§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY rose to call attention to the situation in Ireland; and to move for Papers. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, as your Lordships are aware, I placed this Notice upon the Paper in order to give the opportunity to His Majesty's Government to make a statement to your Lordships as to the present position of the Irish crisis. I call it the "Irish crisis" because, amongst the many anxious phases in recent Irish history, I suppose there has been no graver phase than that through which at this moment we are passing. In giving this opportunity to His Majesty's Government, I may be allowed, for a very few moments, to take stock, if I may use the phrase, of the position in which we stand. This recurring question conies to our mind, "How is it that a Government mainly composed of Ministers belonging to what was formerly the Unionist Party has brought Ireland to the present pass? "I do not want, if I can avoid doing so, to say anything of a very polemical character this afternoon. I will make an attempt to place myself in the point of view of His Majesty's Ministers, and I ask myself: What can have been the motives which have led them to adopt this policy?
§ There probably are many motives—some Ministers have one set of motives, and other Ministers have another set—but, broadly, I conceive that those whom I may call the Unionist Ministers must have been governed by two general considerations. In the first place, there is the argument, which seems to have had great weight with them, that by adopting this policy, or rather these successive policies in Ireland, they have eliminated the sympathy which was formerly accorded to the antagonistic elements in Ireland in our Great Dominions and in the United States, or, as the phrase goes, in the civilised world. I mention that argument merely to record the fact that so far as the future is concerned we may now consider that it is laid aside. The Dominions, the United States, and the civilised world are by now convinced of the unreasonable character of a great 885 deal of the Irish opposition to this country. That is an achievement of the Government, and I make them a present of it. I do not agree with it. I do not think it was a legitimate motive to have governed their policy; it has too much in it of the old phrase of doing evil that good may come. But, at any rate, for better or for worse, and with all the evils which I think followed on that policy, they have so far achieved their end. They need fear nothing more about the opinion of the civilised world. Every one is convinced that in dealing with Ireland England has shown the last word of a conciliatory character, and if there is any longer any fault it does not lie upon our side.
§ But I do not think the Government would have relied upon that argument alone. Probably, they also thought that there was a considerable chance that the conciliatory attitude they adopted would achieve a settlement in Ireland. There was, of course, a varying degree of confidence amongst Ministers. I remember a speech by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack who spoke with great reserve of his expectation of the success of this policy. The most sanguine man in the Cabinet was probably the Prime Minister. He, with his Celtic imagination, certainly at times contemplated a sort of millennium in Ireland in consequence of the policy the Government were adopting; a sort of millennium in which all the old misunderstandings would be got rid of, in which there would be a response to the conciliatory attitude of Great Britain, in which there would be peace, good government and order, and the blotting out of the misunderstandings of hundreds of years. All these ideas were in the Prime Minister's mind. And as each stage was reached, and the millennium did not appear, concessions were added to concessions in the hope that at last the end would be achieved.
§ If your Lordships will cast your recollections back you will remember how, through many troubled years, the law was laxly administered in Ireland in the hope of conciliating opposition. You will remember how the Act of 1920 was passed, which gave a most generous measure of self-government to Ireland; how, when that did not succeed, it was torn up in a few months; and how the Treaty was passed. You will remember how in that Treaty, in the teeth of the hitherto loudly expressed policy of the Government, the Sinn Fein leaders were entrusted with an 886 Army; how the Oath of Allegiance, which is common to every part of the British Dominions, was specially modified to suit them; how, when the Treaty had been agreed upon, one of its provisions was vitally altered in order again to conciliate opposition—I mean in respect of the postponement of the Election. Your Lordships will remember, too, that no Amendment was permitted in either House of Parliament when we were discussing the Bill, even though it was admitted that Amendments were required for the sake of clearness and to make good obvious omissions; and, finally, that the effort at conciliation went to such a point that the Provisional Government was entrusted with a large number of arms of precision which had hitherto belonged to the Imperial Government, and which are now in their hands.
§ That was a long series of concessions, one after the other. The Government, if I may say so, were like gamblers, who ever and anon as they lost increased their stake in the hope of getting their money back. And they have always failed. After all, there is something to be said for card players, because fortune is fickle and is sometimes kind, but the Government were quite certain to lose at this game. They were playing against astute adversaries, who, within the narrow limits of their horizon, were very clever. They were not going to make any corresponding move when they knew by experience that by standing out they always got more; and so there was no response. Perhaps I had better not put it quite so confidently, but to the best of my recollection there was no response in the whole course of these proceedings. The Act of 1920 was denounced with every epithet of contempt; the Treaty was considered merely as a steppingstone to something more complete in the way of independence; His Majesty the King himself, in the debates in Dail, was treated with insult, and was spoken of, by, I believe, one of the signatories to the Treaty, as an alien King to be kept in the background. And, finally, the Treaty which was described by the Leader of this House—whose absence and the cause of it I am one of the first deeply to regret—as a most generous concession, even, I think, as a sacrifice, was carried only by a narrow majority of the beneficiaries whom, in all this long series of concessions, there had been an attempt to conciliate.887
§ I do not recall the past merely, or indeed at all, for the purpose of making points against the Government, but in order, if I can, to get your Lordships to consider what moral these failures carried with them for our conduct in the future. There is no doubt at all, I think, about the attitude of His Majesty's Government in this respect. I do not for a moment suggest that they desire to recede from it. On the contrary, I am in hopes that in this crisis they will show themselves at least as forward as we are to maintain the honour and dignity of this country. It is only to make my case complete that. I will trouble your Lordships with one quotation on this head from a speech made by the noble and learned Viscount when the first Agreement was come to between His Majesty's Government and the Sinn Fein leaders, in August of last year, which was the great turning point in the policy of the Government.
