§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN rose to cull attention to the gravity of the situation in Ireland, and to ask what steps the Government are taking in pursuance of the statement made by the Prime Minister on Tuesday. October 23, in another place: and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I hope it is needless for me to say that in rising to put this Question to the Leader of the House. I have no desire whatever to embarrass the Government. On the contrary, nothing could be further from my wishes and intentions than to do anything of that kind at a moment like the present. On the other hand, however, I am compelled to add that the gravity of the situation in Ireland appears to some of those who sit around me to be so great and of such a character, and to be so steadily increasing for the worse from day to day, that we feel we should fail in our duty to England, Scotland, and to Ireland itself, and above all to the Convention which is sitting in that country at the present moment, if we were to remain altogether silent upon this question.
§ I am well aware that some people think it undesirable that there should be any discussion of this kind during the war, and that nothing whatever should be done to hinder or imperil in any way the success of the Convention. That is a sentiment which I share to the fullest possible extent; so much so, indeed, that it has been with the very object of aiding and not imperilling the success of the Convention that I have thought it my duty to place this Question on the Paper. Surely it must stand to reason that with a Convention appointed, consisting of the most representative men who can be found in Ireland, to consider and gravely and quietly devise a scheme for the future Government of Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, it cannot be right to permit the continuance of an active, energetic, and a wholly seditious campaign in Ireland with the object of preaching treason and disloyalty of every kind and sort to the people of that country, and holding out to them the policy of separation from England and the establishment of an independent republic in Ireland. It does seem to me that it is a very extraordinary position for any Government to take up first, to appoint an important Convention of this kind, and then to allow, and continue to allow, a campaign of this sort, 1020 which is becoming worse and worse every day, and is undoubtedly progressing throughout the greater part of Ireland, unless all the information which we receive on this subject through the Press is entirely misleading. That is exactly what the Government is doing and has been doing, so far as we know, for a very considerable time.
§ What I cannot really understand—it is very difficult for any one to understand it—is the attitude of the Chief Secretary for Ireland himself. He seems to think that his main and practically his only duty is to care for the Convention and its success. That is very proper in its way. I entirely acknowledge the immense importance of that body and of its success, and sympathise with the Chief Secretary in that respect, but I cannot share his view of what is his duty at the present time. On the contrary, I have always held, and shall continue to hold until I am otherwise informed, that the first duty of every Government in the world that is worthy of its name is to maintain law and order in the country which it is assumed to govern. Who can say that law and order are being maintained in Ireland now? In that duty, it is quite clear to me and must be to everybody that there has been a most lamentable failure, which cannot fail to be otherwise than highly prejudicial to the success of the Convention; and I fancy that if you were to inquire from the members of the Convention itself you would find that there are probably a good many of them who hold that opinion.
§ What is the position with which the Convention is confronted? What is the case against the Sinn Fein policy and party? You will find the answer to the first of these two questions in the speeches of Mr. de Valera, the leader of the Sinn Fein party himself. These speeches have been described as plain, deliberate, and cold-blooded incitements to rebellion, and have been made at meetings, one after the other all over the country, in studied terms. I have looked at the reports of some of the speeches for myself, and I think that is a very accurate description of them. What do they point to, and what is it that they recommend? They have been quoted in the Press and in Parliament over and over again, and, among other people, by the Prime Minister and by the Chief Secretary himself, and it would be waste of time if I were to quote those extracts in your Lord 1021 ships' House, but I will endeavour very briefly to describe what is their purport. They point to three things in particular. One is the complete separation of Ireland from England, another is secession, and the third is the sovereign independence of that country. That is the policy of the Sinn Fein party as laid down by the leader of that party himself, who at present is allowed to go unmolested about the country preaching these seditions doctrines whenever and wherever it pleases him to do so.
§ And what does he recommend in order to obtain the objects of his desires? First of all the regular and constant drilling of as many men as can possibly be obtained in Ireland, so that they can be made into useful soldiers to be used whenever they should be required for the purpose of meeting the English Government in opposition to their rule. The arming of these men is also recommended by the leader of the Sinn Fein party, who goes into the matter of arming in very considerable detail, showing how carefully he has considered all that is necessary for his campaign. They are to be armed with rifles if they can be obtained, but, if they cannot, with shot guns and buck shot. He goes on to explain that buck shot and shot guns at close range are very much more useful than rifles, and I can say from my own experience in big game shooting that sometimes you will find that shot guns loaded either with bullets or with slugs will do more execution at short range than a bullet from a rifle, unless it be an explosive bullet, and I suppose that explosive bullets are forbidden even in the army of Mr. de Valera. That is not all. He enlarges, lastly, upon the advantages of what he calls the old national weapon—namely, pikes, which are 10 feet long—and he points out to the soldiers he is drilling that these pikes will beat bayonets at any time because of the length of the handle attached to them.
§ All this is permitted to go on side by side with the Convention which has been and is now sitting to try and devise a peaceable government for Ireland. When I think of this, it seems to me to be nothing more nor less than a mockery of the Convention to ask its members to undertake the public duty which they are asked to perform, and at the same time to allow all this to go on around them in all parts of the country. It does not give even "a dog's chance," if I may so call it, either for the framing of a proper scheme 1022 of government or for the acceptance of that scheme, if ever the Convention succeed in framing one, by the people of Ireland who are the people to be considered, and who have been taught all this monstrous disloyalty during the whole of this time. I think the Government ought to take this into consideration if only out of regard for the Convention.
I hope I shall not be breaking any of the rules of the House by quoting what the Prime Minister himself has said. I may say in justification of what I am going to do that not very long ago, in the House of Commons, I thought that the practice which had always held good in my early days of not being permitted to refer to statements in the other House was being carried much too far, and I appealed to the present Speaker on a point of order on that question, but he decided against me: and if it be permitted there, I suppose I may be allowed here, if only perhaps indirectly, to refer to what has been said on this subject in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister stated very distinctly that all this kind of thing must be stopped, and stopped at once, and he added
After very carefully going into it with the Chief Secretary, I came to the conclusion that when he decides that speeches take the form of direct incitement of the kind that brought about the last rebellion, he would not be doing his duty to his Sovereign, to his country, or to Ireland, if he permitted it to continue.
That is a complete justification, I think, if any justification be needed, for raising the question to-night, and for asking the Question which I have put upon the Paper. What is more, he also stated that the same thing applies to "all those organisations which are preparations for rebellion." And how many of them are there in Ireland at the present time? Why, it is absolutely honeycombed with organisations preparing for rebellion. They are in almost every corner of the country, except Ulster.
§ That is the case which I have to submit to the Government, and I am naturally anxious to know what measures are being taken in order to meet it, all the more so because I am painfully aware of something else which has not been done to stop the mischief; not only that, but of something which has been done unless the Press reports that I receive are entirely erroneous—that cannot be calculated to do otherwise than greatly to aggravate and increase 1023 the mischief which is going on at present. I refer to the meeting which Mr. de Valera was announced to address at Waterford last Sunday. It was proclaimed and forbidden by the Government, I understand. Is that so?
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
I am greatly obliged to the noble Earl. It is stated that a train load of troops came into the town the night before, and a strong detachment of the Royal Irish Constabulary, armed with Titles, presumably to uphold the proclamation. The meeting, it is said, was held notwithstanding not at Waterford, but two or three miles outside the town. An address by Mr. de Valera was given, 200 or 300 Volunteers being drawn up in what is called a double line—I suppose for the protection of the meeting—but none of them in uniform. Now, what I should like to ask is this, Was that meeting held with the knowledge and assent of the Government, or was it not? And if not, why was it permitted? Are not such proceedings well calculated to bring the Irish Executive into contempt and to encourage the deliberate breaking of the law? Lastly, who is responsible for it, and what measures have the Government taken or are they taking in this particular matter?
There is another case which occurred in Court in Dublin. I think last Friday or last Friday week, which affords a singularly striking illustration of what is going on in Ireland to-day. Warrants were issued against thirty-seven young men for illegal drilling close to Dublin. Only twenty were arrested. With the permission of the House I will quote an extract from the Press—The men entered the dock marching in step, and were cheered by a large audience in the galleries, which were at once cleared by direction of the magistrate, Mr. Swift. The men in the dock refused to remove their hats till they were ordered to do so by one of their own men. They absolutely repudiated the jurisdiction of the Court altogether, and declined even to defend themselves. The magistrate said he thought, to put it mildly, that they were misguided. If their idea was to bring about an Irish Republic, they should do it by constitutional means. Their drilling could only have one object, which was to rise at some time in arms against the King. If they were possessed of military ardour, there was plenty of opportunity for it if they joined His Majesty's Forces.1024 This was received with "shouts of laughter." And then the magistrate passed sentence upon them, and what was the sentence? There was only a fine of £10 and two months' hard labour. One of the prisoners said they would do no labour of any sort or kind. And what was the result of all this? Subsequently, acting upon the assumption that the men were otherwise of good character; the magistrate omitted the penalty of hard labour. Now what should we think of that state of things if it was possible in a Court of Justice in England? And if it is unimaginable here, I should very much like to know why it is that a state of things like that which I have described can happen and can be permitted in Ireland. Again I say, I can imagine nothing more calculated to accentuate and make a great deal worse the state of things which we see in that country to-day.
This is indeed a strange proceeding that I have recounted as having happened in the Court at Dublin. But you may depend upon it that it is only one incident of many others of a precisely similar kind. I do entreat the Government to take these questions into their most serious consideration and deal with them before it is too late. You have this dead weight of revolution hanging round your necks at the present time, and perhaps nearer to you than you think. Beware, I pray you, that at some time or other it does not drown you altogether, if you continue to neglect it as you have done up to the present time. Now, that is the case which I wish to submit to the Government, and I have only one or two words more to say.
I came into Parliament in the year 1868. Ireland and the Irish question were then the question of the hour as regards all domestic policy Ireland and the Irish question are still the question of the hour in the year of grace in which it is my privilege to address you now. It was in 1869 that, so to speak, I won my Parliamentary spurs on an Irish question in an Irish debate in the Rouse of Commons—namely the Disestablishment of the Church in Ireland. From that date until the present time I have followed every phase of the Irish question with close, and I may even say diligent, care; including, in that year of 1869, a visit of, I believe, many months, during which time I remained in Ireland with the express object of studying and, if possible, of mastering 1025 the whole of the Irish question and all that it meant. I will tell your Lordships the conclusion to which I came long ago, and which I have held ever since upon the subject. You must take it as my opinion bat only for what it is worth. Yet this opinion of mine is entirely confirmed by what has gone on all the time from that day to this. Nothing in the world can Ire more fatal to good government in Ireland than the slightest sign of weakness on the part of the Irish Government. The Irish are a race of singularly quick and bright intelligence. They detect any sign of weakness in a moment, and from that moment there is an end to all law and order and to anything like respect for the Government at all. We are suffering from those things again to-day; and of the present Irish Government-although I say it with profound regret, not only on personal but on public grounds if I tell the truth they have "out-Birrelled "even Mr. Birrell himself in the course which they have pursued.
