TOPICS OF THE DAY.
LORD R. CHURCHILL IN BELFAST.
THOSE Liberals who doubt—as we know there are Liberals who do doubt—whether the British Government in Ireland has any moral base, should read carefully the speech with which Lord Randclph Churchill, on Monday, enchanted the Orangemen and " Constitutionalists " of Belfast. It will give them pleasure, for, considered only as an oratorical effort, it is far and away the best speech Lord Randolph ever made in his life—much better, we acknowledge, than we thought he could have made—and it will, we hope, give them instruction too. How any one who knows Irish history can doubt, after reading that speech and studying its reception, that the elements of civil war still exist in Ireland, we are unable to conceive. Lord Randolph spoke to the representatives of the Northern Protestants, and from first to last his speech was a closely locked series of argu- ments to show that the Loyalists had suffered from not using force, and that the time was either approaching or had arrived when they must use force, constitutional force if pos- sible, in the shape of demonstrations, but if that were futile, then " ulterior " force. The speech was not so much an incitement to civil war, though it is natural for Catholics so to regard it, as a statement that civil war must come ; that England was languidly acquiescent in Howe-rule; and that nothing else would cure the impression in Britain that the Loyalists were dead and that the Nationalist Party included, for the practical purposes of politics, the people of Ireland. That argument may be prophetic or incendiary, according to the view of the reader—it was really both—but it was received by the audience with a rapture which rose higher and higher as the speech became more significant, and expresses precisely the dominant feeling in the North-East of Ireland. The popula- tion there has been so powerless in all recent legislative struggles, and has been so hopelessly defeated at the polls, that its strength, if driven to despair, is somewhat underrated. Ulster is not Protestant, as is so often asserted, the Catholics of the province slightly outnumbering their rivals ; but in the eastern half of Ulster a million of persons, Scotch or English by descent, and trained by centuries of ascendency to believe in themselves, are packed together on a narrow area, with full communication with the sea—that is, with Northern Europe—live by ceaseless industry and enterprise, own one- fourth the whole wealth of the island, and are, perhaps, of all communities in the world, the one which would most readily adopt a military organisation. They themselves, confident in their race, their unity, and their means, think, as Major Saunderson recently intimated, that if left to themselves, they could conquer Ireland ; and though that boast is ill-founded, or depends upon problematical assistance from abroad, they could undoubtedly make a fierce, and probably a successful, fight for their cantonal independence. Their logical argument for insurrection is, if Home-rule is granted, perfect, being pre- cisely the same as the argument for Home-rule,—namely, the unfairness of subjecting a race separate in creed, race, and ideals to the sovereignty of an alien people ; and it is by no means certain that their demand would be without response in other provinces.
At least, this is what the Ulster men say, and no one who knows Ireland doubts, least of all do the saner Nationalists doubt, that, greatly as many circumstances have changed, if Ireland were left to herself, it would need most careful steering to avoid war between the majority of Catholic Kelts, and the minority of Protestant Scotch and English, and that, after all, the ultimate appeal might be to force. That fact, which for nearly half a century swayed the counsels of every successive British Government, is now comparatively disregarded, owing, as we believe, partly to a change in the facts, such as a decay of religious virulence ; but chiefly to the silent operation of two totally different, but equally power- ful, drifts of opinion. According to one, popular insurrection, whatever its motive, is now hopeless, no populace, however wealthy, educated, or determined, possessing the ability to fight trained troops, armed with their weapons of precision and supported by the far-reaching modern artillery. They can- not do it even on the Continent, where every man in a mob may have been a soldier ; and in these islands it is ridiculous even to think of it. That is almost exactly true, and is a modern fact the full significance of which, in its bearing on the future development of States, is still scarcely perceived; but those who make the statement forget that fights with half-trained men, if they will stand their ground, are fearfully bloody, and that the use of the Queen's troops to slaughter out English and Scotch Loyalists for- being too loyal to Britain would almost rouse a civil war on this side. It would be considered the most horrible of humilia- tions. Mr. Healy one day pointed with a chuckle to the fact that if Home-rule were granted, the Irish garrison must sus- tain the new law, and legally and constitutionally he is right ; but passion is often stronger than constitutional considera- tions, and we doubt if the patience of Englishmen, infinite though it has recently been, would stand that terrible strain. The Govern- ment would be resisted by the whole body of Conservative feeling, aided by that of the party, daily growing, which believes that the only hope for Irishmen, on both sides, is that they should take the consequences of their acts, and work out their Revolution for themselves. They have never yet, such men say, known what a contest fought out "to the bitter end" really is, England having always in the last resort intervened with her irresistible strength. That is true historically, but then, it leads to a result which no Christian people could tolerate for an hour. Civil war in Ireland would mean the ruin of Ireland. Not only would there be horrible massacres in the three provinces, anarchy in the capital, and street-fights in every seaport town, but all commerce would be suspended, all industry stopped, imports rendered impossible, and that danger of famine which always hangs over a country naturally so poor, brought within visible distance. Ireland might be reduced by six months of internal anarchy to a state unknown in modern European history ; a state from which it would take her, as it took Germany after the Thirty Years' War, a century to recover. It is cynically wicked even to think of looking on at such a scene enacted on territory still British, with folded arms ; yet the only remedies would be either to make the Keltic Catholics absolute by the slaughter of the Loyalists, or to reduce both under the impartial dominance of irresistible law,—that is, to reproduce the Ire- land of Lord Spencer's re'yinie, to retrace our steps, in fact, after witnessing a carnival of blood. Surely, even if Ireland be a nation, and the only British claim to her be conquest, the right of preventing such a war as this is a true moral right. It is a thousandfold better right, at all events, than that by which we have just intervened to coerce the Hellenic Kingdom into angry quiescence.
We are quite aware of the argument by which the abler Nationalists, men like Sir Gavan Duffy, Mr. Healy, and even Mr. Parnell himself, endeavour to dissipate this appre- hension. They say that religious rancour has diminished everywhere, and particularly in Ireland,—as witness the fact that the "uncrowned King" is an ultra-Protestant ; that the animosity of race is partly imaginary, the Kelts being perfectly willing to use the capacities of the Scoto-Irish, and rather liking them as leaders ; and that the two peoples, if they are two, would live together like the Germans and French of Switzerland, who also are separated in part by creed. So far as religious rancour is concerned, we imagine this argument to be true, as witness Archbishop Walsh's curious speech about Mr. Morley ; but we are by no means so certain that the aversion created by the habits of thought of each creed has passed away ; we are certain that race antipathies do not perish with freedom—just look at Gis-Leithan Austria—and we believe that the quarrel between North and South has in Ireland mixed itself up with that deadliest of all modern quarrels, the quarrel between two radically different views as to the rights of property. Add that to a surviving race hatred and a slowly dying religious hatred, and we have a total volume of rancour such as might produce a civil war, or make it, if it broke out, one marked by bloodthirstiness and passion. It seems to us that we have a right to prevent even the chance of such an outbreak, and that if the Pax Britanniaa may justi- fiably be maintained anywhere in the world, it may be main- tained in Ireland, where our very obligations to the people, which are many and deep, specifically bind us in any hour of extremity to save them from themselves.