Lord Grey. Those words which he used at that moment were uttered amid all the innumerable anxieties of this country in going into a struggle so terrible. The one anxiety that was absent was Ireland. After the events which had taken place for years before in Ireland, to those acquainted with Ireland, that was a surprising statement. That speech was followed by another which, in its way, was quite as epoch-making a speech as that of the Foreign Secretary—I refer to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond). I have re-read it to-day, and I must add, with regard to my hon. and learned Friend's presciency, that the speech read is a more remarkable utterance to-day than it sounded to me even at the moment it was delivered. I really am almost tempted, but I resist the temptation, though there are some grounds for it, to read the speech in full to the House. My hon. Friend on my right laughs at that observation, but at least the speech of my hon. and learned Friend has this advantage over his, that it was very brief.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
This is a passage from it which is well worth repeating: 428There is a possibility, at any rate, of history repeating itself. The House will remember that in 177s, at the end of the disastrous American War, when it might, I think, be truly said that the military power of this country was almost at its lowest ebb, and when the shores of Ireland were threatened with foreign invasion, a body of 100,000 Irish Volunteers sprang into existence for the purpose of defending her shores. At first no Catholic-ah, how sad the reading of the history of those days!—was allowed to be enrolled in that body of volunteers, and yet, from the very first day, the Catholics of the South and West subscribed money and sent it towards the Army of their Protestant fellow countrymen. Ideas widened as time went on, and finally the Catholics in the south were armed and enrolled as brothers in arms with their follow countrymen of a different creed in the North. May history repeat itself.Then my hon. Friend went on to say:To-day there are in Ireland two large bodies of Volunteers. One of them sprang into existence in the North. Another has sprung into existence in the South, I say to the Government that they may to-morrow withdraw every one of their troops from Ireland. I say that the coast of Ireland will be defended from foreign invasion by her armed sons, and for this purpose armed Nationalist Catholics in the South will be only too glad to join arms with the armed Protestant Ulsterman in the North.That speech, which gave the full adhesion of the Irish people to the cause of the Allies, was welcomed warmly in this House and by men of all parties. It was welcomed as warmly by the most bigoted and convinced opponents of the principles of my hon. and learned Friend as by the warmest supporters. I remember the impression very well that was made upon my mind when man after man from the Unionist ranks came up to me in the Lobby, I had almost said violating all the reserve for which the English race is remarkable, and in almost choking voices expressing their gratitude to my hon. and learned Friend for his speech, and declaring from that hour their whole attitude to the demands of Ireland was transformed. That was the effect of my hon. and learned Friend's speech in this House. Let me look to the effect of that speech in Ireland. I claim to have worked for the reconciliation of the peoples of this country and of Ireland all my life, but I never thought, I never was foolish enough to think, that national hatred, running through centuries, could be appeased in a moment, or even in a generation. I never looked to the reconciliation of England and Ireland, and the masses of the peoples of the two countries, coming even in a generation, or until after I and my own generation had disappeared. I was wrong. In Ireland the effect of that speech, coupled with other things—coupled with the invasion of Belgium and the abominable atrocities of the German Army in that country, the massacre of priests, and the violation of the homes of the people and 429 of women who had retired from the struggles of life and devoted themselves to the good of mankind, and also, I think, the natural hatred, the inborn hatred, and even the educated hatred in the history of the Irish people of militarism—was to produce a state of feeling which, I think, was a surprise to Irishmen more intimately acquainted with the interests and dealings of their own country. Let me give a few examples: Everybody remembers the tragical incident which occurred at Bachelors Walk a very short time before the War. There was a disturbance, and some people were shot. There was a feeling of most violent exasperation) in Ireland, and especially, of course, exasperation against the particular regiment which had taken part in putting down this disturbance—I think the Scottish Borderers. I should say that after this occurrence no man or officer of that force could go through the streets of Dublin without insult, and perhaps without even assault. They were confined to barracks, I believe.
After the declaration of war, and the speech of my hon. and learned Friend, when the time came for the Scottish Borderers to leave Dublin, they went through the streets, not only without insult and assault, but amid the good wishes of the Irish people for their success in France. I am told by my hon. Friend near me that they were actually cheered. These men who had been hooted and assaulted a week or two before, were, in spite of the blood still fresh on the streets of Dublin, cheered through the streets of that city by the Irish, who wanted to show their full sympathy with this country and the War that it is making for the principles of liberty and justice. There was another incident—I do not regard it with much gratification—it is not a form of patriotic feeling of which I approve, though there was something of the same thing in this country as occurred in Ireland—in which some of the principal shops reputed to belong to Germans in Dublin—in fact, I believe they belong to Russians—were looted by the population there, and all the efforts of the police could not drive them off. An hon. Friend of mine above the Gangway says, "It was very Irish"; it was very English as well. If my hon. Friend had done me the honour to listen he would have heard that I did not boast of this occurrence, and I only give it as an instance showing the feeling of the country. But there were much more remarkable things than these. Throughout all Ireland there was a perfect 430 fever on the part of the youth of Ireland to rush to the ranks, I know the Irish of Great Britain with whom I associated, and I claim that no race in the whole Empire has given so largely and promptly to the support of the Flag as members of the Irish race in this country. In Ireland there was a perfect fever of recruiting; I do not exaggerate when I say that. The men were escorted to the railway station with their priests, their bands, and local bodies. There was not a man in Ireland who dared say a word at that time against the policy of my hon. and learned Friend or the policy of the Allies and this country. I read the passage in the speech of my hon. and learned Friend in which he proposed that the Volunteers of the North and South of Ireland should join together to defend the shores of that country.
But my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Waterford was not satisfied with making that statement to the House of Commons. I think it was the very day after my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Waterford and my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) and my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Devlin) went to the War Office and renewed the offer. The story has been told so often, I will not repeat it, but the offer was refused. Let any man with any imagination think of 130,000 volunteers, as there were then in Ireland on the National side, in khaki, drilled and equipped, and anybody knowing the martial spirit of Irishmen must realise that the greater number of those men would have been in the trenches by this time, and you should not have the anxieties about man supply which you have at the present moment. That was the state of feeling in Ireland produced by the action of the Germans and by the speech of my hon. and learned Friend. What were the grounds of objection in the quarters in which any objection was raised to the policy of my hon. and learned Friend. At that time the critics of his policy were very few and insignificant. He and his colleagues were able to go over Ireland and to make speeches in favour of the Allies, not only without interruption, but with acclamation from all sides. My hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast was able to go to his city to the Nationalist quarters; and, by the way, the recruiting sergeant of the Nationalists was sent to the Orange quarter, as far away from the Nationalists he was expected to recruit as possible—a characteristic attitude of the 431 recruiting departments in Ireland. What was the solitary criticism that was then ventured upon—the policy of my hon. and learned Friend? It was that he gave the price of liberty without getting it.
What was the position of my hon. and learned Friend and of his party? He recognised the difficulty of putting the Home Rule Act into operation in the middle of a war. The remarkable thing is that our people in Ireland accepted that delay of their rights at that time. The position of my hon. and learned Friend was that we could trust to the honour of England and of English statesmen. I remember reading a very remarkable speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast at one of those recruiting meetings He was answering this Objection which I have mentioned, and in that speech my hon. Friend answered the critics of his leader and of himself by saying: "People say that Home Rule may not come after the War." I cannot repeat the eloquent terms, but I give the idea of the speech. "But," said my hon. Friend, "can anybody imagine that the Government and the people of Great Britain, fighting for the independence of Belgium and of Serbia, and of all the other small nations of Europe, and for the principle of nationality, and for Poland, can anybody imagine that any Government could be so so stupid or so inconsistent or unjust as to deny to Ireland what they are fighting for elsewhere." That was the state of Ireland.
Let me begin the disastrous chapter of how that state of feeling was transformed and deformed. It is an old story, and I will pass over it as rapidly as I can. We had the War Offiec on our back. I may dismiss its connection with that part of Irish history in the words of the Prime Minister when he was War Secretary, when he said that he could offer no defence for the "ineptitudes and malignities of the War Office." First fame the rejection of the offer of the volunteers to go into khaki. Let me tell the story, and as it has been told so often I will only repeat the few main points. There is one little story I must tell, and that is the story of the manner in which the Irish Brigade was treated. In the first place, there was a great objection—perhaps the Prime Minister can support me on that point—to an Irish Brigade, or even a Welsh Brigade. Unfortunately, the Irish 432 people had not the advantage of having a Member in the Cabinet who was not afraid to stand up even to the most highly constituted and most powerful authorities of the War Office and to obsolete traditions. But we managed, in spite of every obstacle, to raise an Irish Brigade. I am glad to see my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Clare (Major William Redmond) in his place. I remember a story he told me about the Sixteenth Division, that was one of the Irish Brigades. He said the people in Fermoy watched a field day with the soldiers and officers passing by, and the colonel on horseback, the major on horseback, the captain on horseback, the lieutenant on horseback. I am quite wrong, the colonel was on horseback, the major was on horseback, and perhaps the captain. They were all Protestants. But the lieutenants were on foot because they were all Catholics. And there was this remarkable phenomenon which could not occur in any country but Ireland, that while 95 per cent. of the men were Catholic and Nationalist, from 80 to 85 per cent. of their officers were Orangemen and Unionists, or Protestants and Unionists. Let me immediately say, because I see my Friends restive above me, that I do not think that in practice this thing worked out as badly as might have been anticipated. I went down to a portion of the Sixteenth Division, and I was-delighted to see, in spite of their differences of creed and politics, that nothing could have been more cordial or more intimate or more loyal than the relations between the officers and men. But that does not do away with the fact that every request for a commission for a Catholic, or nearly every request, was turned down, so that by way of appeasing the Nationalists they made religion a bar and an exclusion.
Such was the beginning of the intervention of the wisdom of this Government and its Departments in the situation created by the speech of my hon. and learned Friend. I never denied that he had some critics, that he had some political opponents even in the ranks of Nationalists themselves. What I do deny is that for months after the beginning of this War those opponents were able to make headway against him or against the cause of the Allies until the stupidities and ineptitudes and maligni- 433 ties of the Government drove those people into open hostility. In the Volunteers there were some opponents of my hon. and learned Friend. The leader of his opponents among the National Volunteers was Mr. John MacNeill, who afterwards figured in the events connected with the rebellion. Mr. MacNeill took issue with my hon. and learned Friend and the issue was the support of this country in the War or a system of either benevolent or hostile neutrality. A vote was taken. There were about 130,000 men altogether, I believe, in the Volunteers at the time, and of those 130,000 men I believe 110,000—[An HON. MEMBER: "One hundred and twenty thousand!"]—I believe 120,000 followed the lead and adopted the policy of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Waterford and 10,000 adopted the policy of Mr. John MacNeill. Was there ever such a transformation of the spirit of a country that bad for centuries hated the side of this country in every war in which it had been engaged? Was there ever so marvellous, I might almost say miraculous, transformation of a nation, and all carried out not by the Government, but by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Waterford?
I do not deny that since the beginning of the War, and even for some years before, there was a movement in Ireland which was hostile, not merely to my hon. and learned Friend, but to all constitutional movement and to all Parliamentary parties which came to this House. Sinn Fein was originally rather a literary and academical than a political movement. The words mean "ourselves alone." In the birth of new hopes which the gradual growth of Irish history in the constitutional movement had achieved, there began a renaissance of the Celtic spirit, which of course everybody, whatever his nationality may be, must sympathise with. The language of Ireland had been discouraged and insulted, and I have heard of children being beaten every time they spoke a word of Irish. There was a feeling that the Irish language must be studied, and even revived, and that Irish history and Irish archeology should be more carefully studied, and that movement at first consisted mainly of poets and dramatists and idealists, Protestant as well as Catholic. There were two young men, by the way, in that movement at its start. The name of one of them was Thomas Kettle, and the name of the other was Thomas MacDonagh. 434 They both joined the movement at the same time, and both joined with the same purpose, namely, to revive the study of the language, literature, and history of Ireland, and of making an Irish Ireland. If the Government had acted properly, those two men would be either living or in the same grave to-day, but owing to the stupidity of the Government, owing to the criminal stupidity of the Government, the body of one man lies in Kilmainham and the body of the other lies on soil outside the trenches in France.
And then came a transformation. Up-to three or four years ago the whole feeling of Nationalist Ireland had been weaned from revolutionary methods. My right hon. Friend on the Front Bench below me (Mr. Asquith) may well recall the memorable days in which he as a young counsel took part, when Mr. Parnell gave his evidence. When Mr. Parnell had described how he had gradually built up his movement, weaning people away from revolutionary methods, and teaching them that, under constitutional methods, they could gain all the rights of Ireland, and, as he recounted difficulty after difficulty with a complete reserve of language, I remember my right hon. Friend was so impressed by the evidence that he said to me—I do not know whether he recalls it, but I do well—"Parnell as a statesman deserves to be ranked with Bismarck and Gladstone." I answered that I remembered quite a different state of things, that when Parnell started the present movement he was hooted off platforms in Ireland by the then powerful Fenian organisation. By the steady growth of our victories achieved in this Chamber on constitutional lines, the movement in favour of revolution, which was almost universal in my boyhood and youth, was gradually disappearing, and even in America, where feeling is more virulent than in Ireland, because the people there are the sons of the men and women who were driven from their homes in Ireland under every circumstance of cruely by the legislation of the Parliament of this county—even in America the movement had gone down almost to insignificance.
I come now to one controversial point of the story, and I will deal with it fairly, calmly, and I hope without being offensive to anyone. What brought revolutionary feeling back to Ireland was the revolutionary movement in Ulster. It is 435 not my business at this moment to utter any criticism of that movement or its authors, or any defence it might make for itself. It is not my business to enter into that. After more than a century of struggle for Home Rule, thirty years after Mr. Gladstone first proposed a Home Rule Bill in this House, Home Rule was carried by a majority of the Imperial Parliament—after two General Elections—and by a British majority, and it received the Royal Assent, and yet the Home Rule Act was confronted by a movement which threatened and certainly was able to postpone it. Therefore, the whole idea which had almost been rooted out of the Irish mind, that the proper way to achieve liberty was not by Parliamentary and constitutional agitation, but by guns, was brought home to them again. I pass that by as carefully as I can. Everybody knows that that revolutionary movement in Ulster was backed up what I will call a military demonstration at the Curragh. I put it to the most severe critics of Ireland, if the opponents of my hon. and learned Friend who put up armed revolters against constitutional agitation were not enormously strengthened in their view by the fact that a revolutionary movement with arms in its hands was able to defy the high Parliament of this nation, and, consequently, a gospel which was almost dead and obsolete was brought into life again, and men summed up the situation by saying, "The crack of the rifle is more powerful than even the greatest Parlimentarian, or the most eloquent orator."
That was the beginning of the trouble. It was followed by others. In the first place, there was a delay of six weeks in putting the Home Rule Bill, after it had passed all its stages, on the Statute Book. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Waterford did his best, but I express the solemn opinion that neither he nor his colleagues were ever able entirely to recover that interval of six weeks. Things still, however, were not bad. Recruiting went on. There was very little public criticism of the policy of my hon. Friend. Everybody in Ireland—everybody in this country—knew he ran great political risks in the course he was taking, but the success that attended his policy justified his taking those risks. But then came another incident, and that was the formation of the Coalition Government. Put all these things together—the War Office 436 discouraging recruiting in Ireland, embarrassing it, insulting and flouting Nationalist Catholic opinion in Ireland on the one hand; on the other hand, an apparently indefinite postponement of Home Rule—and add to all this the impression, strong, universal, and well founded, that English Ministries may come and go, but Dublin Castle ascendancy is always rooted—what else could be expected? I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir E. Carson) for entering the Coalition Ministry; honestly I do not think it was his fault. As far as I know—I am not, of course, in his confidence—he had no desire for office, and I think his judgment was sounder than that of his English friends, but when the right hon. and learned Gentleman became a member of the Coalition Ministry, and when the present Lord Chief Justice of Ireland was mentioned as Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and afterwards became Attorney-General, the. feeling of Nationalist Ireland was that the new-Government meant the triumph and placing in power of all their political opponents, and practically the threat that Home Rule would never be allowed to come into force. It may have been a sound or an ill-founded opinion, but it was a natural opinion among the people of Ireland, who have always known, as I have said, that whatever Minister may be there, there is one governing and stable power. and that is the power of the officials of the ascendancy party in Dublin Castle.
From that time forward prospects began to darken in Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), who was very intimately acquainted with the inner conditions of Irish life, saw that after the formation of the Coalition Government there was a tremendous transformation of opinion in Ireland; the authorities themselves had given evidence that in their opinion there was such a transformation. The Volunteers, who previously had followed my hon. Friend the Member for Waterford and repudiated Mr. John MacNeill and his opinions, to the extent of 120,000 to 10,000, these National Volunteers began to turn away from him by hundreds and then by thousands, convinced that constitutional agitation had failed, and that Home Rule would be destroyed by the crack of the ascendancy rifle. They went 437 to join the ranks of the Sinn Fein Volunteers, and thus the efforts of my hon. Friend, who was trying to bring the country to safety, were hindered. These are the events which led up to the rebellion.
With regard to the rebellion in itself, judged by its proportions, and above all judged by the amount of sympathy and support it got from the Irish people, it was comparatively insignificant. What I would like to get into the mind of the House, even of those who ordinarily differ from me, is this, that the insurrection was not one-half as important, not one-tenth as important, as the events which followed. Was the rebellion a rebellion of the Irish people? I will quote some words from my right hon. Friend below me (Mr. Asquith) on that point, after his return from Dublin:We rejoice, the whole country rejoices, in the overwhelming evidence that the great bulk of the Irish nation of all creeds and all parties have no sympathy of any sort or kind with the recent ill-advised undertaking.My right hon. Friend, who I am glad to see back in the House, the late Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Birrell) also made a speech, in which he said practically the same thing. The whole evidence, indeed, showed that at the beginning of this insurrection the rebel leaders had no sympathy whatever from the majority of the population, even in Dublin. They were repudiated and denounced, and they were regarded, and rightly regarded, as dealing a deadly blow at the heart of Ireland in risking Home Rule with such disastrous methods. English statesmen have had many triumphs in their genius for stupidity, but its greatest triumph was after that rebellion. In twenty-four hours it transformed practically a whole population that was friendly and reconciled to this country, and in full sympathy with its issues in this War, into a population filled, I regret to say—but I must say it—with as bitter a hatred of this country and its Government as ever existed in the past. I warned the House that I should have to speak the truth, and that is the truth! Can anyone be surprised? People are surprised! I dare say many people in this country are shocked by this extraordinary transformation of opinion. Does anybody who has ever studied the history of human nature feel any surprise at such a revulsion of feeling in Ireland? What is the whole history of mankind but this— 438 that the most disturbing of the influences on the human soul is execution for an idea? I need not go into examples. They are familiar to everybody. Take our own movement. Consider! This constitutional party, sitting on these benches to-day, and which has sat here for some forty years, was largely brought about by the execution of Allen Larkin and O'Brien. If the national spirit exists in Ireland to-day in such strength, and has on its side not only Catholics, but many high-minded and broad-minded Protestants, it is because Lord Edward Fitzgerald and Robert Emmett died for Ireland. Therefore, when I find the resentment and passion—I believe I might go to the length of saying something like insanity of emotion—which has followed these executions, I look upon it as a natural, frequent, and almost unbroken tradition of the effect on the human soul of execution for an idea. Of these executions what have I to say? The tragedy of this event is this: I have spoken of the Ireland I knew in my boyhood and early youth—an Ireland still without any faith in this country, without any faith in constitutional movement, without any faith either in the English people or English statesmen—a country suspicious and hostile. Then came Gladstone.
Parnell first restored faith in the constitutional movement by the remarkable results be obtained on the floor of this House. Gladstone followed. Gladstone gave at least the feeling to the Irish people that the Old England of hostility, cruelty, and tyranny had died and that there was a new England arising. From that hour until a few years ago that feeling of growing reconciliation between the people of Ireland and the people of England went on and grew, and would to-day have been stronger than ever but for the incidents of the last two and a half years. That is the reason for the present state of feeling in Ireland. It may be asked, What is your remedy? There is only one. I put it to the Prime Minister that there are only two alternative policies in Ireland to-day—settlement of the Irish question or coercion. Both have difficulties. I think, however, the difficulty of coercion is patent. Any man who thinks for the moment, who knows anything of the history of England and Ireland and of the realities of this War, will know which is the more dangerous path to tread. My right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's (Sir G. Reid), not 439 representing in the question he put to-day the opinion of the great self-governing Dominion from which he comes—great and loyal because it has Home Rule!—my right hon. Friend objects to me raising this question of Home Rule for Ireland at this particular moment. Was there ever a moment when it was more necessary?