The late Lord Salisbury said years ago that the only policy for Ireland was a policy of resolute government for twenty years. I will cite Mr. Birrell as my witness to prove the truth of that. Mr. Birrell succeeded to the Government of Ireland within two years of the, passing away of Lord Salisbury's second Government. That Government had been in power, with the exception of a very short period, for something like twenty years. After Mr. Birrell had been in Ireland long enough to ascertain the position from all sources of information—from the reports of the Constabulary, from the reports of the magistrates, and from the statements made by Judges in all parts of Ireland what was his verdict when he came back to London? It was that Ireland was "more tranquil and prosperous than it had ever been for the last 600 years." After that, who can say that there is any choice, for those who wish to have a peaceable Ireland, between the policy that is being pursued to-day and the policy of resolute straightforward government which was recommended by the late Lord Salisbury?
I have given your Lordships my experience with regard to Ireland during fifty years of public life. It is the experience of one who has done his very best to make a careful, and, I hope, an intelligent study of the Irish question at all possible times. Of those fifty years, forty-seven 1026 were spent in the other House of Parliament, where we had numerous debates, and many opportunities of judging the situation. In nearly all of those debates I took a part more or less; and it is because of the kindliness and attention which I always received in that House in those days that I still entertain the warm and kindly feeling which I always felt for it when I was there. I beg to move.
§ LORD WIMBORNE
My Lords, it has not been my practice to intervene frequently in Irish debates. The post that I occupy usually imposes on its occupant a certain reticence. But we have advanced so far from the old Party controversies, both in England and in Ireland, and the situation over there is at once so critical and so hopeful—
§ LORD WIMBORNE
That I think it would be useful if I said something upon this occasion. In fact, the dual position which I occupy, as representative of the Sovereign and as a Minister of the Crown, ensures at once an intimate acquaintance with, and also a certain detachment from, current events which ought to enable me to give that sort of fair survey of the situation which I think is desired, and to which this House is entitled.
My noble friend Lord Chaplin, with all his accustomed courtesy and moderation in debate, has made, nevertheless, a serious indictment of the Government of Ireland. I understood him to charge that Government with inconsistency, weakness, lack of grip. With that I must presently deal; but, incidentally, my noble friend gave what seemed to me to be a rather gloomy account of the condition of Ireland both present and prospective. I can honestly say that living there, I do not recognise the portrait, and I do not share his anticipations. Far be it from me to deny that there are anxious, indeed sinister, possibilities lurking in the Irish situation. That is always the case. But I do not think that on that account we must lose our sense of perspective and jump to conclusions of a disappointing or alarmist character.
I do not complain of my noble friend's speech. I am not surprised at it, because, viewing the situation from his angle of vision, there certainly is in the perplexing and complicated situation in Ireland quite 1027 enough material which lends itself to very easy distortion. I may say that if the wildest rumours are current sometimes in Dublin, there is some excuse for their being believed in London. I believe that one of the tragedies of the position is that the two countries are so much terra incognita to each other. Certain it is that there is a great deal which is perplexing and disappointing in the attitude of Nationalist Ireland to this country, which attitude is accounted for by the fact that over there our intentions are frequently misunderstood and our motives are open to suspicion and mistrust.
I find it convenient, in a complicated question of this kind, to separate the past from the future. We shall avoid an almost inevitable confusion if we draw a line to-day, and see how we stand now before we speculate upon what may be awaiting us. How do we stand at the present time with regard to what I imagine will be admitted to be the main issue—security? In view of the inflammable material that exists in Ireland, and the surcharged memory of past events, the gravest danger we have to apprehend in that country is the introduction of arms, or even a hostile landing. When I returned to Ireland last August the first thing I did was to institute a thorough investigation into the mechanisms by which security on that head might be expected. The matter was thoroughly overhauled by all the authorities concerned—the Horse Guards and the Irish Command, the Admiralty, the Naval Ease at Queenstown, the Police, the Coastguards, and the Customs officials. The arrangements were carried out by able Staff officers and other competent officials. They were pronounced to be water-tight and efficient by those who were capable of forming an opinion: nor has anything taken place since to make me doubt the substantial efficiency of the system or the vigilance of those who administer it. That. I suggest, is the first point to bear in mind.
Coming now to the internal situation, what is the position? In spite of what Lord Chaplin may fear. I say Ireland is not out of Hand. Externally, the country is very prosperous. There have been some instances of rowdyism in one or two towns, but, generally speaking. Ireland is orderly. There is no menace to life or property. Nobody goes in fear of his life. The King's Writ runs, and the country is practically crimeless in the ordinary sense of the word.
1028 Now, my Lords, I have an illustration of the external prosperity of Ireland which I think will recommend itself to the noble Viscount as much as anything. Of the 1,000,000 additional acres brought under the plough in the United Kingdom this year, Ireland is responsible for over 700,000 acres, and only yesterday I received a Return showing the result of that additional cultivation. It is interesting to see that the output of wheat, which is not a very large crop in Ireland, has gone up 98 per cent. Oats this year are 1,300,000 tons, and have gone up by 42 per cent. Potatoes are over 1,000,000 tons, and have gone up 31 per cent. on the average. That is evidence of prosperity which I am sure the noble Viscount will welcome.
§ LORD WIMBORNE
I am glad to know that it is not news to the noble Viscount. Outwardly I say that Ireland is industrious and calm. Inwardly, however, there is unrest and disillusion on the one hand and uneasiness on the other; but also there is, common to both parties, hope. Evidence of the tension in the public mind is to be seen in the paroxysms of fear and fury which convulsed Ireland in the death of Ashe. Nobody can deplore the death of Ashe more than I do, but the disproportionate significance attached to that event and also to the public funeral by which it was succeeded is symptomatic of the abnormal irritability which exists. No sane man in Ireland can believe that the Executive or the prison authorities desired his death. I had myself proposed that better conditions should be extended to prisoners whose offences sprung from political motives; and in that respect I cannot agree with what Lord Chaplin said with regard to the recent Dublin drillings. However, I proposed it. That amelioration of their condition was under the consideration of the Executive when the prisoners, as I dare say your Lordships will remember, passed from passive to active defiance, and in the sequel Ashe succumbed to heart failure, possibly, but by no means certainly, accelerated by forcible fee ling. That is a very regrettable fact: but, after all, it must be remembered that hunger-striking is attended with risks even to the strongest constitution, and those who practise it employ that very 1029 fact the danger to their life—as an instrument for extracting the concessions they demand.
I have said that there was hope in Ireland as well as unrest. Any one who knows the deep and earnest interest in the fate of the Convention which is felt throughout all Ireland, by all parties in Ireland, will go so far. I think, as to say that it constitutes an almost passionate hope that good will come out of their deliberations. In these circumstances the governing factor in the Irish situation is, as Lord Chaplin recognises, the Convention. I should like to say, in passing, that the members of that Convent ion have put not only Ireland but the whole Empire under a deep obligation to them for the way in which they have interpreted their duty. One and all, I believe, have approached their difficult and arduous task in. I spirit of complete detachment from past predilections and personal traditions, and have laboured to find a solution which they could collectively recommend to their fellow-countrymen as affording the basis for a permanent and durable concordat. It is no secret of State that the labours of the members of the Convention have already been rewarded by substantial progress. If agreement is not immediately reached, at least we may hope to be possessed of a detailed statement of the differences which remain between them; and I am sanguine enough to believe that they will appear to be less formidable than any optimist would have predicted before the Convention name together.
Therefore the attitude of the Executive is determined by the existence and prospects of the Convention. For its sake, as we remember, the policy of amnesty was adopted—the amnesty of the rebel leaders. That was done to enable the Convention to come into existence, It was intended to be, and was regarded as, an earnest of the sincerity of the polity of the Imperial Government. I think myself that it was justified. It was sanctioned by Parliament, and in my view it was justified by events. That amnesty policy was accorded with full knowledge of the fact that it was incidentally going to add to the difficulties of the Executive. The attitude of some of these extremists always has been irreconcilable. We knew that we had no gratitude to expect from them, no cessation of their activities, and that their release might be expected to cause alarm and give 1030 offence to many of His Majesty's loyal subjects; but having deliberately, and as I feel justifiably, taken that step it would be folly in the extreme at the first blush of danger for the Government to be stampeded into inconsistent and spectacular activity, either at, the provocation of one section or owing to the misgivings of the other, Such an act would be to my mind one of the gravest recantation.
I can illustrate this by recent events. The Government were circumstantially informed that there would be a rising in Ireland last Sunday week. The information was derived from quarters and came from sources which it was impossible to ignore. My right hon. friend the Chief Secretary, with my full support and concurrence, steadfastly refused to take the advice deliberately tendered to him as to what was his duty in the matter. What happened? Far from there being a rising or even an armed demonstration, or any demonstration at all, not a dog barked. Nothing happened. Had the preventative action been taken which I gather would have been the view of any noble friend Lord Chaplin, whatever other results might have accrued, one thing is certain. The Convention would have been killed. I admit that the Government ran some risks. That was inevitable. But events proved that their insight into the situation had not been at fault. Therefore, my Lords, the policy of the Irish Executive, as I see it, must be not to seek trouble, but if trouble comes to be ready to meet it.
I do not deny for a minute that public opinion on this subject is very naturally influenced by the recollection of the melancholy rebellion of last year. If it occurred then, it is said, what confidence can be enjoyed that it will not occur again, especially in view of the fact that the Sinn Fein element, which was then small, is now admittedly large? What right, you ask, have you to run risks, even for the sake of the Convention that I understand to be the noble Viscount's point—which may lead to such disastrous and damaging results? My Lords, there are two cardinal difference between the position to-day and the position which existed in Ireland in the spring of last, year. In the first place, the Government has now what it did not then possess, and that is an adequate military establishment for the maintenance of law and order I remember that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, was good enough last year in 1031 this House to signify his assent to some observations I then made upon the indefensible lack of proper support that existed previous to the rebellion. Nobody could be more acutely conscious than I am of the necessity of maintaining an adequate military establishment in Ireland, able to deal with all reasonable eventualities, having regard always, of course, to the general situation of the war. I can assure your Lordships, for what my judgment is worth, that we are incurring no undue peril in Ireland at the present moment, and, further, that should the situation be altered for the worse owing to anything that may happen in Ireland, or to other causes. I should be the very first to inform my noble friend the Leader of the House of the fact, and, if necessary, to take the step of informing this House itself. Nobody could be more sensitive on this point than I am. That is the first difference between to-day and the spring of 1916.