In defending that policy, the noble and learned Viscount said—
We had two courses open to us. We very carefully considered both of them. We might have made a general statement, admitting perhaps of extension, in order that a settlement might be attained, if in the first place difficulty emerged; or we might frankly and plainly, before the whole world, state once for all how far we were prepared to go, and beyond what point we were not prepared to go. We adopted the course, which, I am sure, all your Lordships will most warmly approve, of putting everything forward, and—
Your Lordships will attend to this—
it would, indeed, be disastrous if it were not plainly realised by those to whom that offer was addressed that it contained our last word in the direction of concession and of compromise.
That was the statement of the Government. It was not the only statement, but it is sufficient for my purpose. That is the statement which they made when their new policy, which led up to the Treaty, was entered upon, and I am sure that they did not intend it merely as a verbal statement. They meant that, in the spirit as well as the letter, they had reached the limit of compromise and concession. It was final. It was the last word. But, notwithstanding these declarations, and notwithstanding all the concessions which had been made up to this point, the opposition in Ireland continued.
§ One of the Articles of the Treaty, as your Lordships will remember, prescribes the Oath which members of the new Irish Parliament are to take when it is constituted, and one of the phrases in that 888 Oath is that they are to swear fidelity to the King. It is in the face of that Treaty that you have to consider what has since happened in Ireland. Fidelity to the King! What symptoms of fidelity to the King have there been in Ireland since the. Treaty was agreed to? I speak in the presence of the noble Viscount who is now Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland but I think I shall not be going too far when I say that he, the representative of His Majesty, has been treated with anything but respect during the months which have elapsed since the passing of the Treaty. The King's representative has not been treated with respect. The national flag has not been treated with respect. It was burned, I believe, by members of the Free State Army. Upon every public building in Southern Ireland, certainly in Dublin, flies what is called the Republican flag. I am told that even on the burgees of the yachts in Kingstown harbour the crowns, which, as in every other loyal club, found a place there, have been forcibly removed.
§ These are only symptoms. Let us look at something bigger. The military force in Ireland, the force, that is to say, which, though divided, is partly, at any rate, under the control of the Provisional Government, is called the Irish Republican Army. Republican Army, my Lords! What place has a Republican Army in His Majesty's Dominions? We have permitted that, not only before the Treaty was signed, but since the Treaty was signed. Whether you call it a Dominion or a Free State, in what is, at any rate, and must be essentially, part of the Empire and part of the Dominions of His Majesty, we have permitted, apparently without criticism and without objection, the presence of a Republican Army. What is that Republican Army? What are their hopes? What are their objects?
I hold in my hand an extract from a speech made by a Commandant of the Irish Republican Army, addressing a company in a Dublin brigade. This is what he said, on April 5 of this year:—
Rumour has it we are going to make peace. I want to give you a message from your leader that there will be no compromise with those who favour the Treaty—
This is what the Irish Republican Army are taught—
unless they are able to show that the door is quite secure for the future of the Republic, and that we shall be able to hold the key to the Atlantic, and use our country, not as a stepping-
stone for England to work on, but for any Powers whose intentions to Ireland would be friendly.
Is that fidelity to the King? By any stretch of words, by any subtlety of argument, can that be represented as an act of true allegiance?
Listen to the oath, my Lords—not the Oath to which I referred just now, but the oath which, as I understand, is taken by members of the Irish Republican Army:
In the presence of Cod, I….do solemnly swear that I will do my utmost to establish the national independence of Ireland, that I gill bear true allegiance to the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Government of the Irish Republic; that I will implicitly obey the Constitution of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and all my superior officers, and preserve inviolable the secrets of the Organisation, So help me God!
That is the oath of the Army in Ireland, the Army which we have permitted—that is to say, the oath of those who are the armed forces of the Provisional Government. If any of your Lordships think that, speaking generally of the greater part of Southern Ireland, and certainly of the most, important part of it, His Majesty the King has any authority whatever, he is living in a fool's paradise. That is the result of the conciliatory policy of His Majesty's Government. Everything has gone—all allegiance and with it all respect for order. It has all gone, crumbled, gone to chaos. That is the result. How far from the rosy dreams of the Prime Minister! Our soldiers are killed; our policemen are assassinated; our loyal friends are robbed of their possessions and driven front their country.
I hold in my hands a letter, which was given to a lady who lived in Ireland. I think your Lordships have seen many such letters, but I will read it to show you the way in which loyalists are treated, and. the reasons for it—
I am authorised to take over your house and all property contained therein, and you are hereby given notice to hand over to me within one hour from the receipt of this notice the above land and property. The following are the reasons for this action:
(1) The campaign of murder in Belfast is financed by the British Government
Your Lordships will observe that these are our friends and fellow-subjects—those, I mean, who ought to be our friends and fellow-subjects—
(2) As a reprisal for the murder of innocent men, women, and children in Belfast.
(3) You, by supporting the union between England and Ireland, are in sympathy with their murder.
(4) In order to support and maintain tha Belfast refugees.