The word in my Resolution is "forthwith," and I stand by it! You have either of two choices in Ireland. The one is a growing disturbance and turbulence in that country, which, of course, will involve what you are pleased to call "firm government," but what we call "coercion," and what the world calls"coercion"—-which nobody called "coercion" so eloquently and fiercely as the present Prime Minister when he was opposing a Tory Government exercising it. "Forthwith!" In the first place, forthwith for the sake of Ireland. What man can contemplate except with horror a state of disturbance in Ireland on the one side and military rule on the other? I put it on another ground. I put it in the interests of England. I put it in the interests of the Empire. I put it in the interests of the Allies. As to England, I think the majority of sane men in this country of all parties, and in this House, have come to the conclusion that the settlement of the Irish Irish question is an absolute necessity for this country. In fact I am inclined to believe—and this is one of the ironies of the situation—that the sentiment for settlement is even more powerful in England than in Ireland. Ireland for the moment is in such a state of violent and morbid resentment over the events of the last two and a half years that it does not press for a settlement as much as, I think, the public opinion of this country does. Settlement was tried before. I must add—I say it again very cautiously—that one of the many factors that have created this morbid, this deplorable, feeling in Ireland, was the failure of the negotiations last summer. I am not going into the merits of that now dead and gone transaction beyond this sentence—
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
Beyond saying this, that the Leaders of both the Irish parties were sent over to Ireland, not empty- 440 handed, but with a document that was as much a contract as any lease that was-ever signed, or any will that was ever made, or any treaty that any nation ever entered into with another. It was quite as sacred—quite as sacred—to-honourable statesmen as that treaty of neutrality the violation of which by Germany brought this country into the War. That contract was broken. What was the position in which my hon. and learned Friend and his colleagues were placed? All through, from the very first hour of the War, they had tried to continue the work of Gladstone and of Parnell; to get the Irish people to understand that they might have a friendly people in England, and kindly, liberal, and honourable statesmen in England. The contract was broken. I do not go into details, but it was broken. It was broken by the Government, and the anti-English party, which had been growing in strength through all these events, got another and more powerful argument than ever they have had before, that the crack of the rifle was better than the voice of the Parliamentarian. Ireland drew the conclusion that, as with the Treaty of Limerick, as with the, Stuarts, as with Pitt at the Union, England was ever the perfidious England known of old.
Have I any cause to apologise for that resentment? I say that the settlement of this question is necessary forthwith. People forget that, important as the War is, there is something quite as important, and that is the peace which will follow. We may win victories in the field: but I remember the words of old Marshal Blucher, the great Prussian, when he said, "I hope the pen of the diplomatist will not destroy all that has been gained by the sword of the soldier." The pen of the diplomatist, after all, will be the main weapon in the Peace Conference. Perhaps I put it more accurately if I say that the pen of the diplomatist, following the victories of the sword, will be the main weapon, and that, after all, diplomacy, in making a good peace, is as-necessary as good generalship on the field. I want to know how the Government of this country is going into the Peace Conference. I have read to the House the Note of this Government to the President of the United States, the admirable Note of the Foreign Secretary, and the speech of President Wilson. In my opinion, 441 when President Wilson delivered that remarkable speech to the Senate of the United States, underneath certain qualifications and provisions, and even perhaps conscious ambiguities, President Wilson proclaimed to the world that his ideals were our ideals, that his principles were our principles, that his peace was our peace. Apart from ambiguities and qualifications, President Wilson's speech was the adoption of the principles contained in the Note of the Foreign Secretary. I will not read these. Everybody is familiar with them. The main point in all these three documents is the equality of the rights of small nations, the principle of nationality, and the necessity for establishing both these principles on the unassailable basis of a great league of all the free nations of the world; and also the inference that without such recognition of small nations, and the principle of nationality, the map of Europe cannot be re-established in any way that will ensure a lasting peace.
I profoundly agree with these views, if I may respectfully say so. Unless you give liberation to the principles of nationality and small nationalities of Europe, and the free development of each race according to its own spirit, any peace you make would only be a transient peace, which would be broken in the struggle of those nationalities. I put the Prime Minister as one of our plenipotentiaries to that peace. He is the man, and rightly. He will ask for the liberation of Poland. We have heard something about the liberation of Poland already. My right hon. Friend Mr. Asquith and M. Briand, the Prime Minister of France, sent a telegram to M. Stuermer, President of the Russian Council of Ministers, when it was announced that the Russian Czar had taken measures to establish self-government in Poland. My right hon. Friend very properly, and the French Prime Minister very properly, regarded this as so important and necessary an action to the proper position of the Allies, that they thought it necessary to send this telegram:In conference together, in Paris, we have noted with the greatest satisfaction the declaration published in the Russian Press on the 14th instant, whereby the Imperial Government place on record the fresh breach of International law and of International conventions committed by Germany and by Austria-Hungary, and protest against the pretensions of these Powers to create a new State in a territory at the moment occupied by them, and to raise an army from the population of these 442 regions. We are profoundly gratified to see that Russia, who, at the very outset of the War, gave to the peoples dwelling in all the Polish lands assurances in conformity with their immemorial hopes,"—not more immemorial than the Irish—now thwarts the manoeuvres of our enemies,"—I hope the Prime Minister will thwart the manoeuvres of the enemy inside Ireland and outside Ireland—and expose in the full light of day the illusory character of their promises, by solemnly renewing the unshakable decision, proclaimed more than two years ago, in the name of His Majesty the Emperor, to bring about their autonomy. We are happy entirely to concur in the views of which the Imperial Government means to assure the realisation for the benefit of the noble Polish people.What right had my right hon. Friend to approve the autonomy of Poland if he did not think it was good also for the Allies and their principles? And could he approve the autonomy of Poland without indicating his adherence to the principle of giving the Irish Home Rule? These are the issues I have placed before the House. I have endeavoured to put them calmly and dispassionately. I have tried to offend no man's political opinions. I am asking for the united effort of all men and all parties, and I do implore every man in this House not to let this struggle go on without a sane, broad-minded and generous effort to win for this country's cause the unspeakable advantage of Irish loyalty.
Major WILLIAM REDMOND
I have been asked to second the Motion which has just been so ably spoken to by my hon. Friend. I promise that, in seconding the Motion, I will be extremely brief; and I do not know that I would have taken the opportunity of saying even a few words here this afternoon were it not that I feel I can give some expression to the great volume of opinion which is held by those of my countrymen who are doing their best in the field. Whatever may have taken place, nothing can alter this fact, that when War was declared large numbers of the Irish people responded to the appeal made to them. They responded readily, and, as I venture to think, gallantly. They responded for many reasons. In the first place, on the broad issue of the War, there could be no doubt—there can still be no doubt—the great, generous heart of the Irish race beats in sympathy with the Allies' cause, and, no matter what may have happened, no matter what still may happen in the future, nothing can alter my firm conviction that, apart from everything else, the 443 great heart of Ireland, North and South as well, beats in strong sympathy with the gallant efforts which are being made by the French nation to-day to free their soil from the invader. Nothing can change my conviction that the overwhelming majority of the Irish people have been outraged in all their dearest feelings by what has taken place in Belgium, and I venture to say that the Irish people who did respond, responded also—and this brings me to the subject of my brief remarks this afternoon—because they were led to believe that a new and a better and brighter chapter was about to open in the relations of Great Britain and Ireland.
I ask you, Mr. Speaker, and I ask the Members of this House, irrespective of parties, to realise, if they possibly can, the feelings of men who went out, impelled by that motive, when they hear vague rumours from time to time that their response to the appeal of this country has been more or less in vain, and that what they hope for is not, after all, to be accomplished. A man who, in the trying circumstances which surround life abroad, has those feelings, is surely to be considered and commiserated. And I know that if anything could tend towards strengthening the resolve which is still strong in the Irish troops to do their duty, it would be the feeling that a better and a newer chapter with Great Britain was about to be opened, and that their country was about to be trusted with the rights and freedom of self-government. My hon. Friend who has just resumed his seat spoke with all his wonted eloquence of many sad things in the past. It is easy enough, God knows, to talk about the past. In regard to Ireland it is not always pleasant. The past is a thing which can be enlarged upon for any length of time, but I venture to think, at this time of day, with very little profit. I do not believe that there is a single Member of any party in this House who is prepared to get up and say that in the past the government and treatment of Ireland by Great Britain have been what they should have been. Mistakes—dark, black, and bitter mistakes—have been made. A people denied justice, a people with many admitted grievances, the redress of which has been long delayed, on our side, perhaps, in the conflict, and in the bitterness of contest, there may have been things said and done, offensive if you will, irritat- 444 ing if you will, to the people of this country; but what I want to ask, in all simplicity, is this, whether, in face of the tremendous conflict which is now raging, whether, in view of the fact that, apart from every other consideration, the Irish people, South as well as North, are upon, the side of the Allies and against the German pretension to-day, it is not possible, from this War to make a new start; whether it is not possible on your side, and on ours as well, to let the dead past bury its dead, and to commence a brighter and a newer and a friendlier era between the two countries'! Why cannot we do it? Is there an Englishman representing any party who does not yearn for a better future between Ireland and Great Britain? There is no Irishman who is not anxious for it also. Why cannot there be a settlement? Why must it be that, when British soldiers and Irish soldiers are suffering and dying side by side, this eternal old quarrel should go on?
It is not, after all, an English and an Irish question. It is not, after all, a question merely affecting the Empire. It is a question affecting the whole world. There is not a corner of the civilised world today where the Irish question does not exercise influence, and you see in the public Press every morning the efforts-which are being made by our enemies to exploit the position of Ireland. Canada everybody is proud of. Australia has done her part splendidly in this struggle. Why cannot you listen to them? Canada five times in her Parliament has begged you to deal with the Irish question on broad and free lines, and Australia has done the same. In God's name, why cannot you do it? I do not believe there is an Englishman in Europe who would not this very night agree to a full and free measure of Home Rule if the Irish people themselves would demand it. What stands in the way of a settlement? The attitude of a section of our countrymen in the North of Ireland! If you ask an Englishman, be he Liberal or Conservative, why Home Rule is not granted, the reply will be, "Home Rule we are ready to grant—every journal in England says so—if only you and your countrymen, North and South, can agree about it." If there ought to be an oblivion of the past between Great Britain and Ireland generally, may I ask in God's name the First Lord of the Admiralty why there cannot be a similar oblivion of the past between the warring sections in Ireland? 445 Are we to ever go on the lines of the old struggle of the Stuarts and the Battle of the Boyne? All my life I have taken as strong and as strenuous a part on the Nationalist side as my poor abilities would allow. I may have been as bitter and as strong in the heated atmosphere of party contests against my countrymen in the North as ever they have been against me, but I believe in my soul and heart here to-day that I represent the instinct and the desire of the whole Irish Catholic race when I say that there is nothing that they more passionately desire and long for than that there should be an end of this old struggle between the North and the South.
The followers of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty should shake hands with the rest of their countrymen. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman here in the name of men against whom no finger of scorn can be pointed; in the name of men who are doing their duty; in the name of men who have died; in the name of men who may die, and who at this very moment may be dying, to rise to the demands of the situation. I ask him to meet his Nationalist fellow-countrymen and accept the offer which they make to him and his followers, and on the basis of that self-government which has made, and which alone has made, the Empire as strong as it is to-day, come to some arrangement for the better government of Ireland in the future. What stands in the way? We read in our history books of the battle of the Boyne. The Friends of the right hon. Gentleman espoused the cause of William hundreds of years ago. Our people passionately adhere to the cause of the fallen Stuarts. Is the sentiment engendered at that time to go on for ever? In the face of a war which is threatening civilisation, which is destroying all that mankind has built up in the Christian era, in the face of all that are we still to continue in Ireland our conflicts and our arguments and disputes about the merits of the Stuarts, about the battle of the Boyne and the rest?
Why does the right hon. Gentleman opposite not meet us half-way? I want to know what is the reason. It surely cannot be that the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends believe that under a system of self-government they would have anything to fear. Nothing impressed me more than the opinion I heard expressed by a high- 446 placed Roman Catholic officer who is in service with the Ulster Brigade, than, when he told me of his experience there,. and when he said that although he was the only one of the Catholic religion in that. division it had dawned upon him that they certainly were Irishmen and were not. Englishmen or Scotsmen. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that it would not take so very much to bring his, friends and our friends together, and I ask him why the attempt is not made? I ask him whether the circumstances of the-time do not warrant that such an attempt should be made? I ask him whether he-does not know in his inmost heart that it would bring to the common enemy more-dismay and consternation than the destruction of a hundred of their submarines if they knew that England, Scotland, and Ireland were really united, not merely within the confines of the shores of these islands, but united in every part of the world where the Irish people are to be found?
The right hon. Gentleman may ask for guarantees or safeguards in an Irish parliament. My own opinion is that those he represents desire in their hearts no-guarantees or safeguards. I believe that they know that they can trust their countrymen in the South. Does anybody believe that the Southern Irish heart is capable of anything which would be other than upright and just and fair to the people of the North in the legislative chamber. Does anybody think them capable of such baseness. What is it that stands in the way of Ireland taking her place as a self-governing part of this Empire? Ireland is the only portion of the Empire now fighting which is not self-governing. The Australians whom I meet from time to time point to their government being free; the Canadians and the New Zealanders do the same, and we Irishmen are the only units in France to-day taking our part in the War who are obliged to admit that the country we come from is-denied those privileges which has made the Empire the strong organisation which it is to-day. If safeguards are necessary—I speak only for myself, and I do not speak for anybody else on these benches, because I have been away from this House so long that I have almost lost touch with things—as far as my own personal opinion goes, there is nothing I would not do, and there is no length to which I would not go, in order to meet the real objections or 447 to secure the real confidence, friendship and affection of my countrymen in the North of Ireland.
For my own part I would gladly, if it would ease the situation, agree to an arrangement whereby it might be possible for His Majesty the King, if he so desired, to call in someone at the starting of a new Irish government, a gentleman representing the portion of the country and the section of the community which the First Lord represents, and if a representative of that kind were placed with his hand upon the helm of the first Irish parliament, I, at any rate, as far as I am concerned would give him the loyal and the strong support which I have given to every leader I have supported in this House. After all, these are times of sacrifice, and every man is called upon to make some sacrifices Men and women and children alike have to do something in these days, and is it too much to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends to sacrifice some part of their position in order to lead the majority of their countrymen and to bring about that which the whole English-speaking world desires, namely, a real reconciliation of Ireland. I apologise for having detained the House so long, but this is a matter upon which I feel strongly, and I feel all the more strongly about it because I know that I am trying altogether too feebly, but as strongly as I can, to represent what I know-to be the wishes nearest to the hearts of tens of thousands of Irishmen who went with me and their colleagues to France, many of whom will never return, all of whom are suffering the privations and the hardship and the risk and the wellnigh intolerable circumstances of life in France. I want to speak for these men, and if they could all speak with one voice and with one accord they would say to this House, to men in every part of it, to Conservatives, Liberals and Labour men, to their Nationalist countrymen and to their countrymen from the North of Ireland, in the name of God we here who are about to die, perhaps, ask you to do that which largely induced us to leave our homes; to do that which our fathers and mothers taught us to long for; to do that which is all we desire, make our country happy and contented, and enable us when we meet the Canadians and the Australians and the New Zealanders, side by side in the com- 448 mon cause and the common field, to say to them, "Our country, just as yours, has self-government within the Empire."
I know that there is a great softening of feeling with regard to Ireland. I know there is not the same bitterness which there used to be. I know that men of all parties recognise that there is an Irish question. How well I remember, when I came in here as a boy nearly thirty-four years ago, that people used to say, "Oh, the curse of Ireland is the agitator, and but for the agitator Ireland would be at rest and peace." Never, surely, was there a greater fallacy than that. It is not the agitator that makes the agitation in Ireland or anywhere else; it is the unrest amongst the people, and their discontent, which make the agitators. For thirty-four years I have been begging the people of this country here to prepare for the danger which now confronts them, by trusting Ireland. For many years my own father on this very bench preached the same thing, and pleaded the same cause, and if nothing is done, when we are all dead and gone, and the whole personnel of this House is changed, when a new generation arises to which all that is now happening will be but a mere matter of history, there will then be still the Irish question, which is simply the result of attempting to govern a high-spirited people against their consent, and without reference to their individual and instinctive feelings. Therefore it is that at the risk of wearying the House I have made these remarks, and I do appeal with all the strength of my soul to the Government, to its Leader, and to the First Lord of the Admiralty, to seize the opportunity which has now arisen. It cannot be beyond the wit of man to reconcile the differences of the past. In view of the extraordinary necessities of the time, it surely ought to be the duty of Ulstermen and Nationalists alike to meet each other, and to bring about in Ireland a state of affairs which will rejoice the Empire, and which will bring satisfaction from one end of the United States of America and the English-speaking world to the other.
§ Sir JOHN LONSDALE
I think the House will agree that after the speeches to which we have listened this afternoon, it is necessary that something should be said from the point of view of the Irish Unionists. I regret—indeed, I consider it most unfortunate—that any discussion should have been raised on this issue 449 especially at the present moment. We are approaching the most critical period of the War, and it is surely more than ever important that we should—both here and in the country—avoid even the appearance of being divided on any question of domestic politics. Therefore, in anything that I shall say on this subject, I shall endeavour to refrain from any expressions which might accentuate differences or introduce any bitterness into the Debate. At the same time I feel it is due to those whom I represent that I should state as plainly but as dispassionately as I can what is their present attitude on this question. I wish to say, in the first place, that we have done nothing to provoke this discussion. From the day that War was declared Irish Unionists determined to put aside all party differences, and to concentrate their thoughts and energies entirely upon the War. When, in spite of the strong protest which we felt bound to make, the Home Rule Bill was put upon the Statute Book, we were led to believe, and we believed, that all question of bringing it into operation was to be suspended until the War was over. We had no interest whatever in reviving controversy on the subject; and both in Ireland and in this House, we have abstained from taking any step which might or would disturb the political truce. As I am sure the House is fully aware, the attempt which was made last July to bring about a settlement of the Irish question was not due to any suggestion on our part. We were quite content to let the matter rest, to be decided after the War. But that attempt was made, and, as we all know, it resulted in failure. I am not going to discuss the reasons for that failure; but I wish to point out, that during the Debates which took place at that time, it was laid down as an incontestable fact, both by the late Prime Minister and the present Prime Minister, that in any settlement that might be arrived at in the future, there must be no coercion of Ulster.
I will venture to recall to the House what followed that declaration. On the 18th October last, a Motion was made in this House, by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond), which attacked the present system of government in Ireland, and, in the course of his speech, the hon. and learned Gentleman put forward this demand, thatthe Government should take their courage in both hands and trust the Irish people once and for all 450 by putting the Home Rule Act into operation, and resolutely, on their own responsibility, facing any problems that that may entail.On the 19th December—two months later—the hon. and learned Member made another speech, in which he told the Government that it was of no use to try to settle this question by renewed negotiations, but they could, if they chose to take the responsibility, settle the matter "on the lines of a united Ireland." I tell the House frankly that these speeches, taken in conjunction with others of a different character which were made by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), created an impression that what the Nationalists really desired, and what they were working for, was immediate Home Rule for the whole of Ireland, and, if necessary, the coercion of Ulster. In addition to these speeches, there has been an organised campaign in the Press; and in numerous articles it has been suggested that Home Rule was not only within the bounds of possibility, but might even be established with the assent of Ulster. In these circumstances it became necessary for the Unionists of Ulster to make their position perfectly clear, and they have done so in resolutions which were adopted at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Ulster Unionist Council on the 5th February. I will not trouble the House with the whole of these resolutions. It is sufficient for me to state that an express denial is given to the suggestion that Irish Unionist leaders have taken part in any new negotiations for a settlement. The resolution states further that Irish Unionists are anxious to throw all their energies into the War, and they rely entirely upon the assurances which have been given that there will be no coercion of Ulster. And then we have this sentence, which I will venture to read, because it sums up completely the attitude of the Unionists of Ulster towards the present Motion. The resolution concludes with these words:Nothing has occurred to modify in any way the position we have taken up, or to vary in any degree our inflexible opposition to Home Rule.I can assure the House that this Resolution expresses the unanimous determination of the whole of the Unionists of Ulster, and in view of the demand which is clearly implied in the Motion now before the House, I think it right to state again plainly that under no circumstances will Ulster Unionists ever consent to come under a Home Rule Parliament. We are asked to trust our Nationalist fellow coun- 451 trymen. It is not our fault that we find ourselves unable to respond. I put it to hon. Members below the Gangway: Do the events of the past twelve months in Ireland justify them in expecting that we should be more ready to come under Home Rule to-day than we were before the War? Are we to be blamed if, having regard to all that has occurred, we prefer to trust the British people and the Imperial Parliament? I say, therefore, that, as it is now generally agreed that the coercion of Ulster is unthinkable, the present proposal of the Nationalist party is shown to be utterly impracticable.