But there is another difference which, if anything, is more important still. The right of armed assembly on the part of Volunteer forces which was then connived at by common consent owing to causes the responsibility for which I will not go into, is connived at no longer. Never again, after what happened, can the Government of Ireland tolerate a recrudescence of that licence which was the principal cause probably of the late rebellion. Whatever view may be taken of the desirability or the futility of suppressing speeches the noble Viscount takes one thing; I do not know that I quite agree with him, although I understand his irritation at reading speeches such as he quoted—whatever view we take about speeches, one thing is certain, we cannot and will not tolerate drilling. Political opinions, I think, however remote from reality and however extreme they may be, are one thing; but political opinions, even if they are moderate and sane opinions, backed by physical force, are quite another, and quite inconsistent with the first rights of a civilised community.
Now, my Lords, let us come to the question of drilling. There is drilling in Ireland, a good deal of drilling, but do not let us make too much of it. Let us see it in its proper perspective. It is a great worry to us, but up to the present it has not assumed dangerous dimensions. In 1032 many eases it is of a very trivial and sporadic character, almost negligible. Sometimes it is conducted by youths, by Boy Scouts and so forth; but still our policy is to indicate that we do not mean to tolerate a recrudescence of the past state of affairs. We do not tolerate drilling, and we take such steps for its suppression as we are able, and as I think in the long run will prove effective.
§ LORD WIMBORNE
I admit that it takes place, but we are taking steps to put it down. There are prosecutions every day for illegal drilling. The Courts-Martial are perpetually dealing with these cases. We are now taking steps to regularise and co-ordinate the action of the Court-Martial. We do not intend to allow drilling, and we are taking steps where they are possible and adequate to stop it. Anyhow, I tell the House this—as I say, keep the thing in perspective- drilling has not at the present time assumed any military significance, and I do not doubt that it will be possible to deprive it of the power of ever assuming anything of the kind. With regard to those people who indulge in drilling, I am not without appreciation for the spirit of patriotism, a narrow kind of patriotism if you like, by which they are animated, but I do not believe that the Sinn Feiners are pro-German.
§ LORD WIMBORNE
The noble Lord will allow me to state my view. I do not believe they are pro-German, however much they may affect—
§ LORD WIMBORNE
The noble Viscount does not live in Ireland as much as I do, and I am entitled to my opinion.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
I can read their speeches. I do not in the least wish to misrepresent the noble Lord, but he will see that the Prime Minister himself quoted a speech in which they said they were ready to combine with the Germans or any other foe.
§ LORD WIMBORNE
Will the noble Viscount allow me to finish my sentence? I say that, however much the extreme section may affect, and indeed be willing to accept, if they can get it. German assistance to will what they consider to be their rights and liberties, they are not in my opinion, in the sense in which the phrase is used, pro-German. They have no sympathy with the German qua German. With regard to their avowed object, which is the dream of an independent Irish Republic, that must always remain a dream. If it could attain to any prospect of realisation, apart from all other considerations, all Imperial considerations—and this I venture to recommend to the attention of some of its promoters—I say that if their idea could materialise any prospect of realisation, it would immediately and inevitably produce a state of civil war in Ireland. Not along that path can be reached the only basis upon which a new Ireland and brighter prospects can be founded. It would be a gloomy outlook if indeed the Sinn Fein party were all irrevocably committed to their spoken intransigent attitude.
Good judges believe, and there are several grounds for their opinion, that most if not all Sinn Feiners would hesitate to reject the practical and peaceful recommendations of the Convention, if they are forthcoming, in the interests of remote and illusory expectations. It is said, I understand, "So far so good. We understand the present attitude; it is a compromise, and if the Convention provides an acceptable basis for settlement all will be well, and you will be justified. If on the other hand it fails, what, then?" That is the point I understand the noble Viscount made—namely, that on the assumption of the success of the Convention we are pledging the prospects of tranquility in the event of failure. I reply that the Convention has not failed, and cannot fail utterly. At the very least it has brought Irishmen together, and at the very worst we shall obtain from it a "definition of differences." That is an immense step. I do not despair, in the event of a present failure, of the possibility of renewed efforts. Our resources in that direction should not be regarded as exhausted. It is too early, I hold, to talk of alternatives. There are people, I know, who are already anticipating that necessity. They say, "Supposing you cannot get on, supposing the avenues of advance are closed, how will you stand?" I admit 1034 that the prospect is not a very pleasant one to contemplate, and I believe the fact itself will have its due weight with those who are responsible for the present negotiations. I do not suppose that anybody, in view of our moral as well as our material commitments, can contemplate a recourse to naked coercion without dismay.
There is a school of thought that believes that the remedy for the ills which it foresees in Ireland is conscription. Ireland has contributed 120,000 troops to His Majesty's Forces. It is far below her numerical contingent even allowing, as we must, that. Ireland is mainly a rural population. Unhappily, the relations between the two countries have not in the past been such as to enable us to expect the same readiness to make sacrifices for the common Imperial cause as we obtain so willingly at home. It is undoubtedly a deplorable source of weakness, but I doubt whether the proposal would be any solution of the domestic problem on would, on balance, materially increase the forces of the Crown. It amounts to this, so far as two-thirds of the country is concerned, that you would be raising the issue and encountering the problem of a nation of conscientious objectors. What an Irish Parliament may do is another matter. I know, at any rate, that a settlement of the Irish question would be the signal for a renewal on the part of the Irish Nationalists of that recruiting campaign which less than two years ago was not discouraging, and which would be conducted under far more hopeful auspices.
I feel sure that with regard to Ireland there is no simple and universal panacea for the ills which the pessimists contemplate. It is just as unreasonable to suppose that conscription is going to solve all the difficulties in Ireland as it is to believe there is a short cut to victory in the war. Our policy must always be to maintain the principle of the Convention, whether that body is in operative existence, or whether it has fallen into temporary abeyance. If the wound fails to heal at first, we must not despair of ultimate cure. It is a good deal to expect that, people who for centuries have held deep and strong convictions with regard to domestic questions should be suddenly brought to view them from another point of view. I do not think, therefore, we ought to despair that the great trials through which we are all passing will bring about a more amenable attitude.
1035 I gratefully acknowledge the support that public men and the Press have rendered to Ireland in the difficult times we are going through. To that general attitude there is, I regret to say, some regrettable exceptions. There are certain schools of thought who do not lose an opportunity of attacking the Government and denouncing it for weakness and pusillanimity. The unfortunate thing about it is that it inflames the extreme sections of both camps. It provides material for the one and creates distrust with the other. Sometimes I think these criticisms arise a little from ignorance. Into the tangled and complicated scheme of things which goes to make up the Irish situation it is very incautious for an imperfectly equipped critic to plunge. It does not always do good service to the State. The Irish Government have a double duty to perform. They have their duty to Ireland, and that is to pursue the policy of the appeasement and reconciliation of the two races which inhabit its shores. They have their duty to the Empire, and that is to protect it from untoward or hampering perils which may come from that quarter and which would impede the successful prosecution of the great task upon which we are engaged. Both these duties are being faith fully performed, I believe, by the Irish Executive, from the Chief Secretary down to the humblest member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. I claim that a large measure of success has attended their efforts, and I predict that, with the confidence and support of this House and the country, happy and durable achievements are far from being beyond the bounds of reasonable probability in the future.
THE EARL OF MEATH
My Lords, as a practice I have abstained from addressing your Lordships on purely Party political questions, but the Irish question at this moment cannot in any way be considered a purely Party political one. The very safety of the Empire and the happiness of Ireland have to do with this question, and I am rather distressed that the noble Lord who has just spoken and who is the head of His Majesty's Government in Ireland does not seem to realise, although he may realise it, what a different matter this is from that eternal Irish question which ever since I came to years of intelligence I have had brought before me in one way or another, as also have your Lordships. The difference is this, that never before have the Irish people as a mass or as an 1036 organised body claimed complete separation from Great Britain and the Empire. That is a most important difference. It is a difference which may lead, if not recognised, to the real dismemberment, not of the British Isles, as mentioned by Mr. Gladstone, but to the dismemberment of the British Empire.
The noble Lord who has just spoken appears to me to be looking at this question from the Party politician point of view, and not from the point of view of an Imperialist statesman. Why do I say that? I say it in the first place because, if he had looked at it from the Imperialist statesman point of view, he would not have laid so much stress upon the economic prosperity of Ireland at the present moment. No one questions that the Irish farmer is richer than he ever was in his life, and the Irish farmer is a majority in the country. The really serious thing is that the young Irish farmer has been led away to think that separation would he a good thing for Ireland, and unfortunately he has never had it pointed out to him that complete separation between England and Ireland is an impossibility, and that therefore he is asking what cannot be granted.
For better, for worse. Ireland and England, physically and in almost every other way, have been united and must remain united. There is no divorce, these is no possibility of separation. I say that because, even if His Majesty's Government should yield to such a suicidal policy as to accept the demand of the Sinn Feiners and give separation to Ireland, the Empire would intervene. Do you imagine that after all the sacrifices, all the blood that has been shed, all the money that has been expended by our brethren overseas, they would allow Ireland to place herself, as would inevitably occur, under the protection of Germany, and be a danger close to the centre of the Empire, especially after what we know science has done in weakening for a moment and to a certain extent our sea supremacy. There lies the danger. They are asking for what is an impossibility, and that means that either we must pretend to give them what we should have to take away from them afterwards and make matters worse—namely, separation or we should have to put down our foot firmly and say." No, we cannot; it is impossible. We will give you such Home Rule as is given to our Colonies, but it must be a Home Rule or a self-government which 1037 is in union with the other portions of the British Empire, which acknowledges one Flag and the supremacy of one Sovereign."
I listened with some disappointment to the noble Lord when he said that drilling, except in small instances, was not permitted in Ireland. I was in Dublin when for hours men marched through the streets of the city, certain portions of them armed ostensibly for firing purposes, on the occasion of the funeral of Mr. Ashe. It was said there were 80,000 men. I doubt whether there were so many, but that was the number reported.
