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Pope-Hennessy, Ladislas Herbert Richard, 1875-1942 / The Irish dominion: a method of approach to a settlement ([1919])

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1.    The proposal to be considered is:—

(a)    To give autonomy, possibly Dominion Self‐Government, to that portion of Ireland which wants it while excluding from the operation of the Act of Settlement that portion of the island which wants to remain as at present part of the United Kingdom under the existing United Kingdom Parliament.

(b)    The exclusion to be brought about by either:—

(i)    “The clean cut” of the whole Province.

(ii)    That of the six counties in which at present the Unionists are in a majority.

(iii)    That of the four counties which are the stronghold of the Orange movement and in which Unionists comprise no less than 70 per cent. of the electorate.

(iv)    By the process called “county option.”

(c)    A modification has been suggested, though by no means accepted by all the advocates of the policy of exclusion, that, irrespective of how the exclusion is brought   [p. 15]   about, at the end of a fixed period—say five years—the excluded counties should be included in the Irish Dominion automatically unless they opt for a renewal of the period of exclusion by a poll of the people.

2.    The arguments in favour of the proposal are:—

(a)    It accords with the principle of “self‐determination.” since if “the Irish” are allowed to have the form of government they want it is only right that the people of “Ulster” should be given the same right and allowed to remain under the British Parliament if they so desire.

This argument confuses “self‐government” with “self‐determination,” which is a very different thing. “Self‐determination” implies that a people has the right to choose not only the form of government but also what kind of international status it wants. At the last General Election the Nationalist portion of Ireland (about three‐quarters of the island) recorded an overwhelming vote in favour of an Irish Republic completely independent of the British Empire. Consequently now to give Ireland self‐government within the Empire, even that most complete form of autonomy which is connoted by Dominion status, is not giving Ireland “self‐determination.” It is, in fact, imposing a settlement which it is believed will save Great Britain and the Empire generally from the discredit and other grave difficulties inherent in the attempt to govern the people of Ireland against their will. It is hoped that rather than grasp at the shadow of a Republican status, which cannot be attained, the people of Ireland will accept self‐government within the Empire, which gives them much of the substance of their demands. Ireland is, in fact, being given something which the majority of her present representatives have not asked for. “Ulster,” on the other hand, if allowed to choose between coming into an Irish Dominion or remaining as an integral part of the United Kingdom is being given an alternative which her elected representatives say is her   [p. 16]   full and complete demand—to remain as she is. That is to say, “Ulster” is being given as much “self‐determination” as she has ever asked for, whereas Ireland is not being given any “self‐determination” at all.

(b)    The present Government and members of the Unionist Party on which it depends, having given pledges to the Ulster Unionists that they will not be coerced to come under an Irish Parliament, provisions for “exclusion” in some shape or form must form part of the Act of Settlement to get it through Parliament and enable their pledges to be honoured by those who gave them.

Putting on one side, for the sake of argument, the Nationalist contention that the pledges referred to ought never to have been given, more especially those given by the British Government as a whole, which were extorted by “Ulster” at a time when the Empire was in grave peril during the war with Germany, this stressing of the importance of the pledges given ignores the essential facts of the situation—that the pledges in question are unnecessary to‐day, and are now purely academic. For this reason: “Ulster” is not saved from coercion by the fact of the pledges so much as by the hard facts of the situation, which are:—

(i)    No responsible Irishman wants to coerce Ulster.

(ii)    No Irish Government could coerce Ulster if they tried, as Ulster is armed and organised to resist coercion.

(iii)    The British people would not allow Ulster to be coerced.

(iv)    The British Army would refuse to coerce Ulster.

Pledges or no pledges, “Ulster” cannot be coerced into any settlement by the application of material force. On the other hand, the pledges given, especially those given by individual Unionists whose character and public record otherwise command respect, are important as possible   [p. 17]   assets of great value in approaching a settlement if the situation is correctly appreciated. For this reason: those from whom the Ulster Unionists have received pledges to help them to resist coercion at a time when (whether rightly or wrongly is of no importance now in different circumstances) it was believed by both parties to the transaction that coercion was imminent have earned a right to give dispassionate advice to the Ulster Unionists on the course they should now take in relation to an Irish settlement. That Ulster Unionists should look with suspicion on appeals from Nationalist Ireland to come into a settlement and should disregard advice tendered by British Liberals is natural, if regrettable. That they should summarily reject the same appeal and the same advice when emanating from friends of their cause who did not hesitate to jeopardise their political careers, and some of whom made it clear that they were prepared to risk their lives, if necessary, in the cause of “Ulster” in 1913 and 1914 would show a shortness of memory rare even in political life. If those British Unionists who have given personal pledges to Ulster now truly wish to see the Irish question settled in the only way it can be really settled,—by Ulster coming into the settlement under adequate safeguards,—they will be failing grievously in their duty to the Empire if they allow the fact that they are pledged to resist the coercion of Ulster to stand in the way of their urging their Unionist friends in Ulster to reconsider their position in view of the serious consequences to the Empire of another failure to settle the Irish difficulty. Indeed in this matter they carry upon their shoulders a weight of responsibility greater than that of any other body of men in the United Kingdom. It was their former support of the Ulster Unionists which stood so effectually in the way of a settlement before the war, and thus led directly to the present situation in Ireland and to Ireland’s deplorable attitude in the war. It is in their power now to rectify some of   [p. 18]   the unforeseen consequences of their pre‐war commitments to Ulster by using the great weight of the moral authority they have acquired to induce their political Allies to accept a just settlement now. To give “Ulster” sound advice now is to break no pledge they have given: it is merely to help the British Empire to solve satisfactorily a pressing Imperial problem. And that is a duty which British Unionists owe to the British Empire.