I wish to say a word or two about the terms of this Motion. It is really most ambiguous, and, as it appears to me, most unfortunately worded. The references to "equal rights" and "free institutions" are, I venture to say, entirely misleading, because they convey the impression that Ireland does not enjoy equal rights, and is without free institutions. Those who drew up this Resolution were so anxious to present a picture of Ireland in chains that they ignored, not merely the facts, but the confessions of their own Leader. I have here an extract from a speech which the hon. and learned Member for Waterford made in Dublin on the 1st July, 1915. I will read a sentence or two to the House. The hon. and learned Member said:To-day the people, broadly speaking, own the soil; to-day the labourers live in decent houses; to-day there is absolute freedom in the local government and local taxation of the country; to-day we have the widest Parliamentary and municipal franchise.The hon. and learned Member went on to enumerate many other advantages which are enjoyed by the Irisn people, all of which go to disprove completely the suggestion contained in this Resolution. I should have thought the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), with his undoubted literary ability, could have framed a Resolution which, while expressing the Nationalist demand in clear and unmistakable language, would have been less likely to embarrass the Government in the prosecution of the War. What is it the Nationalist party hope to achieve by bringing forward this Motion at the present time? They must know that it would be impossible to bring the Home Rule Act into operation, even over part of Ireland, without substantial and even drastic modifications, which I venture to say would be 452 demanded both by Irish and British opinion. The suggestion that at the present stage of the War Parliament should undertake the work of hammering out a new Home Rule scheme shows, in my opinion, a complete failure to realise the possibilities of the situation. What I suggest to my Nationalist fellow countrymen is that they should agree to postpone all these highly controversial questions, which are inseparable from Home Rule, and unite with us in an endeavour to convince the people of Ireland of their duty to support the cause of the Allies by every means in their power. It appears to me that up to the present time the majority of the people of Ireland have failed to realise that they have any direct and immediate concern in this War. The Resolution before us speaks of helping the Allies to achieve their objects, as if Ireland was only indirectly concerned is the issue of this conflict. I hope sincerely that Ireland may be spared the painful and bitter experiences which her people would have to undergo if the Allies failed to secure the victory. Have the Nationalist Members done all that they might have done to make the Irish people realise that they are as vitally interested in the issues of the War as are the people of Great Britain? What has been the attitude of the Nationalist party generally as regards the material help which Ireland should render to the cause of the Allies? I have no doubt they will agree that their position was accurately defined by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Devlin) in the Debate on the 18th October last. The hon. Member said:You can have all the men you want if you will give Ireland Home Rule.Surely that is equal to saying, "We will not support you unless we get some political advantage in return." Again, we have seen the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) and others telling the Irish people of what the Nationalist party have done to secure for them immunity from the burdens and sacrifices which are being cheerfully borne by the people of Great Britain. I wonder if hon. Members below the Gangway ever reflect upon the contrast which must present itself to the minds of the people of Great Britain between the position taken up by Ulster and that taken up by the great majority in the rest of Ireland. Our contention that there are really two Irelands has, indeed received striking confirmation since the War began. 453 There is one section in complete and hearty sympathy with the Empire, ready to share equally all the burdens and sacrifices which may be necessary to secure victory; and there is another section which makes its offers of service dependent upon the receipt of political advantages. The people of England, Scotland, and Wales have responded, not only without a murmur, but in a spirit of ungrudging loyalty, to every call that the Government have made upon their manhood or their means, and when they realise that a part only of the people of Ireland show the same readiness to meet the obligations which ought to be borne equally by all citizens in the United Kingdom, they will want to know why this immunity should be given to the Irish people.
I should be the last to undervalue the important services which have been rendered by Irishmen to the cause of the Allies. No one can be prouder than I am of the glorious record of our Irish soldiers during the War. Thousands have made the supreme sacrifice, and I cannot understand how any section of Irishmen can fail to be stirred by their example. What are the essential facts in the present situation? As regards men, Ireland has given a little over 100,000 new recruits since the beginning of the War. I may say that more than half of these recruits have come from Ulster. I believe there are still in Ireland at least 200,000 young men, physically fit and of military age, who could be spared for military service. The Irish regiments at the front, I regret to say, have been sadly depleted in the heavy fighting through which they have gone. If Irishmen do not come forward, these famous regiments must cease to be Irish, perhaps even in name, and the gallantry of our Irish troops will be forgotten because of the failure of Irishmen at home to do their duty.
Then as to money—I think there can be no doubt of Ireland's ability to render considerable financial help to the prosecution of the War. All the Irish banks have just reported an astonishing increase in the amount of deposits during the past year. I do not know to what extent these bank deposits have been invested in the new War Loan, but I have reason to believe that in this respect—as well as in recruiting—Ulster has given a decided lead to the rest of Ireland. Some figures were given the other day, which show that of a total of £1,200,000 invested in the new War 454 Loan by Irish local authorities, upwards of £1,000,000 was subscribed by thirty-three bodies in Ulster. This leaves only £164,000 as the total contribution of local authorities for the rest of Ireland. I believe that £25,000,000 were subscribed through Belfast banks alone; and £15,000,000 of this was new money, in addition to which, I may say that at least £1,000,000 was contributed by working men in Ulster.
If this. Motion has been brought forward with an honest desire to strengthen the hands of the Allies, it is surely the duty of the Government to tell the Irish people plainly that they can most effectively assist the Allies by accepting loyally all the obligations, both of service and of sacrifice, which this War has entailed. I can tell the Government that so far as Ulster is concerned—and I san say the same of Irish Unionists generally—wo are ready to share fully all the burdens and responsibilities which our fellow-citizens in Great Britain have been called upon to bear, and we do not desire any exemptions or privileges which are not shared by the rest of the United Kingdom. Let me say, in conclusion, that I deplore the action of the Nationalist party in bringing forward this Motion at the most critical period in the history of our Empire. But the question having been raised, it has become my duty to express the feeling of Ulster upon it. In doing so I have tried to avoid saying anything which would impart bitterness into the discussion. At the same time, I have felt it my duty to state—and to repeat—that those for whom I speak will offer the most determined opposition to any proposal which would deprive them of their rights of citizenship in the United Kingdom or of the protection of the Imperial Parliament.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
We have listened to three very temperate speeches, presenting the case of Ireland from two different points of view. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has a right to claim that his speech was free from any tone of bitterness, and it is equally true of the speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Divison of Liverpool and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Clare. But these temperate speeches, delivered by men who studiously avoided any bitterness and whom, I think, might claim that they are absolutely free from any sense of bitterness, does create in me a greater sense of the difficulty of settling 455 the Irish question than almost the most violent speeches I have ever heard; because they indicate to me how little each understoood the point of view of the other and to what an extent they are separated in their outlook towards the Empire and towards the United Kingdom. That is one of the fundamental difficulties, undoubtedly, in settling the Irish question. There is no doubt at all that any settlement which would be acceptable to the Irish people as a whole would be welcomed with great satisfaction and delight by the whole of the people of the United Kingdom. I think that is an axiom common to all parties, and when we listened to the very able statement of my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Divison, and to the most moving appeal from the hon. and gallant Member for Clare, I am sure there was only one general feeling in this House—what a grief it is that it is not possible for Irishmen, who have shown such devotion to the cause of the Empire; what a grief it is that, somehow or other, they could not find a means of uniting for the purpose of governing their own country in the interests of that country and in the interests of the Empire as a whole. But I think the general feeling of all Britishers—Englishmen, Scotsmen, and Welshmen—is one of real anxiety that the Irish question should be settled, not merely for the sake of Ireland, but for the sake of the Empire. There is also a feeling that in the settlement of all these questions the dominant consideration must be its effect on the conduct of the War. There are many grievances, social, economic, and national—national grievances are by no means confined to Ireland—which ought to be redressed and which must be redressed before this country can claim that its laws are as equitable as we desire them to be. But, unfortunately, the settlement of many of these grievances provoke controversies which divide the nation, and the sense of self-preservation of all the belligerent Powers teaches them one thing—that they must postpone controversies that impair the national unity during the progress of the War, inasmuch as national unity is essential to national safety.
The view taken by the present Government is the view taken by its two predecessors; in fact, we have not departed in the slightest degree from the attitude taken by our predecessors towards this question. There must be no attempt to 456 settle questions that would provoke civil disturbance in any part of the United Kingdom and rend in twain perhaps the whole of the United Kingdom into two-rival warring factions. That is unthinkable in the middle of a great war. The only question we can consider is this, whether, subject to that essential condition, it is possible to achieve a settlement of this very vast question which would be acceptable to both sections in Ireland, and, consequently, to every section in the United Kingdom. In order to do so we-must face facts. There was one phrase used by my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division which, I think, went to the very root of the whole of our difficulties, when he referred to the constant misunderstandings between Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Whatever happens, there ought to be no misunderstandings as to what the attitude of Great Britain is towards a settlement of the Irish question, and the first essential condition is that we should recognise what the fundamental facts of the Irish situation are. Well, now, there are two fundamental facts in my judgment—one, apt to-be ignored by one set of controversialists, and the other equally ignored by another set of controversialists. And yet a recognition of both these facts is a condition of any possible settlement of the Irish question. Now, what is the first? The first is this, that centuries of ruthless and often brutal injustice—what is worse, when you are dealing with a high-spirited and sensitive people?—centuries of insolence and of insult—have driven hatred of British rule into the very marrow of the Irish race, the long record of oppression, proscription and expatriation, the greatest blot on the-British fame for equity and common sense in the realm of government. Ireland, undoubtedly, is the one taunt that stings. Fortunately that does not complete the story. But it is an essential part of the story when you are dealing with a long-memoried race, and any man who ignores or forgets it does not approach a settlement of the question with a knowledge of the essential facts.
But it is not the whole story. For over a generation there has been a change in the attitude of Great Britain towards Ireland—a change which has effected a complete transformation in the economic conditions of Ireland to begin with. There is a very remarkable quotation which my hon. Friend has just quoted, two or three-lines from a speech delivered by the hon. 457 and learned Member for Waterford in 1915, at an Australian banquet. At the expense of detaining the House I think it worth while my quoting the whole of that speech, because it is a better summary of what has happened in Ireland during the last thirty or forty years than anything I have ever read or seen. He refers to the fact of what the condition of Ireland was thirty or forty years ago, when he first visited Australia.
I went to Australia,he said,to make an appeal on behalf of an enslaved, famine-hunted, despairing people, a people in the throes of a semi-revolution, bereft of all political liberties and engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the system of a most brutal and drastic coercion.Then he goes on, and every sentence here is worth quoting.
Only thirty-three or thirty-four years have passed since then, but what a revolution has occurred in the interval. To-day the people, broadly speaking, own the soil; to-day the labourers live in decent habitations; to-day there is absolute freedom in the local government and the local taxation of the country: to-day we have the widest Parliament in the municipal franchise; to-day we know that the evicted tenants who are the wounded soldiers of the land war have been restored to their homes or to other homes as good as those from which they had been originally driven. We know that the congested districts, the scene of some of the most awful horrors of the old famine days, have been transformed, that the farms have been enlarged, decent dwellings have been provided, and a new spirit of hope and independence is to-day amongst the people. We know that the towns legislation has been passed facilitating the housing of the working classes. So far as the town tenants are concerned, we have this consolation, that we have passed for Ireland an Act whereby they are protected against arbitrary eviction, and are given compensation not only for disturbance from their homes but for the goodwill of the business they had created—a piece of legislation far in advance of anything obtained for the town tenants of England. I may add far in advance of any legislation obtained for the town tenants of any other country.I tried to get it three or four years ago.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
For England.We know that we have at last won educational freedom in university education for most of the youth of Ireland, and we know that in primary and standard education the thirty-four years that have passed have witnessed an enormous advance in efficiency and in the means provided for bringing efficiency about. To-day we have a system of old age pensions in Ireland whereby every old man and woman over seventy is saved from the workhouse free to spend their last days in comparative comfort.And, may I add, they are receiving between them probably more in the pension than they earned in their lifetime in wages.We have a system of national industrial insurance which provides for the health of the people 458 and makes it impossible for the poor hard-working man and woman when sickness comes to the door to be carried away to the workhouse hospital, and makes it certain that they will receive decent Christian treatment during their illness.I am glad he has made the Insurance Act the climax of all the benefits.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman how many Irish Members of Parliament were sent to gaol for fighting for these things?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I was going to add that this brilliant record of legislative achievement is largely attributable to the efforts of the powerful party of which the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Redmond) is the distinguished Leader, and of which my hon. Friend (Mr. Devlin) is such a distinguished orator. There is no doubt about that. Ireland is more prosperous than she has ever been. She is profiting greatly at this moment by the very distresses of Great Britain. Her labourers have just been guaranteed by the State a wage which is double what they formerly earned. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not true."] Twenty-five shillings is certainly twice what they were earning. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] At any rate, they have been guaranteed a minimum wage considerably above what they were earning before. I want to show that the discontent of Ireland is not material, but still there remains one invincible fact. After all this great record of beneficent legislation, in spite of the fact that Ireland is more materially prosperous than she has ever been, there remains the one invincible fact to-day that she is no more reconciled to British rule than she was in the days of Cromwell. It proves that the grievance is not a material one. It is something which has to do with the pride and self-respect of the people. I entreat the House of Commons and the British people to get that well into their mind. It is a fact which must be grasped by the House of Commons or by any Government which means to attempt a settlement of this question. The other fact is that in the northeastern portion of Ireland you have a population as hostile to Irish rule as the rest of Ireland is to British rule, yea, and as ready to rebel against this as the rest of Ireland is against British rule.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Let us get at the facts. As alien in blood, in religious faith, in traditions, in outlook—as alien from the rest of Ireland in this respect as the inhabitants of Fife or Aberdeen. It; is no use mincing words. Let us have a clear understanding. To place them under national rule against their will would be as glaring an outrage on the principles of liberty and self-government as the denial of self-government would be for the rest of Ireland. It would be a stupid way of attempting to redress the past in Ireland by repeating in Ulster the fatal error of Irish misgovernment, to reproduce the condition of the past in a corner of Ireland, whilst you are redressing the past in the rest of Ireland. It would be government against the will of the people. Those are the facts and there are two questions to be asked by all of us. The first is this. Are the people of this country prepared to confer self-government on the parts of Ireland which un-mistakeably demand it? The answer which I give on behalf of the Cabinet is that the Government are firmly of that opinion, and they are firmly of the opinion that that represents the views of the vast majority of the people of this country. The next point is this. Are the people of this country prepared to force the population of the North-Eastern corner of Ireland to submit to be governed by a population with whom they are completely out of sympathy In ray judgment, and here I speak on behalf of the Government, there is but one answer to that. They are not. Here the Government are in complete accord with the declarations by my right hon. Friend who was at the head of the two previous Governments and we stand by those declarations.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
The right hon. Gentleman has stated that he is prepared to give Home Rule to those portions of Ireland that want it. I want to know will he give Home Rule to West Belfast?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that there might be communities even in the South of Ireland which would want to be treated similarly. There would certainly be communities in the included parts of Ulster which are so overwhelmingly Protestant that they might ask for the same treatment. Let me quote a speech made by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) on 15th September, 1914. The special im- 460 portance of it is derived from the fact that it was made before recruiting in Ireland began. Whoever joined the British Army and fought for the British cause and for the British flag must have known the conditions under which he joined the Army. My right hon. Friend said:I say, speaking again on behalf of the Government, that in our view, under the conditions which now exist, we must all recognise the atmosphere which this great patriotic spirit of Union has created in the country—the employment of force, any kind of force, for what you call the coercion of Ulster is an absolutely unthinkable thing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th September, 1914, col. 892. Vol. LXVI.]My right hon. Friend made the same declaration several times after that. I only want to make it clear that we are not departing in the least from the policy laid down by him on several occasions in this House, that while he was prepared, not merely himself, but as spokesman on behalf first of all of the Liberal and afterwards of the Coalition Government, to extend full self-government to the parts of Ireland that demand it: he wanted to make it clear that he was not prepared to use force in order to include any part of Ireland within the ambit of that self-government which protested against it. That is the position which he took and it is the position which the present Government also takes. I should like to know this: Is there any party of Home Rulers in this House who contemplate the using of force to compel the North-Eastern section of Ireland to submit itself to the governance of an Irish Parliament? My right hon. Friend has spoken for the Liberal party. I ask my Friends of the Labour party are they in favour of coercing the North-Eastern part of Ireland into a Home Rule settlement? I am prepared to ask the same question of my friends of the Nationalist party. I could quote a statement made by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Redmond) in which he made it perfectly clear that he certainly would not assent to such a course, and I think that is the view taken by the hon. Member (Mr. W. O'Brien) and those associated with him, and yet this is a fundamental question. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Herbert Samuel), speaking on behalf of the Government, made this statement on 18th October last year, and I do not know that I am giving any secret away when I say that he was making the statement at the unanimous request of his colleagues. My recollection is that he submitted it. It really goes so much to the 461 root of the whole question that I do not know that there is anything I can add. This is what he said:The great bulk of the people of Ireland were not prepared to accept a scheme which did not involve the automatic inclusion at some period of the six counties of Ulster. On the other hand, the six counties of Ulster refused to accept any scheme which did involve such automatic inclusion. I conclude with these few words: Are Irish Members prepared to leave out the six counties until they are ready to come in? No. If not, are they ready to wait for Home Rule until the six counties are willing to be included? No. If neither of these, are they prepared to coerce Ulster? The answer is, No. It has again and again been given by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford and others of his colleagues that they are not prepared to contemplate armed coercion in Ireland. If they are not willing to leave Ulster out until she is ready to come in, and if they are not prepared to wait for Home Rule until Ulster is ready to come in, what is their proposals? That is the difficulty which those of us in the Government, and in this House, who earnestly desire to secure a satisfactory settlement of the Irish question—that is the dilemma in which we are placed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th October, 1916, col. 691, Vol. LXXXVI]That represents absolutely the position of the Government at this very hour. Let me make quite clear once again to my hon. Friends from Ireland what is the position Irishmen can at any time, with the substantial consent of all parties, secure self-government for that part of the country which demands it by an unmistakable voice.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
But no party will support a demand that Ulster should be forced into a settlement. Does that mean that Ireland is to be permanently divided?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Not only is that not true, but the hon. Gentleman knows it is not true. That is the attitude I have always taken in regard to Ulster. I am not deviating a hair's breadth from the line I have taken for the last five or six years in regard to Ulster. I ask my colleagues whether that is not so. I am supporting at the present moment absolutely the attitude taken by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal party (Mr. Asquith), who was the head of the two late Governments. I am not deviating from the position which he took up.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
May I ask, if those were the right hon. Gentlemen's convictions, why was the Home Rule Bill first introduced by the Government, of which he was, next to the Prime Minister, the chief member, with Home Rule for all Ireland?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I say at once, whatever my views were, I accept full responsibility for the line which we took after discussion in the Cabinet upon that point. I want to say—and it is not only my own view, but I think it is the view of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith)—that he never contemplated, and I certainly never contemplated, the prospect of coercing Ulster into acceptance of Home Rule.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The hon. Member knows perfectly well that that is not accurate. I have never hidden my views on that subject from anyone. I was dealing with the question as to whether this means the permanent division of Ireland. I believe that an attempt to force Ulster in would mean the permanent division of Ireland. On the contrary, I believe that a frank acceptance of the position that Ulster is not to be brought in against her will, and that she can only be brought in when she expresses willingness to do so, is more likely to achieve the and of a united Ireland a hundred times than anything in the nature of a coercive measure. Ulster would be given facilities to come in; Ulster might be given inducements to come in. Her willing presence would be a source of strength, not merely to Ireland, but, through Ireland, to the Empire. Her forced presence would be a source of trouble, irritation, and dissension, and, ultimately, of disruption in Ireland. Why not accept that fact? There is not an Irish Member who does not know it in his heart. If we attempt to force her she would not remain, and British opinion would support her demand that she should not. The ideal to be aimed at is national unity for Ireland, and the surest method of obtaining it is the method of affording facilities for Ulster to come in, and inducements for Ulster to come in, and I believe that ultimately, and at no distant date, she would come in on those terms. I am putting what we are prepared to do now, not something which we would be prepared to do at the end of the War, but what we would be prepared to do as a Government now and what we should 463 invite the House of Commons to do if it were acceptable to Ireland. I want that to be clearly understood. Of course, there are a great many questions of detail which might be discussed in regard to the application of Home Rule to Ireland. Things have happened since the War which make it necessary to reconsider financial questions. All these things should be considered either by a conference amongst Irishmen which could best discuss these matters- there is nothing that would please Great Britain better than to see Irishmen putting their heads together in order to try to agree upon some basis of a common understanding—or these questions of detail might be thrashed out by a Commission. But the statement I have made is the general principle on which the Government stands.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) appealed to the opinion of civilisation. I am not in the least afraid of submitting the proposal of the Government to the judgment of any unbiassed friend of Ireland in any quarter of the globe. I put it again, and I want not merely Irishmen to know, but I want men outside the confines of the United Kingdom and of the British Empire to know what it is to-day we offer. It is that the part of Ireland that clearly demands home Rule—self-government—shall get it.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am quite content that that statement should go with the only answer that has been given. Beyond that we shall not undertake for the Government neither during nor after the War—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I want to find anybody in this House who could constitute a Government who would say that even after the War he is prepared to go before the electorate of this country with 464 the policy of stating that he would employ British force in order to compel the northeastern portion of Ireland to submit to any other than their present rule. I do not believe that any responsible leader of British opinion would make that statement. My hon. Friend spoke about the analogy of Poland. I am not in the least afraid of taking the analogy of Poland upon the basis of what i am presenting now. Supposing Germany were to say to Poland. "We are willing to give self-government for the whole of Poland in our dominions to those Poles who ask for it." Supposing there was a portion of Poland where, if you like, Saxons were settled, and they said, "We are not Poles, the Poles are Catholics and we are Protestants. We do not wish to be under Polish rule. We prefer to remain under German rule, and, more than that, if you force us under Polish rule we will actually fight against it."