THE EARL OF MEATH
I am not responsible for the numbers. I have read that there were 80,000. At any rate the Press published 80,000, though I do not believe there were so many. But if there were 50,000 it was enough.
THE EARL OF MEATH
I have myself passed through three, certainly through two, rebellions in Ireland in my life, and I could not congratulate the noble Lord upon saying that he did not listen to his military advisers when they recommended Home action. What the action was he did not state, but it was some action recommended when his military advisers thought a fortnight or two ago that there was going to be a rebellion. That is exactly what Mr. Birrell did. He refused to listen to his military advisers, and the rebellion took place. Fortunately the rebellion did not lake place upon this occasion, but the next time perhaps it may. I do not think that that was a very powerful argument in support of the action of the Government.
No one can feel more intensely than I do the difficulties that His Majesty's Government have to contend with, and there is no question whatever that it is of the utmost importance at this moment that nothing should be done to prevent the Convention from carrying on their labours in a peaceful and quiet way. I think, therefore, that we must all feel that the Government are placed in an exceedingly difficult position; and until the Convention have expressed their opinion and told the Government what they recommend, there is practically, and there must continue to be 1038 practically, no Government in Ireland. Now that is a very sad position, and I hope that His Majesty's Government will take every possible precaution to prevent the peace from being broken, because there are large numbers in Ireland who are only too anxious that something of the sort should occur. I will only add that I trust that His Majesty's Government will recognise that this is perhaps one of the most important moments in the history of my beloved country and in the history of our Empire, and that, unless they make up their minds that whatever is settled by the Convention shall be the law of Ireland, trouble will inevitably ensue.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, a very interesting contribution to this debate was made just, now by the Lord Lieutenant, who comes here to address us with an authority to which no one else can pretend in regard to the condition of Ireland. He cautioned us at the beginning of his speech against being too ready to accept gloomy accounts which might reach us of the condition of that country. But, as he went on. I confess that I thought some of his remarks fell very far short of being reassuring. I caught a reference to the existence of a "sinister possibility"; and another reference to the "inflammable material" which abounds in the country. But the noble Lord bids us not regard these things with overmuch suspicion. I should, however, like to ask the House whether, if we are suspicious, there is not a considerable amount of foundation in fact for the suspicions that we entertain. The Lord Lieutenant told us that the country was not out of hand. He told us that Ireland was orderly. What sort of order has he in his mind? I recall a passage in a speech delivered only a few days ago by the Chief Secretary, who told his hearers that in Ireland the Sinn Feiners were permitted to march and counter-march and to hold field days to their hearts' content. I am not sure that a country can be described—
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Mr. Duke, the Chief Secretary, in the House of Commons. That hardly suggests the idea of a country that can be properly described as an orderly country. The facts are always difficult to ascertain. Newspaper reports are very meagre, but that is a piece of evidence contributed by a witness whose evidence cannot be disputed.
1039 Upon what is it that our suspicions are founded? What we suspect is that the policy followed in dealing with these occurrences has not always been quite a consistent policy, and to my mind nothing is so unfair to the people of Ireland themselves as that there should be any inconsistency in the policy under which such events are dealt with. Surely it is the duty of the Irish Administration to do what the Prime Minister described the other day as "saving these poor people "—the poor people being the excitable and ill-informed peasantry of Ireland saving them from being persuaded to take part in a movement which can only lead them and their country to disaster, saving them from a kind of wave of indiscipline which is at this moment passing over Ireland with, I am afraid, most deplorable results.
I should like to give your Lordships an instance of the kind of indiscipline which is permeating Ireland at this moment. There is in one of the larger Irish cities in the South a college at which teachers are trained. It is a large college and is supported by grants from His Majesty's Government. I take this from an account circumstantially published in the newspapers. The other day the whole of the students, 200 in number, having some grievance connected, I believe, with their dietary or something of that kind, marched out and went on strike. They were at once taken charge of by the local Volunteers, who gave them quarters in their drill hall, fed them, and looked after them. These young men are the men whom we are bringing up as school teachers in Ireland, and if there is one thing that is more notorious than another and the fact is borne witness to in the reports of the Hardinge Commission—it is the fact that the school teachers in many parts of Ireland Lave done an infinite amount of mischief by the propagation of seditious doctrine. None of this inarching and counter-marching and manœuvring would be allowed in this country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
The Chief Secretary himself has said that they have been allowed to drill and to march and counter march and hold field days to their hearts' content. [LORD WIMBORNE dissented.] The noble Lord shakes his head, but there are the ipsissima rerba of the Chief Secretary. I say that that large measure of indulgence, which would never have been extended to any English county, has been extended for some time past to Ireland; and people ask themselves, and I think ask themselves naturally, Why is it that there should be this discrimination in favour of Ireland? Is there any part of the United Kingdom in which there is less excuse for proceedings of this kind? The country is prosperous. The Lord Lieutenant, himself bore emphatic witness to the fact—wonderfully prosperous. No grievance is alleged. Ear from there being any discrimination against Ireland, Ireland has been singled out for a special measure of indulgence by being allowed immunity from compulsory service; and you have 200,000 young men who, if they lived in this country, would have to enter the Army or accept some national service, manoeuvring about the country and adding to our national embarrassments.
What, to my mind, makes all this so serious is that we cannot possibly be under any illusion as to the trend of these events. We have had an object-lesson, which none of us can ever forget, in the rebellion of Easter, 1916. That can never pass out of our memory. It is easy to talk, as some people talk, of the "habitual exuberance of the Irishman," and so forth; but we have in the rebellion of Easter 1916, an example of the kind of results to which that exuberance leads if it is allowed to remain too long unchecked. I do not know whether your Lordships are familiar with the Report of Lord Hardinge's Inquiry into the events which led to the rebellion of last year. I am not going to quote from it at length, but open it almost at a venture and you find sentences like this—In periods of peace it may be desirable in an orderly community to disregard some seditious utterings as more vapourings; but when a country is engaged in a serious struggle, sedition alters its aspect and becomes treason, dangerous to the community, and should be promptly suppressed.I could give your Lordships half a dozen extracts from the same document in the same sense. What I venture to impress upon His Majesty's Government is that we 1041 cannot allow a repetition of the events of Easter, 1916. Those happenings left the ugliest blot upon the history of this country that has disfigured it for many a long year: and it is probably only His Majesty's Government who know how near we have been to a repetition of that great disaster.
I note that the justification offered for the large measure of tolerance which was extended to these Irish agitators is supported by the statement that it was necessary to use such indulgence in order that the chances of the Convention now sitting in Dublin might not be shipwrecked. I have always favoured the policy of the Convention, and in all sincerity I wish it success. But if I am asked whether I believe that the policy which has been followed in Ireland during the last few months is likely to have been conducive to the success of the Convention, I own that I gravely doubt it. Let us not forget that these Sinn Feiner refused all participation in the Convention, and that it is their declared object to defeat it. I cannot conceive that, in those circumstances, it should be thought that the chances of the Convention could be improved by allowing a comparatively free hand to these disorderly activities. I believe, on the contrary, that if things had happened as they very nearly did happen, and as they might have happened, a wave of excitement and indignation would have arisen which would once and for all have shipwrecked all prospects of the success of the Convention. At any rate, I should be very sorry to admit the plea which is sometimes made that, because the Convention is sitting, therefore law and order can in any sense be allowed to remain in abeyance in Ireland.
I certainly am to some extent, reassured by what has been said both by the Prime Minister and by the Lord Lieutenant. I gather from both of those statements that His Majesty's Government have now determined to deal much more resolutely and decisively with these disorders whenever they assert themselves; and I am bound to say that I draw a contrast between the language used by the Prime Minister and the language used by the Chief Secretary. If I might epitomise the language used by those two public men, I should say that, throughout the Chief Secretary's observations, the predominant thought was—save the Convention. I think the prevailing note struck by the Prime Minister was, on the contrary—save 1042 law and order; and, to my mind, that is by far the more important of the two. I was glad to note that the Lord Lieutenant informed us that the Irish Administration had made up their minds not to allow any more drilling.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
It has never been authorised, but it has taken place. I will not go back to the old argument, but we know perfectly well that the policy of the Irish Government for a long time was to turn their "blind eye to the telescope," and to allow these things to take place with impunity. I am glad to see these indications of increasing courage and decision. I am sure that His Majesty's Government will be well advised if they do deal a little more courageously with these incidents. There are two great risks which, it seems to me, they run if they do not deal resolutely with them. The first risk is the one which I suggested a moment ago namely, a repetition of the disaster of Easter, 1916. I believe that to be a real risk. But there is another risk, of a different kind, which to me seems obvious. I really believe that, if proceedings of the nature which we are discussing are allowed to go on taking place in Ireland, there will be a rather dangerous outbreak of indignation in this country. People cannot understand it. To the mass of our people it seems quite intolerable that while this country is in the throes of a great war the Sinn Feiners should be allowed to proclaim their sympathy (as they do upon public platforms) with the foes of this country, to march about carrying banners, making disloyal speeches, singing disloyal songs. I think, too, that our people will consider it intolerable that I do not know what the number is something like 50,000 of our troops should be contained in Ireland for the purpose of watching the proceedings of these rebels at, a moment when we want every man we can get for service in other theatres of war. To me, I must own, it also seems intolerable that His Majesty's Government should be distracted by these anxieties. I think it an outrage that my noble friend who leads the House should have to come down here and make speeches to us about Irish disorders at a moment when he has so many other claims upon his time. And most of all does it seem to me intolerable that these credulous and excitable 1043 Irish peasants should be exposed to the kind of propaganda which encounters them at every moment. I want to avoid both those risks: and it is with real satisfaction that I think I detect in the statements that have been made on the part of His Majesty's Government a deliberate decision to deal effectually with this menace, and to take whatever measures are necessary in order to counter it.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
My Lords, I think we have been fortunate this evening in that we have had the Lord Lieutenant present to state the views of the Government of Ireland, and also, at the same time, to explain the situation there, and to give us his opinions as to the state of Ireland at the present time. I listened to his speech with great attention, and during the whole of it my mind seemed to be carried back to happier years, when we were living in the piping times of peace and the only dangers which we used generally to go through were periodic troubles in Ireland—land, or some other troubles and we used to have very interesting and occasionally extremely amusing, and sometimes heated, debates in another place, of which I then had the honour to be a Member, and upon which occasions Members used to give their views as to how the Irish nation should be governed.
