Изображения страниц


I HAVE often wondered whether those gentlemen who assure us that Ireland will be satisfied with nothing less than Grattan's Parliament have ever seriously reflected what Grattan's Parliament under the Constitution of 1782 really was. It consisted, of course, of two Houses-a House of Lords as well as a House of Commons. It was altogether Protestant. It was elected exclusively by Protestants, though, towards the close of its career, it, with signal liberality, admitted the Catholics to the franchise. It was drawn entirely from the section of the community which was indisputably loyal, and it was probably more eminently and specially the representative of property than any legislature that is now existing in the world. But in order still further to secure a constant concurrence between this Legislature and the Legislature of Great Britain, the Government steadily upheld a system of representation under which about twothirds of the members of the Irish Parliament sat for nomination boroughs, a great proportion of which were at the absolute disposal of the Government. Yet, in spite of all these securities, the task of making the two Legislatures work in harmony was not found to be an easy one, and it was on the great danger that might result from their collision that Pitt chiefly based his argument for the Union. The Constitution of 1782, he said, had established no solid, permanent system of connection between the two countries.' Experience had shown how inadequate it was to the great object of cementing the connection and placing it beyond the danger of being dissolved.'

[ocr errors]

It is sufficiently evident from this sketch that no Parliament even remotely resembling that which was abolished in 1800 could now by any possibility be established in Ireland; and it is equally evident that, while the old Parliament was essentially the Parliament of the Irish Loyalists, the Parliament which is now desired would be essentially a Parliament of the disaffected. It would be, in all probability, a single democratic chamber, elected chiefly by an anti-English peasantry, completely sundered from the great interests of property in the country, and consisting mainly of nominees of the National League. The relation of the different classes in Ireland to the Home Rule scheme is perfectly unambiguous. The whole body of the Protestants, with scarcely an exception, have declared themselves against it. They form nearly a million and a quarter of the popula

tion and contain far more than their numerical proportion of its wealth, intelligence, and energy. They comprise not only more than ninety per cent. of the proprietors of the soil, but also the flower of the industrial population. It is they who have mainly made Belfast one of the greatest and most prosperous cities in the empire; who have made the linen manufacture the one flourishing industry of Ireland; who have raised a great part of Ulster to a level of civilisation, order, and prosperity worthy of any portion of the empire. Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Methodists, differing in creed and differing in English party politics, they have declared, with a unanimity and emphasis which it is impossible to mistake, that any Irish Parliament which could now be set up would be ruinous to the country, the precursor of anarchy, and probably of civil war. They are not, however, more opposed to it than the Catholic gentry. This class, who in a healthy state of society would occupy a conspicuous if not a dominant place in Irish politics, have, by the action of the National League, been driven almost absolutely out of public life; and if it had not been that a few of their number sit in the House of Lords, they would be reduced to the most complete impotence. The overwhelming majority of the leaders of industry, whether Protestant or Catholic, are on the same side. It is only necessary to examine the list of Mr. Parnell's members of Parliament to perceive how entirely the representative names in Irish industry are excluded from it. The bankers, the large merchants and shopkeepers, the directors of railways, the men who have risen to eminence in the professions, the great employers of labour, the great organisers of industry are entirely absent. The few men of this kind who were connected with it when it was guided by Mr. Butt have almost all fallen away since it has passed under the control of Mr. Parnell, and they look upon Home Rule with undisguised alarm. All those classes in Ireland who are indisputably loyal to the English connection are as indisputably opposed to an Irish Parliament.

It is this profound division of classes in Ireland that makes all arguments derived from the example of federal governments, either in Europe or America, so utterly fallacious. The first question to be asked before setting up a local legislature is, who are the men who are likely to control it? On this point there is no real difference of opinion in Ireland. No argument of the smallest weight has ever been brought forward to show that the men who now predominate in the Irish representation in the Imperial Parliament would not equally predominate in an Irish parliament. They would be elected by the same classes. They would come to the poll with the prestige of a great victory. The simple effect of Home Rule would be to confer legislative powers upon the National League.

And what are the sentiments of these men towards Great Britain? To do them justice they have never concealed them. They are men at whose public banquets the toast of the Queen is systematically

suppressed. At their great demonstrations the American flag is everywhere flaunted, and cheers are given for the Mahdi, or the Russians, or any other real or supposed enemy of England. The harp without the crown is their favourite symbol. One of their most conspicuous members organised the demonstration on the platform of Mallow to insult the Prince of Wales. Another-the present Lord Mayor of Dublin-distinguished himself by refusing to allow British soldiers at his inaugural procession. More than one have been deeply mixed in the Fenian conspiracy. The leader himself assured an American audience that he would not be satisfied till his party had destroyed the last link which keeps Ireland bound to England.' The newspapers and the popular literature which support and represent the party have for years been educating the Irish people in the most inveterate unqualified hatred of the British Empire, and have looked on every event in Europe with favour just in proportion as it was supposed to be injurious to British power. Every one who has given any real attention to that press will admit that this statement is the simple unexaggerated truth. It is not, however, the whole truth. The National League is a tree of which the root is in America, where an avowed and savage conspiracy against the British Empire exists, directed by men who have abundantly shown both by their words and by their acts that they would shrink from no crime to attain their ends. It is from America that the Parliamentary fund of the National League mainly comes. Its members in Parliament are as literally paid from the exchequer of a foreign anti-English conspiracy as the British Ministers are from the Consolidated Fund.