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The hon. Member asks me a question. I will tell him the answer. I say to them, "You can have self-government for your country if you want it, but we will not put under your heels people who do not want your government." That would be my answer. Let me finish the analogy. Supposing Germany said, "Well, we will give you every facility to come under Polish rule, and every inducement to come under Polish rule, and if you can agree we will set up an autonomous area for the whole of Poland, including yours." Is there any man in the whole civilised world who would say that under those conditions Germany was oppressing Poland?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We listened with very great patience and appreciation to the statement presented by my hon. Friends on behalf of Ireland, and I ask 465 my hon. Friend to listen to the statement which I am making, which is made after very careful consideration by the British Government in the middle of a terrible war. Take the case of Hungary. What has been the trouble in Hungary? It has been that Hungary has demanded not merely self-government for its own population, the Magyars, but has insisted that it should also govern the people of different populations, Roumanians and Slavonics, who are completely out of sympathy with it—people of a different religion. What has been the result? It has been the bane of Hungary. It has robbed Hungary of the very semblance of liberty, because they would insist that because all these people were in the ancient Kingdom of Hungary they must perforce come in, whether they wished it or not. And I say as a Home Ruler—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—I say in all solemnity that if an attempt were made to force Ulster in, in a settlement of Ireland, it would be the curse of Ireland. I thought it important that whatever happened there should be no mistake about the attitude of the Government. There is nothing which is more fatal than misunderstandings, and we have had misunderstandings enough. We still say that we are prepared to extend self-government to the country that asks for it. We are not prepared to extend it to a country that docs not ask for it.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
The right hon. Gentleman says that we should be frank with each other. Will the right hon. Gentleman be sufficiently frank with the House of Commons as to tell us clearly and unmistakably what he means by that part of Ireland which wants it and that part which does not?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I have already stated my view on that. I cannot undertake, nor can the Government undertake, a geographical survey. The whole point is, are hon. Members from Ireland prepared to accept that principle? If they are prepared to accept that principle there are ways and means by which it can be worked out. I am only now laying down general principles. If we began to discuss geographical limitations they would be not merely endless, but futile and very dangerous.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Therefore, in order to make clear what the attitude of the Government is upon this subject, I will 466 end by proposing an Amendment to the House. We are anxious to ensure peace and reconciliation between these two peoples who have been so long severed by bitter strife. [An HON. MEMBER: "Let us alone."] Unfortunately that cannot be done. Ireland is as dependent on Great Britain, and even more so, than Great Britain is upon Ireland. By their contiguity nature has intended that they should be partners, and I wish in my heart that that partnership could be established on a firm and solid basis. [An HON. MEMBER:"A free basis."] And on a free basis, but with freedom for the whole of the people. Freedom means freedom for all, not merely for a section. [HON. MEMBERS: "Are you free now?" and "Carson's Cabinet."] Therefore I propose the following Amendment: "To omit all words from the word 'that' down to the end of the Question, and to insert instead thereof the words 'this House would welcome a settlement which would produce a better understanding between Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, but considers it impossible to impose by force on any section or part of Ireland a form of government which has not their consent'"
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I was not aware, nor do I think that the House was aware, that the right hon. Gentleman intended to propose an Amendment to this Resolution, and as the terms of the Amendment, of course, have only just been announced, I can only say, speaking on the spur of the moment, that they appear to me to be a proposition which no one disputes. Therefore I should doubt whether it was worth the while of this House to record it on the Minutes of its proceedings; but I want, if I may, in the very few moments during which I shall trespass on your attention—and I say so without any disrespect to my right hon. Friend—to bring us back to the earlier atmosphere and the appeal which we had at the close of the speech of the hon. Member for Clare (Major Redmond). I do not think that any speech which has been made for a long time past, has gone more closely to the heart and conscience of this House as a whole, and when we recognise to the full the enormous—hitherto they have proved insurmountable—practical difficulties of bringing about an Irish settlement, I do not believe that there is a man among us who does not feel that now in the stress of this War, with the common emotions and the common sacrifices which the War has brought about among all sections of our 467 country, we should not only be removing from within our own borders a source of permanent weakness, but we should be in every way strengthening ourselves in the great contest in which we are engaged, if by general consent we can bring about here and now a settlement of this secular and hitherto insoluble problem. I am sure that I have the unanimous assent of the House to that proposition. Let me go one step further. I will call attention for a moment or two to one or two statements which have been made by my right hon. Friend, not in any controversial spirit. But before I do so I may say that I agree entirely with the glowing—I do not think the adjective is too strong—account which was given by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford as to the material progress which has been made by Ireland during the course of the last thirty years, and so far from minimising, I say that it emphasises the importance of bringing about such a settlement as we all desire. My right hon. Friend, I am sure, will quite agree with that.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Through the combined, common, joint efforts of all parties in this Parliament, largely through the stimulus and initiative of the Irish party themselves, such a large measure of amelioration as has been described has been achieved in the social and economic conditions of Ireland within the lifetime of one generation, yet so strong, so intense, so ineradicable is the sentiment which still remains that it prevents full and true-hearted fusion. My right hon. Friend and I quite agree. He not only saw the force of the argument, but he himself emphasised it, and I wish to repeat it, and, if possible, to reiterate what he said. Therefore we are face to face with this situation, that whatever you do in the way of legislative and administrative reform in the direction of economic and social improvement in Ireland, you have not got to the root of the difficulty. You have not really brought about even the first conditions of that approximation to a permanent reconciliation which it has been the reproach of British statesmanship not to have attained and which it ought to be the aim of British statesmanship in the middle of this War to achieve once for all. Since last summer, when the agreement which seemed on the point of completion—largely negotiated by the patriotic efforts of my right hon. Friend himself—un- 468 happily broke down, I think I am using cautious and moderate language when I say that the situation in Ireland has not improved. I do not go the full length of the statement which was made or suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division in his general proposition, that there had not only not been an improvement, but that there had been a deterioration in the situation in Ireland. Though there has been a large access of material prosperity, yet that there has been no improvement in the situation in Ireland is a general proposition to which we will all yield a reluctant assent. So far as I have any opportunity of judging, I do not think that there is likely to be a recrudescence of rebellion. The forces at the disposal of the Executive appear to be such that if there were men still mad enough to contemplate such a foolhardy, desperate enterprise it would result in complete disaster to them and 10 their cause. But there are symptoms—I will refer to them very briefly and purposely very lightly—which I think must fill everybody who is acquainted with the past history of the two countries with profound disquiet.
§ 7.0 P.M.
Let me mention one. At Christmas time last year the Government., wisely, as I think, released the prisoners who had been deported to and interned in this country, and sent them back to their homes. It was an experiment it in some ways. It was a risky experiment, but it was an experiment which, in my opinion, was well worth making, and, so far as the large majority of the prisoners are concerned, so far as I know, no mischief has resulted. But for reasons which I can- not doubt, though I do not known any of the details, are grave and substantial, in a number of cases the Irish Executive has felt compelled to go back on its acts of clemency, and again to deport these men from their native land. That is a very serious circumstance. Martial law, it has often been pointed out in the course of these Debates, in Ireland is more of a phrase than a fact or reality, but the fact remains.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
My hon. Friend will see, if he bears with me, that it really is so. The fact remains that even in the 469 middle of a war upon which the thoughts, hopes, and anxieties of the whole Empire are concentrated, in Ireland the Executive feel obliged, for purposes of internal safety, to have recourse to an exceptional procedure of this kind. I am not for a moment criticising their actions, but the fact that they do feel compelled, for internal security, at such a time to adopt such a procedure, is a circumstance which no one of us, who has any concern or responsibility for the government of this Empire, can contemplate without uneasiness and solicitude. We should be living in a fool's paradise of the most flimsy possible kind were we to ignore considerations of that kind. This War has imposed upon us many burdens which are courageously and cheerfully borne, because they are burdens not of our making, but which have resulted from our spontaneously taking up what we believe to be a great and righteous cause. But this additional burden which Ireland casts upon us, so wanton, so unnecessary, so discrediting to the past traditions and instincts of British statesmanship, is a burden of our own making. It is made here at home. What I want to take advantage of by this Motion is to say to the House, in the same spirit in which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Clare finished his speech, and with all the solemnity and earnestness I can command, cannot we make a united effort to throw it from our shoulders. I do not go back for a moment, or by an inch, from any of the declarations my right hon. Friend has quoted. They represented, when they were made, my settled convictions, which were shared by my colleagues, when I announced them in the name of two successive Ministries, and from which I have not seen and shall not see any occasion to depart.
But what is the situation? On the one hand the Home Rule Act, granting self-government to Ireland is on the Statute Book of the Realm. On the other hand, as I have said in the statements which have been quoted, this Parliament will not, in my opinion, be a party to the imposition, by force, on loyal Irishmen of a system of rule which is repugnant to their convictions, and, as they think, their interests. Here I take note of the important declaration made by my right hon. Friend just now on behalf, not only of himself, but his colleagues. I do not want to go into controversial matters unduly, but it will be remembered that when the Home Rule Bill was in course of dis- 470 cussion and consideration here, the claim put forward on behalf of a certain section of Ireland was to veto Home Rule for Ireland as a whole, because it was so resisted and resented in a certain part of Ireland. I remember well, when an Amendment was moved in Committee, in the very early stages of that Bill, for the exclusion of Ulster, or certain selected counties of Ulster, it was opposed by representatives of the North and East of Ireland, on the ground that this alone would not in the least reconcile them, but that it would be imposing upon their fellow-countrymen a burden which they would not stand.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
The previous Home Rule Bill; not the one introduced in the last Parliament?
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I think my recollection is perfectly right, but we can consult the records. That is my recollection; I think I am right. What my right hon. Friend has said to-night, speaking as head of the Government on behalf his colleagues, I understand to be this: They recognise that the Home Rule Bill being on the Statute Book, Home Rule for Ireland, in so far as Ireland desires it, is a thing which they will no longer resist. I very much welcome that declaration. Unless we make a declaration of political bankruptcy, unless we are to show ourselves incapable of dealing with a problem with which we have dealt in every other part of our Empire—for we have provided at least half a dozen solutions under separate conditions in different parts of the world—unless we have reached a state of insolvency in point of statesmanship, some means must be devised for reconciling interests which I agree seem to be superficially divergent in points of view, but which, put on paper, are as wide apart as the poles themselves. I want, if I can, to make a practical contribution to this-Debate, and, so far as we can, to remove ourselves from the atmosphere of controversy, and certainly of recrimination, and sec if we cannot advance a step at any rate along the road.
Let me ask the House and the country what in practice are the conceivable expedients for bringing about such a settlement. In my opinion they reduce themselves to three. In the first place, there is the plan which we attempted last year, when my right hon. Friend himself, at the instance of his colleagues and the Government, assumed the functions, on their 471 behalf, which Bismarck once called those of the "honest broker," and set up communication and negotiation with the parties interested to bring about, by a process of give and take, a reluctant though at any rate an agreed settlement. I confess I shared to the full my right hon. Friend's hope that he had succeeded in his task. His failure was, I know, to both of us a bitter disappointment. It is to less than no purpose now to review the course of those negotiations, and to attempt to apportion responsibility for their breakdown. It is sufficient to recall, starting as they did under the best possible auspices, that they did break down, and, in my judgment, no renewal of that experiment is likely to be attended with any more success. I certainly would not take the responsibility of advising the Government to adopt any such course. If that is ruled out, as I am afraid it must be, the next suggestion—and it is one I think which has been made more than once in this House, it was made by my right hon. Friend just now—is that Irishmen of all parties should be appealed to to meet and to work out a settlement among and for themselves. That, of course, would be a most excellent way if it were a possible way. Is it possible under existing conditions, or under conditions which are conceivably likely in the immediate future to arise? I am very much afraid that it is not. Who are the parties who have to be brought together? Who would bring them together? Is the vote of the majority to prevail? In that case, in what proportions are they to be respectively represented? And if the decision is only to be binding if it is unanimous, is not the whole process foredoomed to failure?
Then, if that is also for the moment, at any rate, to be dismissed, there remains what I confess, after much reflection on the matter, seems to me the only practical alternative, that Parliament should invoke the intervention of some outside and impartial authority, and entrust to it the task of adjustment as between the interests and sentiments concerned. I do not put forward the suggestion dogmatically or with any assured confidence that it will meet the necessities of the case. The difficulties are obvious and manifold. You would have to constitute an authority in whose competence and impartiality Irishmen of all parties would have faith, no easy matter, though at this moment it might, 472 I think, be facilitated by the presence within our borders of a number of distinguished Dominion statesmen statesmen from the various Dominions of the Crown, in which, as I said a few moments ago, the problem of local autonomy has presented itself in different forms and been solved in different ways. It would be essential, of course, that any such authority should act with promptitude, for every moment's delay contributes something to darken the sky and block the road, and of course its decisions as a whole should be subject to the final approval of Parliament. As I have said, I am addressing the House in a purely practical spirit, and as far as possible with no kind of controversial bias, but I would venture respectfully to submit to the Government not to dismiss without full consideration the possibility of some such plan as that which I have just sketched out.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I apologise for interrupting my right hon. Friend, but the suggestion he makes is, of course, a very important one, and naturally we should consider any suggestion that came from him. What I should like to know is this: What exactly is the character of this body to be? Is it to be a body that will inquire and report to the Government, or is it to have statutory powers and are its decisions to have statutory effect?
§ Mr. ASQUITH
No. As I thought I said a moment ago, I should make its decisions subject to the approval of Parliament. I should not give statutory effect to its decisions. I should make its decisions subject to the approval of Parliament, and I should entrust it with the power of moulding and adjusting such a scheme as would do justice to all the interests and sentiments concerned in Ireland.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
it would report in the sense of presenting a scheme for Parliament to accept or reject. Parliament would retain final and complete authority over whatever suggested scheme this authority might make.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I do not commit myself to the precise composition of it. Why should I? I am throwing out this as a suggestion. I say that the presence of 473 these eminent Dominion statesmen in the country at this moment does seem to me to afford material, which we might otherwise have to look in vain for, for the composition of a body which would command general confidence, and which would be regarded by the Irish people of all sections as authoritative, and which would have special sources of information and experience which are not open to the bulk of us here. I think I have answered the Prime Minister. As I said, I do not put this forward dogmatically, but I do put it forward as a matter well worthy of the consideration of the Government and of the House. I would venture to appeal to the House, if I may, before I sit down, once more, to regard this as a matter of real practical urgency to be calmly and dispassionately reviewed in the spirit, I am glad to say, of all the speeches made hitherto in this Debate, but with the deep feeling every one of us ought to share, that if we neglect this opportunity, an opportunity which may never recur, of dealing once and for all with what is the standing problem, and, I will venture to say, the standing reproach, to British statesmanship, we shall have the heavy account to settle with posterity that we shall not have done our duty to the generation in which we live.
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND
I had hoped that it would not have been necessary for the to take part in this Debate at all, and indeed, although I feel that I must say something I feel it would be impossible for me to say more than a few words. I will deal with the speech of the Prime Minister first and with what has fallen from the ex-Prime Minister afterwards. I must say at once that I listened to the speech of the Prime Minister with the deepest pain. The right hon. Gentleman gave us, in the course of his speech, profuse assurances that he was in favour of Home Rule, of the principle of Home Rule. Those professions on his part are absolutely unnecessary. We have known the right hon. Gentleman for many years in this House and in this country and we know that he has never disguised the fact, that he has advocated Home Rule, and that he has always declared openly he was in favour of it. The position he is in to-day, however, is a position he was never in before. To-day he is in the position of having the power. If he has the will and courage to use it, of putting those professions into practice. This is not in my opinion an occasion for 474 words or for professions of loyalty to a principle, but it is an occasion for action. I remember when the right hon. Gentleman made his first speech after becoming Prime Minister that he spoke in a very general way about Ireland, and that subsequently when I endeavoured to call him to task for not having spoken with some definiteness about a settlement of the Irish, question he reproached me with not making proper allowance for the fact that owing to a regrettable illness he had not really had time to consider it. I was very-sorry indeed that he thought I was guilty of any discourtesy to him at that time. But he has had time now. He has had weeks and months to consider this matter and when we come down here and ask from him, not expressions simply of sympathy with the cause of Home Rule, with the principle of Home Rule, but when we-come down here and ask him for action, what does his speech amount to? Stripped of all those expressions of good will and of sympathy for Home Rule, what is the naked reality of his speech. The policy, the war policy, of the right hon. Gentleman has been very clearly before the country. It was that war policy of his that has put him in his present place, and that war policy was that every necessity, every war necessity, big and little, should be dealt with quickly, promptly, and with courage. Do it, and do it at once. That is the motto by virtue of which he has found himself in the position in which he now stands. After listening to his speech on Ireland it is quite evident that so far as, the question of Irish reconciliation is concerned, that being by universal admission, by his own admission and by the universal admission of all parties, a great war necessity, on that great war necessity his policy is a policy absolutely of Wait and See.
The right hon. Gentleman (the Prime-Minister) has to-day made no proposal. The right hon. Gentleman has suggested to us that we should enter into negotiations again to see whether we cannot agree about some delimitation of Ireland, and that if we do succeed in negotiations of that kind that then the Government will be prepared to ask the House of Commons to give effect to it. I take leave to tell him, and I do not want to be drawn further than I am forced in this matter, I take leave to tell him that after my experience of the last negotiations that I will enter into no more negotiations. The 475 effect of those negotiations was simply this. We were asked to agree to certain proposals which were put in writing. After great difficulty, much against the grain, and realising all the unpopularity of the position we were taking up, we agreed to that. We were then asked to go over to our fellow-countrymen and ask for their consent, and before going we asked if we came back with that consent would there be any attempt to enlarge them, or would the people responsible for them stand by them. We got that assurance, and without that assurance we would never have gone and asked our people to consent. When we came back with that consent in our pockets then we were faced with a variation of the contract, alterations and changes that we could not agree to, and that were never submitted to our friends in Ireland, and after that experience I, for one, will enter into no further negotiations. The right hon. Gentleman has been very strong in denouncing the idea of the coercion of Ulster, but he will remember, incidentally I may remark, that in those proposals of his last July there was a proposal that two counties in Ulster which are by a majority in favour of Home Rule and Nationalists should be coerced out of Home Rule. I take his position to be this, that so long as there is a portion of Ireland, a portion of Ulster, no matter how small, which says that it will not have Home Rule, that Home Rule, therefore, cannot be carried for the whole of Ireland. Is a minority of that kind to have power over a majority for ever? What would have happened in Canada when you settled the question of self-government if that principle prevailed? Was there no so-called loyal minority in Canada? Read again Lord Durham's Report, and there you will see that Home Rule for Canada was carried over the heads of your so-called loyal minority. What about Home Rule in the Transvaal? Was there not a so-called British minority in the Transvaal as there was here, Heaven knows, strong enough in this House and the House of Lords, and which protested in the most vehement way their opposition to extending Home Rule in the Transvaal? Their opposition was brushed on one side by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and the will of the overwhelming majority of the people was given effect to.
What will be the effect of this Debate when it is read throughout the world? In 476 my opinion the effect will be most injurious to the best interests of the Empire. I am perfectly certain that Germany, which has been, as we know, fomenting disorder and trouble in Ireland for a very long time, and which no doubt is fomenting disorder and trouble in Ireland again at this moment as far as it is able—Germany will chuckle with delight when it reads the attitude taken up by the right hon. Gentleman, because Germany will know that he is playing right into the hands of those in Ireland who are trying to destroy the constitutional movement. What will be the effect in neutral countries? What will be the effect in America? I speak not now of the Irish-Americans, but of Americans. The right hon. Gentleman says he would not be afraid to go with his proposition about never coercing a minority—no matter where or when or how small—that he would not be afraid to go to America with that in his hand. But how did America deal with minorities when they attempted to stand in the way of the unity, the prosperity, and the liberties of their country? We all know. The doctrine of rule by the majority, of all doctrines held sacred in America, is probably the one held most sacred there. What will the effect of this Debate be in the Dominions? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square (Sir George Reid), I am sure now feels he made a great mistake in putting his Motion on the Paper. I do not personally regard that Motion as a Motion hostile to Home Rule on its merits, and I do not think he so intended it, but it was undoubtedly a Motion for putting off, with a long finger, any possibility of granting Home Rule to Ireland. Since then the Senate of the Australian Commonwealth, by an enormous majority, have passed a Resolution begging this Government in the interests of the Empire—a Resolution not prompted by Irishmen or moved or seconded by Irishmen, but supported by men of all parties in the Seriate—begging of this Parliament of this House not to lose the opportunity of, in the interest of Empires, of settling this question.
And how will this Debate be received at the front? The House was impressed by the speech delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for East Clare (Major Redmond), and I think—I feel sure—no one, no matter what his politics may be will doubt the truth of the statements that he made, or question his authority to make-them. He has told you of those tens of thousands of 477 Irishmen in the trenches to whom this Debate will be a heartbreak. He was right in saying it would not affect their loyalty or their gallantry. It will not. They have earned for themselves again the old title they had hundreds of years ago in the time of the old Irish Brigade—Semper et ubique fidelis, I am not saying by way of threat that your action will affect their loyalty or their gallantry. It will not. But it may take the heart out of many a man now fighting in the trenches, who has felt that he was not only fighting for the abstract principles of right, liberty, and justice, but incidentally for the rights and liberties and of justice for his own people.
Then, in Ireland itself, most important and serious of all, what impression will this Debate create? I am inclined to agree fully with what has been said by the ex-Prime Minister about that. I believe the condition of Ireland—I have no official knowledge at all; I never had, even in the time of the late Chief Secretary—but from my own observation and information which comes to me, I am inclined to agree with the view that the condition of Ireland is very serious at this moment—that there are men in Ireland, serious men, men of ability, men with command of money, who are bent on the enterprise of smashing the constitutional movement. I say that the attitude taken by the Government tonight plays directly into the hands of these men. After forty years of labour on constitutional lines, we had practically banished the revolutionary party from Ireland. Now again after forty years it has risen. There has been raised in Ireland an issue which will have to be faced and have to be decided. For my part I should be glad to see it decided to-morrow morning in every constituency in Ireland, whatever the consequences may be and whoever wins. The worst thing is to have this, I will not say smouldering, but this growing fire, this growing trouble and discontent. Therefore, I would be glad if it were possible to-morrow to see the matter brought to the test in every constituency in Ireland.
