TOPICS OF THE DAY.
IRELAND AND UNREALITY. AN inquisitive political philosopher would find it a fruitful but depressing task to catalogue the long list of unrealities in argument and assertion which regu- larly appear whenever Ireland is the subject of discussion. One of the most familiar of these unrealities is the statement that wicked Englishmen want for their own purposes to split Ireland into irreconcilable or unjoinable pieces. It aoes not matter very much whether this alleged attempt at division is called "dismemberment," as several speakers called it in the Home Rule debate of this week, or "par- tition," which is the more popular phrase. The truth is that Ireland has dismembered or partitioned herself. But that has nothing whatever to do with England, and this would remain true even if we were to admit all that has been falsely alleged against England as regards "brutal suppression," "over-taxation," and so on. It may be that the division of Ireland into two distinct camps has been overstated in its racial aspects, but the religious division of Ireland is in any case a real and very acute one. When therefore the Government propose to create two Parliaments in Ireland, they are not of course dis- nembering or partitioning Ireland, but are merely recog- aizing facts as they are. They do not, however, by any means suggest that these unfortunate "facts as they are" should be perpetuated. Far from it. They provide a bridge between the two camps, and they say in effect : "This bridge has been specially built for you to use in order that you may freely traffic with one another and become friends as quickly as possible." Now we venture to say that if any form of Home Rule is possible in Ireland to-day, it is substantially the form of Home Rule which the Government have put into their Bill. A foreign observer who came fresh to our political disputes would be astounded, we think, at the unreality of the arguments which Mr. Asquith and Mr. Clynes thought it worth while to employ in the debate. They both repeated threadbare formulas which bore no relation ;o the facts. For our own part, we have no doubt whatever :hat though the Union is obviously an imperfect solution because it displeases so many Irishmen, it is nevertheless he solution which holds the balance most fairly between the great existing divisions in Ireland. But since a House of Commons in which Unionists predominate has apparently made up its mind that the Union must be done away with, we cannot see any better starting-point for the new regime than the present Bill. Mr. Clynes, whose ability we greatly respect in a general way, seems to be utterly blighted in his intellect when he approaches this question of Ireland. He repeated in a woolly manner the demand for self-determination in Ireland, and when any one asks exactly what he means by self-determination and how he would apply it no answer is forthcoming. This talk of self-determination as something with which the present Bill is irreconcilable is another of the portentous unrealities. Mr. Clynes has indeed no better positive suggestion to offer than that a Constituent Assembly should meet in Ireland and draw up a form of Home Rule. That would simply be the Convention over again, and we all know what would happen if the experiment were repeated. Sinn Feiners would hold aloof ; the Nationalists, who represent nobody in particular, would think it good tactics to try to patch up a plan with the Unionists ; and if agreement were reached, the Hierarchy, having apparently watched the proceedings up to that point with approval, would suddenly intervene behind the scenes and upset the whole apple-cart. On the assumption that Home Rule is necessary, the Sinn Fein majority in the South and West of Ireland can fairly demand for themselves the right to determine their own future. So far everything is clear. But when the compact block of Unionists and Protestants in the North-East of Ulster demand a similar right of self- determination the Sinn Feiners return a blank negative. They imply, though they do not say so in so many words, that self-determination according to their interpretation of it means the right to oppress those who differ from them and whom they do not like. It cannot be said by any honest man that the Unionist and Protestant block in the North- East of Ulster are an inconsiderable minority. The finance clauses of the Bill show that their taxable capacity is almost equal to that of the whole of the rest of Ireland.. When Lincoln was asked to order the compact block of population in West Virginia to submit themselves against their will to the rule of Virginia, he absolutely refused. And yet we are told day in and day out that if we do not in the sacred name of self-determination give the Sinn Feiners the right to tyrannize over and to ruin North- East Ulster we shall incur the disapproval of that great country which boasts Lincoln as one of its greatest heroes ! Mr. Clynes never answers such facts as these.
In our judgment, Mr. Asquith has altogether failed in statesmanship in his dealings with Ireland. What we hoped against hope he would do in the present situation was to wipe away all the useless formulas, all the cobwebs of past debates, all the unrealities of this unending problem, and make it clear to the Government that he meant to strengthen their hands for the purpose of restoring order in Ireland. That, after all, is the primary need. We are practically at war in Ireland. There can be no building of a new political house unless the substructure of peace has first been well and truly laid. But Mr. Asquith preferred to Make unreality doubly unreal. He declared that the establishnienteof a Northern Parliament for the Six-County Area would permanently " divide " Ireland, and he apparently some- how persuaded himself that the establishment of this Parliament would break the pledge given to the rest of Ireland. He forgot, for the purposes of debate, that the great?st and most obvious of all the pledges that have been given is that North-East Ulster should not be coerced. In ridiculing the Six-County Area he must also have forgotten that he himself after the Rebellion of Easter, 1916, in Dublin proposed this very expedient ! In denouncing deportation without trial he forgot, again, that he himself had deported Sinn Feiners without trial in 1916. If any pledge is now being broken, Mr. Asquith himself was willing to break the same pledge in 1916. His new solution is to take the Home Rule Act which is already on the Statute Book and expand it into something like an Act for Dominion Home Rule, providing for the protection of minorities by county option. But here is unreality again. If county option be granted, not only would the Six Counties of North-East Ulster certainly vote themselves out of the Bill, but other counties in other parts of Ireland might just conceivably do so. The nebulous pledge to which Mr. Asquith referred would, in fine, be broken just as completely as he says it is being broken now. Moreover, Dominion rule means, if it means anything, the right to secede. In the end it turns out that Mr. Asquith has no policy for keeping order in Ireland except to repeat the foolish and disastrous plan, associated for ever with his own name and that of Mr. Birrell, of letting murderers and revolutionaries do what they like. The Sinn Feiners have declared over and over cr that they will never be content until they have rejected even nominal attach- ment to the British Empire and have set up an independent Republic. As Mr. Bonar Law said in what might be described as a truthful indiscretion, if any Dominion of the British Empire wanted to secede we should not prevent it from doing so by force of arms. But that is just what is not true of freland. We should have to prevent her. The contiguity of Ireland to Great Britain would make the existence of an independent Power so close to our shores and with great strategic advantages an absolute impractica- bility. The Labour delegates who visited Ireland, to do them justice, admitted that impracticability ; Mr. Asquith also of course admits it ; and yet we have both Mr. Asquith and Mr. Clynes outvying one another in unreality, and proposing that something should be done which would lead headlong to the finally impossible state of affairs.
The paradox remains that the people who have never asked for Home Rule—the Unionists of North- East Ulster—will be the only people willing to work a scheme of Home Rule. They are provisionally willing to do this in spite of the fact that Sinn Feiners make not the vaguest sign of being ready to accept the hand held out to them. In brief, unreality clouds every Liberal, Labour, Sinn Fein, and Irish Nationalist intellect, and the only leader outside the Government who proves that he appreciates realities and can act upon Wan is Sir Edward Carson