Hyndman February 1880.
Source: Fortnightly Review, February 1880;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Of the many stirring questions which move men’s minds at present time there is, perhaps, none which more nearly concerns the welfare of the Empire than our political relations with Ireland For this may involve not merely the peace and prosperity of that portion of our home dominions, but the entire future of representative institutions in these islands. On one point there is in theory at least general agreement – Ireland and Irish difficulties ought not to be looked upon from a party point of view, and the old race hatred which has done so much mischief in the past should be allowed now peacefully to slumber. The good government of Ireland, the encouragement of a friendly disposition on the part of its people towards England and the common Parliament, have to be considered as much for the sake of the general interest as for the benefit of our fellow-subjects on the other side of the Irish Channel. So far, we can scarcely contend that our rule has been either politically or economically very successful. It rests still in a greater degree upon force than upon the loyalty and goodwill of the majority of the population. A country which is still treated with exceptional rigour, where Coercion Acts are not uncommon, volunteer enrolment not permitted, the possession of arms tabooed, and where, in addition to the permanent garrison of 40,000 regular troops, a local army of 12,000 well-armed and well-disciplined men is kept up, under the name of a constabulary, in order to enforce the law and put down possible risings, is not a land which has yet entered fully into the spirit of free institutions.
Recent events have brought this home to us in a very unpleasant shape; but there is something more annoying in this case than in any other. We are accustomed to pride ourselves on our skill as administrators, still more upon our readiness to do justice to those who are in any way dependent upon us for obtaining the recognition of their rights, however much those rights may run counter to our own apparent interest. Yet here at our very door we are unable to satisfy, or even to permanently tranquillise, a people who have furnished many of the best soldiers to our armies, some of the ablest and most brilliant orators and writers to our literature, and, more remarkable still, the most successful Viceroy of India (Lord Mayo), and the most capable Governor-General of Canada (Lord Dufferin) of our time. There is no great distance between the two countries to render inquiry tedious, expensive, or difficult; no radical difference of language, customs, or even of religion to interfere with mutual understanding. A trip across to Dublin, and thence to all parts of the island, is pleasant as well as easy, though few English politicians think of taking it until they have been appointed Chief Secretary, or there is some trouble afoot. Books, articles, pamphlets, debates without end, have been devoted to the elucidation of the subject, and Ireland has beyond doubt been the best-discussed country in Europe for the last five-and-thirty years.
Nevertheless, at the end of three quarters of a century of Union there seems as little genuine contentment with British rule as there was in the year 1800. The slightest agitation on any public question shows at once that disloyalty and disaffection lie close to the surface of apparent tranquillity. Irish journals of large circulation and considerable ability openly rejoice at the prospect of what would be joint failure, and mourn at the idea of joint success; a rising in India is viewed with satisfaction, as a rightful protest against tyranny, though thousands of Irishmen have served and serve still with distinction in our great dependency. Few, in short, can doubt that in a period of real danger England’s difficulty would again be Ireland’s opportunity, and that, if any fair chance of success offered, the hotter-headed agitators in Ireland and in America would try the effect of another rising. At such a time indeed we might even move twenty thousand men from India with less risk of disturbance than an equal number from Ireland, though doubtless if matters were left to Irishmen alone to deal with, the Protestants of the north and the well-to-do Catholics would soon put down any communistic insurrection.
Still, in spite of recent agitation and turmoil, most Englishmen and Scotchmen fail to discern any deep reason for dissatisfaction. They see no very serious grievance – nothing which the Imperial Parliament has not shown a disposition of late years to handle and constitutionally to amend. Is Ireland really overtaxed and depleted? Irish members certainly do not lack the oratorical or literary faculty. Let them make it clear, and bring in a well-considered Bill to remedy the injustice. Are Catholics still under political or educational disabilities? The common Parliament cannot now be accused of indifference to their fairly-stated claims. Is an extension of the franchise needed? England, in the opinion of many, is in the like case, and at any rate the last Reform Bill is comparatively recent. Does the Land Act of 1870 need further revision in a liberal and therefore in a conservative sense? Let the Irish members agree among themselves upon a measure, and they will be sure of at least as much as English members can secure for English Bills. If they are unable to come to terms themselves upon what is desirable, they can scarcely expect the whole House of Commons to be able to see at once what is required. Such is the common feeling, and though there is something to be said on the other side as to the manner in which Irish members have on some occasions been outvoted on matters of purely local concern, it is scarcely surprising that much anger and impatience have been aroused by the late agitation and the renewed denunciation of a House of Commons in which a hundred and five Irish members have seats.