That great issue is whether Ireland will still rely, as she has been doing for so many years, upon constitutional action to obtain her national rights, or whether she will go back to the methods and ideas of revolution. My hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), who opened this Debate, was quite right in saying, when war broke out, these men were a negligible 478 quantity in Ireland. It is quite true that the appeal I felt it my duty to make on behalf of the Allies created enthusiasm in the country. That was gradually killed. It was killed by the suspicion which was instilled in the minds of almost everybody, and finally it was killed by the creation of the Coalition Government and by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson) joining that Government. It was impossible to take away out of the minds of the Irish people the suspicion that the right hon. Gentleman, having been installed as Attorney - General in that Coalition Government, he would be in a position in which he would have the power of preventing the possibility of the Home Rule Act being put into operation. I know in this contest between Constitutionalism and Revolution there are some men who are so wild and bitter in their Hatred of Home Rule that they wished "God-speed" to the revolution. There are some such men outside the House, some in the. Press, and some inside this House. I do not know whether the Prime Minister heard the statement made by the hon. and gallant Member for Enfield (Major Newman) the other day, in which he said it ho had been in North Roscommon he would have voted for Count Plunket. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not an Irish Member!"] I did not say it was an Irish Member; I said it was the Member for Enfield in this country. He is a type, if you like, of the English Members who are so inveterate in their hatred of Home Rule that they wished "God-speed" to the revolution and looked for the destruction of the constitutional movement.
§ Major NEWMAN
What I said was, I would vote for the Sinn Fein Member to smash your party. [An HON. MEMBER: "And that is a loyalist!"]
§ Mr. REDMOND
The House ought to be grateful to the hon. Member for his manly candour. If by your action to-day you are undoubtedly making the constitutional movement more difficult, and if the constitutional movement disappears, I beg the Prime Minister to take note that he will find himself face to face with a revolutionary movement, and he will find it impossible to preserve—there is no good in him thinking he can do it any of the forms even of constitutionalism. He will have to govern Ireland by the naked sword. I cannot picture to myself a condition of things in which the right hon. Gentleman, with his record behind him would be an instrument to carry out a 479 government of that kind in Ireland. But that is what he must come to if he persists in taking a course which plays right into the hands of the revolutionists and weakens and tends to destroy the constitutional party.
One word about the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the late Prime Minister. It is a rather strange thing that the only approach to a practical suggestion should come, not from the Government, but from the Opposition. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is no Opposition!"] I will say not from the Government, but from a Member who is not in the Government. Any suggestion coming from the right hon. Gentleman is weighty and deserves every possible consideration, but he cannot. in his position now of more freedom and less responsibility, expect me to deal seriously with his suggestion beyond just saying that if the Government choose to make any proposal of any sort or kind, then it will be considered on its merits. I think it will be a great reproach to the Government if they allow this Debate to pass over without some attempt at a practical suggestion. I say this plainly. No British statesman, no matter what his platonic affection for Home Rule may have been in the past, no matter what party he may belong to, no British statesman who—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I ought, perhaps, to have done so some time ago. I do not think he has done justice to my speech. All I suggest is, if ho will take the trouble to read carefully that speech, he will find that I made two or three suggestions. I do not say they are suggestions which will appeal to him, but I do ask him to do me the justice of seeing what those suggestions are.
§ Mr. REDMOND
The last time I spoke upon this matter I said that in my opinion the Government ought to take their courage in their hands, come down to the House of Commons, and make a definite proposal. That they have not done. I say, no matter who he is, any British statesman who by his conduct once again teaches the Irish people the lesson that any National leader who, taking his political life in his hands, endeavours to combine local and Imperial patriotism, endeavours to combine loyalty to Ireland's rights with loyalty to the Empire—anyone who again teaches the lesson that 480 such a man is certain to be let down and betrayed by this course, is guilty of treason, not merely to the liberties of Ireland, but to the unity, strength, and best interests of this Empire. That is the course which, in my judgment, the Irish people will recognise as having been taken by you, and I warn you of the consequences. How far this action may make constitutional action in Ireland in the future impossible I cannot now say. Certainly the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, his utter refusal to come down, on the responsibility of the Government, with some definite plan, and to make an appeal to the patriotism of the First Lord of the Admiralty, makes one pause. Why should all appeals be made to us? Why cannot he—he is capable of it, I am sure, what prevents him?—why cannot he rise to the height of sacrifice demanded of him, come forward, and agree to a proposal which he knows will be accepted by the whole of Ireland, and would end this wretched business?
§ Mr. REDMOND
Surrender! There is the spirit! What I mean by what I have said is, put the Home Rule Act into operation. [Interruption.] Hon. Members ask me what I mean, and then they will not listen. It is not reasonable. Put the Home Rule Act into operation with such additions, amendments, and changes as-the passage of time and the altered circumstances render necessary. Do that on your own responsibility. Come forward on your own responsibility, and do not ask us into your back parlours for any more negotiations. When you bring your measure down to this House, say to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty that it is his duty to his King and country to make the sacrifice necessary for the cause. What has happened in this Debate makes one thing, at any rate, quite certain—it necessitates a reconsideration of our position on the part of my colleagues and myself. For us to get up one after another now and continue this Debate after what has been said would be absolutely futile. I would appeal to my colleagues, instead of continuing this Debate, to let the House do what it likes with the Resolution and with this precious Amendment which has been moved. I ask them, instead of remaining 481 here to continue a useless, futile, and humiliating Debate, to withdraw with me and to take counsel with me as to our next step.
§ [Led by Mr. John Redmond, the Irish Nationalist Party withdrew from the House.]
§ Mr. WARDLE
I regret more than I can say the circumstances under which we now find ourselves. I regret more than I can say the movement which has just taken place. For my part I was prepared to take part in this Debate, not only with a great deal of sympathy for hon. Members who sit on the opposite side, but to urge, so far as my voice could, and my influence could be exercised, that some practical means might yet be found to solve this apparently insoluble problem. I am sorry indeed that the Prime Minister moved this Amendment. I think it was a great mistake. While there is much in the speech that the right hon. Gentleman delivered, and especially in the spirit in which it was delivered, with which I am in agreement, I feel exceedingly sorry that he felt it necessary to move his Amendment to the Motion now before the House. Of course, I cannot say what will be the final result. When the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Clare (Major W. Redmond) was speaking I had great hopes that this House of Commons to-day might see the possibility of this problem being solved in a way satisfactory to all parties. The speech which he delivered was so moving in its appeal, and was so instinct with life, that I felt at that moment there was a possible chance of some agreement being come to.
I want to say just one or two words in regard to the speech made by the right hon. Member the ex-Prime Minister, and to deal with his suggestions. I should just like to remind the House that this Motion was brought forward by the party opposite—the party who usually sit opposite—and was put down on their representations, and it is a great pity that they have not stayed to see the Debate out and to see what yet may come out of it. The Prime Minister made a suggestion at the close of his speech which it seems to me offers some possibility of getting out of this impasse—for that it is an impasse all of us must agree. But there are immense difficulties in all directions. The Irish party certainly are in a very great difficulty. The Home Rule Act is on the Statute Book. I and others helped to 482 place it there, and we have a certain responsibility in regard to it. The real difficulty and trouble is that now it is on the Statute Book—and I am sorry that the First Lord of the Admiralty is not present at this moment—the real difficulty which lies behind this and many other movements in this country if it is not faced is this: that the threat to defy and to upset the law apparently succeeds—and it has succeeded apparently in this case—where ordinary constitutional action fails. That is the real difficulty we are up against. I was hopeful when the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Clare delivered his speech that, notwithstanding the misunderstandings which have taken place, and notwithstanding the trouble in which we are in over this Irish question—for the Irish party have undoubtedly great cause for their feeling that they have not been fairly and honestly treated by this House and the country—that good would ensue. We must get rid of that feeling if it is possible. My right hon. Friend made an appeal to the House, and to all parties in the House, as to whether they were prepared to face the question of the coercion of Ulster. That was a question which we ought not to be asked to give an answer to in the circumstances in which we are to-day. The Government, if it is at all possible, have got to find a way out of this impasse. No kind of bargaining can do it. Therefore I suggest—I will not say that they should take their courage in both hands, for I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman and Government lack courage in the matter—but I suggest that, in some such way as has been suggested, that they should endeavour to see if they could not carry out the suggestion which will bring an end to the trouble.
If we do not get this trouble settled before the end of the War I am afraid very much of the situation not only in Ire land, but in this country. There are really in this country still—and I am one of them—those who have the greatest possible sympathy with the idea of Home Rule for Ireland—Ireland as a whole, not Ireland divided. It is perfectly true that there is a compact minority; that there are in certain ways two Irelands; that there are a number of people in the North-East parts of Ireland who are bitterly opposed to Home Rule and the law of the land as it is at the present time. I believe that the appeal which was made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Clare ought to go to the hearts even of those 483 people. In many parts of the world solutions have been reached by conference, by arrangement, by which diverse elements have been enabled in the end to work together for the common good of the whole country. It is a great pity that we should have to face at this stage of the War and under the conditions in which we are now living a movement on the scale we have seen to-day. I do know this, not only in regard to the Nationalist party, not only in regard to the revolutionary party—as it is called—in Ireland, but in regard to forces which are at work in the Labour party in Ireland, that there is great trouble, and likely to be great trouble, unless some solution of this difficulty is found. We all know the history of the past in regard to this matter. I do not want to raise it again. The right hon. Gentleman quoted from the speeches of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford a glowing account that was apparently agreed to by the Prime Minister. There is, however, a dark background to that. It is not true to say that in Dublin great progress has been made or that the housing conditions there or that the kind of life which the people have to live in Dublin, are worthy either of this country or of Ireland itself.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WARDLE
Until the conditions there are altered there as well as elsewhere there will almost certainly be revolutionary forces at work. I do not know that I can add any more to the Debate. I do not want to pretend that I have any contribution to make except this: that I do appeal to the House and to the Government to see if still there cannot be some way found by which a solution of this difficult problem is possible. My sympathy is with the Irish people—I will not say the Irish race, because I think that is a misnomer. I want to see Ireland a nation within the ambit of the Empire, self-governed, and anything I can contribute to that I shall be only too glad to do.
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
I desire to emphasise the appeal of my hon. Friend that the House should not dispose of the Motion before us in the exact position in which we now find ourselves. I sympathise very much with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his position here to-day. He is carrying on his shoulders the burden of the greatest war in history, at the most 484 critical moment of the War, and I would only say that, great and important as the issues in Ireland are, they are not as important as the carrying of the War to a successful issue. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has for a quarter of a century supported Home Rule in this House. I remember the first Bill, and it is a curious reflection to-night of what took place then that if the proposal now put forward by the Government had been the proposal put forward then, the Home Rule question would have been settled nearly a quarter of a century ago. At that time it was the whole of Ireland, or no Home Rule at all, and, as the House knows, that has been the controversy for the greater part of a quarter of a century. It is no good going back to the past. We must deal with the realities as presented to us at this moment, and I confess I find great difficulty in coming to any well-informed decision as to what ought to be done at this moment. I am a Home Ruler for the whole of Ireland, but I do recognise that to endeavour to coerce any portion of Ireland in the middle of the War, to create controversies in Ireland which would be reflected on every one of our military fronts, would be a most serious position of things. So I sympathise with my right hon. Friend. But I also sympathise with the hon. and learned Member for Water-ford. He surely has played one of the greatest parts in this War. At the beginning it would have been easy for him to have stood aside and let us carry on the War by ourselves, but he took the whole of his political future in his hands and stood up for the Empire, and we know there were forces that would have liked him to do otherwise. I sympathise with him still more in that the late Government allowed him to go to Ireland to persuade them to accept proposals which were not ultimately accepted by the late Government. I think he deserves the greatest sympathy of this House, and the greatest tribute we could pay him for his honour, his consistency, his self-sacrifice, and his patriotism. What can we do? It is a case for the independent and private Members of this House even more than the two Front Benches, and I would appeal to the Government to make the position clear and not allow this Debate to close with a misunderstanding or a misconception of the position.
I listened with intense interest to the speech of the late Prime Minister. I was 485 glad of his proposal. It suggested to me, at all events, an effort to do something and not lose what may be the last opportunity of dealing with this great and important matter in anything like a manner giving hope of success. I do not understand the Government to offer opposition to the proposal of the late Prime Minister, and if the Government are sympathetic to the proposal of the late Prime Minister, is it impossible that a ray of hope may not still exist for settlement? For my part, if I were the Government, I should at once take advantage of the eminent men who are with us at the present time, and are likely to be with us later, and I should appoint a statesman of the highest Imperial capacity, not necessarily a Colonial, to be president, and I would say to them, "Come and help us in this difficulty," and I would await the refusal of the Leader of the Irish party. I cannot for a moment believe that he would refuse. Every one of those men is a Home Ruler, and comes from a Home Rule State, and their sympathies would naturally be with the Nationalist demand in this matter, at all events, in an effort to secure a settlement. I hope the Prime Minister here and now will tell us that he is not hostile to the proposal of the late Prime Minister. Consider the effect throughout our fronts and throughout the civilised world at this moment! The situation cannot be left where it is. It will be misunderstood. It will do danger in every neutral country, and it is quite impossible that we can ever undo the mischief that will be done. Therefore, I make an appeal to the Prime Minister to tell us whether he supports or is opposed to the proposal of the late Prime Minister, and I think we ought to know before this Debate is adjourned. In order to give him the opportunity, if he desires to take it, I formally move that the Debate be now adjourned.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I thought I had made it perfectly clear when I was speaking what the actual proposal of the Government was, but evidently my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Water-ford (Mr. J. Redmond) did not quite grasp my meaning. I laid down the principle that the Government were prepared to put into immediate operation that self-government, Home Rule, should be granted to that part of Ireland which clearly demanded it, but we could not take any action to enforce Home Rule on the part of Ireland to which it was repugnent. Now that is a principle which, not merely the 486 present Government, but its predecessor laid down. Then I was asked about a variety of details, and I said there were two ways of dealing with details. One was a Conference of Irishmen, which, I confess, I should have liked to see. I do not quite take the view of my right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister that it would be a futile proceeding, because no doubt the settlement of the land question in Ireland was the result of a Conference of that kind, and that great problem—I will not say is solved, but is as nearly solved as any great problem can ever be solved in this world. That was the first suggestion I made. The second suggestion I made was practically of the same character as that of my right hon. Friend. If not by a Conference, I said there was another way of dealing with the details, and that was to set up a Commission in order to consider the adjustments that would be necessary to put these principles in operation. We cannot depart from those two principles. It is no use to say that here is a Government—and I think the same thing applies to our predecessors—which would undertake to coerce the North-Eastern portions of Ireland into the acceptance of self-government. But, those two principles clearly established, I suggested two alternative methods of putting those into operation and adjusting details. The first was a Conference. The second was the suggestion—which was subsequently set more clearly before the House by my right hon. Friend—of a Commission for the purpose of inquiring into the whole matter and of reporting to the Government and the House of Commons the best method of putting this into operation. Those are the proposals that have been made, and I must say it baffles me at the present moment why the hon. and learned Member for Waterford thought that the Government had made no proposals.
The only other thing I say is this: It has been suggested that it is our duty instantly to bring in a Bill on this basis. You cannot, in the middle of the War, bring in a measure which you have no sort of guarantee will be acceptable to any section. That is utterly impossible, and when I know that when a proposal of this kind was put forward by the late Administration, and it was suggested that a Bill might be brought in on those lines, we were told then that it would receive the most fierce opposition from hon. Members sitting below the Gangway. Is it conceivable that a Government, engaged in the 487 conduct of a great war, should bring in a Bill to give self-government to Ireland which the vast majority of Irish representatives not merely repudiate, but fight bitterly line by line? It is utterly impossible. It is all very well for the hon. and learned Member for Waterford to say that it is a question of our taking our courage in both hands. It is their turn to show courage, and tell us definitely whether they really mean to oppose a measure of that kind or whether they will leave the responsibility to the Government. Up to the present they have not indicated that, and until they do so it would be folly on the part of a War Government to introduce a highly controversial measure.
Sir H. DALZIEL
Would it be necessary to have a Bill to set up a Commission? Will the Government be willing to appoint a Commission, provided hon. Members will not oppose it?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
So far as we are concerned we shall certainly accept the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ Major HILLS
I rise to reinforce the appeal made to the Government. I do want them to consider very carefully the suggestion of the late Prime Minister.
§ Major HILLS
Should I be in order in discussing the statement which the Prime Minister has just made?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
When the Motion for the Adjournment is raised, of course the Debate has to be limited to that Question, but the Prime Minister has just made an important statement, and I think it is only fair to other hon. Members that they should deal with that part of the matter, but not with what has gone before.
§ Major HILLS
Then I will say this. I do not think the speech which the Prime Minister has just made goes far enough. Surely what we want is something more than the suggestion he has made. We want to lift the question out of the rut into which it has got. All those who have spoken on the Motion have insisted on the 488 urgency of this question. I do hope before we leave the House to-night, and before the Motion to adjourn is passed, we shall have come to some decision which points the way, at any rate, out of the difficulty. The Prime Minister in the speech he has just made offered one or two very valuable suggestions. He suggested a Commission should be appointed to consider the details of applying the Home Rule Bill to Ireland. Can he not go a step further than that? Can he not take the whole question and refer it to some independent body? I quite agree that when you refer a large question of this sort there would have to be some definite terms of reference. The terms of reference in this case are perfectly plain. The first thing to be recognised is that Home Rule is on the Statute Book, and the second is that Ulster is not to be coerced. Those seem to be absolutely conflicting opinions. A special conference of representative Irish opinion has been suggested, but you cannot settle this question here, because it is too near us, and all the old controversies still echo amongst us. If we could only get it outside the old ruts and lift it into a new atmosphere I believe there would be some hope of a settlement. I welcome the suggestion of the late Prime Minister because I believe that the Colonial Conference has special qualities which would enable it to settle this matter. Such a conference would approach the question from a much wider standpoint than the Commission which the Prime Minister has mentioned, and it would be free from those party prepossessions and entanglements from which the Commission which has been suggested would not be free.
Another important point is that you would be appealing to men who had settled exactly similar questions within their own political and historical knowledge. In South Africa and Canada they have settled the same question to the satisfaction of the people of those countries. I think a Colonial Conference is the proper body, because this is a question that concerns the Empire, and the Empire suffers through it not being settled. For these reasons I hope the Prime Minister will very seriously consider the suggestion which has been made. It is no good thinking that time is going to help us. Time is running against us, and it is running very fast. Either we must settle this question now, or we shall not settle it at all. I do not say that because the Irish party have left the House. The 489 question was just as urgent before they left, and unless we can give them some hope of a reasonable solution of the difficulty we shall drive Ireland straight into the hands of revolution. There are no two opinions about that. It is not a question to dally with, but it is a question for immediate decision. It is not a question for a future Commission, but for the Conference that will assemble here in a short time. We have to call the representatives of the Empire into council, and we have to do it at once. If we do not we shall not settle the question, and we shall then have the disadvantage of dissention during the War, and when the soldiers come back after the War they will find the road still blocked by these old controversies. I say that it would be a disaster if we do not, before we end the War, clear the road of these controversies. We have the chance to do this now. The time is very short, and the action that the Government take must be taken immediately. I appeal to the House and to the Back Benches on both sides to give such an expression of opinion that the Government will be bound to act, and act at once.
§ The MINISTER of BLOCKADE (Lord R. Cecil)
On a point of Order. I would like to know exactly what can be discussed on a Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate? If we are going to have further Debate, I think this Motion should be withdrawn.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
The same question was put to the Speaker a moment ago, and he ruled that the Prime Minister, having made a statement on the Adjournment, it was permissible for other hon. Members to refer to that statement, but not to revert to the original Motion.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
I wish I was able to see the light that the last speaker seems to see. He appears to think that we can get out of this difficulty by some sort of a commission which was suggested by the Leader of the Opposition. I can see no light of that sort at all. I cannot see how by referring this problem to a Commission we are going either to appease the Irish party or do anything to keep back revolutionary feelings in Ireland. When such a Commission has reported, how shall we be a step further towards a settlement. We have been told by the Leader of the Unionist party (Sir John Lonsdale) that under no circumstances would Ulster ever 490 consent to come under a Home Rule Parliament. That is what we have been told by the Leader of the Irish Unionist party who represents Ulster opinion. On one side we have practically the whole of the self-governing Empire holding one view. It is now suggested that the representatives of the self-governing Empire, who all hold the Home Rule view, should have this question referred to them, and it is commonly suggested that the Unionists of Ulster are going to accept that view.
Sir H. DALZIEL
The Leader of the Unionist party said he would consider it if it was proposed by the Government.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
I agree with the last speaker that the position in Ireland is very grave and dangerous, and is only going to be made more dangerous by-futile remedies. I do not believe that what has been suggested will be a remedy at all. You have got here practically the whole of the British Empire thinking one thing. But you have got Ulster thinking another. And you have this amazing state of things, that I myself heard the First Lord of the Admiralty say in this House that he only supported the exclusion of Ulster with a view to wrecking the Home Rule Bill, and that he knew it would not work. So, therefore, we are solemnly asked to appoint a Commission when Ulster has-made declarations of that sort, and when we have not the slightest idea what Ulster will do at the end of it; and we are going in that way to solve the Irish situation. You are going to do nothing of the sort. From the very moment that you have said to the minority, "You can rule the majority," you have done away with popular government. I do not say that anyone in the position of the Leader of the Opposition or in the position of the Prime Minister would have done anything else than what they did in saying that they would not coerce Ulster. But what you have practically told the Irish party is this, "We will not coerce the minority to come under an Irish Government, but we will keep the Irish majority under coercion." The answer to that can be only one thing, "If you will not let us have democratic government we will give you revolution, and God help you!" That is what they will tell you. And you will deserve it.
