THE DEMOCRATIC DEMAND FOR IRISH MEMBERS.
THE tendency of modern Liberalism, and especially, as we
think, of modern Democracy, is towards Constitutional pedantry. Home-rule for Ireland means, if it means any- thing, a great step towards Separation. It has always been advocated on that ground by the leaders of the Home-rule Party. Mr. Parnell has expressly declined to put any limits on the Irish movement towards complete nationality, and the ostentatious indifference of the Home-rule Party to Imperial politics points, of course, in the same direction. Mr. Gladstone may hope that, by granting an Irish Legislature, he will reconcile
Ireland to the British Crown ; but he did not even express a hope that he could thereby reconcile her to enduring the sway of the British Parliament,—should any attempt be made to enforce that sway. Yet this being so, and being universally confessed to be so, here are all the English and Scotch Home- rule papers which call themselves Liberal, raising a unanimous protest against allowing the Irish Members to leave the British Parliament, and asserting that the only tolerable form of Home-rule is that which saddles the House of Commons with a large number of reluctant, not to say hostile, repre- sentatives, who will, by their own avowal, feel no interest in the Empire, and who will vote, if they vote at all, with an exclusive regard to Irish interests. We call this pure Con- stitutional pedantry. And we think that a moment's con- sideration of the excuse given for this absurd demand will show it to be pedantry of the most empty kind.
What is to be gained by it ? Only the ability to say with verbal accuracy that Ireland is represented in the Imperial Par- liament, but no ability to secure the reality which is expressed by representation. You cannot by retaining Irish Members make them deliberate with the view of promoting the pros- perity of Great Britain, any more than by assigning counsel to an undefended prisoner you can promote that prisoner's chance of a verdict of acquittal, if in fact he does not wish for an acquittal. What good on any reasonable view of representation we can get from the attendance of unwilling Members to save appearances, we cannot even conceive. Ireland says that she wants to be let alone, that she wants all her available ability for her own Parliament, that she feels no interest in our Parliament, and that if she sends representatives to it, it will only be to secure by roundabout means greater concessions to Ireland. Irish Members would sit in our Parliament not to secure the good of the whole, but in order to squeeze more out of Great Britain by threatening to thwart Imperial interests, than Ireland otherwise might be able to squeeze. Is that representation in any but the most pedantically literal sense of the word ? It is not more certain that though you may take a horse to the water, you cannot make him drink, than it is that though you may manage to secure Irish Members for the British Parliament, you cannot make them vote for reasons or motives by which they are not really actuated ;—you cannot make them desire the welfare of the Empire as a whole.
But the democratic pedantry which insists on having Irishmen in the British Parliament, in order that the Union may not be too ostentatiously ignored, is not even consistent with itself. No plan that has been proposed, or can be proposed, short of the inconceivable revolution which would give us a strictly defined Federal Constitution complete on paper, with a Supreme Court to tell us when it had been broken and when it had been properly respected, can be imagined that would not introduce anomalies even more monstrous than those of the plan already before the country. The cry of the moment, —which we venture to think the most absurd that the mind of man could conceive,—is that Ireland should be given what is called a Statutory Parliament for local affairs, and that the hundred and three Irishmen who sit at Westminster should sit there still. Well, what would be the inroads on sound Con- stitutional doctrine made by that arrangement / In the first place, we should have done our best to make that Statutory Parliament disgrace itself,—for there is great good sense in the Irishmen's contention that, neglected as the political education of Ireland has been, they could not man two Parliaments with any hope of decent success. In the next place, the Constitutional- ists would cry out most justly that unless we distinguished between local and Imperial affairs, we should be giving the Irishmen votes on all our British local business,—our railways and our education policy, for example,—in which they were only interested in the most indirect way, without taking any power ourselves to influence the same kind of Irish business, with which, nevertheless, we might easily have quite as much concern as they would have with ours. How could this be remedied,— for remedied it must be,—without an elaborate paper Consti- tution defining the local and the Imperial jurisdictions, and a Supreme Court to decide how far the law had been duly interpreted ? Can we imagine for a moment that British parents or British shareholders would let a hundred and three Irishmen turn the scales in deciding the Education Code or the railway policy of England, while Irishmen decided