If ever in any country men in power showed themselves anxious to remove all ground for ill-feeling between two peoples, that certainly did Mr. Gladstone’s administration in 1869 and 1870 with reference to Ireland. Two deeply rooted prejudices in the minds of Englishmen were overruled by Scotch and Irish votes, in order that justice might be done in one respect, and an earnest attempt made to bring about a settlement in another. No sooner had this triumph been won, no sooner, too, had the ballot been carried, which, in the opinion of one of the ablest of the Irish representatives, “brought for the first time the influence and will of the Irish people directly to bear upon the assembly at Westminster,” than the new party which had been organized set to work to agitate for a more or less complete separation, and for the last two or three years they have used the forms of representative government to embarrass and obstruct the assembly which, as had been admitted, displayed great readiness to remove their recognised grievances. What is more, persistence is threatened in these tactics until the majority is worried into acquiescence in its own defeat. Take what view we may of the evils from which Ireland has been and is now suffering – and I for one hold that Ireland cannot safely be looked at altogether from an English standpoint – can we wonder that there is a growing disinclination to discuss the condition of the country calmly? It would be a grave misfortune indeed if the irritation occasioned by what is now going on were to interfere with the reforms that may be needed. But sober Irishmen must know very well that the only hope of obtaining a portion of what they are striving for, is by convincing the general assembly in which they are so fully represented, that what is asked is reasonable, and that the proposed arrangements would work. Certainly nothing that Ireland can do will force on the first steps towards repeal or separation. Rather, if pushed too far, the action now threatened may tend to exasperate. The agitation, even taking the highest estimate of its strength, is a small matter; serious, no doubt, as a most unwelcome symptom of a bad feeling which it was hoped was dying down, but nothing calculated to disturb a nation that passed without much concern through the troubles of 1848, and to whom the Fenian rising of 1867 seemed only a poor practical joke. Obstruction in the House of Commons is graver. But there are limits beyond which this mechanical interruption will not be tolerated, and to assume that the purely factious tactics will be tamely put up with in the next Parliament (no matter how many Home Rulers may be returned for Irish or English constituencies) is to take a very low estimate of the new House of Commons.
At the same time none can deny to Irishmen the perfect right to agitate legally for Home Rule. The only proper course, therefore, when Catholics and Protestants, rich and poor, join together to claim self-government, is to try to understand what is really wanted, why the cry has arisen, and how it can most advantageously be met. To tell Mr. Shaw and Mr. Mitchell Henry, the O’Conor Don and Mr. Sullivan, that a movement which has virtually pushed aside their leadership in favour of less scrupulous persons must simply end in political chaos, is nothing to the point. They have all of them character and property to lose, and doubtless see something in Home Rule which callous Englishmen fail to discover. For we are told that Home Rule will settle everything. The national aspirations of the Irish – none the less romantic for being wholly undefined – the religious differences between Catholic and Protestant, the disputes between landlord and tenant, these and sundry other difficult matters will be satisfactorily disposed of at one and the same time. Home Rule is in short the panacea for all Irish trouble. What the Imperial Parliament cannot comprehend or grapple with, that an Irish Parliament will solve without the least exertion. Much is it to be regretted that the matter has never yet been set out in such a form as to convey any distinct meaning.
Hitherto in putting forward their views on this important subject, Irishmen have relied much upon the history of past grievances and the general advantages of their new scheme, but have rarely, it may indeed be said never, entered upon details. Mr. Butt, who was specially careful in this respect, was congratulated by his supporters on the fact that he skilfully avoided giving his opponents the advantage of telling them what he really wanted. But as has been seen from the first, it is precisely in the details of any plan of Home Rule that the real difficulty lies. As to the past there is now no great difference of opinion. That Ireland suffered much under English domination admits of no dispute. Up to our own day but little effort was made to conciliate the bulk of the people, or to govern the country for its own sake. The most necessary reforms were withheld until, as in the case of Catholic Emancipation, the Government yielded to one agitation only in such wise as to provoke another. Naturally, therefore, the Irish look back to what seems to them the one bright spot in their history – the Parliament which kept up a sort of illusory independence for nearly twenty years. The memory of the great orators of that assembly still lingers in the land, and lends a deceptive gilding of national greatness to the period, whilst the bribery and corruption by which the Union was brought about afford ground enough for saying that it was unfairly obtained. A comparison too of the view taken of O’Connell during his lifetime with that which is held now, serves to show yet more clearly the mistakes which have been made. That turbulent orator was, as a now see, a patriot, and his demand for the disruption of the Empire ought to have been met by the steady removal of Irish grievances. Had this been done, more time might have been devoted to the consideration of the economical condition of Ireland which brought about the catastrophe of 1847. With that catastrophe the history of Ireland for men of the present generation may be said to begin. Between 1800 and 1846 the population of Ireland had increased, under the combined influence of cottier tenancy and the potato, from 4,500,000 to nearly 9,000,000. Two bad crops in succession killed 1,000,000 of the inhabitants, and drove 2,000,000 away, bringing down the population to about its present level. There were grave mistakes made, but from that time to this the terrible famine of 1847 has been referred to by Irish orators as if it had been a crime of the British Government. Thousands of Irishmen in America and the British Colonies, as well as in Ireland itself, are bitter enemies of the nation to whom they attribute their enforced expatriation.
With all this we must simply make our account. It would be as impossible, as it would unquestionably be ruinous, to retransplant the emigrants and their descendants to Irish soil. What part the Irish either abroad or in England would have in that new nationality which the Fenians think to create, none outside of the secret brotherhood can possibly imagine. Home Rule, however complete, would in nowise affect the dwellers in Liverpool, Glasgow or Southwark, New York or St. Louis. Moreover the soberer of the Irish leaders are as much opposed to Fenianism as they were ten or twelve years ago. In so far as that element of disorder comes to the front, the central Government may fairly expect the support of intelligent Irishmen of whatever position or creed. With Fenianism the issues pass at once outside political limits, and involve questions which few wish to open without seeing further than they can see at present.
