Harry Quelch 1902

Home Rule and Rome Rule


Source: Social Democrat, Vol. 6, no. 11 November 1902, p. 326-328;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


The eternal Irish question has once more entered on an acute stage. The old wearisome history is repeating itself; the proclamation of meetings, suppression and prosecution of newspapers, evictions, coercion, and the imprisonment of the duly elected representatives of the people. There seems to be no escape from the Irish difficulty, and we still alternate between coercion and concession, concession and coercion. It is really a most extraordinary fact that Ireland, with a population considerably less than that of London, should occupy the position and constitute the difficulty that it does in Imperial politics. It serves to demonstrate that injustice, even among peoples, cannot be perpetrated with impunity, and that it is the little nations which serve as the Nemesis of the great, arrogant, despotic, Imperialist world-powers. There is no solution of the Irish question except in Home Rule. Social-Democrats, who stand for international co-operation and the solidarity of humanity, have always championed the national legislative independence of Ireland. Socialism means neither the creation nor the effacement of nationality, but the universal co-operation of all nations and races for the common good. And just as we opposed the destruction of the two Dutch republics in South Africa, not only from the point of view of the Boers, but in the general interest of all concerned, so we have always been in favour of the Irish people having control of their own affairs. Socialists are democrats, and the new imperialism, with its crushing out of all national life and independence, and of all race characteristics, has no attractions for them.

But, admitting the right of the Irish people to manage their own affairs, and recognising that only in Home Rule can a solution of the Irish difficulty be found, it must also be admitted that, given Home Rule, the Irish people will have many difficulties to contend with and many problems to solve. Mere political Home Rule will not make the Irish people the owners of their native land, nor the masters of her material resources; the abolition of Dublin Castle rule will not mean the abolition of landlordism and capitalism. The exactions of the landlord and the exploitation by the capitalist will be no less burdensome because the landlord and capitalist are Irishmen themselves, or because the laws by which their plunder is legalised are passed by a native Parliament sitting at College Green. But there is little likelihood of the Irish people grappling with these economic problems until the purely political question of national independence is out of the way, and that fact, if there were no other reason, should be sufficient to make every Socialist a Home Ruler.

The problems with which the Irish people are confronted and will have to deal, however, are not all economic problems. The economic conditions dominate all others, and the chief factor in human affairs is the economic. But other factors play a part, and it is beyond question that one of the chief difficulties constituting the Irish question is that presented by the subservience of the people to the Church of Rome. Gambetta was not so far wrong when he declared clericalism to be the enemy. The Social-Democrat would say that not clericalism but capitalism is the enemy; but clericalism is a mental poison; it paralyses all movement towards emancipation from despotism – political, economic, social or religious. Capitalism is the master; but clericalism is a very effective handmaiden. Capitalism exploits the body, but clericalism chloroforms the soul and leaves the body a passive prey in the hands of its plunderers. It is not too much to say that from the time that a Pope of Rome formally sold Ireland to an English King, the Church of Rome has been the persistent, unrelenting enemy of Ireland and the Irish people.

A man’s religious belief is quite a private matter; but the influence and operations of the Church, of any denomination, are public matters and open to public criticism, and it is not too much to say that the Church of Rome is a curse to any country over which it has sway, and that the injury inflicted upon the Irish people by the Church of Rome is scarcely, if any, less than she has suffered from landlordism and alien rule.

A Roman Catholic writer, Mr. Michael J. F. McCarthy, in a book on “Priests and People in Ireland,” makes a vigorous and uncompromising attack on the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Ireland. He ascribes the ills of Ireland mainly to a single cause, that is sacerdotalism. In his opinion it is the priesthood which is keeping Celtic Ireland “poor, miserable, depressed, unprogressive.” Mr. Frank Hugh O’Donnell, himself a Roman Catholic and an Irish Nationalist, declares that notwithstanding the appalling poverty of masses of the Irish people, large sums are obtained by the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Ireland. He says that:-

“All over Ireland urgent wants of the lay Catholic community are left unattended. All over Ireland, not even wants, but mere caprices of the clergy are the excuse for costly outlay. All over Ireland, and outside of Ireland, the sight of collecting priests on all sorts of mendicant missions is an abiding vision. Sometimes it is to construct a sumptuous cathedral in a hamlet of grog-shops and hovels. Sometimes it is to raise a memorial church of marble at a cost of 80,000 on an uninhabited hillside in Kerry out of respect to the birthplace of Daniel O’Connell. Sometimes it is to defray the mistake of an architect. Sometimes it is to defray the bill of a Jew purveyor of decorative monstrosities. Never is it to endow the most crying needs of a Catholic university. If anybody asks for an account, the reply will be that of the venerable prelate who, presiding over the building committee of his own cathedral, genially remarked to an inquisitive contributor: ‘There is perfect liberty of opinion on this committee, but if these offensive questions are continued, I shall be driven to resign the chair.’”

In the meantime, the special characteristics of the “distressful country” – increasing poverty and a decreasing population – continue to manifest themselves. The population, which was 4,704,750 in 1891, had fallen, in 1901, to 4,458,775, a decrease in ten years of nearly a quarter of a million. Ireland, by the way, with its increasing misery and decreasing population, presents a startling refutation of the Malthusian theory, and it is not easy to determine how far the increasing destitution of Ireland, in people and in wealth, is due to landlordism, to alien rule, or to the benumbing influence of clericalism.

No one in England who has taken part in public elections where there is a considerable Irish population can have failed to notice the demoralising and reactionary influence of the Catholic priesthood on the Irish electorate. Social progress, the advancement of labour, Irish Nationalism – everything is cast to the winds when the Church enters the field, and men who were ready to dare anything in the cause of humanity become the subservient tools of reaction at the bidding of the priest. We are seeing the same thing in connection with the Tory Education Bill. In vain has Michael Davitt appealed to Irishmen not to allow themselves to be made the cats-paws of reaction in this matter. The measure has received the blessing of the Roman hierarchy in this country, and, therefore, even those Irish members who have been repelled by the Ministry from supporting the Bill dare not vote against it. We hear from time to time that the Irish people are determined to formulate their own politics, and not to take them from Rome; but events constantly demonstrate that not only the religion but the politics of Ireland are those of the Church of Rome, and that the Irish people are still being exploited in the interest of clericalism and for the proselytising of England. The question is: How long will the people of Ireland permit themselves to be used in this way, and to constitute one of the most effectual barriers to Irish independence by the suspicion that Home Rule only means Rome Rule?

H. QUELCH