TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE IRISH CONVENTION AND MR. GLADSTONE. THE Ulstermen have succeeded in their first object. They have aroused the attention of the whole world to the fact that Ireland contains two nations and not one, and that the smaller but wealthier and more successful nation desires, with all its heart and soul and strength, to remain united with Great Britain, to obey the same laws, and to be governed by the same Parliament. It is im- possible to read any of the accounts of the grand meeting of the " Convention" at Belfast on the 17th inst. without being convinced both of the reality of this desire, and of the deep resolution that it shall not be foiled until Ulster has put forward her whole strength, and has tried conclusions with a Dublin Parliament, should such a body be ever called by British weakness and Mr. Gladstone's " Particularist " enthusiasm into momentary existence. The 11,879 delegates in the great hall, representing every class and division of Protestants, and thousands of the loyal Roman Catholics besides, were absolutely unanimous in their sentiments, which were repeated and emphasised by the mighty crowds, estimated to include two hundred thousand men, which thronged the Botanic Gardens outside. The platform was filled with representative men of all denominations ; the Primate of All Ireland and the Moderator of the General Assembly led the devotions with which, in the ancient spirit of Ulster, the proceedings began ; and the list of speakers ranged from the Imperial Grand Master of the Orangemen, who repre- sented traditional but extinct ascendancy, down to Liberal tenant-farmers through whose exertions and support a wise statesmanship has buried not only ascendancy, but the last fragment of desire that it should exist. The speakers, indeed, in their measured and weighty utterances, all repudiated ascendancy, though many of them expressed grave fear, sometimes even horror, of clericalism ; and the tone of denunciation, whenever it was adopted, was reserved for those leaders of Southern Ireland who in pursuit of Home-rule had condoned or fostered cruelty and outrage. With the exception of one rather indiscreet allusion to Lord Wolseley, there was no " high-falutin'," no trace of bombast, no appeal even to the Irish love for rhythmical passion ; but all oratory was as restrained and on the surface calm, as if the speakers had been addressing Englishmen or Scotchmen, as, indeed, they were. The Chairman, the Duke of Abercorn, with his solid argument that the protection of a minority by guarantees is with an elected Parliament " unworkable, impossible, impracticable, impolitic," was not more sober than Mr. T. Sinclair, ex- President of the Ulster Liberal Association, with his quiet but unanswerable declaration that while Ulstermen desire nothing but co-operation with Southern Ireland, they hold it as a " conviction founded on the prosperous experience of their own province, that the most intimate union with the enterprise and sympathy of wealthy Britain is essential to the well-being of their poor island." All the speakers either expressed in words or assumed a fixed resolution to repudiate the authority of a Dublin Parliament, which means that that assembly will commence its existence with an Ulster difficulty twice or thrice as great as the Irish difficulty of the Westminster Parliament; but there was a singular absence of menace, and, indeed, of violence of any kind, unless we detect it in the word " treachery," by which the conduct of Great Britain in threatening to abandon Ulster was almost invariably defined. There was nothing about the " last ditch " or the " last man," but there was through- out a declaration that Ulster would resist, trusting in the protection of God, and the impossibility that Great Britain should send soldiers to slaughter men who ask nothing except to remain united with her in obedience tv a common law and a common body of representative legis- lators. Even Dr. Kane, the hottest, or, as Irishmen would probably say, the most eloquent of the speakers in the Convention, went no further than to call upon Englishmen " to do their duty and trample under foot "—at the polls, of course—" those enemies who were more serious than any foreigners could be, because they were enemies hying in our midst." The whole tone, in fact, was that of Englishmen and Scotchmen, who grow sober in the face of danger because they intend to act. No one in this country who reads the speeches will doubt the speakers' meaning, that even if they are deserted by the English electors, they will still resist continuously, yielding step by step only to an exertion of physical force, which is, in fact, civil war. This is, in truth, recognised every- where ; the comment of hostile critics, in Ireland as well as Britain, being, not that Ulster is doubtful or insincere, but that she is apprehending dangers which will never arise. North and South, in Edinburgh no less than in London, it is acknowledged that the " Ulster problem " is a real obstacle to Home-rule ; that it has never been faced ; and that somehow or other, if Mr. Gladstone's plan is ever to enjoy even an appearance of success, it must be overcome.