But in the thirty-two years which have passed since the great famine, Ireland has not advanced with the rapidity that might have been hoped for, and her stagnation has appeared the more obvious in comparison with the extraordinary increase in wealth of England and Scotland during the same period. At first there was to all appearance great improvement. In spite of much hardship and even cruelty, the emigration and evictions benefitted Ireland as a whole. The inflow of capital from England raised the rate of wages. The 5,500,000 left had more elbow-room, and the improvement of communication gave opportunities for employment in England at better pay than at home. But remaining still a poor agricultural country with a large absentee proprietary, we have now evidence and to spare that in many parts of the island the people are still living from hand to mouth, and eke out in the best times but a subsistence. Exceptional measures, such as have never been called for in any part of England during the whole six years of growing depression, have had to be taken this year in hot haste for the relief of the people in the West of Ireland. Nor should it be forgotten that up to a late date Conservatives and Liberals alike refused to admit the gravity of the distress. This of course puts a new and forcible argument in the mouth of the advocates of Home Rule. If we could not see (they may contend) and would not believe that the effects of agricultural depression must be far heavier in Ireland than in England, how can we satisfactorily handle more handle more important matters? Happily there have not been the political grievances of the past for agitators to work upon. The right of a landlord to demand rent so long as society remains what it is, cannot be disputed, nor of course his right to evict on non-payment; but whatever objections may be taken to Mr. Gladstone’s outspoken observations as to the influences which enabled him to carry the disestablishment of the Irish Church and the Irish Land Bill, or even as to the merits of these measures in themselves, the agitation of this autumn and winter would have been infinitely more dangerous if the former at least had not been passed. The indifference of the Imperial Parliament to Irish concerns, the incapacity to deal fairly where vested interests were involved, and the religious animosity which blinded men’s eyes to the principles of ordinary justice, would have afforded the groundwork for orations of a very different character from those which, as it is, have done much mischief.
Dr. Neilson Hancock’s able and dispassionate paper in the last number of this Review shows that much has still to be done before Ireland is placed upon a level with England and Scotland in matter of ordinary administration. But it should not be overlooked that, owing to a variety of causes, Ireland is still far behind both the sister countries in many respects, and it does not follow that Irishmen are fully prepared for all measures that might be suited to Scotland. Still, when this allowance is made, it is open to all who choose follow Dr. Hancock’s plain unvarnished statement that Irish Catholics are still, nominally at least, under disabilities which liberal men of both parties would wish to free them from; that the Poor Law – that the law itself is bad in principle may be admitted without affecting the contention – is behind what is thought necessary in richer England; that public education ought to be placed upon an equal footing with that in England or Scotland; that localisation of jurisdiction and cumulative voting should be introduced. Here we have suggestions of more complete assimilation. But immediately afterwards come the proposals that the Bright clauses should be further extended, and Ulster tenant-right – a custom extorted and maintained outside of the law for generations by energy and independence of a non-Irish people – should be made law for all Ireland. This is, of course, considerably in advance of English or Scotch legislation.
Dr. Hancock maintains also, in common with the Home Rulers, that the Imperial Parliament has neglected Irish affairs, and that, therefore, Irishmen have just ground for complaint. When this is examined into, it is difficult to see that Irishmen, except in regard to matters on which there has been the widest difference of opinion among themselves, have more reason to grumble than the rest of us. If they had pressed the economical and legal considerations now coming to the front with the same energy as has been devoted to Catholic education, far more would have been done by this time. Admitting also to the fullest extent the claims of the Irish members, we have still to learn, as Dr. Hancock says, that whole or partial separation is the best or safest way to carry them. That, in fact, is a very mild way of putting it. Decentralisation is a principle which, as a rule, finds favour with the country, but a method which would leave it open to a body of men to declare that property in land had ceased to exist for one section of society, is scarcely in accordance with any government at all. Even granting that the demand for Home Rule is to be justified on general grounds, how Ireland would benefit has not yet been shown.
That so far there should have been no intelligible draft of any definite project for Home Rule made public, surely goes to show that its advocates are fully aware of the difficulty, not to say the impossibility, of proposing a plan which would stand the test of criticism and discussion. Home Rule, as we know it, may mean anything. It is the most elastic political formula yet discovered. It serves to include for the time being men who mean widely different things. Thus, there are those who really aim at no more than they say, and honestly believe that a better and more economical system of government for Ireland might be established by Irishmen themselves, without in the least affecting the connection between the two countries, or sapping the authority of the Imperial Government. There are others who say plainly that Home Rule is a step to repeal of the Union, and a yet more complete separation. Lastly, there are the Nationalists pure and simple, whose “Ireland for the Irish” signifies something which they know will never be yielded except to a successful rebellion. Patriotism, self-seeking demagoguism, and misguided fanaticism are found for a time under the same banner.