Because this lady was a loyalist—that is to say, because she maintained and defended, as many of your Lordships have done in times past, and as I have done, the Union between Great Britain and Ireland, and sympathised with her fellow-subjects in the North of Ireland—she is given one hour's notice, then driven headlong from her house and property, and sent into banishment. These are our loyalist fellow-subjects—people whom we are bound to defend and to help—people whom we are under the deepest obligation to protect, and who are now absolutely without protection, at the mercy of any village ruffian, undefended either ill Ireland or in England, as a result of the concessions which His Majesty's Government have made.
§ What am I to say of the Provisional Government? I have not the acquaintance of Mr. Collins, and I do not profess to know what kind of man he is, but it is clear that if he is an honest man he is not any longer representative of the power in Ireland. Your Lordships will remember that His Majesty's Government treated with Mr. Collins on the express ground that he was representative of the Irish people, and of the power in Ireland. If lie is an honest man he clearly is not a representative of the Irish people. But many people do not hold that view of Mr. Collins. They believe he is at heart a Republican, and there is a good deal in what he has said which would lead one to that conclusion—I mean that he looks upon the Free State position as quite temporary, and that he is working for a Republic.
§ If he be really honestly intending to carry out, in the letter and in the spirit, the Treaty with this country, how conies it that he has made the agreement with Mr. de Valera? I ant told, and I have no reason to doubt it, that the great majority of the Irish people would wish for the success of the Treaty; that is to say, that anybody who led them in that direction would command their confidence. Why, then, has Mr. Coitus surrendered, apparently, to Mr. de Valera? What is in his mind? Why has he done it? What does it mean? I do not know what power Mr. de Valera has, but he or some of those who belong to his party arc responsible for all these outrages to which I have referred, 891 and for all these acts of hostility towards His Majesty and towards our country—for everything which is most inimical to Great Britain—and with him Mr. Collins has made this Agreement.
§ I ventured to say yesterday, and I say again to-day, that the Treaty in our view, now that it is passed, must be carried out in the letter and in the spirit. On our side yes, but also on their side, and it is not carrying out the Treaty, either in the letter or in the spirit, to pursue conduct such as they have pursued. I do not really desire to go into any technicalities, but, of course, it must be an implied condition of any Treaty with this country that they are friends with this country, that they protect the friends of this country, and that they accept the personal authority of the King. That is the very essence of any Treaty, and they have completely failed to carry it out, I believe in the letter, certainly in the spirit.
§ Most of all is that the case in respect of Ulster. Your Lordships will, of course, agree that one of the conditions of the Treaty was that the Six Counties were not to be under the effective jurisdiction of the Provisional Government unless and until they had omitted, when the time came, to contract themselves out of it. But, of course, they have not been left alone. Ulster has been the victim of a conspiracy—a conspiracy between the rebels in her midst and the enemies outside her borders, who have broken the Treaty in the letter as well as in the spirit. I do not know whether it is true, but I see it said this evening that a force of revolutionaries has actually crossed the border of Ulster, and is now in possession of part of her territory. This is the grossest violation of the Treaty. No doubt, the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, when he comes to reply, will tell us whether that is true.
§ At any rate, there is a force, or a series of forces, collected upon her frontiers, threatening her peace, sending emissaries into her midst, carrying out campaigns of murder and outrage—an intolerable state of things. What would happen between ordinary independent countries if such a state of things existed Supposing that in one of two countries side by side were collected bodies of men who were always threatening the tranquillity of the neighbouring country, and sending in emissaries to conspire, to murder, and to burn; 892 what would happen? It would be a casus belli. The offending Government would be called upon to restrain its nationals, and, if it did not do so, the party attacked would take the matter into its own hands, and it would be a casus belli. But because both these places are—save the mark !—parts of His Majesty's Dominions, they are to be allowed, apparently with gentle protests, to assemble in their hundreds, or, it may be, in their thousands, and carry out this campaign. I am sure we shall hear from the noble and learned Viscount this evening that His Majesty's Government are taking all necessary steps to eject the invaders, and to maintain in its integrity the safety of the Ulster border.
§ I hope their declaration will be clear and without hesitation; for we cannot conceal from ourselves that the people of Ulster have a certain suspicion of His Majesty's Government, and are not sure that His Majesty's Government are prepared to stand by them. They suspect the Prime Minister and his colleagues—very likely unfairly, but let the matter be put out of all doubt. When the noble and learned Viscount speaks this evening let it be quite clear that behind the people of Ulster, in defending their independence, stands the whole force and power of the British authority, and that, whatever it costs us, we will see that our loyal friends in Ulster are not subject any longer to this menace.