The best evidence to the success of the Convention is, however, Mr. Gladstone's instant response. The great meeting was held only on Friday, and on Saturday the speech which he addressed to a gathering of Noncon- formists at the house of the Rev. Guinness Rogers, was full of Ulster, was, in fact, a deliberate reply to the protest of the Convention, as well as to the one previously received from the Ulster Nonconformists. It was marked by all his qualities, and most of his defects. Mr. Gladstone sometimes fails as statesman, but as moralist he can be trusted on all subjects but boycotting. His reply to the charge of Dr. Kane that the Ulstermen and the men of the South were natural enemies, was morally a fine one, for no doubt it is "a miserable position in life to inhabit a country where you have to recollect that out of every four fellow- countrymen you meet, three are your natural enemies ;" but practically he admits the enmity, and surely it is a strange cure for it to place the prosperous minority for all future time under the heel of the unprosperous majority. We have heard of many cures for hate, but to place the hater beneath the hated, is surely the least practical one that ever was suggested. It resembles nothing so much as the counsel offered last year by a correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, who expressed her belief that if the wife were made ruler over the husband, all the difficulties surrounding the marriage question would instantly disappear. Common minds will think that to grant the existence of such hatreds in Ireland is to grant the Union, because of the necessity for an impartial and irresistible authority. Mr. Gladstone's argument, too, that the cen- tralising power of the Vatican is the real cause of the per- secuting tendency in the Church of Rome, and that of all her Churches, the Church of Ireland least obeys that cen- tralising power, would have been unanswerable, but that, as it happens, he left out all the qualifying facts. Rome sometimes preaches persecution, and sometimes peace and amity ; and it is when she preaches the latter, when she ex- plicitly condemns boycotting and outrage, that the Catholic Church of Ireland manifests her independence. Mr.
Gladstone says, truly enough, that neither in France nor in Italy have the Roman Catholic majority recently perse- cuted, though he does not add that in France they are too agnostic, and in Italy too devoted to unity ; but it is not as Roman Catholics that the Ulstermen are dreading the action either of the Southern people or of their priests. They dread them because the people devised, and the priests extenuated or condoned, the foul cruelty of boycotting, the oppression of witnesses for speaking the truth, the murders of decent men for taking farms and paying the rent they had agreed to pay. Mr. Gladstone argues that Rome persecutes and that Rome is weak in Ire- land, and that therefore there will be no persecu- tion ; but the Ulstermen reply, with all the facts on their side, that in Ireland Rome protects, and the local Church persecutes, or rather, does not, with all its irre- sistible authority, forbid persecution. He bids them not fear Rome; but they are not fearing Rome, but Rome's semi-rebellious children ; and his argument, therefore, flies wide of the mark at which it is directed.
Then Mr. Gladstone argues, with great force, that the lay Catholics of Ireland are not to be dreaded, for they have exer- cised all the powers they possess rather in favour of Protes- tants than against them. It is a fine passage in his speech : —" They have obtained powers of electing men to Parlia- ment. Whom do they elect ? Protestants whenever they can get them, and usually there have been a majority of Protestants ; and if they fail to be a majority, at any rate it will be because they find greater difficulty in getting them. By whom have they been led ? Almost entirely by Protestants, and, down to the latest moment of a great catastrophe, by a Protestant who was a very re- markable man, and who was even in his day—not so very long ago—a diocesan representative of the ex-Established Churc'a in his own diocese in the County of Wicklow. But they have got some local powers, they have got some Corporations. Well, it is perfectly notorious that they elect Corporations in perfect freedom from religious dis- tinctions. They have Protestant Lord. Mayors of Dublin and Mayors of other places ; they have Boards of Guardians, and they elect Guardians who are Protestants when they can get them and when they are competent." That is solid evidence, even if it be true, as Ulstermen would say, that Catholic Irish elect Protestant Irish as leaders and as Mayors because they want efficient men, and because for all purposes of citizenship Teutons are more efficient than Celts ; but, unfortunately, it is beside the point. The Ulstermen are not dreading what the laity will do when left to themselves, but what they will do when under the guidance of clerics possessed, as recent events have shown, of absolute control over the elections. We ourselves are as little prejudiced in the matter as it is possible to be, for we think persecution exceedingly improbable, and should re- gard the payment of the priesthood out of the rates as an immense gain to Ireland, as they would thereby be set free to prefer the dictates of Christianity to the dictation of their flocks; but the Ulstermen have all recent experience on their side, and in any case Mr. Gladstone's theory breaks down. Grant that the Ulstermen are mistaken, grant that they are bigoted in their distrust of Catholics, grant that the spirit of the Cromwellians still survives among them, and the absolute necessity for the Union to preserve impartial order, and pacify the prejudiced and the victims of prejudice by authority exercised by a power above both, is at once fully conceded. We argue that Ireland. contains two nations, and Mr. Gladstone, when he has declared that one of them is unjustly prejudiced, and unable to get rid of its " inheritance of wrong " —namely, tyrannical feeling—thinks he has given a full reply. He forgets that Courts are set up to do justice between individuals because nue of the parties to the suit is full of prejudice and injustice. There, as it seems to us, is the very essence of the error which honest Glad- stonians commit in condemning or ignoring Ulster. If Ulster is right, as in the main we conceive she is, then the case for Home-rule as a " Union of Hearts " breaks down ignominiously, for every third man in Ireland repudiates that Union ; while if she is wrong, as Mr. Gladstone affirms, it fails more ignominiously still, for then there are clearly two nations in Ireland, one of which does not so much as understand the other. On either hypothesis, to establish Home-rule in Ireland is to establish a Court of Justice in which there is everything except a law and a Judge, the only real power being the will expressed through a secret ballot of one of the two suitors.