These are the men with whom English Ministers have to do; and what is the demand which they make? It is that the whole internal government of Ireland should be placed in their hands; that they should be given the command of that noble army of more than 12,000 constabulary who have displayed during the last terrible years such an admirable fidelity and loyalty; that they should be authorised to arm volunteers; that they should be entrusted with the protection of industry and property, and of the loyal subjects of the Crown; with the power of taxation and with all the influences of patronage and control that belong to a legislative body. That such a surrender to such men should be seriously contemplated, not on the morrow of some crushing military disaster like Jena or Sedan, but by the Ministers of a great and powerful empire, is surely a shameful illustration of how recklessly and unscrupulously the game of party and of place has of late been played, and how seriously the public spirit of the country has been impaired. There are three millions of disaffected in a population of about thirty-six millions; eighty-six disaffected members in a parliament of six hundred and seventy. It is under these conditions that resistance is said to be impossible and the dismemberment of the empire inevitable. Parliamentary government, the Prince Consort once said, is now on its trial. If this be the end of British

government of Ireland, the historian will have little hesitation in pronouncing that it has not only been tried but condemned.

I do not know whether the experiment of governing Ireland as a part of the empire, by a Parliament such as I have described, will be tried. But it needs little sagacity to predict that no such solution can possibly be permanent. Limitations on the new Parliament may easily be devised, but there will be no power to enforce them, and upon the first conflict with England they will be abrogated by a declaration of rights. The precedents of 1641, of 1689 and of 1782 are there to justify such a course. The Irish question, instead of being settled, will be immensely aggravated by the enormously increased power given to the disloyal. The strain on the connection and the anarchy in Ireland will both become intolerable. It will soon be found necessary to go forwards to complete separation or to go backwards, probably to the abolition of all representation, and whichever course is taken, it will almost certainly be accompanied with bloodshed. To govern Ireland as a part of the empire by a democratic Parliament formed of the elements which are now predominating in that country is the most hopeless of impossibilities.

One other prediction may be safely made. It is that the effects of such a surrender will not be confined to the relations between England and Ireland. I know as a matter of fact that some of the most distinguished men who are, or have lately been, connected with the government of India are watching with keen anxiety the triumphant progress of Irish disaffection on account of the influence it is likely to have on that country. It will be felt there and in every other part of the Queen's dominions, and it will be felt in every country in Europe in the changed estimate of England. Great empires cannot humiliate themselves with impunity. I know no clearer signs of a declining nation than that its statesmen are unable or unwilling to protect peaceful subjects within a few hours of the metropolis, and are prepared to carry on government by compacts with fomenters of outrage. If the surrender of Ireland to the disloyal be accomplished, it will be known throughout Europe that the old governing and imperial spirit which made England what it is, has departed; that the days of the empire are numbered, and that the handwriting is already on the wall.

I have spoken of the extreme absurdity of comparing any parliament that could now be established with the old Parliament of the gentlemen of Ireland-a Parliament to which I am not ashamed to say I look back with a feeling of very considerable sympathy and respect. I may add that the present movement differs widely from that of O'Connell. The Repeal agitation of O'Connell was not supported by the subsidies of foreign conspirators, and it was not accompanied to any great extent by that class warfare, and especially by that war against property, which has given its distinctive character and its special danger to the present movement. O'Connell was himself

a considerable landlord. There was in his day no anti-rent agitation, and one of the most creditable incidents in his life was the courage with which he risked his popularity in opposing trade outrages. O'Connell was also frankly loyal to the Crown. His early experience of the horrors of the French Revolution had given him a strong bias in favour of monarchy; cheers for the Queen were constantly given at the Repeal meetings, and he even pushed his view of the prerogative so far as to maintain that it was in the power of the sovereign, without the intervention of the Imperial Parliament, to convene a parliament in Dublin.

[ocr errors]

But although the Repeal movement of O'Connell was much less dangerous than the present one, it is well known how it was regarded by the greatest English statesmen of every party. Few English public men have known Ireland better than the Duke of Wellington, and he wrote that Repeal must occasion the dissolution of the connection with Great Britain,' and he predicted that its inevitable issue in Ireland would be a religious war. Sir R. Peel, who had served as Chief Secretary for Ireland, and was thoroughly acquainted with the conditions of Irish life, was even more emphatic. Repeal of the Union,' he said, 'must lead to the dismemberment of this great empire, and must render Great Britain a fourth-rate power in Europe.' Lord Althorp, who then led the Whigs in the House of Commons, echoed the argument of Peel that in the existing state of Ireland a distinct Parliament must necessarily lead to separation ; and Lord Grey, the leader of the party, who had in his youth been a strenuous opponent of the Union, declared that the effect of its repeal

[ocr errors]

would be ruin to both countries.'

[ocr errors]

That Home Rule in any form in which it is now likely to be attained would be ruinous to Ireland is indeed not difficult to prove. The policy of Mr. Gladstone and the agitation of Mr. Parnell have together so completely shattered the social type which had existed for generations; they have so effectually destroyed all the old relations of classes and all the more healthy forms of influence and reverence by which Irish society cohered, and they have diffused so widely through three provinces the belief that outrage and violence are the natural means of attaining political ends, that Ireland is at present probably less fitted for prosperous self-government than at any period within the memory of man. Mr. Gladstone and his colleagues have, indeed, achieved with a curious completeness the end which more than fifty years ago Sir Robert Peel foresaw and dreaded as a great, perhaps an irreparable misfortune'-the total 'severance of the connection between the constituent body of Ireland and the natural aristocracy of the country.' If Irish public opinion moved under the direction of men who had the responsibility of property; who were sincerely attached to the connection, and who were animated by a genuine love of individual liberty and a genuine respect for law, a large measure of self-government might, I believe, be profit

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »