AN APPEAL TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS. TN spite of
what has happened, in spite of the Government's 1 broken Pledges, in spite of the mismanagement, in- justice, and fatuity which have marked the Government's handling of the whole Irish problem, we appeal to the House of Commons with all the earnestness and all the emphasis at our command to set matters right, as they most certainly can do, even at the eleventh hour, by insisting on the carrying out of the Government's original policy of Conscription for Ireland as a war measure and on its military merits divorced from all political and Parliamentary considerations. We implore the House, who after all are our rulers, not to accept Lord Curzon's special pleading that it has become absolutely necessary to forgo for the time (i.e., for good and all) the policy of Conscription for Ireland. If the members of the House of Commons will only look into the matter and examine Lord Curzon's allegations, they will find that there has been no change in the situation which justifies abandonment, or indefinite postponement, if Lord Curzon prefers it. [We have given elsewhere our reasons for dealing with Lord Curzon's rather than Mr. Lloyd George's exposition of the Government policy. The Premier, be it noted, made no correction of Lord Curzon's statement.] We have read many Parliamentary arguments for a sudden change of policy, but never anything which approaches Lord Curzon's in weakness and irrelevance. What are the grounds which he gives for abandoning, at a moment of supreme peril, the opportunity of increasing our Man-Power by some four hundred thousand men, for that in plain terms is what has happened ? He tells us that the Government arrived inde- pendently at two conclusions, which synchronized in time but not in anything else. One was that they must apply Con- scription to Ireland, and the other was that-they must pass a. Home Rule Bfil. When -these entirely independent and detached -policies had been decided upon, events happened which had not -been anticipated by the .Government. But we had better .give Lord Cuszon's own account of this weird imbroglio :- " The first Tree the discovery, in the course of the month 'of -May, that there was-a sinister-and formidable conspiracy of -the dasclers of the SinnFein movement in Ireland with the enemy ofthiscountry, and that the leaders. of that association in Ireland were-involved in a plot which was to mature at the very moment. -when, and designedly, the Germans in co-operation were to make -an effort to annihilate our forces across-the-seas. -Several noble Yards have spoken as if the information on which we acted had been in our ,poesession-alt the time. _Nothing of the sort. The-revelations to toltich I have referred were absolutely new. The _grounds upon which we acted were placed before the Cabinet for the first time in the month of May. They occasioned in us surprise and eensternation. . This situation reacted on the other position. If they- eoidd not have -Home Rule, they could not have Conscription. Two great events•hap- pened to change the situation—one the discovery of the Sinn Fein plot, and the other the action of the Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland, who challenged obedience to the law and Imperial supremacy, tank who threatened•their flocks under• the penalty of eternal damnation to resist Conscription to the uttermost. In these circumstances it was neces- sary in both respects—the-did not-say to abandontheir policy, or to change their front—but it was their duty to recognise the facts and to adjust their policy to them."
In plain English, the Sinn Fein plot and the opposition of the Roman Church showed the Government that they had under- taken an impossibility. We will deal with these arguments in order, and will show-that, even if we accept and admit Lord Curzon's premisses, neither of his reasons provides any solid- ground for abandoning the application Of Conscription to Ireland.
If the revelation of the Shin Fein plot with the enemy came as a surprise to -Lord Curzon and his colleagues, all we can say is that they were almost the only thinking men in the kingdom to whom it was a surprise. Mr. De Valera had shouted his treason from the housetops. Further, he stamped himself and his followers as traitors, not only in word but in deed. In his 'speeches last summer and autumn- he said again and again that the Sinn Feiners were in -alliance with the Germans for the good reason that they were both the enemies of Britain. There must, he implied, be an alliance between common haters. He gave a further argument why Ireland and the Irish Republic he desired to set up must be on -the side of Germany. Germany intended to restore the temporal power of the Vatican. If this was - not a sign of a plot, what was ? But there were overt acts to explain-and emphasize the words of the Sian Fein leader. As we-pointed out at the -time, Mr. De Valera actually practised manoeuvres for seizing the great strategic feature of Ireland—the estuary of the Shannon—thereby showing that he was looking forward to, and planning co-operation with, Germany. The only reason for military manoeuvres in the counties of Clare and Limerick and round the shores of the,Shannon Fiord was that he expected aid, either under the water or on the water, to be sent to him by Germany. But this was not all. Every- body in Ireland knew, and a great many people in this counttrryy knew, that there was plenty of submarine actin on the Irish coast, including the occasional landing of machine:guns and of a certain amount of ammunition. We cannot of course prove that reports on these matters were laid before the War Cabinet, but we know that reports of, or references to, such lincidents got into the Irish and English papers, where any one could read them—the Daily Mail correspondent described the Clare manoeuvres—and we are convinced that much more de- tailed, and much more sensational secret reports must have reached the various. Departments concerned with Intelligence- i.e., the War Office, the Admiralty, the Irish Office, the. Foreign Office, and the Home Office. If the War Cabinet did not get them, there must be an amazing dislocation somewhere in the chain of information.
We need not, however, deal at length with this point,. because Lord Curzon by his own words entirely destroyed the argument founded on nescience. He tells us that the Govern- ment made the amazing discovery that there really was an Irish-German plot during May. Now his argument is that the moment the War Cabinet became aware of the plot, they felt that the Home Rule Bill had to go, and with it Conscrip- tion. And yet it can be seen from the files of newspapers notoriously in the confidence of the Government and in immediate touch with Downing Street, that instead of the Home Rule BM being knocked on the head in May, the Federalist discussions were pursued during the whole of that month and during the early part of June, and that it was not till just before Lord Curzon's speech -that even rumour began to declare that the Home Rule Bill -might be abandoned. If-Lord Curzon wants us to believe, that -the -discovery-in -the middle of May of a plot where no one could possibly have expected it—i.e., amongst the Sinn Feiners--eompelled the Government to break their Pledges in regard to Conscription, he must give us not only better facts, but a far better array of dates, than those which he supplied in the House of Lords.