The clearest explanation of what the Home Rule party wish is still to be found in the original resolutions passed by the committee of the Home Government Association appointed for that purpose. All subsequent speeches have been based upon these original propositions, and the arguments used in the Home Rule debate of 1874 were directed rather to the expansion of grievances which Home Rule must of itself remedy, than to the proof of how it could be satisfactorily carried out in practice. In brief, however, the Home Rule programme comprises the following heads: – A national Parliament of the Queen, Lords, and Commons of Ireland. This Parliament to have the right of legislating for, and regulating, all matters relating to the internal affairs of Ireland, with full control over Irish resources and revenues, subject only to the obligation of contributing the just proportion to the Imperial expenditure. The Imperial Parliament is alone to have the power of dealing with foreign and colonial questions, as well as with all matters of imperial defence.
This brief programme means, as we have since learnt, that Ireland is to have the exclusive management of her own taxation, her own land laws, her own education, her own railways, fisheries, and public works, through a parliament sitting in Dublin, of which the Upper House will consist entirely of Irish peers, and the Lower will be elected by Irishmen living in Ireland. Now I venture to think that if Irish Home Rulers could show that such a parliament might be summoned without bringing on the break-up of the Union; that its meeting would really benefit Ireland; if it could be proved, too, that Imperial interests would suffer no injury, and that, in fact, the whole arrangement would not fail from the start – if all these points I say could be satisfactorily established, little objection would be raised to the proposals. There is no more feeling on the part of members of the House of Commons, or of Englishmen generally, against a parliament at Dublin than against a parliament at Edinburgh, or say at Carnarvon. Why should there be nowadays? We are dealing with political business, and all we want to know is what may be the best way of carrying on the Queen’s Government. It is merely because the Irish remedies are thought to be wholly impractible, that they are denounced as impolitic. In any case the burden of proof rests with those who consider the present system faulty, and recommend the substitution of another.
It is well nevertheless, in view of the near approach of a general election, to gather from the vague statements at hand what steps would have to be taken before another Irish Parliament could find itself established on College Green. For, as we see, those who pro, pose to stand for English constituencies are called upon, if they wish to secure the Irish electors, to pledge themselves to vote for an inquiry into Home Rule. Now an inquiry ordered by the House of Commons has always hitherto been directed towards some practical end. But in this case an inquiry is proposed into an impalpable theory of government – an inquiry into the framework and constitution of a political will-o-the-wisp, which no Irish member has yet been good enough to catch and table for our inspection. Would it not be well that accommodating Englishmen should ask their Irish friends to be so kind as to describe for them what the basis of the investigation is to be?
An Irish Parliament is to sit in Dublin. Well and good. Under what franchise is its Lower House to be elected? Is that to be settled by the House of Commons; or, supposing such a thing possible, by a caucus of the present Irish members by themselves? Even now some are in favour of a reduction of the franchise and others are not when the Irish members are in a minority. What would be the case when a lowering of the qualification put the entire power of election for all local business in the hands of a poverty-stricken and uneducated peasantry? Some points here would seem to deserve consideration. Would anything satisfy the Catholic majority of the people of Ireland which failed to give them the majority of the representatives in the Irish House of Commons? Is it conceivable that the Imperial Parliament would consent to any Reform Bill for Ireland alone which would bring this about? Granting the readiness, of Catholics and Protestants together to give the fullest possible right of voting under existing circumstances, manifestly affairs would assume a totally different appearance when the balancing influence of English and Scotch members was withdrawn. The classes possessed of property and intelligence would be legally at the mercy of a body whose members had been elected by men holding views on the subject of the right of individual ownership, and the proper incidence of taxation, much at variance with what is at present supposed to be sound. Nor would this difficulty be in any way met if the settlement were left to the Irish members themselves.
But it may be said the Irish House of Lords would act as a check upon the Irish House of Commons, even if Mr. Davitt or Mr. Stephens became Prime Minister, and Mr. Brennan or Mr. Daly was appointed Home Secretary. So far from this being the case, we have here only a danger the more. The Irish Peers are nearly all Protestants and all landlords; the Irish Commons would probably be most of them tenants, or the representatives of tenants, and Catholics. Have we not in this arrangement the making of a deadlock of the most anarchical description? We have only to imagine for a moment an Irish Parliament at work by itself upon a reform of the land laws, including the newly-developed theory of rent, to see where this would land the whole community. To put the thing plainly, would the owners of property in Ireland allow the class now agitating for a change, to carry out their views under Home Rule without that sort of opposition which has elsewhere led to civil war? How long, again, would the Lower House submit to be thwarted in the slightest degree by the Upper, without resorting to violence? When the Imperial Parliament passes a measure for the benefit of this or that portion of the Irish population, there is no option on the part of dissentients about giving way. There is power at hand to enforce the law. But there is no such obvious disparity of force in Ireland alone by any means, unless the Imperial authority is to be invoked to carry out the decisions of the local parliament – an arrangement which would scarcely be the Home Rule we understand.
Of course the Protestant members and landlords of the Home Rule party may have some method of restricting the suffrage carefully concealed, which would obviate possible hitches, which would reconcile conflicting interests, and assure the peaceable settlement of the reform is so loudly called for. If so, they do us a grave injustice by not bringing it forward. For not the most radical among us could view without apprehension the unchecked development of some of the schemes lately broached to admiring audiences. Is Ireland fit for manhood suffrage? That is what the rank and file of Home Rulers seem to favour. First, then, let us know whether manhood suffrage is to be the basis of the Irish House of Commons; and if not, at what point short of that it is intended to stop? As in the event of any serious difference of opinion leading to a collision, the interests of both countries would necessitate Imperial intervention, it is only right that we should have some opportunity of judging how soon, if Home Rule were granted, such interference would again become unavoidable. Otherwise the Imperial Parliament is asked blindly to give the people of Ireland the power to organize disturbance, without any right whatever to stop them until it took an active shape.