§ There should be no vacillation. There is nothing so cruel as vacillation. How many of the friends of this country who are dead would have been alive now but for the uncertainty of the policy which this country has pursued—people who stood by us, who stood by our authority, and fought for us and incurred undying resentment from our enemies? That cannot go on. We want to have an end of all this vacillation. We want to have a clear declaration of policy, a declaration of policy that the attacks upon Ulster are intolerable, that the Treaty must be carried out in the letter and in the spirit. We believe that such a policy as that would be in the long run best even for the Southern loyalists themselves. I cannot mention the Southern loyalists without a feeling of the deepest sorrow. They are, indeed, in a hard case. But they will not be helped by uncertainty of policy. We must be clear, and we must be firm. Either the Provisional Government cannot, or they will not, do justice. In either case our 893 patience is exhausted. The phrase that the British Government must use is not: "You ought to do this," but "You must do this." And, unless the answer is what we can wish, then it is upon our own strength that we must rely. I beg to move.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, I should have been glad to have had the advantage of hearing any observations by other noble Lords, but, as no noble Lord has risen, if it is the wish of the House that I should adopt the course of intervening at an earlier stage in this debate, that, of course, possesses some convenience of its own and I will not hesitate to comply with that wish. The noble Marquess's speech has not, in all the circumstances of the case, been a provocative speech. Indeed, I do not know that there was, from beginning to end, much in its tone with which, as I have said, in all the circumstances I could quarrel. The noble Marquess, indeed, with a somewhat patronising analysis of what he conceived to be the motives which had successively operated upon the minds of Ministers in this matter, attempted to reconstruct the reasons which may have induced them to come to a conclusion which he evidently conceives of as being as strange as it was foolish. The noble Marquess's analysis did not conduct him along either a fruitful road, or one that corresponded with the facts, which—as another part of the noble Marquess's speech showed—were present in his own mind.
In another part of that speech the noble Marquess said he had no reason to doubt that the Treaty which His Majesty's Government signed commanded the support, if they could be freely consulted, of a majority of the citizens of Ireland; and, so far as I know, neither he nor any responsible statesman in this House or in another place has disputed the view of the Government —I state it with studious moderation—that this Treaty commanded the support of a majority of the citzens of this country. If these two views are well founded—that the arrangement that was made, with all its imperfections, corresponded with the views, if they could secure a free expression, of the Irish people and corresponded with the views of the majority of the English people—let me assure the noble Marquess that he need not carry any further his analysis of the reasons which led Ministers to adopt this course. He need look no 894 further than this—that the policy which they have recommended (I will say more in a moment of its present situation), the policy which they have represented as commending itself alike to our supporters and our critics, corresponded with the wishes of the two democracies of the islands of whose political fortunes we were and are trustees.
The noble Marquess has asked me a series of questions as to the recent history of this subject, and I cannot, I think, do better than try, with the most complete and absolute frankness—I have attempted throughout this controversy to observe candour in dealing with your Lordships —to tell you what is the situation as we understand it to-clay. Let me, in the first place, make it absolutely plain that the agreement entered into by Mr. Collins with Mr. de Valera came with as great a shock to the members of his Majesty's Government as it did to the minds of the noble Marquess and those who agree with him. Noble Lords who have heard the observations I have been called upon to make during the last few weeks and months will not fail to remember that I constantly enjoined patience upon the House, and I have done it in the spirit of a man who thought that he saw in front of him the sure and certain beacon of one hope., which was that the moment of ascertaining the true, uncoereed opinion of the citizens of Ireland was drawing nearer and nearer.
We thought it was a tragic decision which was taken by the Dail as long ago as last January when, for the first time, the appeal to the Irish nation was postponed. Then, as now, we deplored the decision, as to which we were not consulted and in respect to which we should most earnestly have counselled the adoption of a different course. It appeared to us to be obvious then that, in a moment when there had suddenly come this great hope, the only prospect of success was that the temporary Government of Ireland should be clothed with the moral weight and authority that would come from the publicly demonstrated fact that the instrument to which their representatives had set their hands commanded the support of the overwhelming majority of their subjects. Unhappily, other counsels prevailed. But, during the weeks and the months that have elapsed, I have comforted myself, as other members of the Government have comforted themselves, with the belief that, 895 after all, the matter was only postponed, and it is no exaggeration to say that views collected through every authoritative channel by which Irish opinion can he measured and valued, all concurred in the view that the Treaty, even in the postponed Election, would receive the support of an overwhelming majority of the population.
The decision was suddenly taken, and again without consulting us, that this arrangement or pact or treaty should be signed between Mr. Collins and Mr. de Valera. I do not conceal from the House that the decision on the part of the Provisional Government to enter into this agreement was, in my judgment, an act of great weakness, showing great political inexperience and great lack of judgment. But, although those are my own views, it is fair to those who adopted that course that I should state, whether they convince any member of this House or whether they fail to convince him, what are the grounds which are put forth by those who have attended in London in the last few, days and have attempted to give explanations and justifications for the course which they have adopted.
They point out—and in this respect one must do them the justice of recognising that the plea has some basis in fact—that they have been confronted with the immense and formidable task to which they have addressed themselves in the last few months with no police force and with no Army, except that Army on which the noble Marquess has made sonic observations to which I will presently refer. Your Lordships will not forget that, for reasons which seemed imperative, whether the course was desirable or undesirable. the police force was disbanded, and these men, in addition to their other tasks, have been confronted with the necessity of improvising from the Army which preexisted such a police force as might be made available most effectively to deal with the disorders that had broken out. They do not underrate their failure to carry out that formidable task with success. They attempt no denial of that melancholy series of outrages upon the estates of individual landlords, Unionists and loyalists, who are resident in the South of Ireland.