This question has been dallied with again and again. It is admitted, and you hear it on all sides, that the Home Rule 491 question is going to be shelved at the end of the War. You got Irish support at the beginning of the War, and, to use their own language, they know they are going to be sold again. None of this method of playing with earthquakes is going to be any good at all. If you will not have democratic government and will not let majorities rule, then you will make yourself an exhibition before the whole world. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to say, "I am going into a Conference with other nations on this Irish question." We know the sort of atmosphere of hypocrisy which the handling of this Irish question creates in the minds of foreigners not particularly anxious to do us justice. We all know that great efforts have been made to settle this question, but look at the position at present in countries like Russia when we are trying to use our influence on the question of. Poland, and when they know in Russia that we are doing things like that, and when they can point to us, justly or unjustly, and not particularly unjustly, and can call attention to what we are doing in Ireland. It is all very well for hon. Members to say we have done nothing to provoke this discussion. Of course, the Unionists have done nothing to provoke it; they were in possession, they have the status quo, and they like it. It is the people who do not like it who have provoked the discussion, and that is why the Irish party have done it. Hon. Members talk as though it is a matter of nothing to look back on the history of Ireland; as though we can treat it as nothing, and as though we are doing some tremendous act of injustice in bringing a small part of Ireland within the ambit of the Home Rule Parliament. They often tell us, "We prefer to be under an English Parliament," and I cannot help realising how they got under that English Parliament.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. and learned Member is now reverting to the main question. The Speaker's ruling was that on the Motion for the Adjournment now before the House speeches were to be confined to matters entirely within the Prime Minister's statement.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
Of course, Sir, I bow at once to your ruling. I cannot see why, on an occasion like this, and before the matter has been anything like thoroughly thrashed out, that the House should 492 adjourn. The question should be thoroughly discussed, and I cannot see any reason why an arrangement should be made between the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs and the Prime Minister that the discussion should be stopped.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I beg to point out that there is no arrangement at all; I am entirely in the hands of the House.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
I beg to withdraw. I made no imputation against the right hon. Gentleman, but the matter should be thoroughly thrashed out. It is a question of very great importance, and many people here do not think we are likely in the least to solve it by the suggestion put forward as to a Commission. I would suggest that the Motion for the Adjournment should be negatived and that we should go on.
I think the House generally will have heard, as I did, with regret the tone of some of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, but I do agree with him in what he said just before he sat down, namely, that this is a question which should be thrashed out, and that it is not, as far as I can see, a point upon which we should suddenly cease discussion, for what reason I do not know, except that the Nationalist party have thought fit to walk out of the House. I rise because I want to put before the House the views of an Irish Unionist representative. I personally, and I believe also the right hon. Gentleman the present First Lord of the Admiralty, looked upon the breakdown of the negotiations last year with regret. So far as I can see the basis upon which those negotiations were conducted, the basis of settlement, was the only possible basis upon which this Irish question can ever be settled—that is the basis upon which the Prime Minister to-day has made his statement, namely, the exclusion from the Home Rule Bill of those parts of Ireland which do not wish to be governed under Home Rule. I was very much impressed by the statement of the Prime Minister. He recognised fully and freely the point which, Heaven knows, should have been recognised long ago by people of all parties in this country, namely, the Ulster difficulty. In regard to that, does it not come to this, that the Prime Minister has offered the Nationalists of Ireland a settlement on the basis of their accepting what they have always asked for, namely, Home Rule for those parts of the country which demand it? 493 Why does the Leader of the Nationalist party refuse that? I took it from the tone of his speech and from his action to-day that he regards the proposal of the Prime Minister as something in the nature of a mockery, and he has walked out of the House.
Sir H. DALZIEL
On a point of Order, Sir. In order not to limit the Debate, I desire, with the approval of the House, to withdraw the Motion for the Adjournment.
Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate, by leave, withdrawn.
I expect I was probably trespassing beyond the ground before the House, but I just wish to make this point. I take it from their action to-day that the Nationalist party—whether they have refused what the Prime Minister has offered them or whether they have not, I do not know- do not approve and that they will not accept the settlement of the Irish question based upon giving them what they want unless they can at the same time force upon others what those others do not want. Well, I do feel the tremendous sense—no one can help feeling it—of the responsibilities of this terrible War, and the fact that we must look upon this Irish question—and personally I do look upon it, as an Ulster Member—as one which, if possible, ought to be solved. But I can see no solution except a solution based upon what the Prime Minister has told us to-day. Why should the exclusion of Ulster of necessity mean the perpetual exclusion of Ulster? I do not wish to pursue that matter further than it need be pursued, but there seemed to me to be ways, as the Prime Minister suggested, in which possibly in the future the Nationalist party might have opportunities of proving what they have often preached, and that is their desire to help the Empire, their loyalty to the Empire, and their capacity to govern. If they prove those things in years to come I should not like to say that Ulster would never agree to come into some form of general central Irish government, but I do say most emphatically and finally, as representing an Ulster constituency, that the Unionists of the North-East of Ireland will never consent now to take their place in an Irish Parliament, in which, judging from present indications, they will always be in a hopeless minority upon every question and every great issue affecting their main religious and political beliefs. If 494 that position were ever, to alter, if the solution foreshadowed by the Prime Minister to-day were ever to come about, it is possible that the Nationalists might show themselves capable of governing, might, with the representatives whom they will send to this House in any event, prove themselves able to take part in the government of Empire just as the Scottish, the Welsh, the Irish Unionists, and the Labour Members do. I most earnestly suggest that they should not in this way look upon the Prime Minister's statement as if it were about the most hostile and bitter thing which he could have said. I listened to it with very great interest and pleasure myself, and I merely wish to say in conclusion, that, much as we should all desire to see the Irish question solved, there is a way in which the government of Ireland can be carried on without necessarily solving or in any way altering the position as it stands at present. Ireland has been governed for over a hundred years on the principle of the Union.
It may be that circumstances will arise which will render it necessary to continue governing Ireland as she is being governed. That is an alternative which the Nationalist party has got to reckon with. They forget that this is a Parliament which has overstayed its life. They forget perhaps that this may not be the Parliament which will carry on the work of the country after the War, and if they are now going to refuse to have anything to do with what the Prime Minister has offered as a reasonable settlement of this question, namely, the granting of the demands which they make without inflicting upon others conditions which those others do not wish to have inflicted upon them, I submit that the only possible way—much as it may lead to trouble in the future—in which Ireland can be governed, apart from a solution based upon the exclusion of Ulster, is by the continuance of the Union which has operated for the last hundred years.
§ Mr. BRYCE
The Prime Minister did not seem to me to attach quite sufficient importance to the fact that while the Irish question is a lesser question than that of winning the War, yet it may become the means of losing the War. We are shut off now from a very large source of obtaining troops, and judging from the constant appeals which appear in the papers, the 495 question of man-power for the supply of the Army is, in the view of the Army-authorities, a very grave and serious one indeed. We are shut off as regards the large population of Ireland, which, during the last year at all events, has given practically no recruits owing to the present situation of affairs. I have been in Ireland for two or three months quite lately and have had occasion to talk with a great many people, to hear a great deal that was being said, and to read the newspapers. I have talked with numbers of officers who had been in service, many of whom had been Nationalist volunteers and had obtained commissions. One of them was a remarkable case. He was a young man who had been in service as a clerk in an office in a great Irish city and had been for a number of years a Nationalist volunteer. He was enthused at the beginning of the War, and joined in August, 1914. He obtained a commission, and he did a very brave act, for which he obtained one of the highest distinctions which it is in the power of the King to give for bravery in the field. He was severely wounded, and, in fact, I saw rim after he had been about a year and a quarter in hospital. He told me that the effect of the failure of the negotiations last summer, and the effect of the way in which the Sinn Fein movement had been treated, was to produce a feeling of entire revulsion towards the War all over Ireland. That has been mentioned to-day, but I wanted to give an individual testimony of what persons who have distinguished themselves in the service of the Crown think about it. This young man said that if he had known what was going to happen, he would never have taken a commission in the Army at all, because he thought the way in which the Nationalist party and Ireland had been treated, through the falling through of those negotiations, was an instance of such complete treachery that it entirely altered his own feelings and the feelings of a very large number of persons in the Army. He said that we should get no more recruits from Ireland until that matter was set right.
For that reason alone, quite apart from the fact that, owing to the disturbed condition of Ireland, a very large number of troops have to be kept there at present, it appears to me that the Government do not realise the very important degree to which the success of the War depends upon the method in which Ireland is now 496 treated. I therefore add my appeal to that of the hon. and gallant Member for Durham (Captain Hills), that some definite proposal should be made to refer this question to an outside independent Committee which will make a report, be cause it is perfectly certain that the suggestions of this Committee or Commission might be such, coming with the weight that such a body would have, as would be acceptable to both parties as a solution. I earnestly beg the Government to do this, because, as the late Prime Minister said, the time is short. It is like the skin of Shagereen, in Balzac's famous story, which got smaller and smaller every time it was used. During the last two years we have had four occasions which have been missed, and every time an occasion occurs the circumstances become more difficult. The first occasion was when the War began and the Home Rule Bill was put on the Statute Book. A settlement might have been made then. Again, after the rebellion, there was a magnificent chance for the generous treatment of Ireland, an opportunity which ought to have been grasped all the more readily because of the fact that the occurrence of the rebellion was entirely the fault of the Government. At that time there was extremely small sympathy with any discontent in Ireland, and it was simply due to the failure of the Government to take the most elementary precautions that the rebellion ever occurred at all. Yet there went on a dribble of executions which produced a deplorable effect all over the world as well as in this country. There ought to have been a generous amnesty. The Government ought to have said at once that they had made a mistake, that they would forgive everybody, and agree to a settlement being made. If that moment had been seized we should have had no further trouble in Ireland. Again, there was the-failure of the negotiations in this country. The ex-Prime Minister talked in a very facile manner about those negotiations. He seemed to forget that their failure was due entirely to himself. At that time he had the power of enforcing a settlement. He blamed the Members from Ireland and the two parties for not coming to a settlement. They had come to a settlement.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
I should like to add a few words in support of the appeal made by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. It is difficult to over-estimate the seriousness of the position as we find it to-night. I am not sure that any of us can help, yet I am perfectly certain that it is the duty of every man in this House, if be can, to do something. I have profound sympathy with the majority of the Irish party in regard to the position in which they are placed by the action of the Government. Whether we like it or not, we must admit the truth which was pointed out to us by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Hemmerde) a few moments ago, that rightly or wrongly the majority of the Irish feel that constitutionalism has failed and that physical force has triumphed. It may be wrong, but that is the view they take. I am afraid that what has happened to-day will sadly weaken the constitutional party in Ireland. We cannot win the War unless we win Ireland. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
You cannot win the War unless you win Ireland. It is our duty, frightfully difficult though the position is, to try to see whether there is any way in which Ireland can be won. I am going to make a suggestion. I do not like it. I doubt whether, even if the Government saw their way to accept it, it would be accepted by the Nationalist party or by the First Lord of the Admiralty. I am not sure that it is not the only way to get over the difficulty in which we find ourselves. If you accept the late Prime Minister's suggestion and called a Conference or created a Commission from the notable personages who are now visiting us and made them into a statutory body, not only to settle the terms upon which Ireland should be given Home Rule, but also gave them power to put it into effect, you might just possibly have given this problem a new point of view, a new perspective, and have suggested a new way of overcoming the tremendous difficulty with which we are faced. It is just possible that some solution might be arrived at. If you do not accept the suggestion everyone of us in this House will regret it bitterly hereafter. If you do not find a solution, what are the American people 498 going to think of us? If you do not find a solution on reasonable lines, how are you going to govern Ireland in the next few years? If you do not find a solution, how are you going to appear at the Peace Conference, when we are going to try and make arrangements for small nations and, small nationalities, and have to confess that we have absolutely failed with the problem of Ireland? I do not like the suggestion I have made to the Government just now, but, taking things as they are, it is the only way I see in which the Government could get out of this awful impasse; and if we do not get out of that impasse, and if we are not able to find a solution, it seems to me we are nearly driven once more to rule Ireland by the hand of the sword, and any solution after that would be even more difficult than it is to-day.
§ Mr. GINNELL
There is some incongruity in this Debate which seems to have been unnoticed so far. The Resolution on the Paper asks the House to confer upon Ireland free institutions, the fact being that the Home Rule Act does nothing of the kind. All the other Dominions which are called self-governing have control of their own land and their own resources. The Act on the Statute Book for Ireland withholds both these subjects from the so-called Parliament it proposes to set up and reserves them indefinitely to the British Parliament. Therefore, none of these self-ruled Dominions would accept the Bill on the Statute Book as a satisfaction of their own claims for self-government. Neither does the Act, for the same reason, at all approach fulfilment of the repeated pledge of the then Prime Minister before the Act was introduced on behalf of himself and of his party to confer full self-government upon Ireland. The Act is not a measure of full self-government at all. Therefore it is not a fulfilment of the late Prime Minister's pledge, and, defective though it is, and though it is one of the two first measures passed by this House in three successive Sessions before it was placed on the Statute Book, it is held in suspense there instead of being put into operation. The question, therefore, arises, Why was not this Act put into operation when enacted? I must be just to this House to the extent of saying that the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Redmond) in September, 1914, expressly declared that it would have been absurd to-put it in operation then. If he had done otherwise, he could have got put in opera- 499 tion not that crippled and maimed Act, but a measure of full self-government in accordance with the pledge of the late Prime Minister. He could have told this House that it would have had the support of Ireland in the War in which it was then embarking on one condition only, that the previous pledges of the late Prime Minister were put in force to the full. Instead of doing that, he himself declared that it would have been absurd to put it in operation.
To what is this change of front due that the thing which would have been absurd to put in operation in September, 1914, is urgently necessary now? The change is due to the events of Easter week in Ireland in the first place, and it is due secondly, and the urgency is intensified by the recent election in North Roscommon, which ratified the action of the men in Dublin in Easter week. That is the explanation of the absurdity, and if the House dreams of or is told of any other explanation they should take it with a grain of salt. The dramatic display of a certain number of Members rising from their seats and leaving this House in protest against the refusal to put the Act into operation now is merely play-acting to which they are forced by the men whom you shot down in Easter week, and the men in North Roscommon, and in other constituencies throughout Ireland who are prepared to ratify the conduct of these men. The dramatic rising and walking out of this House is merely an effort to recover ground which they know too well has been lost. These hon. Gentlemen, and especially the most prominent of them, have been going about since the War began asking Irishmen to risk their skins and their lives for a cause which does not concern them—for the integrity and independence of Poland, Belgium, Serbia, any country but their own, and they had not the manhood to insist upon getting for their own country what they want Irishmen to fight for in Belgium. By that conduct they have come to this pass to-day, that they cannot venture to address an open-air meeting from Antrim to Cork, because they would be hunted out of it by the men, and if not by the women whose sons they have betrayed. If they are in earnest in this theatrical display this afternoon, will they go back to Ireland and protest against this House attempting to legislate for Ire- 500 land at all, and will they, as the hon. Member for North Roscommon has done, forfeit their £400 a year? That is the test of their earnestness. Unless I am much mistaken, you will have them here again to-morrow, currying favour, as they have so often done before, and the Prime Minister will before long have them in Downing Street at his breakfast-table again. It was with their concurrence that the late Government brought about the state of affairs in Dublin which exposed to the ridicule of the world the boast of Ireland being the one bright spot. After both the English parties, having supported the right hon. Member for Trinity I College in arming, drilling, and equipping his followers to fight against the enforcement of an Act of Parliament, there is nothing more natural than that a combination of those parties now in power should support that right hon. Gentleman in resisting the just claims of the party that used to sit on those benches, and that kept the Liberals in power for ten or eleven years. We fetched and carried for them at the time when they were afraid of snap Divisions depriving them of office and power. We helped them to carry many a Budget, and many another Bill, highly injurious and highly prejudicial to Ireland—[Mr. BILLING: "And to England!"]—in the hope that when they came to tackle the Irish problem they would do it decently, and fulfil their own pledges. We even allowed them to postpone the introduction of the Home Rule Bill until they had carried through a measure of insurance, imported from Germany, for which Ireland never asked, and which is a burden upon industry there, and no benefit whatever except to officials.
§ Mr. GINNELL
The Insurance Act so far as it applies to Ireland is no good for anybody except the job-hunters. Even to-day one of the complaints made against the two preceding Governments was the difficulty of getting commissions for Nationalists and Catholics. Jobs still, for commissions are nothing more than jobs. The Prime Minister's plan for solving the Irish problem is a very characteristic plan, copied from Germany like his insurance scheme. It is the plan at the present moment being practised by the Germans in Belgium, and condemned in this country. The Germans are partitioning 501 Belgium, and the Press in this country protest against it. You want, without war at all, to partition Ireland. The Prime Minister sees no solution of the Irish problem without partition. That is placing a premium on revolution in Ireland. He sees a wonderful difficulty in the hostility of half the inhabitants of four counties. We derive a different lesson from that altogether. We see, and any man who thinks at all must on reflection see, that if half the inhabitants of four counties in Ireland can bully this Parliament as we have seen them do, and deny justice to the remainder of the country, does it not follow that the inhabitants of the remaining twenty-eight counties, if organised, united, drilled, and armed, would do what this Parliament finds so difficult, and solve the problem of their own independence? Although the right hon. Member for Trinity College had a factionist purpose in organising his volunteers, and although he is using that force for factionist aims to-day, we must at least give him the credit of saying that he has taught the rest of Ireland a salutary lesson—a lesson which you are not yet done with. That is the kernel of the problem. That lesson has been taken to heart.
The Government is to a large extent a family party, and to some extent a Teutonic family party. We remember the time, not long ago, when some Members talked with contempt of the Celtic fringe, and compared us to Hottentots. They would be very glad to have the support of the Celtic fringe to-day, but they carefully omit the Hottentots. It has been said by one hon. Member that physical force is in the ascendant. Who put physical force in the ascendant? Did not your English Government in Ireland? If you rely upon physical force to rule Ireland, and you rule it with the naked sword and the strong hand, can you be surprised if you get something of the same nature in return. The abandonment by the Irish party of the policy of independent opposition in this House, and the attachment of it to the Liberal party as an Irish or West British tail, has so discredited that party and so killed any faith that previously existed in the impartiality, or the sense of justice or liberty prevailing at Westminster, that the name of Westminster stinks in the nostrils of Irish Nationalists to-day.
It is the greatest hypocrisy in the world for this country and this Parliament to talk about the rights and liberties of small 502 nationalities, growing big and bloated as it has done by the destruction of nationalities in all parts of the world. Imperialism and national independence, and Imperialism and personal independence, are utterly inconsistent with each other. This House has had the management of Irish affairs for a long time in its hands. Who has prevented it doing justice to Ireland? It has had every opportunity of doing it for 117 years, and yet it has not done what it professes to be able to do in all other parts of the world. Is it a wonder that the majority of the people today cease to look to this House for justice, or for freedom, or for fair play, and are determined to rely to some extent upon a wider conference than this Conference of Imperialists suggested by the late Prime Minister as able to deal with this problem? Ireland looks to-day to stating her case, at all events not before a British Imperial Conference, but the International Peace Conference to follow the War, and whatever may be the result of her effort to be allowed representation there, whether it be successful or unsuccessful, the Irishmen of to-day are resolved not to look to Westminster for their rights, but to rely only upon themselves and their own skill and their own strong arms, as they have been so carefully taught. to do by the right hon. Member for Trinity College.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
The reason I desire to take part in this Debate is that I wish to say something with regard to the feelings of a very important section of the Irish race, who are at the same time a very important section of the inhabitants of England. I allude to the Irish people, Nationalist Irish people, who are settled in many parts of this country, and more particularly throughout the North of England. I have the honour to represent a constituency which contains, I suppose, 15,000 of these Irish people, families, many of whom have lived in this country two or even three generations, and who are still as intensely Irish and Nationalist as ever they were. But they do not breathe the spirit that we have noticed in the speech which has just been delivered. Very far from it. They are thoroughly loyal to the Empire, as they are loyal to the old country from which they and their fathers came, and it would take a very great deal to drive them into any other attitude, but if the result of this Debate and of the proceedings of the next few weeks should be such as to show to the 503 Irish people living in Ireland that Home Rule is hopeless, and that they are, as they will conceive, betrayed, then while it will almost certainly drive the great majority of the Irish people into an attitude of rebellion, it will drive the Irish people in the North of England not into that attitude, but certainly into an attitude which would be highly dissatisfied, highly antagonistic, and angry towards this Parliament and this Government. I am convinced that it will be a real danger to this country. I am convinced that it will be a real hindrance to us in the waging of this War.