It is very interesting to hear that Ireland is extraordinarily prosperous. It is very interesting to know that at the present moment there is hope, and not so pleasing to hear that there is also unrest in Ireland. I am rather afraid that the hope is all shadow and the unrest grave reality; because later on in his speech the noble Lord informed us that last Sunday week it was generally expected that there was going to be a general insurrection in the country. If we were living in the piping times of peace I feel certain we should be able to carry on this debate, and many noble Lords who are far more able than I am to do so would give us their opinions as to how Ireland should be governed, and would be able to make us better acquainted with the Irish situation. But, unfortunately, interesting as that subject is, I feel that the one thing that the noble Lord entirely seemed to pass over is the fact that at the present moment we are engaged in a most terrible war and are struggling for our existence. Therefore the few words which I intend to address to your Lordships this 1044 evening will not be so much on the position in Ireland, but, if I may, I, wish to tell the Government what I believe to be the feeling in England.
After all, we in England, Scotland, and Wales have made great sacrifices in this war, and the whole population of Great Britain, be they rich or poor, high or low, will probably be called upon to make even far greater sacrifices yet, for unfortunately the end appears to be as far off as ever, and no man at the present moment can tell with any degree of certainty what the result of the war may be. Therefore I do not think we are wrong in stating that the paramount thing in this House is not to consider what the opinions of 100, or 1,000, or 10,000, or 100,000, aye, or even 1,000,000 people in Ireland may be. They are as nothing. The thing we have to consider is what is the opinion of at least 40,000,000 of people in the United Kingdom, who are called upon to make sacrifices in this war, and who are not rich and prosperous, but who are patriotically and quietly striving to do their best to further the interests of their country. Those are the men whom the Government have to consider. They have not to consider whether doing this or that would inflame public opinion in Ireland. The Lord Lieutenant has told us, in the first instance, that he considers the Irish Government at the present moment are in a good position to deal with any rising in the country, because they have what they consider to be a proper force. That is very pleasant to hear. I am delighted to learn that the Government have placed a sufficient force, or what they consider to be a sufficient force, in Ireland, to protect loyal people and to secure that there shall be no successful rebellion. But why is this force there? Would it not be much better employed elsewhere? I think the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, hinted at a figure of 50,000 troops in Ireland. I have no knowledge of the number of troops there, but there is no doubt that a very large number of troops are shut up in Ireland at the present moment. Why? In order to terrify people from rebelling, and also to be quite sure that the Germans will not be able to make a successful landing there and be joined by these men who have openly stated that they are in favour of the German cause.
At the present time I think we may divide the population of the world into 1045 three classes. There are the A lies and their friends, there are neutrals, and there are our enemies; and I think the question which we should like to put to the Government is this. In which of those categories do they class Mr. de Valera and his followers? Are they our friends and allies? Are they neutrals, are they benevolent neutrals? Or are they enemies? If they are the latter, I have no hesitation in saying that, whatever dangers of rising or insurrection there may be in Ireland, it is the duty of the Government to shut up men who are our enemies and prevent them going about trying to do us harm. After there has been a Zeppelin raid in London the Press and a lot of ill-informed persons write to say that it is all because there are some German waiters still not interned, and they must be shut up because they signal to the Zeppelins. I myself believe that there are a great many people interned in this country who are far less a source of danger to the safety of the country and the security of the British Empire than many of those men who are now left to go about in Ireland preaching sedition, and trying to train men so that should England meet with disaster they would be able, with the assistance of Germany, to rise and do injury to this country. That is a consideration which should have most weight with the Government, and I think it is really in that spirit that my noble friend Lord Chaplin has asked this Question: because, interesting as it may be to us to discuss all sorts of problematical Governments of Ireland, and the manners and customs of the Irish people, I believe that what the 40,000,000 people who live in Great Britain want to know is whether the Government has taken the best steps in Ireland to preserve the safety of the United Kingdom and promote the success of the war.
There has been a great deal of talk about the Convention, and a great many people thought that if the Convention was able to agree to a policy we should be able to pass a measure into law giving effect to their recommendations and instantly Ireland would quiet down. Of course, many noble Lords are better able than I am to speak on that question, but I can only say that one of the things which filled me with grave apprehension was the speech of the Prime Minister, in which he stated that if the Convention came to practical unanimity he would take immediate steps to give legislative effect to their recommendation. I 1046 think that is a most dangerous promise After all, the people of England in the past have made a great many sacrifices for Ireland, have been a good deal bothered with Ireland, and have had to find a good deal of money for Ireland, and have got very little return or thanks from Ireland for all the concessions made in the past. In these days people have to look a little to themselves. In order to get a peaceful atmosphere and a quiet life for the Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary, is England to be called upon to make further concession to Ireland in face of the declared policy of the Irish people that they would never be satisfied with less than Irish independence and an independent Irish Republic? All these things in times of peace can perhaps be discussed in a quiet atmosphere and without heat or disturbance, and one always hopes that a successful conclusion may be arrived at: but I may remind your Lordships' House that Parliament has tried for a good many years to arrive at a successful conclusion and has miserably failed. So again I say I am afraid that the hope expressed is a very fleeting shadow.
I think this war has brought home to the people of England as it was never brought home to them before the absolute impossibility of England ever allowing Ireland to be an independent Republic. Strategically it is absolutely impossible for England, for her own safety, ever to allow all independent Government in Ireland. The leaders of this party, who appear unmolested and go about preaching sedition and encouraging risings, have openly declared this to be their policy. Well, I think a very grave responsibility lies on His Majesty's Government. It is absolutely essential in order to quiet opinion in England that the Government, which is taking the mild course of trying to prohibit drilling—this appears to take up the chief energies of the Government and is, I think, rather unconvincing—should definitely state that it is in the interests of the security of the 40,000,000 people who live in Great Britain that these men who openly preach sedition and encourage men to drill and who are stating that they favour our enemy, should not be allowed to go free. In times of peace, of course, the moment you imprison or prosecute any man who is engaged on any work that can be called political in its nature, a great deal of animosity is aroused, and there is always a certain amount of sympathy for these 1047 people. Enormous pressure is always exerted upon the Government of the day to remit their sentences, to treat them more humanely, to let them out, and pardon their offences. Perhaps that is only natural. But I do not think I am wrong in saying that opinion in England is hardening on this matter. If at the present moment you were to imprison these men, even if there was an insurrection in Ireland and you had to use force to put it down, you would find here in England that there would be no sympathy with rebels, but rather you would get the support of the vast majority of the people, who feel that, while we are in the gravest danger from foes without, the Government of the day is doing absolutely nothing to check the activities of the foes within.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Wimborne, in his able and interesting speech, spoke about the angle of vision from which political matters may be regarded, and undoubtedly it has become a popular catch-word in recent times to say that a problem appears in a very definite perspective according to the angle of vision from which it is seen. We had an illustration of this yesterday, when the conscientious objector was depicted from one point of view as a foolish, wrong-headed, and unpatriotic person, and from another as a hardly-used martyr suffering for the sake of conscience; and I am not certain that this debate has not given another illustration of the same phenomenon this evening. The character of the majority of the speeches to which we have listened has certainly been to depict Ireland as seething with sedition and almost on the verge of open rebellion. On the other hand, we have listened to the Lord Lieutenant; and from his speech and from speeches delivered outside this House we gather an impression of an Ireland suffering from a violent attack, if you like, of an endemic disease, the roots of which are embedded in her character and in her history.
You have the same contrast as regards the attitude and responsibility of the Government. As I have sat here this evening hearing the criticism that has been passed on His Majesty's Government, I cannot help recalling that only three weeks ago in another place the members of that House were invited to deplore the conduct of the present Irish Executive 1048 as harsh, provocative, and futile. We cross the Lobby, we come to this House, and we find the same policy, carried out by the same men, described, as I have heard it this evening, as weak, vacillating, and incompetent. Between these two rival portraits of the same object it is a little difficult to arrive at the truth. I will endeavour, in the observations that I address to you, to do so to the best of my ability. And when I remember that the opposite verdict was rejected in the House of Commons by a majority of over 200 to 78, although I cannot hope for a similar result in this House, yet I trust that I shall be able to modify to some extent the impressions that have been left by some of the speeches to which we have listened.
This debate arises out of a Question put by my noble friend Lord Chaplin, and he seems to have found some contrast between the present position of affairs and the declarations, very emphatic declarations, which were made in a speech by the Prime Minister in the debate to which I have referred. May I say, in passing, that I do not think my noble, friend Lord Lansdowne was quite justified in discovering a contrast between the speeches of the Chief Secretary and of the Prime Minister. Certainly there was no such intentional difference, because the speeches were delivered after a meeting in which the, whole course of the debate had been examined and laid down in advance. While it was the duty of the Chief Secretary to explain the main principles and the acts of the Administration, it naturally fell to the Prime Minister to issue the grave warning with which he ended the debate.
Now, my Lords, what was the nature of that warning? The Prime Minister quoted—and they were referred to by Lord Chaplin to-night—many of the utterances of Mr. de Valera. I need not repeat those speeches, which are well known—I mean the speeches about calling upon the people in Ireland to train, to get hold of arms, to study the mechanism of the rifle, to manufacture pikes, and so on. The noble Viscount said—and I am inclined to think that he was actually quoting the Prime Minister that these utterances were "a deliberate and cold-blooded incitement to rebellion." No language could be used too strong to condemn them. We are all agreed upon that. Then the Prime Minister went on to say that such things could not be allowed to continue. He said that the 1049 Government must take action, not provocative action but firm action; and I beg your Lordships to bear in mind that distinction throughout this debate. He said three things. In the first place, that direct incitement to rebellion must not be permitted; secondly, that organisation for rebellion in respect of drilling, marching, processions, and the like must be stopped; and thirdly—referring to the point upon which so much stress was laid by my noble friend Lord Ancaster just now—he said that Ireland should know once and for all that nothing in the nature of separation, secession, sovereign independence (the wild programme which is preached by some of these foolish men) would this country, either now or at any time in the future, allow. That is, I think, a brief and correct summary of the speech of the Prime Minister.