Assuming this initial difficulty disposed of, further drawbacks at once come into view. For example, the Home Rulers, declare that there is no wish whatever to break up the Imperial connection, none to avoid paying a just share of the Imperial taxation. Not disputing the former statement, who is to settle what is just share of the Imperial taxation, the Irish or the Imperial Parliament For there is a doubt on this head. Sir Joseph McKenna, Mr. Mitchell Henry, and others contend – with how much of justice it is not my present purpose to inquire – that Ireland is taxed twice as heavily as England in proportion to the relative means of the two countries, and that besides the terms of Union are infringed by this excess. Therefore there is a difference of opinion as to what would constitute a “just” contribution to the Imperial exchequer. The records of the old Irish Parliament show what difficulty there was in arranging matters then. Will the process be any more simple now? For it is not to be presumed for a moment that England and Scotland would allow Ireland to frame her own estimate as to the amount which she should be called upon to pay. At that rate there might as well be separation at once, leaving Ireland to keep up an army and navy on her own account; and establish a nationality good earnest – an arrangement which, apart from its political absurdity, she would soon find burdensome enough.
It must rest then with the infinitely more powerful portion of the partially disunited kingdom, to say how much Ireland should pay at the outset. But this would be a varying amount. Say that it became necessary for the whole country to embark in a dangerous war calling for sacrifices from all, how long could the smooth working of such a complicated arrangement be expected? Thus, even if an agreement had been arrived at as to what was a just proportion one year, we could not rely upon getting it the next, when the contribution was to be increased by necessary taxation in excess of previous demands. Again, in the matter of the taxes themselves. Ireland can never be allowed the right to tax exactly in the way she pleases. Here, indeed, we at once enter upon those Imperial functions which the Home Rulers protest they have no desire to interfere with. To tax imports, however, is such a pleasing way of raising revenue that we can scarcely suppose the Irish Parliament would long resist the temptation to try how this would answer. In short, whichever way we turn, a Home Rule Parliament butts up against some Imperial business which could not be delegated to Ireland save by complete separation of the two countries.
The United States – the Federal and State Legislatures – independent yet not conflicting Canada – the Dominion and Provincial Parliaments are instanced as parallel to the form of Government which it is designed to set up in Ireland. But these associations are very different from any connection which can ever exist between England and Ireland. They presume an equality or the prospect of an equality, and besides, as has been pointed out over and over again, the matters to be arranged are far more simple. Moreover, the tendency even there is towards centralisation in important matters, and the doctrine of State rights cannot be pushed far without a danger of disruption. On every possible scheme of confederation Ireland would always be in the control of England. Such countries as Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland merely maintain their independence because of the jealousies of their neighbours, or because they are too small to be worth interfering with. Hungary, which is sometimes cited as a country holding a similar position to that claimed for Ireland, will shortly only prove how impossible it is to work such a dual Government for any length of time. As to our colonies, their position and history render any analogy between the two cases altogether out of place. Indeed, all such analogies are quite misleading. What is wanted is a plain, straightforward scheme – an intelligible sketch of how an independent Parliament is to be reconciled with unavoidable dependence; how Ireland is to have her cake at Westminster and eat it at Dublin. For it is to be observed that no word has been yet heard of giving up the right to Irish representation in the Imperial Parliament. The whole affair is still in the clouds. Bound up with England as the most patriotic Irishman must admit his country to be, a separate nationality is a chimera. Yet the separate Parliament can scarcely mean anything else. The Fenians are much more logical and scarcely less practical than Mr. Parnell. Yet no Englishman, I suppose, would pledge himself to vote for an inquiry into an Irish Republic, with “agrarian communism” as its basis. It is precisely because Home Rule assumes that no change will be made in the constitution, and that the Union will be maintained, that it has obtained so much success even as it has. Let it once be made clear that final separation is its goal, and the end of the movement is at hand.
There is, however, a more serious drawback than any of mere detail, involved in turning over the entire government of Ireland to Irishmen without any external control. It is argued because Catholics and Protestants have joined in this Home Rule cry, because Catholic constituencies have returned Protestants, and the Catholic clergy show no objection to Mr. Parnell, that therefore the self-governed Ireland of the future would know no religious differences, and that national prosperity would wipe out the bitter feuds of the past. This is the assumption, but what is there to justify it? Not the state of Ireland itself. True we have not had of late something little short of civil war in the streets of Belfast, and the usual festivals of riot have passed over with only a moderate allowance of homicide. But why? Because the Imperial Government has each case taken the greatest precautions to keep the peace, much to the disgust of the people themselves. Not to speak, however, of what occurred last year at Lurgan and elsewhere, only the other day at the election of a dispensary doctor in a small town in the south of Ireland, it was necessary to call up a strong body of regular troops in order to obviate the chance of a serious collision. The Protestant Home Rulers themselves are perfectly well aware that religious feeling still runs very high, and that self government might easily intensify it. Nor would the improvement of the wealth of the country, supposing it to be effected, at all interfere with the display of this traditional animosity. Irishmen in America and Canada are well-to-do enough, but the ancestral differences about the Battle of the Boyne are there debated with the same keen enjoyment of manslaughter as in old Ireland itself. Cities otherwise peaceable enough have been turned into fields of battle between rival processions of Irishmen, who held different opinions on matters of the smallest possible moment. Americans and Canadians alike look upon Irishmen as altogether impracticable in such matters, and wonder that they ever kept from flying at one another’s throats in their own country. Unpleasant as obstruction is, a religious misunderstanding might easily be still more objectionable.