Their plea, in other words, is not in denial; it is in extenuation; and, I suppose, it would be put in something like the present manner. They would say that in all 896 those months there had been killed, murdered, in the South of Ireland, about thirty-two individuals, and those are the figures which were supplied to me by the Irish Office. The noble Marquess asked how many men would have been alive who are now dead had the Government assumed a different and bolder course. The noble Marquess would discover a far more fruitful field for Ids speculations if he were to ask how many more people would now be dead if the Government had adopted a different course. It may be that we shall fail even now, but in the months that have intervened, with all the melancholy deductions which I must make, it is nevertheless plainly and evidently true that there has been an immense saving in human life. They point to the contrast between the state of affairs in Northern Ireland and that which exists in the South. They point out that Northern Ireland is an incomparably smaller place; that they have in their midst at this moment nearly 10,000 British troops; that they have in that tiny province some 49,000 constables, ranged under three classes and towards which the British Government is making, as the noble Marquess knows, an immense contribution.
And when the noble Marquess says that the Government of Ulster, or the people of Ulster, are suspicious of His Majesty's Government—I forget his exact words—that they no longer trust His Majesty's Government., I must at least, as a member of that Government who has had weekly, and sometimes daily, to examine and study the correspondence which has been exchanged between the Government of Ulster and His Majesty's Government in London, say that the fact that that Government—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The people of Ulster are suspicious of, or distrust, His Majesty's Government—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I was not speaking in the name of the Government of Ulster; I have no right to do so.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Marquess says he was speaking of the people of Ulster. Their views it would be difficult to collect. But the distrust of which the noble Marquess has spoken has not prevented the Government of Ulster 897 repeatedly requesting and entreating His Majesty's Government to afford them assistance, and, quite recently, thanking them most warmly for the constant support and help that they have given. It is right that these things should be understood.
What has been the situation at Belfast? We try, as part of our duty, to look at the situation as a whole. It is the noble Marquess's desire to concede that the Irish difficulty and the Irish crisis is one difficulty and one crisis, and not two or three, and I may say that if we are to look at it in that manner we must try to enter into the minds also of those who live in the South. What do they say? They point out that while there have been thirty murders in the South of Ireland in the period of which I have spoken, in the comparable period about 145 have actually taken place in the City of Belfast. While we are accustomed to say and to complain, and arc entitled to say and to complain, that not one criminal, so far as I know, has been brought to justice by Mr. Collins and his friends in the South of Ireland, they retort, and with at least as much truth, that with all the great paraphernalia of police and justice, and Law Courts and soldiers which are at the disposal of Sir James Craig and his Government in this tiny province, not one single man has been brought to judgment, not one single man has even been arrested or brought to trial, so far as I know, for all these murders.
I call attention to this not for the purpose of making the slightest reflection on the honesty, the good faith, and the efficiency with which the Government of Sir James Craig has addressed itself to this situation. I call attention to it in order that the House may not too hurriedly rush to the conclusion that to have failed for a few months in this matter is necessarily to have failed for all time, or necessarily to have branded yourself before the whole world as a Government which is inefficient. Self government has been granted to Northern Ireland as well as to Southern Ireland; yet we have seen that the difficulties in Northern Ireland are not found to be less grave than the difficulties in the South of Ireland. I have never been of the number of those who thought any useful purpose was served, as soon as the Treaty was passed, by making any comparisons that could be avoided. One must attempt to survey the problem as a whole.
These men, in their exposition of the 898 motives which continue to animate them, say: "We found ourselves unable to control the whole forces which have been in past years fighting on behalf of time Republic, and we were face to face with this difficulty, that de Valera had seduced large numbers of the Army." I must point out to the noble Marquess, in reference to the letter which he read from a Commandant of the Irish Republican Army, addressed to a lady that he did not discriminate as to which of the forces the writer of that letter belonged. There are persons going about in Ireland to-day all claiming to make requisitions in the name of the Irish Republic, and in so-called retaliation for the Belfast murders. That is very plain. But I should like to know whether the noble Marquess, or anyone else, believes that the soldiers who made such requisitions did so either in the name or with the authority of the Provisional Government?
Let us realise at once the situation which exists in the South of Ireland today, which, if it were not so tragic, would be irresistibly humorous. There is, in the first place, the Army of Collins. The noble Marquess says: "Why does it still call itself a Republican Army." It seemed to us, in the months that have passed, that substance mattered more than names; at any rate, till the opinion of the Irish people had been taken upon the Treaty after it had been plainly explained to them. Until that had been done it seemed to us that it would have been an error of judgment, and to display a lack of proportion, to begin to quarrel about nomenclature when there were such grave questions of substance to be adjusted.
In the second place, you have the Army which, up to the present time, has been controlled by Mr. de Valera, which also calls itself the Irish Republican Army, and, I understand, wears the same uniform as the first Army to which I have referred as the Army of Collins. This Army undoubtedly has been making the raids upon Ulster and other parts of Ireland, to which the noble Marquess called my attention, and of which I will say more in a moment. Their activities may be summed up shortly by saying that they have committed almost every act of violence which they judge to be likely to attain their fundamental object, which is to discredit and destroy the Treaty into which we all entered. There is a third Army, not, of course, so considerable in numbers, but still not 899 lightly to be dismissed. This is an Army which also calls itself the Irish Republican Army, and which has collected some of the equipment and accoutrement which distinguish the soldiers of the other two forces. Within this body is collected, almost without exception, every, murderous and lawless scoundrel who exists in the South of Ireland. This body, under the guise of its uniform and under the plea that it is authorised to make requisitions, and so forth, on behalf of the Irish Republic, is committing all manner of crimes. These are the circumstances which exist at the present day in the South of Ireland.