The question I have to answer is, Has that speech been effective? Is there any difference between the situation now and what it was then? I am here to argue to your Lordships that the warning has had its effect, and that a change has come over the scene in Ireland. Such speeches as those to which I have referred, made by Mr. de Valera, are not, being made at the present moment, and if they were being made action would have to be taken upon them. The Government is continuing to pursue this policy of firmness without provocation, and the organisation for rebellion is being steadily suppressed, I am not a great admirer of statistics, but sometimes they convey in a single sentence what it would take much longer to demonstrate in a speech. I will give your Lordships figures of the proceedings and inquires under the Defence of the Realm Regulations against drilling, the wearing of uniform, and the carrying of arms in the period which has elapsed since the delivery of that speech and the corresponding period before it. The number of prosecutions for illegal drilling from October I to October 23 was 7; and the number from October 23 to November 9, which is the latest date for which I have the figures, was 10 In the interval between October 23 and November 9, 57 arrests have been made, 54 of which were for the offence of illegal drilling, 2 for wearing uniform of a military character, and I for carrying arms. In a number of these cases a district Court-Martial has been ordered. These are the proceedings that have been taken by the General Officer Commanding in Ireland and are exclusive of those taken by 1050 the Police. As regards the latter, there have been numerous prosecutions by the Police, There have been 37 in the last fortnight in Dublin City, and I only refrain from giving the figures as regards the provinces outside Dublin because the Irish Office has not been able to supply them to me.
I have said that there has been a difference in the speeches and you have a right to ask me to substantiate that remark. I quoted just now the kind of language which Mr. de Valera was using before the Prime Minister made his speech, and I take the utterances since. I think I have read every one of them as far as I have been able. It is quite true that Mr. de Valera goes on preaching the doctrine of separation, of an Irish Republic, and so on. We allow him to do so. I remember, before I entered public life, a man in a very prominent position in England preaching the doctrine of a Republic here. Nobody prosecuted him; nobody suggested that he should be put in prison; and in the same way, supposing the Sinn Feiners had taken part, as they were invited to do, in the Irish Convention, does any one mean to say if they had got up and preached separation from England and an independent Republic for Ireland they would have been shut up? They would have been entirely at liberty, following our universal practice and tradition, to express sentiments of that description. You say, What about his other speeches? The violent Clare speeches, to which I have also alluded, have been replaced by speeches containing, it is true, limited and contingent threats, but not very much more. I will give you the worst passages, carefully taken, of what Mr. de Valera has been saying in the interval. I trust that your Lordships will accept my assurance that they are the worst I can findIf England refused them their freedom, they would have to obtain it by force of arms." "We will never cease fighting against England until we get our needs."" Keep your powder dry "—A not uncommon metaphor—The only means of making an Englishman respect you is through the muzzle of a rifle."" The road to freedom is a narrow and difficult one, and the nation that wants to achieve freedom must be ready to march along that narrow and difficult path." "The time has come for Ireland; it is now or never.It is open to you to say, and to say with perfect truth, that these are foolish and symptomatic, possibly sinister, utter- 1051 ances, but they are not incitements to public violence; they are not, dangerous to public order or a menace to the stability of the State. Any one of your Lordships who has experience of law will know that it would be an extremely difficult thing to make them the basis of a successful prosecution.
A good many questions have been asked, and some difference of opinion has been expressed, as to what is the political position in Ireland. Doubts have been raised as to the attitude of Sinn Fein, and the noble Earl who spoke last definitely laid it down as his belief that Sinn Fein is an organisation animated throughout by disloyal and dangerous sentiments. I think a mistake is committed by those who speak of Sinn Fein as a single united and powerful organisation, directed by a single purpose and animated by a common motive. I think the very reverse is the case. So far as I can gather—and I have taken immense trouble to arrive at the facts—there are certain points upon which all sections of Sinn Fein are agreed. They are agreed in resisting conscription for Ireland; they are agreed in hostility to the Nationalist Party; and they are agreed as, indeed, a large majority of Irishmen have always been, in making things difficult for the British Government. But, my Lords, that section of the Sinn Fein party which is really extreme, which is prepared for acts of violence, which would like a rebellion, which tries to provoke collisions with the Police and military forces and which is animated by direct hatred of England, is, I believe, not only in a minority, but in a minority that becomes smaller instead of larger from day to day. This minority of the extreme Sinn Feiners is composed, as noble Lords who come from Ireland will bear me out, for the most part of young men, very often lads, who are easily attracted into this dangerous attitude. I do not deny that this section of Sinn Fein is a dangerous factor in the body politic. It is most dangerous: it means mischief, and it has to be carefully watched by the Government. It may be necessary to take strong measures to stamp it out, but do not make the mistake of thinking that it is all the Sinn Fein or the only Sinn Fein. I am informed—and I am quoting both military and civilians who have a real and intimate knowledge of what is going on in Ireland—that distinct from them is what I may call the moderate party of Sinn Fein, who, they tell me, number something like 1052 80 per cent. of the total Sinn Fein party. These are not the militant people. They are not the people who want fighting, but they are the political party, and they are opposed to the use of arms. They agitate for separation, they aim at an independent Irish State, but they are not for rebellion.
Let me give an illustration. At the recent meeting of the Sinn Fein Conference in Dublin the extremists delivered a very strong attack upon Mr. John McNeill for his reluctance to use force, and for his conduct, which they regarded as pusillanimous, on the eve of the rebellion at Easter time last year. They argued that he was unfit to be a leader of the Sinn Fein party. The result was that he got the largest number of votes of any candidate. I take as another illustration one which was perfectly fairly alluded to by my noble friend Lord Wimborne—namely, the absolute fiasco that attended the proceedings in Dublin and in the neighbourhood of Dublin on Sunday, November 1. As we all know, a rising was threatened, or at any rate was believed to be imminent, on that day. All the preparations were alleged to have been made. I may carry the story a little further than did my noble friend. I think it is known that my right hon. friend the Chief Secretary was openly encouraged and judging from the speeches that I have heard to-night I think the encouragement would have been endorsed here-to throttle the thing by arresting as many as 150 ringleaders and deporting them from the country. My right hon. friend the Chief Secretary had issued orders—they were quite proper orders—to disperse armed processions, to disarm armed men, to suppress armed disturbance wherever it took place, and to prohibit the great meeting at Newbridge which was to have been held outside Dublin. At the same time, of course, full and adequate steps were taken by the military to safeguard the situation. What was the result? Absolutely nothing. The whole thing fizzled out. I submit that the Chief Secretary, when he is censured, has a perfect right to point to that incident and say I am sure that he would not say it in any vainglorious mood that that was a feather in his own cap and was a severe blow to the cause of Sinn Fein.
I go a little further, and I wish with your leave, to represent to your Lordships the effect that is being produced by recent events, and by the growing schism which I have described, upon public opinion in 1053 Ireland. The noble Lord who spoke just now said that the only thing we had to consider was the 40,000,000 of people, who inhabit Great Britain. No, my Lords, if you are to have any hold in Ireland at all, that hold springs from the impression you may hope to produce upon public opinion there. What you want to do is to detach public opinion from the mere extremists who are ready to drag the country to its ruin. There is much evidence in Ireland that the words and assumptions of the extreme Sinn Fein party have alienated the sober and mere thoughtful sections of the population. There is a growing and a general disinclination for this dangerous policy of extremes. Along with that—I derive this from the Irish newspapers—there is a great and a growing diminution of sympathy with Ireland in America, and this is creating grave feelings of unrest and disquietude among the extreme party in Ireland itself.
I now come to what in my judgment is the most remarkable, and, I think, the most hopeful, symptom of all, and that is that Sinn Fein is being increasingly and courageously repudiated by the Catholic Church. With a few exceptions to which I need not allude, the Catholic. Church in Ireland is now throwing its weight into the maintenance of order and the due observance of the law. The priests in their pulpits and on their altar steps discountenance revolutionary action. I should like to quote to your Lordships one brief passage from the Irish Catholic, the chief weekly organ of the Catholic Church in Ireland, in support of what I have said. In its issue of November 8 there appeared thisIt is abundantly plain that Mr. de Valera does not want our priests to exercise any moderating influence in the secret councils of his movement…. The Irish Catholic is convinced that the movement is inspired to drag Catholic Ireland at the heels of the unholy Continental revolutionaries.It concludes with the remark that a great responsibility rests on the prelates, priests, and parents of Catholic Ireland. I am not certain that this is not the most hopeful thing that I have read during the past six months with regard to Ireland; and my study of the speeches of the Sinn Fein people has taught me this, that nothing has been more disconcerting to them than this revulsion of the Catholic Church. You will see in their speeches attempts to get hold of the younger priests, who, they say, 1054 will be more in touch with the times than the older Catholic clergy. There is at the present moment evidence of a distinct fissure between the extreme party in Ireland and those to whom they have always hitherto looked for support—namely, the leaders of the Catholic Church.
There is a further section in Ireland who are being alienated and irritated by the Sinn Fein policy. That is a class for whom the noble Viscount will feel a special sympathy—namely, the farmers of Ireland. The economic policy of Sinn Fein, which I think personally is very narrow and unwise, but which is expressed in many of their utterances, has excited profound suspicion and hostility among the farmers, because it definitely proposes to boycott English markets and keep all home-grown produce in Ireland. The farmers do not like that. The Irish farmer does not like being deprived of the legitimate profits of his industry; and if you follow the newspapers, as I have been endeavouring to do, you will find a storm of disapproval of Sinn Fein springing up in the country newspapers in all parts of that Island. I think, my Lords, that I have given you some evidence that a strong reaction is at the present moment in course of growth in Ireland. If that be so, I submit to you that it would be a great mistake to check or discourage it, and that we should only play into the hands of the extremists if we were rashly to provoke a conflict with those who, however unwise and ill-advised they may be, are nevertheless not a danger at the present time to the Realm.
I now turn to the matter about which so many questions have quite fairly been put to me this evening In these circumstances, what is the policy of the Government, and what ought the policy of the Government to be? Its guiding principles were laid down by the Prime Minister—" firmness but not provocation." How are we carrying that out? I would submit to you that if any one of your Lordships were in the position of the Minister responsible for the carrying out of law and order in Ireland, the test that he would apply in the case of each action or incident would be this Is the action with which I am called upon to deal really injurious to the public safety; is it in any sense a real menace to the State? I take the case of drilling. Drilling is illegal. It has been prohibited. The Government endeavour to put it down. But I ask your Lordships to discriminate 1055 between the cases in which this is practicable and the cases in which it is impracticable. Take the case of a large city, whether it be Dublin, Cork, or Limerick, or any large city in Ireland, where you have a sufficient Police force and where the Police, if in a tight place, can be supported by the military. There firm action is taken. Men marching in fours, drilling in the streets, and so on, are firmly dealt with, and are dispersed. But I do ask any practical man to answer this. Suppose these young fellows—and many of them are mere boys—march out into the country and drill in the waste spaces of Ireland, how can you stop them? How can you stop them unless you have the force? And have you got the force to do this all over the country in places several miles from the populous towns? Again, without in the least wanting to treat the matter in a flippant spirit, I cannot help putting to myself the question, Is this kind of foolish sporadic drilling of a few boys on the hillside, even if it is not interrupted—and we do interrupt it where we can—is it really going to shake the Constitution?