Once more, however, it is said that Irishmen manage what is left to their control exceedingly well; that their Poor Law, though inefficient owing to its legal shortcomings, is ably administered, their prisons and county unions carefully arranged, and that their municipal governments will challenge comparison with any on this side of the Irish Channel. All this, however, it must be remembered, is under pressure from without. In other parts of the world Irishmen in groups have not distinguished themselves for uprightness, or regard for the laws of the countries where they settle. This may be in part due to their neglected education, and in part to the absence of their natural leaders, whom, until the land question broke up the ties between them, they respected and followed. But in view of the Home Rule proposal, unworkable as it is an other points, it is not out of place to recall the fact, that the only great city that was ever administered by South of Ireland Irishmen was New York. The population of New York is nearly two millions. The members of the Tammany organization, which had it under their command, were almost wholly Irish; they depended for their support upon Irish votes, and if ever there was a favourable opportunity for showing capacity for honest and intelligent administration without cost to themselves, there it was. How they took advantage of it, who runs may read. A more corrupt gang never preyed upon a civilised community. The whole municipal government became one organised villainy, and the only people who throve were rowdies and bribe-taking judges. Wherever in American cities the Irish voters have got the upper hand, there, in a greater or less degree, the same phenomena have been reproduced. What has been the attitude of Irish labourers towards negroes and Chinese when they have come into competition, it is unnecessary to recall. In the same way the Molly Maguires of Pennsylvania, whose murderous outrages shocked the whole American community, were Irishmen, and this secret band of unionists could not of course plead barbarous landlords as an excuse for their assassinations.
It would be monstrous indeed to speak of the able and upright men who head the Home Rule party, in the same breath with the scoundrels who did their best to ruin New York; or to link the Catholic population of Ireland, so singularly free from odious crime, with the brutal colliers of the Schuylkill region. But the leaders may be only the Girondins of an Irish revolution. How long would they keep the control of their countrymen, when it came to dealing with the revenues and resources of the country for – as one of them has lately advocated – the encouragement of local enterprises? The common contention on the part of Irishmen that the State has duties towards them very different from any that it is called upon to perform in England – an argument which is in part accepted by Englishmen themselves – points clearly to Home Rule as a sort of beneficent if impersonal providence, which is to do for Ireland something that at present is not to be done.
But even when the impracticable nature of the Home Rule programme so far as it is intelligible is shown, we are evidently no nearer to a settlement of Irish difficulties. It is not to be expected that Parliamentary action will cease when the return of good times and the renewal of emigration has cooled down the agitation in Ireland itself. Even if the alleged grievances were righted, there might still remain that idea of a nationality by which, as the ablest Irish writer of this generation has truly said, the difficulty of dealing with the people is enormously increased. Nevertheless, we see in the case of Scotland, this sentiment of nationality is gratified without the slightest danger to the connection between the two countries. No one would accuse Scotchmen of any lack of pride in their country; no one would think of imputing to them an incapacity for self-government or self-assertion. Yet there is no call on their part for Home Rule. They are perfectly satisfied to await their turn of legislation, and in more than one instance – notably in the case of the law of Hypothec – they have been content to see a measure, supported by a great majority of Scotch members overruled time after time by the majority of the House of Commons. Taking their full part in the discussions of other questions, they have recompensed themselves by their influence in other directions for the temporary neglect of their own immediate concerns. It has been said that the Scotch vote disestablished the Irish Church, and certainly it has had great effect at many times in our recent history. But then we are told that the cases are entirely different. Not nearly so much so as Irishmen generally assume. The Scotch Parliament was brought to an end by bribery. For a long period the country was fearfully misruled, and a prey to civil war and contending factions. There was more ground for saying that Scotland could never be pacified, and that Highlander and Lowlander, Churchmen and Covenanters, would never come to a peaceful agreement, than that Irishmen will never consent to accept the conditions of union with England; or that Catholics and Protestants will never agree to differ whilst returning members to a joint Parliament in London. But then we have never treated Ireland as we have treated Scotland, and we are in too great a hurry to reap the benefit of recent conciliatory measures.