I remember quite well when the Irishmen of the North of England threw their power at each election from side to side, irrespective of the interests of this Kingdom and of the interests of the Empire, simply to emphasise their position of detachment, and to give support to the demands for Irish reform. Heaven forbid that we ever should go back to that state of things again, yet the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke from the bench behind me, and who spoke in a spirit which, on the whole, I could not help admiring, arrived at the lame and impotent conclusion that, as Ireland had gone on for a century under a regime of coercion, there was no reason why, at the worst, it should not go on under that regime still. I am perfectly certain that the Irish people of whom I have spoken, the Irish people of the North of England, would receive that sentiment and that idea with indignation and with anger. The hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed to think that the proposal of the Government was everything that any reasonable man could desire. He said. "The Government have offered you Home Rule for those parts where they desire it, subject to the exclusion of those parts of Ireland which do not wish to be ruled by a Home Rule Parliament." Could anything sound more reasonable, more philosophical? But let us look at it a little. What does it mean with regard to Fermanagh and Tyrone? Does it mean that those two counties are to be ruled according to the wishes of the majority of the inhabitants in those two counties or not? The Resolution which the Government have put before us now says not what the Prime Minister said, about forcing Home Rule upon a great section, what is called Ulster, in the North-East of Ireland. It says that Home Rule is not 504 to be forced on any section. That means, as I understand it, that it is not to be forced on the minority in Fermanagh and Tyrone who are opposed to it.
However, it is not really very important to pursue that question, because the whole possibility of settling this Irish question on the basis of a partition, even a temporary partition, is, I believe, gone. I believe firmly that the Irish electors whom I represent would last summer have accepted such a solution as promised by the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister, believing and hoping that in a few years the rest of Ireland would have come in. We all know how that failed: I am not going over that ground. I believe that the chance of a solution upon those lines has gone entirely, and that it would be repudiated as thoroughly by loyal Irishmen living in this country as by any section of Irishmen living in Ireland. The only possible solution that I can think of is government on the basis of Ireland one and undivided, and having the control of purely Irish affairs. I welcome heartily the suggestion that the matter should be referred to Dominion statesmen now in this country for them to make some suggestion, and I do not doubt that they would be able to suggest some form of administration, some form of legislature, which would give to the Protestants of Ulster all reasonable securities for any interests that they might think were in danger. If Ulster refused—that is, if the Protestants of the North-East of Ulster refused such a solution—we should be thrown back into the state of things which has been a disgrace to the Empire for so long, and which will be still more a disgrace to the Empire, and will create still more turmoil in this country also, if it is to continue. But if Ulster accepts, then surely Ulster will be forthwith the strongest homogeneous party in Ireland, and I have no kind of doubt that Ulster would be able to join with other stable elements in Ireland to carry on a Government which would be satisfactory to them and a credit to the country. I am convinced that the British Unionists apprehend these things quite as well as any of us who have been Home Rulers for many-years. I am satisfied that the British Unionists have long ago come to see that this is the only possible solution of the matter. They perhaps think that it will not come to-day, and that it may not come to-morrow, but they are as convinced as any of its that 505 come it must. I say to them, let them take their courage in both their hands; let them be parties to referring this thing to Dominion statesman, and if Dominion statesmen make recommendations the Protestants of Ulster ought to accept, as I have no doubt they will; then let the English Unionists come forward and have the courage to say, "We all agree with the Dominion statesmen in this matter." If they do that, I am convinced that we shall not have a refusal from Ulster. I am convinced that the people of Ulster could not stand against such an expression of opinion, and I am convinced we should have peace in Ireland and contentment amongst the Irishmen settled in this country.
§ Mr. PEMBERTON BILLING
I wish only to add a few words to what has been said in Debate. There are two messages which will go out to the world to-morrow morning, one the Prime Minister's message, the other the speech from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Irish party. The speech of the Leader of the Irish party conveyed two things: the first, a taunt; and the second, a threat. I think that if anybody makes a threat the first thing to which he should make up his mind, is that he has the strength behind him to support it. Quite apart from that, I think we must realise that some sort of answer must go out from the Government conveying something more definite than we have received so far from the Government Bench. The hon. Gentleman behind me said that the present Prime Minister was placed where he is by the will of the people, who felt and knew that they could rely on him for action as distinct from procrastination, from which we have suffered so long. Those were words which no man who knows the temper of his country can misunderstand. The Prime Minister is looked to for action in this matter, and I would appeal to him before this House adjourns to send some definite message in reply to what happened when the hon. and learned Member and the Irish party made their dramatic exit from this House. The dramatic exit of the Irish party has two very significant meanings, so far as I can see. First of all, it means that the country has lost their support outside, and the Government have lost their support in this House. I think hon. Members are quite aware that the Government are in need of all the support that is given in this House. Before very long this country may be 506 suffering privations which it will be called upon to face and bear, despite of the drastic legislation which has been and is being introduced to try and correct the effect of two and a half years of procrastination. When the Government is calling upon the country to suffer those privations it will want all the support that this House can give. I think it is very regrettable at such a moment that we should lose the support of the Irish party.
I do not propose to go into the question of Home Rule to-night, save only to make one remark, though it may be considered perfectly obvious, that the Irish question will always be a repetition in a more or less acute form, of what we have seen to-day, unless some solution is arrived at. It is at this psychological moment in the history of our Empire when an attempt ought to be made, if there is to be an attempt, to grapple with this situation. If we cannot handle it now, when our backs are absolutely up against the wall, I am perfectly confident that we shall never handle it at all. I may be wrong. If you consider the state of things in the days that are coming—I am not a pessimist in any sense—I think you will see that you must prepare for the worst in order that you may have a chance of getting the best. In the days that are coming we shall want every man we can get for the service of his country, and, if we want to maintain the unity of the Empire, it will not by having Army Corps in Ireland; I do not think that is the way to go about it. Whatever suggestion the Prime Minister may have on the question, let him make it, but for Heaven's sake let it be something definite and something concrete! I would throw out the mild suggestion that if it is necessary to give Home Rule for Ireland, it should be for the whole of Ireland. I really do not see how else you can deal with this subject. The Government is up against the proposition, and they might as well take it, and if necessary they might give Home Rule to Ireland, so that it might have a trial for, say, twelve months, or some such period. If, at the end of that period, there is a considerable faction, and mark you there will be some minority in Ireland who would refuse to live under such a Government, I would—and I feel the full sense of what I am saying—if it were a question of compensating those people who refuse to live under such a form of Government, I would, even if it cost this country one 507 hundred millions, compensate the interests affected by the introduction of Home Rule. It would be cheap at the price. I know when one is young there is a great deal of flag-wagging and a great deal of question of one's country. Quite a number of the best of Irishmen have left Ireland for this country and quite a number of the best of Scotsmen have left their country. I have heard it said that if all the Irishmen and all the Scotsmen who are at present administering our affairs left and went back to their own country we could not get on without them.
There are only two things that really count in the administration of a country's affairs—one is religion, and the other is vested interest, which when boiled down comes to hard cash. At any other time I should not have been saying what I am saying, but the position is so critical, and feeling in Ireland is so intense, with such a scene as we witnessed in this House to-night that if something is not done, and something definite by the Treasury Bench before this House rises I am afraid that the words which were used to-night from the Irish Benches may possibly come true. The suggestion I am making is one which I think is in the interests of this country and more particularly in the interests of this Empire. I know it is considered a cheap thing to talk about the Empire. The general idea is that it is associated with the waving of flags and the singing of national songs. I think this War has taught us to believe that there is something bigger and more concrete than that. I do think, and in fact I am sure, that there are many Members who do not wish the present Government the health and long life which possibly the country wish it, and I am perfectly confident that they will not be slow to take advantage of the dissension and of the absence of the strong Parliamentary representation from the benches behind. I think the Prime Minister might take that into very serious consideration. I think it would be a national calamity at present if this Government is not given the chance to bring to fruition the schemes, such as they are, which they have attempted, and the drastic reforms which have been initiated without being constantly haggled and constantly worried by an organised opposition in this House which can be used against them without losing the support of the country, because this opposition, mark you, will not be considered pre- 508 sumably hostile to the Government as distinct from the country. But it will be hostile to our cause. I think that is a question which the Prime Minister might do well to consider.
The speeches I listened to during the first three or four hours of this Debate were the finest speeches I ever heard in this House, and they are speeches which may cause one, as the French say, furiously to think. There seems every possibility of the House standing adjourned without any definite reply to the words and the actions of the Irish party. I appeal to the Prime Minister to make up his mind on some course of action. He may want to consult his colleagues and all the various interests which are concerned. If he will only make up his mind on something, and say, "This shall be done," not only will the people of the country say, "Here we have a man who is keeping his pledges, acting instead of talking, but a man who is giving definite illustration of what it is to have a national Government as distinct from a party Government." If he will do something like that I am sure it will be a message which will be welcomed by every man who has our cause at heart. I hold no brief for the Irish party or for any party. I think that is pretty generally understood. But I must say this, that right down at the bottom of the British national character is a love of fair-play and a love of justice, and when one hears, as one does, I may say, this afternoon for the first time, the way that the Leader of the Irish party and the Irish party generally had been treated on that last occasion by the Coalition Government I must say that it made me feel pretty sick about the idea of English fair play. There are quite a number of men who will possibly for the first time hear that these men were fooled and tricked, and even if their cause was a wrong one that is no excuse for fooling and tricking.
I do not pose as a debater I have never suggested so and I hope I shall never prove to be a politician, but I have had certain experience of men and affairs in many parts of the world, and I have followed the course of this War with very considerable interest and a considerable amount of anxiety. It is most important the way we are organised and the way the Government is able to direct this country Great Britain, and the Allies, because I do not think it is a secret that we are bearing what the late Prime Minister so happily phrased as the heat and burden of the day. 509 The financial strain is ours. The strain of man-power has become almost entirely ours, and the strain of sea power is entirely ours, and the strain is getting greater every day. Within the next two or three months that strain may be even quite as great as we can bear without any internal dissension. If the Irish question is ever to be settled this year, next year, or some time, I do appeal to the Government to settle it to the best of their knowledge and their power, and not to promise anything, but to put forward some concrete proposition and say that at least "we faced the position as it really is, and we have done our best. "Any procrastination will lead, as an hon. Gentleman in the Debate said just now, to increased agitation in Ireland, and if they are going to try and get by force what we refused to give them by law, it is reasonable to assume that they will choose the moment, possibly the most crucial moment, of the whole of the conduct of this War to endeavour to enforce it. That was the threat which was made, and it was made in no spirit of bravado, but in most carefully chosen calculated language. I do ask the Prime Minister to give serious attention to this threat. An hon. Member told him that he had deserted Home Rule. That may or may not be the case. I have not sufficient experience in this House or in political matters to know exactly what he has done. But I do say that in the history of this country there has come a time when it will be to our advantage to offer concessions, let alone justice, in order to secure unity of purpose. If we lack the statesmanship to solve this problem, I am afraid we lack the statesmanship to control the Empire in order to save which we are pouring out the best of our blood.
I wish to ask the indulgence of the House for a few minutes while I raise a question which I think is necessary from the point of view of the Liberal Home Ruler before the War. The Debate this afternoon must have gone to the hearts of those who, in years gone by, have had the cause of Home Rule at heart. This question has now cropped up again in a very dramatic form in the midst of our difficulties—in the midst of this War—and it seems to put us in a particularly difficult position. The Resolution was moved and seconded in speeches which it was very hard to resist, and the contributions made later on from this bench seem to me fraught with some 510 glimmer of light. I wish to add my support to the suggestion put forward that even at this late moment of the day an effort should be made to bring about a settlement of this difficult question. It is desirable matters should not be left in their present position. The dramatic exit of the Nationalist Members is fresh in our minds, but it has probably been flashed by now all over the world, and the effect produced by the news will be very grave, and may be very much to the disadvantage of our great cause. It will carry, as one of the speakers has said, a good deal of despondency to the Irishmen who are fighting so gallantly on the French front, and it will be accepted by neutrals,. I think, with considerable regret, and possibly with suspicion, because, after all, the reading of it by those who are unfriendly to us will be that we who are fighting for small nations have brought our own state of affairs to such a pitch that the representatives of Ireland have been forced to-leave the British House of Commons.
It is a mistake for one not deeply versed in all these complications, in all the efforts that have been made, in all the details of the rocks upon which those efforts have split, to enter into those things at this moment. But if possibly the principle of partition could be accepted, I do not believe that the details would be too difficult to settle, providing that some tribunal or commission were established, so far above suspicion as to command respect from all quarters. The suggestion thrown out to-day was that we should utilise the-services of the statesmen from the Dominions and Colonies who are fighting with us side by side—men whose experience in this particular kind of trouble would be of great value to us at this moment. I hope that the Government. with as little delay as possible, will inform the world that notice has been taken of that suggestion, and that efforts are being made to bring about further attempts to-secure a settlement of this difficult question. I believe even if it were made public that we were using all the restraint and all the time we can find, and all the determination at the back of many of those who love Ireland, to whatever particular section they may belong—if we let the world know that an attempt is being made to solve this problem we shall go very far indeed to undo any mischief our opponents may seek to make out of the manifestations of to-day.
511 Considering a little more generally the whole Irish question, I am afraid my interest is more from a military point of view than from any other. I feel its relation to the War is the point of view to which we should devote our attention to-day, because military considerations dovetail so closely into domestic considerations that it is well worth our while to consider the matter from that side. The present policy, as we know, in Ireland is admittedly one of repression. Whether that is necessary or not, it is not for me to say. If there are those who think, in view of the events of the past few months, that Ireland is pro-German, then I take leave to differ with them. Although in some instances it is bitterly anti-English, I do not believe there is any desire on their part which is worth taking notice of to assist the enemy against our cause. But, while attempts should be made to solve the problem, I agree that the strongest and sternest measures may be justified so as to maintain order. We ought to run no risks in these times. To do so would be disgraceful, and although I hate as much as any man in the Liberal party a policy of repression, those who have studied the matter thoroughly in the past will think that a time of War, to a certain extent, covers any measure which the Executive find it necessary to employ. At this moment we want the greatest unity and the greatest strength we can produce, from whatever source it can be secured. We cannot allow a domestic controversy which, at the most, only concerns five or six million inhabitants of the British Isles, to interfere with and imperil the War we are waging for civilisation—a War in which we are taking outplace in line with nearly 250,000,000 of people.
One appeal may be made to all those who are concerned with the events of the day. It is that this moment is probably of all the very best and ripest that we shall ever get to end this difficult problem. To me it is the gravest situation of the War in which we have found ourselves for the last two years. We are, perhaps, inclined to miss this point, but even since I came back from the front, within the last few weeks, I have heard in this House and elsewhere expressions of opinion by those in a position to know that never have we more wanted unity, strength, economy, and every conceivable element of power 512 that we could bring to bear to assist us through. It also seems to me that the fact that we have arrived almost at a complete deadlock between the various political parties in Ireland is in itself likely to give a chance of success. Those who have fought over this question for the last twenty-five or thirty years have, it would seem, arrived at the stage when neither can give in. Sometimes that is the moment when both parties will be prepared to hand over the settlement of the question to an outside body. Another consideration to which reference has been made, and about which I know no more than the average man in the street, is the condition of Ireland, the growth of Sinn Feinism, and the risk of an outbreak. I do not know the strength of this movement, but I hear what most people hear, and it has been told us quite plainly within the last few hours, that the power of control is slipping out of the hands of the Nationalist leaders in the House of Commons, who, up till now, have been able to control, and in most cases, at any rate, to direct, the desires of the Nationalists in Ireland. If that be so, it is an additional reason why we should make every effort to use their services, as we may have to, in spreading proposals, or in gaining assent, before the power entirely slips from their hands. I have another reason to suggest why this is the moment when this question should be tackled. It is that America at the present minute is, or may be said to be, in the balance as to whether or not she will take an active participation in the War. My experience of America is that the political machinery, and I know also a great deal of the driving power of the nation is largely in the hands of the Irish and those who went from Ireland. I have a sort of feeling that any influence that could be brought to bear upon the present situation in respect to America would be perhaps not greatly, but certainly more, strengthened by our handling here of the Irish question. The matter is not one to dwell upon, but from my experience of a great many visits to that country, I am convinced that if they were allowed to believe that we in this House had refused a fair hearing—as it might be construed—and justice to Ireland, they would feel very much less inclined to exert themselves to come in on our side. That aspect of the question, however, we need not dwell upon too much.
513 May I for a minute or two dwell upon what seems to me a few of the greatest obstacles to settlement? They are, as I think, largely temperamental. As an Englishman sees it, the mental attitudes of the Ulsterman and of the Nationalist, are as wide apart as two poles. Unless they have some common interest like self-government they will never pull together. So long as you have them here in this House fighting for different objects and for different positions in the game, history proves that they cannot work together. Equally, it seems to me, that both at the moment are united in their dislike and distrust of English rule.
It appears to me, at any rate, that this is a particularly good moment for us to call in some outside body to suggest a solution of the problem. The suggestion of the ex-Prime Minister this afternoon was so clearly expressed that I will not add to it, except merely to say that it has my most cordial support. The chance of using these distinguished statesmen is one too good for us to lose. The question has been asked as to what powers will be given to this Commission or tribunal if it were thought advisable to set it up, and if after the preliminaries were settled, the parties concerned were willing to submit their case. I submit that, instead of being given old controversies to settle, that such Commission or Tribunal should start with a clean sheet. They know our difficulties just as well as we know them ourselves. The Irish question and its struggles are as well known in America, Australia, and Canada as they are known in this House. The less they are hedged in by long statements of our previous difficulties the clearer will be their decision. At any rate, I would ask the Government to do something to-night to show that we intend to give this thing a trial. It matters not how little they say so long as they say something, because it will go out side by side with the dramatic incident earlier in the evening, and it will show that there has been a result on the spot and follows the deliberations of the same sitting.
I do not know whether what I am asking is asking too much of the Government, but I feel sure if they would do what has been suggested they would not regret it. The situation is too serious—at any rate, it so appears to me—that, having commenced to say a few words on this question, one 514 cannot sit down without feeling, without being able perhaps adequately to express it, that an appeal should be made, or endorsed, to those who feel that they cannot give way. I admit it is for leaders of sections, having said so much and on so many occasions, extremly difficult or impossible for them to recede. To bring this thing off successfully, however, is worth a great effort. It is no good being handed down to posterity as being a person of inflexible will or determination if the generation which follows you curses you for your pride. If we can induce people by an appeal, by reminding them of the seriousness of the present situation, to try to forget and forgive the rough and hard things said on both sides, there is some chance that success will be acheived. I am glad that no Division will take place, because, as I said at the beginning, most of us feel that the War is a bigger consideration, although this is a very important one, and it would have been invidious and difficult for many of us to have found ourselves voting in the negative the demands and aspirations of the Irish people which we have supported so freely in the past.
§ Mr. ARTHUR SAMUELS
I must ask the indulgence of the House in addressing it for the first time in a maiden speech on an occasion like this. One thing that strikes a new comer to this House is the extreme anxiety that prevails on all sides to settle this long standing question. May I ask hon. Members who are so very anxious and so very earnest in that to remember that it is essential in the first place, before they take up the idea of any particular form of settlement, to inform themselves of what are the realities of the situation in Ireland. There have been suggestions made here this evening that the partition idea should be again tried. There have been suggestions, and coming from a source that commands, of course, the greatest authority, that the idea of settling the Irish question should be entrusted to some outside body of great importance. Let us for one moment consider what is the actual position at this moment in Ireland. Ireland—I say it with the deepest regret—is at this moment seething with sedition. For some time before the War, and with great activity and energy since the War, Germany has been plotting and intriguing successfully. She poured literature into Ireland by the ton weight during the first few months of the War. It was in the shape of typewritten leaflets, put together 515 in Providence, New Jersey, Chicago and San Francisco, brought in by the mails, and distributed by hand all through Ireland, sowing sedition against England and directed against recruiting. They were shoved under the doors of the tenement houses in Dublin, and posted on trees and walls from the North to the South of Ireland. At the same time, Germany subvented a large number of seditious newspapers, from six to seven, at the same time circulating in Dublin. None of them could have been started except by foreign money. It was calculated that at least £100 a week had to be spent on the mere printing of those journals. They were passed from hand to hand in Ireland, and they had an enormous effect in breeding sedition—a most unfortunate effect. In addition to that, there were organisers actively working through the country, and through the criminal insouciance of the former administration these things were allowed to go on without check.