The noble Marquess, and others, may say: "You are responsible." The noble Marquess speaks with the very great advantage in this House of having been protected, over a large number of critical years, from any responsibility of any kind for dealing with Ireland. His has been the simple and easy road of the confidant critic who steps out at different periods and informs the Government of the grave mistakes which he has discovered that they have made, but who, as I have before felt it my duty lightly but plainly to remind him, has never, so far as I know, in the course of the last seven or eight years, made one positive constructive suggestion of the slightest value.
It is, no doubt, true that Ireland is in this condition to-day. But give me leave to assure the noble Marquess that it is even now too early to say confidently and finally, for reasons which I will ask leave to develop, that our policy has failed. It will be necessary to measure a little more closely the policy to which the noble Marquess would have adhered, and to which it may still be necessary for us to have recourse. It will be necessary to review a little of that in the light of actual experience, before we allow ourselves to be carried away too completely by the melancholy features which I have felt it my duty to mention. The representatives, then, of Southern Ireland, having detailed these circumstances, say: "We admit plainly that we could not have held at this moment a free Election." Their whole case is that in the existing situation in Ireland, with these rival gunmen scattered in all the rural parishes, it would be absolutely impossible to have had an Election unless they had reached the accommodation with Mr. de Valera.
Your Lordships will not make the error of supposing that I am stating the views 900 and conclusions of the Government. I consider the admission, or the claim, that thirty or forty men can, by threats of violence, prevent electors in a constituency from exercising the franchise, to be most humiliating to the reputation of the Irish people for moral courage. I express no opinion of any kind, but that those who have entered into this arrangement sincerely believe it, I entertain very little doubt indeed.
The noble Marquess asks me a question as to the Election which, under the substituted circumstances, is about to take place. I have one. or two observations to make on that point. In the first place, I note that there are already arising indications that the matter will be by no means so cut and dried as the signatories to this arrangement appear to suppose. It is a gratifying circumstance to find that unless violent considerations intervene, some ten or twelve independent candidates are to be put forward in the Labour interest strongly supporting the Treaty. I observe also that Mr. de Valera is already protecting himself against this contingency by accusing the Provisional Government of giving encouragement to these independent candidates in violation of the treaty he has made with Mr. Collins. It would be difficult for such things to happen in any country except Ireland.
But the noble Marquess is entitled to ask what will be the view of the British Government if a number of members are brought into the Irish Government who are avowed Republicans, not recognising the force of the Treaty or holding themselves personally bound by its obligations. It is right that I should give the noble Marquess a very plain answer on this point. I was glad that he read to the House the exact terms of a speech which I made some months ago, but which I had forgotten, upon that subject in this House. It represented to-day-, with exact precision, my own position and the position of the Government in relation to this matter.
We stand by the Treaty. We stand by the letter of the Treaty; we stand by the spirit of the Treaty. We shall go not one inch beyond it. We shall hand over that for which we have pledged the word of the British Government, of the House of Commons and of this House, but not, of course, unless the matter is implemented with equal sincerity and completeness, when the critical moment arrives, by the 901 other party to that instrument. We shall watch, the noble Marquess may be assured, the situation with a degree of attention that will not flag, but in no conceivable circumstances would we consent that men should be Ministers in an Irish Government who had in any way excluded themselves from carrying out the strict and fullest obligations undertaken by all those Ministers under the terms of the Treaty.
Should such a crisis arise—I will guard myself against too closely speculating until it does arise, and will speak generally—the resources of our civilisation are by no means exhausted. Is the noble Marquess so sure that even then we should find ourselves in a substantially worse position than we should if we had not set our hands to the instrument? I do not share that view, and I can assure him that if it were debated in this House, whatever conclusion might be reached, I could make a most powerful case showing that if the whole thing broke down now by their policy, not by the policy of the British Government, this country would be in an immeasurably stronger position than that in which it was even to resume this bloody struggle.
The noble Marquess says that even if we have gained some moral strength by satisfying the Dominions, the United States of America and the civilised world, of the purity of our motives, he, for one, thinks that the claim is an excessive one, because it is not right to do evil in order that good may result. He says: "In any case if that was your object, your object has now been attained, and you may desist from that claim." The clear brain of the noble Marquess protects him from the risks and consequences of such casuistry. Let me point out to him that he stands alone, so far as I know, in thinking, whether we were right or wrong in the policy we adopted, that it was an evil policy. One hears wild mouthpieces of extreme views sometimes using language of this kind, but the noble Marquess should really reflect that even though it may be under the persuasion of the Government, which must accept the principal responsibility in this matter, the House of Commons by an overwhelming majority, and this House by an overwhelming majority, decided that this was a policy which ought, in all the circumstances, to be adopted and carried out. The noble Marquess does not really suppose that he can—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do 902 not think the Lord Chancellor is entitled to say that in all the various changes in the policy which they have pursued during the whole course of the Irish problem they have had the assent of both Houses of Parliament. It is true that the House of Commons has not turned them out of office, but everyone knows that their various concessions to murder and assassination are entirely disapproved of by the vast mass of the nation.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Marquess is quite right in saying that. But I made no such claim. I will tell him what I said. The noble Marquess was not dealing with the Government's Irish record. He was dealing, most specifically, with the making of the Treaty, and he was dealing with the justification which Ministers had put forward, that is had conciliated the feeling—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Marquess spoke in the hearing of the whole House and. his speech will he a vailable for noble Lords to read. There would be sonic point in his disclaimer if he tells me that when he used the word "evil" he did not include the making of the Treaty.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think the whole course of the policy of the Government is thoroughly bad. I have tried to avoid polemical utterances this evening.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Let us assume then, whether the policy was right or wrong, that, so far as the making of the Treaty was concerned, it was not an evil one. Let us ask ourselves what force there is in the contention that by abandoning this attempt we could secure all the advantages we have secured by the policy we have adopted. What would be said in the United States, in our Dominions? They would immediately say, and equally everyone in Ireland would say, that it was we who had broken the Treaty. The whole world would be filled with a controversy as to who had in fact been the responsible and perfidious party for tearing up this instrument. We cannot afford to stand in this position.