Scotland is not discontented, because, in the main, her affairs are managed by Scotchmen in the interest of Scotland. The great majority of Scotchmen are Liberal, and only an insignificant minority of Scotch members have enrolled on the Conservative side. None the less, they acquiesce without complaint in a Conservative administration for the three kingdoms, though they know that it must postpone reforms, because a Scotchman is appointed Lord Advocate; and no attempt is made (as in Ireland was made, until very recently) to force Englishmen into all the higher administrative and legal posts, or to treat the people as a whole as if they were a recently conquered race. If an English Conservative had the sole charge of Scotch Bills, if the statements of Scotch members were commonly treated as unworthy of belief, and if the whole tone towards Scotchmen were one rather of contempt than of conciliation, then we may be very sure the cry for Home Rule north of the Tweed would be loud enough. It is because instead of pursuing such a course Scotland is fully consulted, even in matters of sentiment, that there is no trouble in that quarter. Sir Michael Hicks-Beach and Mr. Lowther are highly creditable specimens of the sound, shrewd English gentleman; but as Mr. Shaw has lately pointed out, and as is well known to all who have watched what has passed during the present administration, they do not understand Irishmen as Lord Carlingford and Lord Mayo understood them, or as Mr. Plunket or The O’Conor Don would understand them. This is nothing in English affairs, but it becomes a serious matter in trying times in Ireland. Our theory that any one may be pitchforked into any office, whether he has had previous training for it or not, has been tried rather hard of late. Unless Ireland is to be held still upon terms which we have refused to sanction of late years in any part of the Empire, the Irish ought to be put on the same footing as the Scotch. If this principle were accepted, and the Chief Secretary were always an Irishman, very little more would be heard of the cry for Home Rule – a cry which, perhaps, some even of those who are elected on it do not very heartily join in.
There is some ground for saying that certain measures have not been taken because they conflict too much with English views. More than a generation ago, two men of such different opinions as Cavour and Lord Beaconsfield were of opinion that a peaceful revolution was the proper remedy for Irish troubles. It is sad to read in 1880 Cavour’s liberal yet conservative recommendations in 1844, and to see how few of them have been carried out. Still the tenants of Ireland are Catholic, and the landlords Protestant; still absenteeism is a curse of the country; still much cottier tenancy prevails. Education is very imperfect, and the Poor Law incomplete. The Italian statesman was certainly a lover of a territorial aristocracy, and not too friendly to the Roman Catholic Church; yet, looking at Ireland with an impartial eye, he was of opinion that in her case it would be well “to abolish entails, and also the right of primogeniture; to permit the partition of inheritances, and to simplify the processes and formalities now required for the sale or division of landed estate. To the British people these measures would seem very serious; they would be regarded by them as expedients almost revolutionary.” So revolutionary that they have barely been spoken of during all that long interval, and except for what the famine did for those who were left, we have to start from nearly the same point as when this passage was penned. The chief object now as then is to bring about a peaceful change, to enable the landed proprietors to rid themselves of a property which they hold at a disadvantage, because owing to race, creed, and disinclination to live in the country, they leave their land to be improved by their tenants, and are unable to identify themselves with the body of the people. We have found out in India that laws and methods of rule which suit us very well are wholly inapplicable, and even ruinous under different circumstances. Even in England we are beginning to doubt whether the privileges accorded by society to the owners of land are so beneficial to the country as was sometimes thought. In Ireland people have no doubt at all as to the effect of English laws. Fixity of tenure, and an extension of the scope of the Bright clauses, are called for by men whose natural sympathies would be with the landlords.
When Home Rule is refused finally, as sooner or later it must, be, by both parties, no matter how much either of them may coquet meantime with the Irish vote, it will be absolutely necessary to show a readiness to settle this and other questions. To shut our eyes to our social and political dangers because some agitators have gone beyond all reasonable limits, or because a proportion of the people would confiscate property, and a few have resisted the law, is not accordance with any wise view of the duty of a government. Those are altogether in the wrong, and must be summarily treated, who demand that they shall own the fee-simple of the soil on paying rent at a valuation for fifteen or twenty years; those, again, who urge that any man who has taken a piece of land for six months is entitled to hold it in perpetuity are almost equally to blame; for at this rate even the tenant who last purchased his holding will perhaps shortly find a poorer sub-tenant, whom he has let to, raising an agitation in the same sense, and all contract in relation to land is at an end. But all this does not alter the fact that the present tenure is not approved by any impartial person who has examined into it. Nor, on the other hand, would ownership, however complete, enable the occupiers of small patches to raise themselves much above the limit of starvation. Granting that cottier tenancy is a miserable failure, it by no means follows that any reform will relieve us from the drawbacks incident to the natural conditions of the country. Tillage has been kept up with difficulty in some districts for generations, as the statute-book shows. The general tendency is towards pasture and dairy-farming, which need fewer hands, and are more profitable than arable land. To legislate to stop a process which is suited to the country would be, of course, sheer madness. In Ireland, as in other countries, it is not possible to do what is economically most desirable. If it were, few can question that the poorer peasants would be far better off in America or the English colonies, even if they were given the fee-simple of their holdings to-morrow. If, therefore, State intervention is thought necessary in the direction of enabling the tenants to obtain possession of their holdings, it can scarcely be refused in the direction of assisted emigration, to which the Home Rule party, as represented by Mr. Parnell, seem to object. Otherwise the evils of subdivision and subletting which have manifested themselves before will certainly appear again.
