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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)    The United Kingdom Parliament to pass an Act creating a Dominion comprising the whole of Ireland with full Dominion status, thus determining the relations   [p. 24]   between Great Britain and Ireland and the position of Ireland in the Empire.

(b)    In this Act only the composition of the Dominion Legislature, constituencies, methods of election, and minimum necessary machinery of administration to be defined. This should be done in sufficient detail to enable the Irish Parliament to be summoned to act in its first Session as a Constituent Assembly to examine and report to the British Government what further legislation should be passed by the United Kingdom Parliament to elaborate the Irish Constitution and complete the Act of Settlement by the provision of safeguards for minorities arrived at after discussion. Whether the Constitution in its final form is to be unitary, federal or a union of provinces, and the allocation of powers, would depend on the nature and scope of the safeguards adopted.

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

(a)    The proper function of the Imperial Parliament is to fix the relations of Ireland to Great Britain and the Empire, while it is for Irishmen to settle for themselves the relation of Ireland to her own provinces and that of the Irish Government to its own people.

(b)    An elected Irish Parliament, sitting as a Constituent Assembly, will have a democratic sanction which the Irish Convention of 1917–18 did not possess. The lack of that democratic sanction tended to make the Convention unreal.

(c)    When the elected representatives of “Ireland” are face to face with those of “Ulster” in open debate, the hard facts of the “Ulster difficulty” and the “Claims of Ireland” respectively will be appreciated throughout the whole country. Thus an atmosphere of mutual understanding will be created which will make possible compromises which the country at large, whether North or South, would not endorse if arrived at behind closed doors with only an agreed formula presented for popular acceptance.

  [p. 25]  

(d)    Purely wrecking tactics would be exposed to popular criticism and so be made difficult.

(e)    Open discussion in the Irish Parliament on the details of the Irish Constitution and the safeguards required by “Ulster” and the Southern Unionists will educate public opinion in Great Britain no less than in Ireland on the merits of the controversy. This would help the British House of Commons in coming to a decision on the question of what safeguards to impose should no agreement be reached in the Irish Parliament.

(f)    The best chance—perhaps the only chance—of getting Nationalist Ireland to accept the exclusion of the more Unionist portion of Ulster without self‐determining into a Republic will be if the demand for exclusion results from failure to reach an agreement on the question of safeguards or the powers of an Irish Parliament after open debate on the floor of an Irish House of Commons.

(g)    Refusal to take part in elaborating the Irish Dominion Constitution and in determining the safeguards required for minorities would have the effect of withdrawing sympathy from the objecting party. If Sinn Fein refuses (and in this connection it should be noted that it is postulated that the Oath of Allegiance should be a necessary preliminary to any member of the Irish Parliament taking his seat, and so being allowed to take part in the proceedings of the Houses sitting as a Constituent Assembly), it will forfeit the support of that section of public opinion in America and in the overseas Dominions which really wants to see the wrongs of Ireland righted, and does not merely want to exploit them to injure England. If “Ulster” refuses, an important body of English Unionists will feel that they are no longer justified in supporting a party so selfish that it will make no step towards the solution of a question which is an Imperial danger and source of discredit to Great Britain while it is left unsolved.

(h)    It is the soundest course for a British Government to take as it throws on Irishmen the onus of finding a   [p. 26]   solution and leaves to them the odium if they fail to find one.

3.    The arguments against it are:—

(a)    Sir Edward Carson may not allow the present Government to adopt the expedient, because he may object both to coming into an Irish Parliament to discuss powers and safeguards and equally to incurring the odium of refusing to do so. He may, therefore, try to kill the measure in Downing Street before it reaches the House of Commons. It is, however, an elementary duty of the British Cabinet to prevent this happening.

(b)    The Parliament in which the members elected by the Unionist constituencies of Ulster will have to discuss safeguards will include many men who are now Sinn Feiners; and Ulster loyalists will have no dealings with such people. This argument assumes that “Ulster” will refuse to take the first necessary step towards reconciling all Ireland to the British Empire. It will be difficult to justify this attitude in view of the fact that in other than political matters Ulster Unionists and members of Sinn Fein do meet and have personal relations every day, e.g., in commercial transactions, when the rule obtains that “business is business,” and a man’s political convictions are his own concern.

(c)    Ulster” will have no truck with any scheme which proposes to alter in any degree her present status as part of the United Kingdom. This is the old attitude. “We won’t have it”—not very helpful to the Empire in settling the Irish question and so ending the old controversy.

(d)    It means abandoning “Ulster” to the tender mercies of Sinn Fein, and, therefore, English Unionists are pledged to oppose it. The answer is that it means nothing of the sort, since whatever recommendations are made by the Irish Parliament sitting as a Constituent Assembly are of no effect until embodied in the final form of the Act of Settlement by the United Kingdom Parliament, when English Unionists will have it in their power   [p. 27]   to see that the interests of Irish Unionists (in the North and South) are not sacrificed. In the last resort, it will remain open to the British Unionist Party to compel the incorporation of some form of “exclusion,” if in their reasoned judgment such a course is necessary and can be justified and is worth the probable price.

4.    It is submitted that this method of approaching an Irish settlement is the one which should be adopted.


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