with perfect inde- pendence on the same sort of business in Ireland ? That would indeed be a British surrender without terms. And as for any rough-and-ready mode of distinguishing Imperial from local business, we have it on the great authority and long experience of Mr. Gladstone, that he can imagine none such, since a question which appears simply administrative may be in the largest sense Imperial ; while questions which appear in the largest sense Imperial, may be in their reaction on local politics decisively local. Or will any one outside a madhouse seriously propose that, to balance the Irishmen who are to intervene in British politics, Englishmen and Scotchmen should be sent to Dublin to inter- vene in Irish politics ? And what would Mr. Parnell,—or, indeed, the proposed victims themselves,—say to that ? The simple truth is that to keep, we will not say a hundred and three elected Irish representatives, but any substantial delega- tion of Irish representatives, at Westminster, to turn the scale whether on nominally British or on nominally Imperial affairs, while there were no such representatives of Great Britain in Dublin, would be the most monstrous of all Constitutional anomalies. It might well be that a vote in the Parliament of Dublin would exercise far more real influence on the affairs of the Empire,—would involve more serious changes in our military or naval or foreign policy, — than ninety-nine out of every hundred votes taken at Westminster. Yet it is seriously proposed that in any such vote Great Britain should be totally unrepresented, while in the most minute local business of Great Britain the Irish repre- sentatives should have an equal voice. Was there ever Constitutional prudery so comic as that which exclaims against banishing the Irish representatives from Westminster, lest there should be taxation without representation, while it makes no difficulty about giving to the Irish Members in the largest measure representation without taxation, and refuses to Great Britain any similar privilege in relation to Irish affairs f Representation without taxation, it should be remem- bered, is just as fatal to the principle that there should be no taxation without representation, as deficient representation itself. Flood your representative Assembly with persona who do not suffer by the taxation imposed, and you destroy the power of the true representatives over the taxation which they themselves feel. You might just as well have no adequate representation of the taxed classes at all, as allow it, when it has once been chosen, to be overflowed by the representatives of untaxed classes.
So far as we can judge, if we are to have Constitutional anomalies at all,—and the whole essence of the Irish demand is anomalous, unless it is recognised at once as what it really is, a half-way house towards Separation,—the least anomalous of the Home-rule proposals, short of the tremendous revolu- tion involved in American Federation, is the one which Mr. Gladstone has actually made. It is quite true that it is full of anomalies, and full of anomalies of which we shall only gradually discover the mischief, and perhaps the ruin. But it dam at least give us something to compensate for the immense accession of danger it brings ; and that something is strength at home. What the Constitu- tionalist prudes ask for is an immense and most costly sacrifice on our part, without any compensation at all. We are asked to empower Ireland to do precisely as she pleases in matters that will often gravely affect British policy, and yet to endure in .undiminished force the evil under which we have groaned so long of grappling with a party.which is in no sense British at heart,—nay, which is generally anti-British at heart. We say " in undiminished force," for it seems to us hopeless to • pound with Ireland for a smaller delegation to Westminster than she already has, on any intelligible principle ; and so too, apparently, thinks Mr. Parnell, who has, it is said, declared that unless all the hundred and three remain, he will not consent that Ireland should have anything to say to the deliberations at Westminster. And Mr. Parnell is probably right. No statesman on earth could do a rule-of-three sum which would tell us what representative quota Ireland ought, after obtaining a Statutory Parliament of her own for all Irish affairs, to contribute to a British Parliament which deals with both local and Imperial affairs. That is a eeleulation possible only in cloudland, and not on the real earth. But the Constitutional pedants who are so eager to insist that, even on the assumption of Home-rule, democratic principles will not admit of the retreat of the Irish representa- tives to Dublin, should really be taught that democratic principles are totally inconsistent with their own position ;- unless, indeed, they be mad enough to desire the greatest and most arbitrary breach of continuity ever made in history, namely, the destruction of the British Constitution, and the substitution for it of an elaborate Federation, guarded by all the guarantees which the United States, in a time of real revolution, laid down for a great association of popular com- munities, each of which had a different past, though they were all bound together by a common danger and a common purpose.