TOPICS OF THE DAY.
AN IRISH PARLIAMENT AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS.
ON the day before Parliament adjourned for the Whit- suntide Recess Mr. Dillon—whose injury in a motor car accident we note with great regret—unconsciously afforded the country a warning as to the very grave diffi- culties which are certain to be encountered in the region of Foreign Affairs should we be mad enough to create an Irish Parliament with an Irish Executive responsible to it. Mr. Dillon on Thursday, June 1st, asked the Secretary for Foreign Affairs a series of menacing and provocative questions in regard to the action of the French troops in the neighbourhood of Morocco, his underlying sug- gestion being that in the course of the punitive operations carried on against the tribes in the neighbourhood of Fez the French had been guilty of condoning atrocities of the most hideous kind. In particular he asked that the British agent in Fez should be directed to report fully on the details of those operations, and that these reports should be communicated to the House. Sir Edward Grey very properly declared that he could not undertake to lay papers "where no British action had been involved." Not satisfied with this answer, Mr. Dillon went on to describe the manner in which many villages had been ravaged by the Sultan's troops "under the command of French officers," how "the men had been killed and their crops and sheep stolen, and nearly eighty of the women and children seized and sold in the markets of Morocco at prices varying from $40 to $1 for small children." Mr. Dillon next asked—in language which must be described as grossly unjust to France- " whether, in view of the fact that France claims to be acting as the mandatory of Europe, and that this expedition has been undertaken with the consent and approval of the British Govern- ment, he does not consider that the British Government is in some measure at least responsible for these barbarities, and that this House ought to be informed from week to week as to the proceed- ings of the Sultan and French troops in Fez, for which it appears to me that the British Government is in some measure respon- sible."
To this Sir Edward Grey gave the following dignified and very proper answer :— " The British Government is certainly not responsible. I depre- cate very strongly a question of that kind, a question put in a form which really reflects on the officers of another Power—(hear, hear)—bef ore it is possible for his Majesty's Government to have full information as to the facts. It is precisely in consequence of these reports in the Press that I said in my original answer that I might later on be able to give information as to matters of fact if desired. I have no doubt the French Government themselves will be the first to give full details."
One might have thought that this answer would have been sufficient for the chief if not the nominal leader of the Government's Parliamentary allies, a politician whose action cannot be accused or explained on the ground of party animosity and the desire to make party capital against the Ministry at all costs. Mr. Dillon, however, pushed his point, and made it even more insulting to France, as the following questions and answers will s-how :- Mr. DILLON: In view of these reports, will the right hon. gentleman not undertake to give the information immediately it reaches the Foreign Office, so that we may know whether these statements, which are made on very substantial authority, have any foundation ?
SIR E. GREY: They are not matters for which we can have any responsibility. They are matters which primarily concern another Power. I cannot promise to lay papers which I have not yet received. When full information is received as to the facts I shall be willing, if desired, to state what our informa- tion is.
Mr. ASHLEY (Lancs. N., Blackpool, Opp.): Are these facts stated on any substantial evidence ?
SIR E. GREY: My statement regarding information as to facts was not intended to imply that what has been reported in the Press is fact. On the contrary, I meant that till we knew what the facts were it was impossible for me to give in- formation, and I thought it very undesirable for members to draw premature conclusions.
We have dealt with this matter at such length because we are most anxious that the public should understand its full significance. Remember that action by Mr. Dillon cannot be discounted as that of a wild Irish Member whose opinion does not matter one way or the other. Mr. Dillon has not only, as we have just said, every reason for making things easy for the present Government, but he is also a politician who would be almost certain, if an Irish Parlia- ment and Irish Executive were created, to hold a high office in that Executive. Yet, in spite of the very strong influences thus exerted to hold him back and make him careful in regard to his language, we find that his animus against France and the French Government is so strong that he does not hesitate to embarrass his Parlia- mentary allies, and to run the risk of stirring up ill feeling with France on a very delicate matter, and, what is more, to do this on what Sir Edward Grey was easily able to show was no evidence whatever. We feel sure the comments of the responsible French newspapers prove, indeed, that the French people and the French Government are as anxious as would be our own Government and people to prevent atrocities in Morocco. No such actions will, we are confident, be sanctioned by French officers, and, further, we may be sure that they will do their very best to prevent outrages by the troops of the Sultan, though no doubt it is exceedingly difficult to hold such irregular soldiers in proper check and to prevent the putting into practice of their traditional methods of suppressing tribal insurrections. But all these considerations, as we have said, matter nothing to Mr. Dillon if only he can get his knife into the French Government. Happily his vindictive, suspicious, and ill-founded sensationalism counts for very little while he is only a private Member at Westminster. Any remarks he makes there are obviously entirely unofficial and irresponsible, and can at once be corrected by the Minister who has an authoritative right to speak for the nation in the region of foreign affairs. Not even the most sensitive Frenchman could grumble at Mr. Dillon's action after he had been dealt with so faithfully as he was dealt with by Sir Edward Grey. But though Mr. Dillon's attacks on France and