The second ground for giving up Conscription is one so unworthy that we have the greatest disinclination to deal with it. Lord Curzon, as we have seen, actually told the House of Lords that the Government had had to run away from their policy because the Roman Catholic clergy did not like it and would not have it. In a word, Lord Curzon and the Government have solemnly admitted the existence of a kind of ltberum veto on the part of the Roman Hierarchy over Imperial legislation which affects Ireland. If ever there was an act of national humiliation, it is to be found here. When a portion of the clergy in the Province of Quebec tried to claim such a veto, the statesmen in power in Canada gave a very different answer, and soon devised very different ways for treating a sullen priesthood and a lawless mob.
Once more, Lord Curzon's account of why the Government altered their policy is not only totally inadequate but obviously incorrect. His explanation will not bear examination. There must have been some other reasons, and what they are the Unionists, and indeed all patriotic men, have a right to demand. Surely there must be people left in the House of Commons with sufficient independence to insist upon the Prime Minister or Mr. Bonar Law giving the real reasons for the breach of most solemn Pledges. A promise, we venture to assert, does not cease to be a promise because it is made openly in Parliament by Ministers of the Crown !
But there is little or no satisfaction in exposing to the nation, and indeed to the world, the faithlessness and vacillation of the Government, or their astonishing willingness to declare that they were frightened out of a settled policy by the combination of a German plot, and an Ultramontane clerical intrigue. We only dwell on the matter in order to show, as we can show, that nothing whatever has happened to prevent the application of Conscription to Ireland. This Government, or if not this Government, then another, can still, if they like to use- sufficient firmness, obtain their four hundred thousand men. from Ireland. Only one thing is wanting, that the Government should make up their own minds, believe in their own policy, and apply it at once. If not only the men who .are to be conscripted,. but also the Hierarchy, know that the Government mean business, there will be no opposi- tion worth mentioning. No doubt, if we begin by telling the Irish Bishops that if they use ecclesiastical weapons and deal damnation round the land to those who venture to obey the law we shall have to give in to them, we shall be beaten. But if instead we tell those proud but exceedingly practical prelates that the British Govern- ment and the British people are in no mood for trifling ; that every resource of the law and every resource of execu- tive power will be used to make the Irish people do their duty and bear their share of the • burden ; that all who incite to resistance, directly or indirectly, will suffer not only in person but in purse ; and that even if the result of resistance, material and spiritual, is the destruction of the edifice of the new and per se excellent ecclesiastical prosperity on the one hand; and of peasant ownership on the other, the Govern- ment will still not be deterred, but will let the responsibility for the ruin rest where it should, there •will be no effective resistance.
When the Irish Nationalists know that if they do not come quietly they will be made to comet and that all who incite to resistance will be made bitterly to repent their action, we need fear nothing but• a few souffles at street- corners. But even if we are' wrong, and if there should be serious riotings, we have plenty of power to put them down. It is admitted that we have to keep eighty thousand troops in Ireland, even without applying Conscription. In that case the eighty thousand may just as well be doing their duty in augmenting Man-Power. That may sound brutal, but the time has come for speaking the truth, even if it offends the delicate ears of sophists, skulkers, and Sim Feiners. Before we leave Lord Curzon's speech we must express our astonishment that he did not find time to say one single word of acknowledgment in regard to North-East Ulster, and to express the nation's sense of what it owes to her steadfast and honourable people for their action during. the present crisis. They have not only not resisted Conscription, but have expressed their perfect willingness, nay, their ardent desire, to aid in carrying it out, as long as it was carried out fairly and without discrimination. While the rest of Ireland has been either actively engaged in plots with our enemies, or else, like the Nationalists, in supporting and encouraging at second hand those who plot, the Ulstermen have done all in their power to defeat the plotters and to stand by Britain and the good cause. When the rest of Ireland held " a workless day " in order to show their determination to defeat Conscription, a day when in the South and West the trains did not even rim to the races, that day was one of special activity in the shipyards of Belfast. North-East Ulster ran her trains, delivered her letters, did her daily work, and set the rest of Ireland a lesson in loyalty and in the keeping of good order. We are always hearing conventional rubbish about the cold, cruel, conscienceless ssetaries of Belfast- practising a brutal ascendancy, &c., &c., but the only signs we see are in the perfect maintenance of order in the Six-County area. It is still a place where a man can go about his daily business uniuterfered with and unafraid, be he Protestant or Roman Catholic, Unionist or Home Ruler. It is hardly conceivable in these circumstances, and in view of all that was said in the debate, that Lord Curzon had not a word of praise or sympathy for these gallant men. What is almost as bad is that no attempt to do them justice has appeared in the so- called Unionist Press. One expects the Daily News and the Daily Chronicle to sneer at Ulstermen—it is part of their convention—but, unless we are mistaken, the Morning Post and the Globe are almost the only Unionist papers, besides the Spectator, that have endeavoured to show their count ry- men what Ulster has done, and is doing daily and how ly, for the Empire. And here let us express our strong wish that the Premiers of the Dominions and other Ministers now at the Imperial Conference will not leave the British Islands without paying a visit to Belfast and hearing on the spot the plea of North-East Ulster that if the mad policy of the disso- lution of the Union is ever put into practice—which may Heaven in its mercy avert !—she at any rate must be given that right of self-determination which in theory is allowed even by the bloodstained and perjured autocrat of Prussia.