903 The noble Marquess is perfectly right. An overwhelming majority of people in the United States of America were hostile to us upon this Irish question. A great American financier told me in this city, three days ago, that no one can raise a cheer in the United States of America of any kind whatever against England by adducing the past grievances of Ireland, because, both in Canada and in the United States of America, everybody realises, as the noble Marquess himself well said, that by making the offer contained in this Treaty Great Britain did one of the most generous acts that any great Power has ever performed. Should we retain that good feeling if we now entered into the disputable ground where Mr. Collins would be thrown more closely into the hands of Mr. de Valera, where Mr. Griffith would say, with them: "You have sold us. We would have gone on and have kept the Treaty, but you have made it impossible for us to do so by your premature despair?" That is not a course which we could adopt, and it is not a course which we shall adopt.
We shall, on the contrary, until the last moment, and until it is made plain to us, both in act and in word, that we are not meeting with good faith on vital and critical matters, that we are not going to be treated with good faith in these matters—we shall go on, with the traditional honesty which it has been the practice of this country to observe in its international instruments. If we have the ill-fortune—though, here again, I do not speculate too closely—to discover that all our hopes have been too sanguine, and that our confidence has been misplaced, believe me, we are neither so reckless of the interests of this country, nor so forgetful of the personal responsibility under which each individual Minister of the Crown lies, as not to have most closely explored every alternative course which might, in that unhappy contingency, become necessary.
The noble Marquess has asked me a question with reference to the raid upon two townships on the North-East frontier. As has been stated to-day, in another place, Mr. Griffith and Mr. Collins were to-day specifically asked whether they knew anything of this raid, whether they accepted any responsibility of any kind for an act as lawless and as provocative as the noble Marquess has described it. They both of them, with warmth, repudiated any association with or any knowledge of this outrage, a repudiation which leaves us 904 face to face with a situation which, if not relatively satisfactory, is, at any rate, relatively simpler, because your Lordships will observe, in the matter of this raid—I would ask that judgment should be suspended as to its dimensions and gravity until fuller information is available—that the situation would appear to he, if the facts be as reported, that a body of men have made an utterly lawless and violent incursion into the territories which are at this moment the territories of Northern Ireland. We shall, in that contingency, do exactly what the noble Marquess admonished us to do; we shall, in other words, take the same view of our obligations of honour as we should take if any other part of the Dominions of the British Empire were illegally violated, and the help of the central Government were invoked by those whose territories had been so violated.
As to the precise steps which we contemplate, your Lordships will not ask that I should make a precise statement, because these are obviously matters which should be guarded with the utmost secrecy, but I desire, if any words of mine can give any additional satisfaction to the security of mind of any noble Lord who listens to me, to make it as clear as any words of mine can make it that against a lawless attack, a violent indefensible invasion, coming from any quarter, and menacing the liberties and the rights of Northern Ireland, she could count, as any other part of the Empire could count, upon the whole strength and determination of the Empire. On that subject I say no more.
I ought, I think, to deal with one other topic, though it naturally and properly, if I may say so, did not play any part in the speech of the noble Marquess. The Irish Provisional Government have been engaged now for many weeks in drafting a provisional Constitution. That Constitution will be produced before the Election and within a very few days. The situation will be very much clarified when that document appears. They have shown it to His Majesty's Government, who, I think, alone have seen it, excepting the members of that Provisional Government, and, of course, the draftsmen and lawyers who have been engaged in its compilation. Your Lordships would not ask that I should anticipate the events of the next few days by any discussion as to the conformity of that Constitution with the Treaty. It 905 would be a pointless discussion, because the march of events will, in this particular, be so rapid that it would be a mistake to attempt to forecast where certainty will so soon be attainable.
But it is, of course, evident that the Provisional Government, while they are entitled among themselves to regulate their own Constitution conformably with their Treaty obligation to us and the assurances which they gave to the Southern Unionists, are, at the same time, in possession of a considerable margin of free discretion as to the decisions which they make in relation to their purely domestic matters. The one question, when that Constitution is produced, is, Aye or No, does that. Constitution consist with the Treaty; is it, in other words, a translation into the form of a Constitution of that to which the parties set their hands and of which the Dail and the Parliament of this country have approved? Those discussions are proceeding now, and, in a very few days, your Lordships will be in a position to form a judgment as to the result. I say nothing further of it except that, of course, if and when this Constitution should be approved by the Parliament which will come into being as the result of the Election to be so soon held, it will then become necessary, as I have previously informed your Lordships, that we for our part should embody it in the form of an Act of Parliament, which will require the sanction of Parliament, and, of course, of this House, before it becomes law. So that your Lordships will not again lose seisin of this matter until the actual Constitution has been brought before your Lordships, and criticised, if it needs criticism, and considered.