(c)    Ulster” refuses to come under a Dublin Parliament,and is in a position to insist on exclusion so provisions for exclusion must be embodied in the Act of Settlement.

The argument assumes:—

(i)    That the attitude of the Ulster Unionists cannot be altered by any process of reason and that no compromise can be reached with Nationalist Ireland by negotiation and mutual concessions. But that is no reason for not making every possible effort to bring about mutual understanding and to find a workable compromise when it is an Imperial necessity to do so.

(ii)    That in politics the last word lies with physical force, however illegally it may have been acquired and organised. The implication in this doctrine—that Constitutional methods are bankrupt—cannot be confined to the Ulster question. It has connotations in relation to other grave matters—say industrial disputes—which do not require enlarging at the present moment to show that it is a bad argument to use in England to‐day in support of the policy of exclusion.

(d)    That Ireland is not one nation but two nations, so the policy of exclusion is justified by past history no less than by present expediency.

  [p. 19]  

As a matter of fact the “two nations” theory is historically untrue. If, however, for the sake of argument, its correctness is assumed, the interpenetration of the two races in the Province of Ulster and the interdependence of their material interests with those of Ireland as a whole make exclusion an unworkable policy. Whatever form of exclusion is adopted, and the least unjust is “county option,” important minorities are severed from the Government they desire. If the four predominantly Unionist counties are taken as a unit they include a minority of 30 per cent. of Nationalists, while if the Province of Ulster as a whole is to be the unit for exclusion no less than 43 per cent. of Nationalists will be severed from the Nationalist portion of Ireland. The “two nation” theory cannot be applied in practice without creating an “Ireland irredenta” in the excluded portion of the island which bears within it such seeds of embittered controversy that even on grounds of mere expediency it is unwise to apply it to a problem which, if approached at all, should be solved finally and not made more difficult.

3.    The principal arguments against exclusion, other than those already noted in meeting the arguments in favour of it in the preceding paragraph, are:—

(a)    It violates the first of the two principles which Irishmen hold to be fundamental in any settlement—recognition of the unity of Ireland and full financial autonomy. The craving for recognition of the essential unity of the nation is a manifestation of the ideal side of the aspirations of the Irish people which cannot be disregarded without imperilling any settlement, however satisfactory it might be in other respects. The strength of the force behind this demand for recognition of the unity of the race can never be over‐estimated. It is the compelling motive which, in generation after generation, has led Irishmen to accept with pride the fate of felons, when   [p. 20]   to be a felon was to suffer for Ireland. Men do not die, as Irishmen have died, for three‐quarters of a country: they die for their country, the whole country, and each death for Ireland hallows all Ireland for every Nationalist. It is difficult for Englishmen to understand this; or to appreciate what an Irishman feels when he is told by an English statesman that his country is only that part of Ireland South and West of a line on a map drawn in deference to the exigencies of British party politics; that he may have that part of Ireland to play with which Sir Edward Carson does not want!