It is at any rate the business of English and Irish politicians and publicists to consider this troublesome subject without prejudice. Either party may fairly undertake it without sacrifice of principle, for the Bright clauses of Mr. Gladstone’s Act were accepted by Conservatives as well as by Liberals, and even fixity of tenure was given to sub-tenants in Bengal (with an unfortunate result, as some allege, owing to the Hindoo law) by an English administration. If we cannot hand over the management of the matter to Irishmen, we are at least bound to clear our minds of any feeling as to the effect which such changes as the abolition of entails might have on the solution of a similar problem in England. Home Rulers are at least right so far. On another point also there is a good deal to be said for their view. Absenteeism is, and long has been, a serious drawback to Ireland. The yearly drain of little short of £4,000,000 and more, is no trifle even economically, apart from the bad political effect of treating with tenants exclusively through agents, who have no interest in the estates, and look upon the whole question as a mere matter of salary and commission. In any steps which are taken to enable the Irish to become possessors of their holdings, the estates of permanent absentees may at least be considered fit subjects for experiment. Not the most abject idolater of the rights of real property can contend that they feel any deep interest in the welfare of a country which they rarely or never visit, and which in many instances their continuous demand for increased rent tends to pauperise. To allow such people to assert their privileges to the full extent, when they altogether neglect their duties, is simply to legalise and encourage a ruinous system.
Landlords are maintained in the peaceful enjoyment of their land because on the whole it has been found to the general advantage of society that they should be so. But in particular instances, where forced sale is advisable, it is carried out, and the Encumbered Estates Act might very well be supplemented by an Absentee Act – the Bright clauses under the wider interpretation now given to them by a vote of the House of Commons being applied in all sales effected. To read much of what is written nowadays, one might suppose that the 12,000 landlords of Ireland had not only the right to be protected in putting the law in force against their tenants, but that any change whatsoever in the law itself, however economically or politically desirable, must be a shock to the whole social system, and a step towards agrarian communism. Such argument on one side is almost as bad as the anti-rent agitation on the other. The Imperial Parliament is quite capable of steering between the two extremes and of satisfying all reasonable demands without danger. This an Irish Parliament certainly could not do, and whatever questions might safely be left to Irishmen to settle, the land is not one of them.
The desire for more local self-government is not, however, confined to Ireland, though there it is pressed in a different shape from elsewhere. There is, as is commonly admitted, far too much local business brought before Parliament, and the excessive expense inflicted upon the country, and especially upon Ireland and Scotland, by the private bill system calls for some remedy. Railways, waterworks and other matters of a similar nature might well be transferred to Commissions, whilst the power of municipalities and shire councils could be beneficially extended at the same time. This has been proposed by both Conservatives and Liberals, and any scheme would necessarily include Ireland. Unfortunately concession would now be translated as a surrender to agitation and clamour, whilst the resistance to the police of late has produced a stronger feeling in this country than ever. But though such measures may be beyond the scope of the expiring Parliament, they may be thought of as matter for the next. To suppose that the difficulties of Ireland can be solved at a blow is of course absurd. Whatever changes are made must be gradual. But much has been learnt by the Irish themselves during the late agitation. They see that neither in England nor in America can they expect sympathy for demands which go the length of confiscation and the upsetting of all law. On the other hand, we have had occasion to learn that the poverty of Ireland is no mad craze of Irish members, but that what in England means only pressure and hardship, in Ireland means famine. It rests with the present administration, by a careful attention to the needs of the people now – manifestly, individual charity, loans to landlords, and the Poor Law are insufficient for the growing distress – and by firmness, combined with conciliation, both within and without the House of Commons during the present year, to relieve the country from the scandal of obstruction in the approaching session. But to ensure that Ireland shall be, in future, a source of strength rather than weakness or annoyance, she will have to be governed more in accordance with the views of the majority of her population, and less on the lines of any preconceived policy, however apparently sound. This may involve some concessions disagreeable to our prejudices, but the pacification and contentment of any portion of the United Kingdom is well worth the sacrifice of rigid political consistency.
1. The serious obstruction of last session began with Sir Stafford Northcote’s refusal to pledge the Government to give another night to the discussion of the O’Conor Don’s Catholic University Bill, on the ground that the business of the House was already behindhand. One Irish Member after another got up, and declared that this step should not conduce to the pushing forward of public business. They carried out this threat on the moment by delaying the Indian Budget for an hour and a half. Irish members complained of having been deceived; but it is surely not the best way to show a capacity for self-government to endeavour to render all representative government impossible.
2. The famous third clause, giving compensation for eviction, has turned out the failure most Conservatives and many Liberals predicted it would. On the one hand the landlord, though not prevented from unduly raising the rent, was stopped from turning out a tenant, however bad a farmer he might be, without heavy compensation. On the other, by giving this second interest in the soil, eviction, even for non-payment of rent, was created into a greater grievance than before. Thus a good tenant’s rent might be raised as the reward of his improvements, but there was no adequate means dealing with a bad tenant.
3. “I propose no change in the Imperial Parliament, and if my scheme were adopted, the House would meet next year just as it has done this; there would not be a single change in members or constituencies; there would be members for Leeds, Glasgow, Dublin, and Limerick. The only change would be to take from that Assembly some of the duties which it now discharges in reference to Irish business, and to relegate them to another.” – Mr. Butt in the House of Commons, June, 1874.