I have, I think, only one observation to add. The road that we have trodden has been as anxious and as mortifying as any path which I think a Minister could have had to tread in this country for many years. We had to take highly disputable decisions at very grave periods, decisions which we knew were most highly disputable at the moment when we were driven to take them. Many of them, in truth, as it seemed to us, raised hopes of a very considerable kind. But even that hope, when its realisation seemed close, has been in danger, and sometimes destroyed, by what we thought the ill-considered acts of others, which we had no power either to amend or prevent; but 906 just because we have risked so much, just because our conduct so far has been so courageous and, indeed, fearless, and because we have retained our patience, so in the days, or weeks, which will bring certainty, do not let us by impatience jeopardise a prospect which, whether it be a success or not, one may at any rate claim was worthy of statesmanship, even though the ability of those who address themselves to it has proved inadequate to the task.
THE EARL OF SE LBORNE
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the Lord Chancellor at any length, but I wish in a very few words to express the satisfaction with which the whole House must have heard that His Majesty's Government have again pledged themselves to the absolute protection of the territory of Ulster, and have reiterated not only their own obligation of honour to observe the Treaty in the letter and in the spirit, but also that that obligation rests equally on the parties who made it on behalf of Ireland.
I wish further to draw attention to some aspects of the picture which the noble and learned Viscount On the Woolsack has drawn —a most terrible picture—and I can well understand, as he has said, how mortifying the path has been which he and his colleagues have had to tread. He has explained that the excuse of Mr. Collins for making his agreement with Mr. de Valera was the chaotic condition of that part of Ireland for which the Provisional Government is responsible. But how is it that this chaos has supervened? Is it not entirely because of the precipitate and unwise withdrawal from Ireland of all police and military? How could His Majesty's Government ever have expected anything but chaos to supervene, if quite suddenly, and through no gradual process, the whole forces of law and order were withdrawn? The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said nothing to explain why the Government did that most extraordinary act. I can find no provision in the Treaty by which the Government were bound instantly to withdraw the Army of Occupation, or the police, and it is entirely owing to this withdrawal that Mr. Collins is able to come and plead as his excuse his inability to restore order in Ireland. Therefore, that act of commission of His Majesty's Government is directly responsible—I do not say solely—for the present chaotic state of the Centre and South of Ireland.
907 Then, again, the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has deplored the fact of the postponement of the Irish Election. He has told us again, to-day, as he has told us several times before, that all his information leads him to believe that if they had the chance of voting the great majority of the Irish voters would vote for the Treaty. But what an extraordinary act of omission on the part of the Government, not to make provision in the Treaty that the Elections should be held at once. The fact that the Elections have not been held is owing to the omission of the Government to ensure that the absolutely necessary ratification was provided for in the Treaty. The noble and learned Viscount said nothing about that.
He drew again a picture of the state of affairs in Belfast and Ulster. He said Mr. Collins's second excuse for his inability to restore order was to point to Ulster and to say that things were just as bad there, or even worse. But who is responsible for the condition of affairs in Ulster? I say it is the Government for having raised once again in the Treaty the question of the Ulster border. I do not believe a more fatal act of folly was ever committed by a Government. meaning to bring peace and order to Ireland, than their consent to re-open once again the question of the border. All these raids and horrible assassinations in Belfast, the whole turmoil in the North of Ireland, with its daily tragedy, culminating every week in a roll of murder, are attributable to the reopening of the question of the border, through the weakness of His Majesty's Government.
I do not doubt that they were greatly pressed on that point—of course, it is a point for which one would have expected the Sinn Feiners to care most—but they did a very sorry day's work for England and for Ireland when they yielded. Therefore, when the noble and learned Viscount pleads for patience, I agree that we have still to wait, because it is the wish of those who dissent root and branch from the policy of His Majesty's Government, just as much as it is the wish of those who support it, to give it a most complete trial, so that no nation will be able to say that England did not keep her word. In that, and perhaps in that alone, we agree with the Government, but it does not seem right that the noble and learned Viscount should be permitted to make a speech such as he 908 has made, without attention being drawn to the fact that it is owing to the withdrawal of the troops, the omission to secure the immediate election of the new Parliament, and the re-opening of the border question—that to those acts of commission and omission, more than to anything else, is the terrible state of Ireland to-day due.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Probably your Lordships will be not unprepared for me to ask leave to withdraw this Motion, but in doing so I may just say one word, and it is only one word, in reference to the noble and learned Viscount's speech. I was trying, in the earlier part of my remarks, to do justice, if I could, to the kind of motive which might have actuated the Government, and I frankly confess that, although I do not agree with it, I understand the motive which led them to try to enlist on their side certain classes of opinion in the Dominions and the United States. I think it was a bad policy, because you have no right to prejudice the interests of your own fellow-subject for a purpose of that kind. It was a bad policy, even although it may have been one with which I can sympathise. But I am afraid that my efforts to look at matters from the point of view of His Majesty's Government were not altogether successful, because that was the only part of my speech on which the noble and learned Viscount made any strong animadversion. We all hope for peace in Ireland, but I do not believe that peace will be achieved by weakness, and I am sorry that the Government could not answer in a more strident voice and with a more determined attitude.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.