endeavours to play into the hands of the enemies of France in a matter so delicate and difficult as the treatment of the Moorish population by the Sultan's troops are of little importance while he is a private Member of Parliament, they would matter a very great deal if he were the bead or moving spirit in an Irish Parliament and an Irish Ministry. In that case there would be nothing to prevent Mr. Dillon from vilifying France or any other foreign country, when he happened to dislike its Govern- ment, in his place in Parliament. Again, he could, and no doubt would, if we are to judge by the temper of his recent remarks, pass through the Irish Parliament resolutions condemnatory of French action. Possibly we shall be told that this could not happen because the Irish Parliament would be precluded from dealing with foreign affairs. But if an Irish Parliament and a Ministry responsible to it are once created, who is to stop that Parliament from passing any resolutions they like, or prevent its Executive from taking part in foreign debates ? The Speaker of the Irish Parliament—who might very possibly be Mr. Dillon himself—would certainly not do it, for undoubtedly hie object—an object very natural from one of his views and position—would be to extend the purview of his Parlia- ment. Deliberative assemblies, especially when labelled with the name of "Parliament," resent very much being told that there is anything which they may not discuss. Even when they cannot claim power, or, at any rate, cannot use power, they will demand "the right of free speech." "Though, unhappily, we may not strike a blow in the good cause, at any rate our voices shall be raised in condemnation of the liar, the hypocrite, and the tyrant." That is the kind of attitude sure to be popular in an Irish Parliament. Conceivably very wise leaders, with a strong sense of responsibility, might, in a very prudent Assembly, be able to stifle debate of this kind, but, as we have said, action by one of the coolest and least effervescent of Irish leaders shows that no such reticence is to be expected in a Dublin House of Commons.
Does any sane person suppose if for any reason the French Government were to become involved in a violent struggle with the Papacy or were to be compelled to take strong measures against the French clergy that an Irish Parliament—sure to be under clerical influences—would refrain from expressing its opinion? It must not be imagined that in the case we have supposed, that is, of an Irish Parliament and members of an Irish Ministry condemning and interfering with the action of the French Government, that Government would be able, to pass the matter over without remark. Possibly it would be wise for them to do so, and very possibly they would in their hearts like to take such a course; but knowing as we do the sensitive nature of French public opinion it is, we fear, out of the question that they would be able to sit still and say nothing. The French Government, like every other Parliamentary Government, always has plenty of enemies in its own House ready to raise interpellations, to suggest that the Ministry is not proving itself an efficient guardian of French rights, French interests, and French honour, and to urge Ministers of Foreign Affairs " to lodge a protest in London against the insolence and mendacity of Dublin." In that case our Ministry would not cut a very dignified figure. They would, we presume, have to accept the humiliating position of saying that they were very sorry, but that they have no control over Ireland and could not help it; in a word, to adopt the schoolboy's formula : "Please, sir, it wasn't me ! "
Probably, in the case we have given, France, as a specially friendly Power, would do her best to help us out of the difficulty and let the insult be decently buried as soon as possible. But, remember, we cannot be sure that the Irish Parliament will confine itself to embroiling us with friendly Powers. Suppose some Power, not inclined to study our home difficulties, as, for example, Germany, Austria, Turkey, or even Italy, to have its domestic action called in question in Dublin, and language grossly offensive to the Sovereign of the State to be employed, either in resolutions or in speeches. In that case the foreign Government, urged on by a section of public opinion unfriendly to us, might very well raise an exceed- ingly awkward situation. There are moments when the last thing we want to do is to give any foreign State or any section of public opinion in that foreign State the opportunity to pick or press a quarrel. Remember, the con- stitutional situation will not be unknown to the foreign Government. They will be able to say to us : "We understand your colonial system under which your colonies are virtually free nations, and we should not, of course, hold you responsible too minutely for things said on the other side of the water. When we remember, however, that the Irish Parliament is expressly precluded by a clear and recent statute from dealing with foreign affairs, and that Ireland is in Europe, and can therefore exercise a much greater influence upon our internal affairs, we are bound to ask you to enforce your own law and to see to it that either the Irish Parliament mends its manners or else is effectively prevented from inter- fering with the domestic affairs of neighbouring Powers. The method by which you are to closure the Irish Parlia- ment is, of course, your affair, not ours. We can only tell you that if you are unable to stop your subordinate Parliament from insulting our Sovereign you will compel us to find the remedy ourselves and to do what you unfor- tunately are unable to do." Of course such a retort would be put into language more diplomatic than we have used, but it would be none the less menacing and none the less difficult to meet.
Unquestionably Mr. Dillon has shown us by his per- sistent and, offensive attack on France the sort of thing that is likely to happen when we establish a Par- liament in Dublin. Whether the Government will be able to devise some machinery for preventing action likely to have such evil consequences remains to be seen, but if they cannot provide it—and we very much doubt their being able to do so—then yet another argument is added to the already formidable list of arguments, political, financial, moral, and military, which preclude the breaking-up of the United Kingdom. It was arguments of necessity that produced the Union. It will, we believe, be arguments of necessity which will preclude its repeal.