(b)    The fact that the Irish Parliamentary Party consented to a compromise involving the exclusion of six Ulster counties was one of the main causes of the sudden growth of Sinn Fein and the practical extinction of the Constitutional movement in Ireland. In the eyes of Irishmen Sinn Fein stood for a United Ireland. Its actual demand was for a Republic comprising the whole of Ireland. Now that the phrase “self‐determination” is in the air, the logical Sinn Feiner is driven to admit that if “Ireland” is given self‐determination he recognises that “Ulster” must also be given self‐determination, which means that if most of “Ireland” is allowed to become a Republic, North‐East Ulster has a right to determine by county option to remain part of the United Kingdom. But this logical consequence of the Sinn Fein position, involving, as it does, exclusion and consequently negation of the unity of Ireland, is so abhorrent to his feelings as an Irishman that there is in practice almost no length to which he will not go to preserve Irish unity. To preserve the unity of Ireland, the Irish Republican can be persuaded to sacrifice his republican idea and accept a Dominion settlement which includes Ulster. But the converse of this proposition is also true, viz., that if Ulster is excluded from an Irish settlement, Sinn Fein will not surrender its republican ideal, so the first act of any Irish Parliament or Legislature brought into being by a settlement   [p. 21]   in which the policy of exclusion figures may well be to proclaim an Irish Republic. This would entail the immediate suppression by Great Britain of the Parliament she had just set up and a renewal of coercion, possibly in aggravated form after armed defence of the Irish Republic had been crushed. The net result would be no settlement of the Irish question—only a catastrophic change for the worse in a situation which is already quite bad enough. That is the price to be paid for the policy of exclusion, which every Irishman will realise is imposed against the will of the majority as the result of a bargain made between the British Government and the leaders of the Ulster Unionists. It is Great Britain and the Empire at large which will have to pay the price—not “Ulster,” whose ships and linen will still fetch good money in the market. Consideration of this aspect of the problem may induce the reflection that “loyalty” which insists on its pound of flesh and compels a solution so disadvantageous for the Empire is hardly disinterested, and that exclusion as a policy is, on Imperial grounds, inexpedient.

(c)    If the “Ulster” demand for exclusion is selfish and short‐sighted in its disregard for the consequences to the Empire of that policy, it is even more so in relation to the Southern Unionists, and indeed to all in the South, be they in Irish politics Nationalists or Unionists, who, whatever they may think of the past and present activities of the British Government in Ireland, still believe in the British Empire as an instrument for good in the world. The Southern Unionists, some 350,000 in number, are weak because they are scattered throughout a predominantly Nationalist area. They live on good terms with their neighbours, but as an organised body their dispersion precludes their exercising their proper influence in Irish politics. Their interests in such questions as education and legislation affecting religion are identical with those of Unionist Ulster. It is of the utmost importance for them to find in an Irish Parliament the   [p. 22]   support of a strong well‐organised party such as the Ulster representatives would be. The policy of exclusion, based on “Ulster’s” distrust of an Irish Parliament, forces the politically weak Southern Unionists to make the best they can of a situation which the far more powerful Northern Unionists refuse to come into.

(d)    In the economic field exclusion is bad for “Ireland” and for “Ulster.” It is unfair to Ireland to cut off from her her main industrial district and it is bad for that district to sever it from its economic hinterland, which is agricultural Ireland. On economic grounds exclusion cannot endure as it would be terminated by a war of tariffs and differential railway rates, eventually forcing Ulster to come in, though at a price bad for the whole country.

(e)    Ireland is a small country in need of thorough and up‐to‐date reform of its entire transportation system on some comprehensive plan which takes into account the interests of the whole island, industrial as well as agricultural. What would be the effect of exclusion on such a service as the railways? How can they be co‐ordinated to give the best service to the whole community if sections of lines are controlled by a Minister of Transport in Dublin responsible to an Irish Parliament, while other sections of the same lines are under a Minister of Transport in London responsible to a British Parliament? The result must be inefficiency with consequent damage to the commercial interests of the North as well as of the South.

4.    To sum up: exclusion as a policy incorporated in a British Act of Parliament is no settlement of the Irish question, and will probably make any real settlement impossible, as one of the first acts of the Legislature of a mutilated Ireland will probably be to proclaim a Republic which has to be suppressed. There is only one way in which the Irish people can be induced to tolerate the exclusion of a part of Ulster from an Irish Settlement, and that is if it is imposed after the elected representatives   [p. 23]   of Ulster have met and reasoned with those from the remainder of the country openly in an Irish Parliament sitting as a Constituent Assembly and have failed to secure adequate safeguards, or to come to an agreement as to the allocation of powers, financial and legislative, within an Irish Constitution. Then, if it has become patent to the whole country that the British Government has honestly tried to get “Ulster” to come into a real Irish Dominion, and if it has been made clear that the British Unionist Party has advised Ulster to come in, exclusion by County Option would be accepted as inevitable and just until the excluded counties of their own free will should decide otherwise. The fact that British Statesmen of all parties had proved their desire to recognise the unity of Ireland by doing all they can to bring it about, short of coercing “Ulster,” which no Irishman dreams of advocating, will make all the difference to the attitude of Ireland to the settlement. Men of moderate opinions would then be able to get a hearing, and Ireland would take her place as a self‐governing nation in the British Empire. But this desirable result can only be attained if all suspicion is removed that exclusion is in any way part of an Anglo‐Ulster bargain.

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