At the same time, there was a fine spirit shown by Ireland when War broke out. Its martial ardour was aroused, and in North and South men sprang to arms. The hon. and learned Gentleman for Waterford and the members of his family undoubtedly deserve the thanks of the nation, and so did many other Gentlemen who sit upon the same benches. I have spoken, I am sure, on forty or fifty platforms in the recruiting campaign, which so happily succeeded at the commencement of the War, with members of the Irish party, and I never remember a single word of politics being uttered by one or other of us in the great appeal to the patriotism and spirit of the people. But, at the same time, there was going on unchecked this most dangerous German propaganda of an anti-recruiting character, and evidence was given before the Hardinge Commission, in which it was stated—and I believe there is very little doubt about it—that upwards of 50,000 Irish recruits were prevented by that German propaganda from joining the British Forces. All these things led up to the rebellion. Now the rebellion is too often looked upon, as I find from conversing with gentlemen in England, as if it were a mere outburst of the old anti-British feeling, and a mere reckless exemplification of the Irish belligerent spirit. It was nothing of the kind. It was a very carefully plotted and planned German 516 move in this great campaign. And it has-been a most successful one from the German point of view. Germany did not lose a single soldier or a single sailor in that campaign. But what has she done? She has demobilised from 40,000 to 50,000 British troops that are panting to be in the firing line and are now occupied in Ireland. She so operated on the minds of the English people and English statesmen that they were too timid to enforce Conscription upon Ireland along with England. There were two occasions upon which it could have been done. It could have been done at the moment it was-introduced in England, and it could have been done immediately after the rebellion. The time went by, and the result is you have lost at least, as the effect of this rebellion, 150,000 to 200,000 conscripts from Ireland who would have been in the very first ranks of the fighting men we have. Now what has been the result of the rebellion upon the political aspect in Ireland? The result has been that Sinn Feinisin has gained hand over hand, and week by week and month by month it has become more powerful, till, in what one would call the non-loyalist sections of the community, it is unquestionably the dominant political party. What is the result? It is at this moment a most formidable party, and when you talk of settling the Irish question you must settle with the Sinn Feiners as well. You cannot settle it only with those who-represent Ireland upon the Nationalist Benches nor upon the Ulster Benches, and you must take into account other dominant factors in Irish political and actual life. The Sinn Feiners at this moment are bitterly anti-British, and undoubtedly they are a most powerful party in the political aspect of Ireland. The reason they have gained favour so rapidly is this: The rebellion was-to a great extent unpopular in Ireland when it broke out. In Dublin, which I know intimately, there was great indignation at first and the general expectation was that after it was crushed you would hear no more of Sinn Fein or its objects, but the attitude assumed by the late Government immediately after the rebellion undoubtedly had the effect of strengthening the Sinn Fein party. Over and over again I was told in Ireland myself by people who had been wavering upon the question of whether they would be Sinn Feiners or Constitutional Nationalists 517 that Sinn Fein had won and that in a week it had done more for Ireland than had been accomplished by the Constitutional party in forty years.
I heard the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) repeat a statement which has been made over and over again that the effect of the executions which took place during the putting down of the rebellion was immediately to strengthen the Sinn Fein party and to destroy the constitutional aspect of the agitation. It is a curious thing that in Ireland it is an hereditary principle and the orthodox creed that rebellion is always right and that the punishment of rebellion is always wrong, and when a person is punished for treason he is immediately crowned with the martyr's aureole. The result is that those men who had risen in rebellion against England and attempted to stab her when she was engaged in this death-struggle to the heart have become popular heroes to a very great extent, and we have heard the echo of it here to-night. Again, we have heard of Allan Larkin and O'Brien, of Robert Emmett and Lord Edward Fitzgerald. There will always be a certain element of the population in Ireland who will make martyrs of the men who are suffering for rebellion, and that is one of the reasons that makes Sinn Fein so powerful as it is to-day.
But there was something further. An attempted settlement was brought forward, and I would ask hon. Gentlemen who are so anxious to settle Irish affairs to be very careful in what way they approach the problem. With the best intentions in the world and the most anxious endeavour to have things made compatible with the progress of Ireland and the welfare of her people, and the much-to-be-desired harmony which would be of so much advantage in the prosecution of the War, the Prime Minister of to-day introduced the suggestion for a settlement by the partition of Ulster from the rest of Ireland. We have heard that suggestion repeated over and over again, but the effect of that proposed settlement was to give Sinn Fein policy a great political status, it took up its stand on "The Sacred Soil of Ireland," and it has appealed ever since to the Irish people on the ground that not one rood of Ireland must be severed from the rest. At this moment I have not the 518 slightest doubt that if any of the hon. Members who follow the lead of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford—indeed, I would say that even if the hon. and learned Member for Waterford himself were to appear on a platform and suggest that this settlement, or any settlement proposing that Ulster or any county of Ulster, or even West Belfast, was to be severed from the rest of Ireland, he would fail in carrying his election.
There is no question at all about it that the power of Sinn Fein has gained enormously by the fact that the suggestion of a settlement took that form. Having gained such power as it has, supplemented as it is at this moment in its endeavours by German gold, what is the attitude of Sinn Fein now? The Roscommon election was one which caused great excitement and curiosity. Over here it was looked upon as rather an absurd thing that a person should put himself forward for election on the principle that he was not to come to Westminster, and it certainly, to the ordinary man, does look one of the most absurd ideas that could possibly be suggested. But nothing is absurd in Ireland that can be worked for the purpose of being anti-British, and when you come to work out the idea you find what was intended by the Roscommon election and what was the invitation addressed to Count Plunket. It was this: "Do not go to Westminster, but form the nucleus, along with others who will be returned at future elections in Ireland, of a body who will form a Convention in Ireland, and who will speak with the authority of Ireland, and who will appeal not to England, but to the assembled nations in a Peace Congress which will follow the War." Then you will recognise that the election was not so much a triumph over the party of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford as for the anti-British element in Ireland. If I might trouble the House for one moment, if that idea does seem startling and absurd, I will read to them from"Nationality"—one of those papers that is published, and the ablest of those papers that is published and, as everybody in Ireland believes, is supplemented by German gold—I will read to you the invitation which was addressed by the electors of Roscommon to Count Plunket:To GEORGE NOBLE COUNT PLUNKET,—We, the undersigned Irishmen living within the Parliamentary constituency of North Roscommon, declare our adhesion to the doctrine of 519 Ireland a Nation winch has been handed down to us by our forefathers. We believe that the Irish nation has as much right to freedom and to the same kind of freedom as any other nation. The kind of freedom that is good enough for Ireland is good enough for every other nation. The kind of freedom that is not good enough for every other nation is not good enough for Ireland. In other words, we declare our belief in the general principle that All nations, like all individuals, are endowed by Almighty God with equal natural rights.The fact that these rights have been forcibly withheld from so many generations of Irishmen, instead of invalidating or lessening those rights, makes our claims to them all the more urgent, and their persistent denial all the more grievous.The general recognition of the rights of nationhood throughout the world, and its impartial application everywhere, is the only basis upon which the future security of civilisation can rest.The fact that the Great Powers at present warring upon the Continent of Europe have again and again appealed to this principle of nationality is clear proof of its potential moral power, although they do not yet seem to realise that their advocacy of the principle is invalidated and stultified by their persistent refusal to admit its universal applicationWe believe that at the present moment Ireland has a magnificent opportunity of reaching the goal of freedom, and at the same time of advancing the cause of civilisation by merely insisting on her national claims and making them as widely known as possible throughout the world. In this way we can secure a hearing before the nations when they assemble at the end of the War to rebuild civilisation upon its new basis.We have made a careful examination of the lives of the leading public men in Ireland with a view to selecting a leader for such a movement. We have decided that you, George Noble Count Plunket. stand out among all your countrymen as pre-eminently the man. Your long life of devotion to the cause of real Irish Nationhood and the sacrifices you have made for that cause, together with your standing as a scholar of European reputation and your knowledge of the languages of Europe, make you the man that Ireland could, with most credit to herself, send as her principal representative to the Peace Conference.That is the Peace Conference to take place after the War. There have been meetings held frequently over Ireland and resolutions passed by public bodies—amongst others the Sinn Fein organisation at Cork—and many others claiming the same thing, that Ireland should be represented through her elected persons, like Plunket, at the Peace Conference, and leave Westminster alone altogether. That is now the active policy of Sinn Fein developing from the negative policy of not sending representatives to Westminster at all. They say, "We have a greater plan; we shall appeal to the representatives of the Allied nations at the Peace Conference." There is a very able article in the last number of "The Irishman," written by Darrel Figgis, one of the deported gentlemen, who, I believe, is at present dwelling at Oxford. He is one 520 of the most active instigators, along with Arthur Griffith, the editor of "Nationality," of the whole of the Sinn Fein propaganda, and we must recollect this, that the Sinn Fein policy has a certain amount of attractive appeal to the younger generations of Irishmen. It stands for Ireland as a nation; it denounces the Home Rule Act as a fraud; it says, and says truly, if I may say so from my investigation of the Act, that it does not give such a Constitution to Ireland as Ireland ever demanded as a nation. Its Financial Clauses were, even long before the War broke out, manacled by English desires and by English policy. It is tied up entirely with the principles of Free Trade, and its commerce is entirely subordinate to British interests.
We find that all these Nationalist journals appeal to the Irish popular sentiment, denouncing the Home Rule Act as a fraud, appealing to the principles of Swift when he denounced the commercial restraints of the eighteenth century, appealing to Molyneux when he stood up for the constitutional rights of Ireland, which were then affected by Poyning's law, which is re-enacted in the Home Rule Act, and appealing also to the general sentiment of buoyant young Ireland, recalling the stirring times of 1848 and the dramas of the Grattan Parliament. Putting all these things together, you will find that you have a very dangerous element, and a widespread and, I believe, dominating element, in Irish politics in Sinn Fein. And when you come to address Ireland on the question of a settlement you will have to take all this carefully into account, but the really dangerous point is this: Sinn Fein is at present allied, and intimately allied, to and is financed and fostered by Germany. Now what is Ireland'? Assuming that Ulster came in at this moment—an assumption which it is almost impossible to conceive—you would find even then, if I judge of Irish politics aright, that Sinn Fein would be the dominant party in an Irish Parliament; but put out the counties of Ulster, and you will find that undoubtedly Sinn Fein would dominate; and what would it dominate? It would dominate the strategical key of your naval power. Remember that if you took the four or six counties of Ulster out they are not the great strategical base of your naval power. Sweeping round from Lough Foyle, by Lough Swilly, by Blacksod Bay, by Killybegs, by the Shannon mouth, by Berehaven, by Cork, and by Waterford—is 521 harbour after harbour that will contain a navy—every one of them would be dominated by the people who are dominated by Sinn Fein, who are dominated by Germany, When you are asked to bring into immediate effect, as you are asked by this Resolution, the Home Rule proposals, either for part of Ireland or for the whole of it, you must remember the tremendous dangers to which your strategical position is subject.
Let me address myself to one argument that is invariably brought up and which was referred to by the late Prime Minister this evening. It is a fact that the. Home Rule Act is upon the Statute Book, but how is it upon the Statute Book? I am not speaking of how it was put there, but of its position. It is on the Statute Book at this moment in such a way that it cannot be enforced, because, as we were told by the Prime Minister this evening—repeating merely the announcements that were made by the late Prime Minister and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Cleveland Division (Mr. Herbert Samuel), who was its protagonist to a largo extent when it was passing through the House—if Ulster does not stand in- and Ulster will not stand in—then that Act must be amended in such a way that one would not know it. The Home Rule Act as it at present stands upon the Statute Hook is like Lot's wife, a pillar of salt, for it looks back upon the Dead Sea ashes of many centuries of Irish agitation. Its commercial propositions are those of the 18th century; its constitution is that of Poyning's Law; its finance has gone with the War, and, before it had gone with the War, it was intimately associated in such a way with the finance of the Free Trade system that it was impossible for Ireland in any way to be mistress of her own commercial policy. That policy has been swept away now by the Report of Lord Balfour of Burleigh's Committee and we are anticipating a large development by which the commercial principles and trade of the United Kingdom will be put upon quite a different footing. There has been a, dissentient minority Report by two members of the Home Rule party saying that they would not sign the general Report because they thought that Ireland should get separate treatment. I would suggest to those two hon Gentlemen, if they were here, that their best chance is to look up the Act of Union, because they would find it is only under the Act of 522 Union that they would have such liberty and right for the financing of Ireland as they hope to obtain by their separate Report, for under the Act of Union Ireland and Scotland are entitled to have separate and special consideration and exemptions and abatements. If there is to be a settlement, I think it can only be if Irishmen could be got together to settle it in Ireland. But supposing we do get together in Ireland then, too, you must remember that Home Rule and the settlement of Home Rule is, after all, a great English question and a greater Imperial question. Possibly we may not give up all hope yet. Possibly in the future, when the great Imperial nation of Great Britain and Dominions beyond the seas meet together in conclave after this War, something may yet be brought to being which may get rid of this secular difficulty which prevails. But whether it can be by done or not, there is one thing that we ought to recollect. Considering this question and whether it can be settled at this moment, you cannot forget one cardinal fact, and that is the grave position of Ireland at this moment too.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
The hon. Gentleman I hope I may call him my hon. Friend has made a very able contribution to the Debate, on which I heartily congratulate him, though of course I do not agree with anything he said. I hope he will allow me to pass from the topics he discussed in order to deal with the larger situation. As I shall have to criticise to some extent the action of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Redmond), I wish at the outset to say that in my opinion this Empire owes him a debt of gratitude which it can never repay, and I wish also to say of him as an opponent that, in my opinion, if his advice had been taken by the War Office it is absolutely true, as he contends, that you would have had marshalled in Ireland from 200,000 to 300,000 men from whom large drafts could have been drawn, and I will further say I believe if his advice had been taken the elements of rebellion would never have appeared. That is the testimony of an opponent of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I conceive that, under these circumstances, the House may regard what I say as being spoken without exaggeration. Having said that much, I wish to say further, that all the sins and errors which have led to the breakdown of confidence in the Parliamentary situation in Ireland cannot be 523 charged at the door of the British Government. As far as there are internal reasons which have led to that want of confidence, and which also led to a considerable extent to that demonstration in arms which has been called the Dublin rebellion, undoubtedly no man has had in my time so complete a command of Irish political resources as the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Mr. Parnell had nothing of the kind. In the days when we were fighting here we were constantly on the alert against opponents. The attacks on us were very great, and many of these attacks were led by men of such sincerity, such honesty, and such disinterestedness as the late Mr. Michael Davitt, whose name will always be held in honour, who was a strong opponent of Mr. Parnell. But in the case of the hon, and gallant Gentleman he has had the whole resources of Ireland put into his hands. Here to-night, after seventeen years of unbroken chairmanship, he is obliged to resort to the bankrupt tactics of quitting this House. When will he come back to it? He will have to do that, and I venture to say he will come back to it with his tail between his legs.
The hon. and learned Member for Water-ford has denuded his party of nearly all the elements of ability. I will illustrate it in this way. There was recently a contest in the King's County in which his candidate was defeated, and although the Gentleman elected was one of his strong supporters we had the spectacle in this House that he was not able to get a single Member of the Redmond party to introduce him, and he was introduced by a Scottish Member and an English Member. The hon. Member has pushed his political arrogance to such an extent that the weapon of Parliamentaryism has broken in his hand, and, to a large extent, it is that spirit which has contributed to the uprise of the Sinn-Fein spirit—a spirit of resentment that they would not be continually controlled by him. It is that element, as well as the national element, which largely led to the outbreak which ended in the Dublin rebellion. I think those who know me know that I have never been afraid of incurring the reproaches of the Gentlemen behind me, when they are there; therefore, I am not in any sense availing myself of the advantage or the disadvantage of their absence. I have never for the last 524 ten years been a supporter of the Prime Minister. I opposed every one of his measures. I opposed his Budget. I opposed his Insurance Bill, and I think I opposed nearly everything he ever proposed. I hold the same opinions to-night about his Budget and his Insurance Bill as I did then. I have not changed in the least degree upon that. I noticed to-night this extraordinary fact, that when the hon. and learned Member for Waterford got up to speak the reply that he made was delivered off written sheets of paper, showing that he was not replying to the Prime Minister, that he was not dealing with the proposals which the Prime Minister put forward, but that he had arranged beforehand this play-acting coup which ended in the manner we have seen. But I noticed that so strong was the temptation of this House that his Whip comes in behind the Speaker's chair to find out what is going on.
I conceive that the present position of Ireland, and the present position of the country generally, stands in such a situation that seasoned men, men who have been here as he and I have been for nearly thirty-seven years, owe something better to our country than a dramatic excursion from this House. We do not get our £400 a year for quitting the House. We get it for staying here and making our suggestions. One of the things I complain of in this business is this—the right hon. Gentleman made a series of propositions. They were either to be agreed with or disagreed with. They were to be encountered in debate. Running away does not encounter it. It does not advance the Irish question.
What I complained of long ago in the presence of the hon. Gentleman and what I complain of now- is this: the Prime Minister threw out the suggestion of a conference between Irishmen. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien), who is ill and unable to attend to-day, for years has been making this suggestion of a conference between the various sections in Ireland, and I complain of the fact that, from the day the Home Rule Bill was introduced in the year 1912 I have never heard the hon. Gentleman, nor one single Member of his party, hold out the hand of friendship to the Conservative party above the Gangway or express a desire to meet them, but, on the contrary, every suggestion which was made from the party to which I had the 525 honour to belong, for the purpose of trying to come to an agreement with the Conservative section of Ireland was pooh-poohed and tabooed, while nothing of an originating character sprang from the hon. Gentleman himself. It was the same to-night. I do not understand this talk of a refusal to go into the back parlours of the right hon. Gentleman. He was not ashamed to go into his front parlour when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. I suppose that his quarters are now rather more decorated. If he was not ashamed to meet him when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer or Minister of Munitions, I cannot see why he should be ashamed to go into what I am sure is the spacious chamber where the British Cabinet meet, and where Colonial Ministers sometimes go. In these circumstances I think that the Irish people will take at its proper value this excursion out of the House tonight. It is a poor thing for seasoned politicians to be scared by a single election in Ireland.
I quite believe the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford when he says that for his part he would be very glad to have the burden off his shoulders. I believe that to be perfectly sincere, because as one gets into the evening of life no doubt the splendid horizons seem not quite what they once were. But it is not good business. When I hear all this talk of the uprising of the Sinn Fein and stuff of that kind it does not move me one bit. I would face all the Sinn Feiners in Ireland. I have talked to the Irish people for the last thirty-seven years. I believe that we would just as well appeal to them to-day as we did then when we put before them that by sending in an honest, trained, incorruptible party into this House you can reach the conscience and the hearts of the English people. That is the doctrine which I have preached and I will never recede from it; and to allow ourselves to be driven from our moorings by a single election is really to my mind a policy of cowardice. It is a bad example that the sound constitutional element in the country, the Conservative element in the country, who to a very large extent are represented by the bishops and priests of Ireland. I think that they deserve something better from the support which they have given for the last thirty years than a dramatic skedaddle from the House of Commons.
526 If he were able to carry the whole of the Nationalist Party with him, something might be said; but he deliberately split up the Nationalist party. The Member for Monaghan and the Member for Westmeath and other Members, bit by bit and one by one, had been driven by his policy out of the Nationalist party. What is the meaning of creating a division which led to the Sinn Fein movement? I heard with great satisfaction speeches like that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down as to the necessity of settling this question. I am afraid that the Government is under a spell, under a sort of a in connection with Irish affairs. If you had settled it three years ago you would have had America on your side to-day, and you would not have allowed the interests of your counties to stand against your own Imperial interests and the interests of the Empire and the interests almost of civilisation. I listened to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Trinity College, Dublin (Mr. Samuels), to-night. I have heard similar speeches five hundred times before on every important occasion—when any reform was proposed—the Land Acts, grand jury reform, local government, extension of the franchise, the Ballot Act, and whatever it was. If you are to believe the Conservative party, anything you did would give rise to the resurgence of terribly desperate and criminal action. But you did it. and you have done it for the Boers, with their bayonets dripping with your blood. Are you going to refuse Ireland what you gave to them? It is an astonishing thing, but many Englishmen have Irish blood in their veins. There is hardly a family of eminence in this country which is not dripping with Irish blood in its veins. I go from one end of this country to the other and I hear men say, "My mother was an Irishwoman," or "My grandmother was an Irishwoman," or some other relation was an Irishman, and I never found them ashamed of it. In the same way, in Ireland, the admixture of English blood is there to an enormous extent, and all that is needed is the plucking out of this diseased and poisoned fang. My hon. Friend spoke to-night of German-fed newspapers. Why, is not the memory of Oliver Cromwell worse to us than all the Germans? What need have we to be fed by Germanism, when we have Queen Elizabeth, Henry VIII., and 527 all the rest of them? All these things are past. I would now appeal to the Government and to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister to show courage in this matter. One thing the hon. Member for Waterford said with which I quite agree: Do not ask all the sacrifices from us. Who has had the benefit of English rule in Ireland for hundreds of years past? Those who are now posing as loyalists who have those salaries at the present moment. I do not say that the Minister for the Admiralty is in office for a salary—I know he is not—but at all events it is the men who were in the enjoyment of ascendancy, it is the men who were in the enjoyment of honours and emoluments, who are standing before the people of Ireland and blocking the way to what, after all, to most of them is a matter of sentiment. Is there nothing to appeal to you in the fact that the young men of Dublin, admitting them fools, were willing to give their life-blood for their country? Mistaken it may be. What did they gain by it? Nothing but the notion of bringing an uplift and advantage to the country which they thought was downtrodden. Those things appealed to them. This War is not over. The Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) asked you to prepare for 1918. "Prepare, "said he," for the campaign of 3918,"and how did he recommend you to prepare? By bringing in the Hottentots and the niggers of Africa. I say, Prepare for the campaign of 1918 by bringing in Ireland upon your side, by bringing in America upon your side." I think the House will believe me when I say that it is in the interests of England, which has had no gain by the continuance of this wretched system which has cursed us for hundreds of years, and in the best interests of your Empire that I call for a speedy solution of this difficulty.
§ Mr. D. MASON
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
I think there are a number of hon. Members who wish to express their opinions. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] We have had a number of very interesting speeches in the Debate, and the feeling is uncertain. I think the Government would like to make some reply to the speeches, particularly that of the hon. and learned Member— 528 (Mr. Healy)—and who represents Ireland, or a section of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister is himself thinking over the situation, and I am sure that he would welcome an Adjournment with a view of giving a more definite statement, perhaps, to-morrow. There is no-business down for to-morrow. As my right hon. Friend the Member for KirKcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) suggested, private Members may wish to express their views on this question which affects English, Scottish and Welsh Members. I hope the Prime Minister will agree to the Adjournment.
§ Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.