Now take the case of troops. It has not been mentioned to-night, and it has to be mentioned with delicacy, but it must be in our minds. Of course, military support may have to be given, and the decision in such matters rests, as all your Lordships know, according to invariable practice, with the Military Commanding Officer, and a very anxious and critical duty it is that he has to perform. But, my Lords, while the military is there, and while it may fairly be called upon to intervene at a moment of danger, every one knows how serious a step it is to call up the military and to disperse a meeting with the risk of bloodshed. It is the surest way to provoke trouble; it has done so over and over again in this country. Those of us who have been in Parliament for years can remember the explosions which have taken place owing very likely to a perfectly legitimate calling in of the military. The firing of one or two shots, the death of one or two men very likely innocent men produce a commotion which does far more harm than the good you may have secured by the stopping of the individual incidents at the place in question. My Lords, we want to avoid shooting in Ireland, not only because of its deplorable results anywhere, but because of the fatal results which it might produce in the present phase of Irish affairs. And that is 1056 why, in what is going on in Ireland, you will find that recourse is always had, where it can be had, to Police remedies, to the arrest of the leaders, their prosecution, their trial, their imprisonment. I may mention, as one instance of the Police action on the part of this weak and vacillating Government, that one of the offenders is suffering at this moment a sentence of penal servitude.
My right hon. friend the Chief Secretary, who. I think, has not been quite fairly treated in this matter—I am not speaking of this House, but generally—is continually faced with this difficulty, arising with regard to almost every question that comes up. He has to put to himself the question, Is this case a public offence, or is it a Police offence? If he takes strong action, will be provoke tumult and bloodshed; will he do anything to stop the chances of that appeasement in Ireland about which my noble friend Lord Wimborne spoke with so much eloquence?
Let me take another case, to which my noble friend Lord Chaplin alluded. It was the case of uniforms. Well, the wearing of uniforms is prohibited. But it is a prohibition which you cannot enforce in every case. If a single individual chooses to put on a uniform do you mean to say that you are to hunt him down by the Police? What the Government tries to do in Ireland is this. If there is a collection of people in uniform, a collection which is a challenge to public authoirty, to the civil power, then that is firmly dealt with, provided, of course, that the force is available for the purpose. Take another case, that of the carrying of arms. The carrying of arms is illegal. It is prohibited. It cannot as a general principle be allowed. But, again, the head of the Executive in carrying out the policy of preventing the carriage of arms has always to consider the question, Can he act in a way to avoid bloodshed; has he the force to carry through the orders of the Government without provoking something of that description?
Then I come to the case of meetings. Some noble Lords—I think my noble friend Lord Lansdowne was one of them—seemed to be somewhat disconcerted at the unrestrained liberty with which, these meetings and the speeches that are delivered at them are allowed to take place in Ireland. My noble friend Lord Chaplin particularly called my attention to a meeting 1057 at Waterford, which he thought was a typical and, I suppose, a scandalous case of inability on the part of the Government to carry out a policy of firmness in defence of law and order.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I will give the noble Viscount the actual facts about the Waterford meeting. This was a meeting which was announced by the Sinn Fein party to be held in an open space called the Mall, in the city of Waterford, on Sunday last. It was to be addressed by Mr. de Valera and Mr. Arthur Griffith. It was prohibited by the General Officer Commanding on the ground that it was likely to give rise to grave disorder. Processions in connection with the proposed meeting were also prohibited. The reason for the prohibition was that the Police had definite ground for expecting a breach of the peace if the meeting or processions were attempted. Accordingly, ample means for the enforcement of the prohibition were provided. The proclaimed meeting did not take place, nor was any profession held. But what happened? Mr. de Valera came from Dublin to Waterford, and on Sunday afternoon he drove out to a distance of three miles from the city to a place called Ballynaneeshagh, and he there addressed an assembly of 700 or 800 persons largely composed of women and boys. I hope your Lordships will not say, "Oh, that is the official account of the thing," because, happily for my case, one of the English papers has published pictures of the meeting—I shall be happy to hand them to the noble Viscount opposite—showing a long line of the youthful Sinn Feiners, many of them apparently not much over the age of 14 or 15, marching out to hear the mellifluous utterances of Mr. de Valera. Well, the meeting took place. There was no procession; there was no breach of the peace; members of the Constabulary were present at the meeting, and they found no reason to interfere with the proceedings. The noble Viscount, in his anxiety that I should be thoroughly acquainted with what happened at this place, was kind enough to send me an extract from a paper giving a somewhat more rhetorical account of what took place. But this is how it ended: 1058This evening Waterford is as quiet as a churchyard. The Sinn Feiners and the soldiers are all indoors drying their feet.Now, supposing that the Executive had acted in the kind of manner which was indicated, which was almost suggested, by the noble Viscount to-night, I think it is quite likely that Waterford would have supplied a churchyard in another sense of the term, and that, instead of the whole affair evaporating as it did in drizzle, it might have burst out into an open and a dangerous conflagration.
I think it was the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, who spoke rather slightingly of the "traditional exuberance" of the Irish people. But is not there something in it after all? I mean, are all these meetings to be taken too seriously? Do Irishmen take them very seriously themselves? Will you not find in Ireland that, in the opinion of a great many of the people, the dullness of a Saturday afternoon or of a Sunday is sensibly relieved by the opportunity of going out and attending a meeting and making speeches? Is not speechmaking one of the traditional delights and glories of the Irish race? Can we have a better illustration of it than the noble and gallant Admiral, Lord Beresford, who seldom loses an opportunity, either in this House or out of it, and when he is not engaged in this House I am perfectly certain, if you look at the newspapers, you find that he is occupied outside in vindicating this inestimable tradition of his countrymen. Must we be too serious about all this? Law and order, of course, must be kept. Incitements to rebellion and to disorder must be put down. But really if we are to begin to interfere with these meetings and with these speeches all over Ireland, I believe that not only will the Government be undertaking an impracticable task, but they will be acting unwisely. After all, are, not these meetings often a safety valve for the pent-up emotions of the people? And may I not put this consideration to your Lordships, that at these meetings, as they take place, every extreme speech that is delivered—and this has been my argument in the earlier part of my remarks—is more likely to drive the moderates away from the extremists than it is to drive the extremists into action.
I must confess that I think for my own part it is better that sedition, if you like, should be openly preached on the hillside, than that plots against the State should be 1059 secretly concocted in private meetings of which the law knows nothing. I hope I have thus shown your Lordships that in respect of drilling, of the carrying of arms, of the wearing of uniform, of processions, of the use of troops, of the holding of public meetings, and of the making of speeches, the inquiry ought to be made by the Executive in each ease, What is the nature of the menace; how can it be met; and is it wise for the sake of a local manifestation of force, which may be very gratifying and may even be desirable, to jeopardise the great task on which we are engaged in Ireland of evolving by the agency of Irishmen, and, as we ultimately hope, with the consent of Irishmen, some solution of this almost insoluble problem?
There remains only for me to say a word about the general condition of Ireland. The House listened with respect to what fell from my noble friend Lord Wimborne. I need not deal for the moment with the question of prosperity. That is undisputed. It may be said that it does not tell directly on the arguments that your Lordships are addressing to the House to-night. But I think that the evidence which I have adduced, and which is accessible to anybody who wishes to seek it, does show that there is no general prevalence of crime in Ireland, that there is no policy of violence in the proceedings of the Sinn Fein party, and that the isolated cases, which are deplorable and reprehensible, are incidents which can be and have been dealt with adequately by the police and by the military in that country.
I would not deny that the condition of Ireland is critical. I would not say that it does not want very careful watching. But when the noble Viscount gets up and makes the kind of speech that he did to-night, and when, still more, a noble Lord, like Lord Ancaster, follows it up by the even more outspoken appeals that he addressed to us, I would ask them exactly what they do want. What do they want us to do? It is possible, of course, provided that you have the men, to go in for a wholesale repression of all these unhealthy symptoms of which I have been speaking. You might succeed, although I doubt it. You might produce a superficial quiet, which might lead everybody to think that peace was reigning in the land. I doubt whether that would represent the real facts. You would be driving these feelings—very dangerous as they are in some cases—as I said just now, underground; 1060 you would make cheap martyrs of the men you arrested and put in prison or deported; and, still more, you would go a long way to check all those wholesome influences about which I was speaking in the earlier part of my remarks, and as to which I cannot exaggerate the importance that I, at any rate, attach to them.
My right hon. friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland is ploughing a very difficult furrow. He is ploughing that furrow, as I see the case, with infinite forbearance, patience, and self-control. He runs, I will admit, great risks. He runs the certain risk of being misunderstood—he has been so in this House to-night. He is prepared to be so misunderstood everywhere. He also runs the risk of failing to succeed. That is the greatest risk which a public man can run. He is willing to run that risk. He is pursuing his task with patience and with courage; and if he is travelling on the right road—as I believe him to be—I am certain that even the most critical of your Lordships will not complain, however long that road may be and however grave and irritating the obstacles which may be found in its path, if he does eventually succeed in arriving at the goal.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, my noble friend began by protesting that there had been no difference of intention, or in fact of meaning, between the speech of the Chief Secretary in the House of Commons three weeks ago and the speech delivered by the Prime Minister on the same occasion. I do not know what was the intention, but there was a very different impression produced by those two speeches. The Chief Secretary was apologetic from end to end, and no Chief Secretary whose speech I have read has ever got up in the House of Commons and apologised in the way that Mr. Duke did for the simple performance of his duty. The speech of the Prime Minister was pitched in a very different key. He made no apology, and he laid down a policy which commends itself not only to the Government but to all the members of both Houses of Parliament. If the Government really carry out the policy as laid down by the Prime Minister we have no criticisms to make. But it is because we cannot see that the Government in Ireland is carrying out the policy of the Prime Minister that this Motion has been put down to-day.
My noble friend the Leader of the House began by repeating the policy enunciated 1061 by the Prime Minister, and he did it with his usual skill and emphasis. So far as that part of his speech went, we are in complete accord with him; but in the latter part of his speech, with the great power of language of which he is a master, he drew us a picture of Ireland the keynote of which was: Is it not easy to take these rather ominous signs too seriously? Is there not a lot of truth in the plea of the exuberance of the Irish character? Is it not better that these thing should exist and be watched, than that we should run any chance of bloodshed? My criticism on that part of his speech is that he treated the state of Ireland too lightly. Our anxiety arises from the fact that, as far as we can understand, not the policy, but the administration of the Government of Ireland is exactly the same as that which led to the bloody revolution of Easter, 1916. It is because we dread lest exactly the same faults which led to that awful tragedy are now being repeated that our anxiety is so great.
Let me first of all draw attention to the Lord Lieutenant's account of the event of last Sunday week, and what he said about it himself. The Lord Lieutenant claimed the history of last Sunday week as a triumph for the policy of the Chief Secretary, and he ended with the statement that "not even a dog barked." There was, he said, no disturbance in Ireland on that occasion, and the Chief Secretary is entitled to all the credit for that fact, just as the responsibility would have been his if there had been a disturbance. But I do protest against the impression left by what the Lord Lieutenant said, and to a less extent by what my noble friend said, that these hours were not very critical indeed in Ireland. My noble friend only alluded to the military precautions taken. We know what those military precautions were, though it is not perhaps in the public interest that they should be publicly stated; but I have never known military precautions more eloquent as a testimony to the gravity of the crisis. Therefore, although the Government and the Chief Secretary are entitled to the credit of the result of their precautions, yet I think it is deceiving this House for the Lord Lieutenant to give it the impression that there was no grave crisis which might have, turned out very differently.
Then my noble friend dwelt; on the diversity of Sinn Fein. He laid great stress upon the fact that Sinn Fein contained 1062 gentlemen shaded from the implacable revolutionist down to the poetical theorist. That is absolutely true, and I think all your Lordships who have taken any trouble to examine the nature of Sinn Fein will admit the truth of that description. But my noble friend left out—and in his account the Lord Lieutenant entirely left out—this ominous fact, that it is the men who hold revolutionary opinions who are leading Sinn Fein and who are winning every by-election, and that if there was a General Election to-morrow, so far as we know, outside Ulster, every single seat would be filled by a Sinn Feiner who holds extreme opinions. I submit that my noble friend and the Lord Lieutenant have not given an accurate picture of the state of Ireland when they omitted to lay stress upon that sinister fact.
It is admitted on all hands that the whole of the policy which has been pursued is directed to one end, and that is to assist the Convention to an auspicious conclusion. The Chief Secretary described his task as that of creating an atmosphere. I think it may be a very wise thing for a statesman to try and create an atmosphere, but I do not think it is a wise thing for a statesman to say that he is going to try to create an atmosphere. I think he had much better create an atmosphere, if he can, and say nothing about it. But our contention is that the atmosphere which the Chief Secretary has succeeded in creating is exactly that which must be fatal to the Convention or to any settled form of government in Ireland or in any other country. This contention is one which the Lord Lieutenant never attempted to meet, and which I do not think my noble friend has met successfully.
There are special difficulties, of course, in Ireland. We all know that the conditions there are different from those in other countries, and the difficulties are special; but I would say, and I do not think my noble friend or any other in this House—and there are many who have had direct personal responsibility of government—will deny the correctness of what I am going to say, namely, that there are certain elementary principles of successful government which are everywhere applicable, and there are certain perplexities which are met with everywhere. Let us take the question of seditious speeches and writings. No general rule can be laid down about them; no principle can be stated that will be applicable to all writings 1063 or speeches that can be called seditious. They must be dealt with in every country and in every case according to the circumstances and conditions of the moment; and therefore as I have no knowledge of the peculiar circumstances and conditions of the passing speeches or writings, I make no criticism about them. I am not prepared to admit that the Irish Government have always been wise on the subject, but I do not make that point of general criticism, because I admit that you cannot lay down a principle or a general rule. But I do say this, and I will direct my noble friend's attention to this point. He quoted to us certain of Mr. de Valera's speeches made in the last three weeks. He drew a distinction between their quality of sedition and the quality of sedition of the previous speeches, and he said, Would it have been wise to have dealt with such utterances as these? I must make this comment, that if those speeches had been made in England by any man he would have been dealt with at once under the Defence of the Realm Act. Far less seditious utterances have been so dealt with, and I have seen nothing comparable to them which has not been dealt with in England or Scotland.
I pass to the question of the wearing of uniform. I understand my noble friend to say that the wearing of uniform by the Irish Volunteers is prohibited. I am rather sorry that it is prohibited. I really do not see why, if the Irish choose to wear eccentric clothes, they should not wear them. But I am sure it is wrong to prohibit the wearing of these clothes, and then allow them to be worn. That really brings me to the principle which I wish to lay down, and I am quite certain that the last man in this House or the country to differ from me is my noble friend opposite, when I say, You never ought to give an order unless you mean to and know you can enforce it. That seems to me to be an elementary principle of government, and it is because that has been so frequently broken, as we understand, by the Chief Secretary and the Lord Lieutenant, that our confidence in their method of government has been so rudely shaken.
I will not take the question of the Waterford meeting. I understand my noble friend to say that that meeting was prohibited and not held, but that another meeting, which had not been prohibited and which the authorities on the spot 1064 thought innocuous, was held. I know nothing more than what my noble friend has told me. I accept that from him. But I will take the previous case—previous, I think, to the speech of the Prime Minister—as an illustration of what I mean. The Chief Secretary prohibited through the Censor the publication in Ireland of a certain manifesto. Notwithstanding that prohibition the Freeman's Journal published it, and the Chief Secretary took no notice of this defiance of the law. I say that is bringing the Government into absolute contempt. That is not the way to govern Ireland or any other country in the world. Unless the Chief Secretary was prepared to suppress the Freeman's Journal or any other paper in Ireland he ought never to have prohibited the publication of that manifesto. It is not because of his judgment, but because of his vacillation, because of his timidity in carrying out his own orders and in not pursuing the policy laid down by the Government, that we criticise. We can understand a continuous and consistent policy. What fills us with alarm is a vacillating policy.
My noble friend has told us—and we have complete confidence in his statement—as the Prime Minister told us before, that not for one moment will the Government tolerate the setting up of a rival government in Ireland, nor will they tolerate another military organisation or drilling in a serious form. I do not quite agree with the distinction which my noble friend tried to draw between drilling that was serious and drilling that was not serious. I admit, and every one knows, that it would be impossible to prevent surreptitious drilling by small bands of men in glens or bogs in the more remote parts of Ireland, but I do say that as far as the Executive have power they should everywhere and on all occasions prevent drilling or any kind of attempt to establish a military organisation.
The last general principle I would lay down is this, that when you have to deal with an attempt to establish a military organisation or to establish a rival government, there is no use striking at the rank and file; strike at the head. To leave the heads alone and to prosecute the insignificant people who are misled by them is again to bring your Government into contempt and to defeat the thing which you have in, view. I understood my noble 1065 friend to speak of some leader who was in prison. I am glad to hear that is so. Certainly those who have appealed to be the leaders, so far as we can gather by the publications we Toad, have hitherto been left severely alone. My noble friend took the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, to task for what he said about public opinion in England and Scotland. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne said something very like that; and my noble friend the Leader of the House placed emphasis on the necessity of conciliating public opinion in Ireland, drawing away from the extremes of Sinn Fein the more moderate section of that movement, and consolidating moderate opinion in Ireland in favour of a reasonable settlement. I think he is quite right to lay stress on that. We should be wrong, very wrong indeed, if we omitted from our purview that all-important consideration. The Government would be just as wrong if they neglected the warning uttered by Lord Lansdowne.
This is not a matter which can possibly be held to affect Ireland alone, and my noble friend is the last man, I am sure, to say that it can. That is why, when we last discussed this matter in this House, I ventured to criticise what he then said about the intentions of the Government in respect of the recommendations of the Convention. I was still more alarmed by what the Prime Minister said the other day. What did the Prime Minister appear to say? I understood him to say that any recommendation from the Convention that was substantially unanimous would be adopted by the Government, and that the Government would endeavour to give effect to it. With great respect, I do not think the-Government had any right to say that. I can conceive a majority of the Convention, perhaps a substantial majority, suggesting for Ireland exactly the same Constitution as is enjoyed by Canada or Australia, but I cannot imagine the people of England or Scotland accepting or agreeing to that. That, I agree, is not separation, but everybody knows that if Canada or Australia wished to separate we should not endeavour to prevent them by force of arms. The separation would be in perfect friendliness, though to our deep and heartfelt regret. The people of Great Britain could never agree to the people of Ireland being put into that position, when, by their own initiative, they could take the step which is open to Australia or to Canada. Therefore, 1066 while it is true that this matter vitally affects the Irish people and that we have to do all we can to conciliate moderate opinion in Ireland of all parties, I do on the threshold protest that this is a matter which affects English, Scots, and Welsh just as much as the Irish because of its effects on the future of the whole British Empire. The attitude of a section of people in Ireland—how large I do not know; I hope it is not large—is that of implacable hostility to England and to Scotland. I think the Lord Lieutenant told us that it is not a large section; there fore I will only call it a section. The attitude of England and Scotland is wholly different. There is an absolutely unanimous wish on the part of the British people for a friendly settlement with the people of Ireland.
I have often thought that perhaps the greatest argument for Home Rule was the incapacity of Englishmen to understand Irishmen, but I think there is a great danger of a reciprocal want of comprehension. I believe that at the present moment there is a very real danger that Irishmen may wholly misunderstand Englishmen. If Irishmen think, because the English say nothing and are willing to go to the most extreme lengths in order to conciliate Irishmen, that they are therefore afraid of Sinn Fein, they are making a most lamentable mistake. There is an intense desire for reconciliation; there is no fear. There is also an absolute determination never to admit separation or anything that may lead up to separation. A great responsibility rests on Mr. Birrell. He has admitted his responsibility for the recent tragedy, and I have nothing more to say upon it. I do say, however, that if, with the example of Mr. Birrell before him, a rebellion or anything like a rebellion follows the administration of Mr. Duke, on him will be a far greater responsibility, because not only is involved in that issue the relations of England and Ireland for generations to come and the whole prospect of settlement and reconciliation, but another rebellion might have an effect that is perfectly incalculable on the fortunes of this war.
§ VTSCOUNT CHAPLIN
My Lords, we are all greatly indebted to the noble Earl for dealing so fully as he has done with this question this evening; and, if I may be permitted to say so. I think he ought to be much obliged to me for having given him 1067 an opportunity of removing what otherwise would have been a very false impression with regard to the meeting at Waterford which was proclaimed. I took the opportunity of sending him, yesterday, the longest extract I could find in the Press dealing with the question on purpose that he might, if possible, get official information in time to enable him to remove the 1068 false and unfavourable impression which would have been undoubtedly created in the public mind.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at fifteen minutes before eight o'clock.