TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE IRISH IMPASSE AND A WAY OUT. THE latest letters between Mr. De Valera and the Prime Minister have almost confined the Irish issue to the single question whether the Irish shall or shall not have a Republic. This issue by no means represents the whole Irish problem ; in the latest letters the Unionists and Protestants of Ulster are not so much as mentioned. There has not been in so many words any discussion of the point whether the Southern Irish might conceivably be allowed to call themselves a Republic on the understanding that the area of the Northern Parliament should be left uncondi- tionally alone and in full rapport with England as part of the British Constitution. The question of a Republic or no Republic has been treated, in fine, in a purely abstract manner, so far as mere words go, without reference to the area of operation. Of course the Ulster difficulty is always in the background and is necessarily implied in every discussion, but we want to deal, first, with the latest letters on their verbal merits. Later, we shall try to show that Mr. Lloyd George's letters, admirable though they have been from their own point of view, have failed to make use of a very strong card which it is still possible for the Government to play. There is a good alternative to the issue of Republic or No Republic, Peace or War. Mr. De Valera having had no proper political training, and being manifestly without political instinct, has taken the opportunity to write vague and idealistic generalities. These may not be claptrap in themselves, but when con- sidered in relation to the existing facts, and as a solution of an ancient and notorious difficulty, they are sheer clap- trap. Mr. De Valera's divorce from statesmanship is enough to make one despair. He is like a man who, while definite difficulties requiring definite solutions beset him on all sides, sits apart mumbling as an incantation some such formula as that which inspired so many idealists in the French Revolution—" Man was born to be free, but everywhere he is in chains." Thus, Mr. De Valera concen- trates his attention passionately upon the abstract idea of being free, while all the time the real difficulty to be settled is how far chains can be eased or lightened, or how one person's chains can be removed without putting them on to somebody else. For our part we feel that if Mr. Dc Valera is to be the future head of any large community of Irish- men we can only say, quite sincerely, " God help Ireland." There is nowhere in his letters any sign of coming into touch with realities, and yet if he is ever to be a recognized constitutional leader he will have to deal with realities and nothing else.
Let us look at the futility of some of his arguments. He repeats, for instance, that the future Government of Ireland must be carried on with the consent of the governed. That of course is a truism. We all agree with it. It is one of the mottoes of the British Empire, and it is the principal explanation of the Empire's success. Mr. De Valera has not invented the phrase ; he has borrowed it from us. But look how he applies it, or rather fails to apply it. What about the consent of the Unionists and Protestants of the North-East ? Is their consent not required ? As we have said, he does not mention them in his last letter to Mr. Lloyd George. To anyone who is not content with incantations, but recognizes that he lives in a world where nothing final and absolute can be affirmed, but where men of political sense and good will do actually solve their diffi- culties by determining that so far as in them lies they will be just, one thing about Ireland is obvious. That obvious thing is that if ever the Southern Irish are to come to an arrangement with the loyalists of the North-East, they must do it by winning their consent. On what terms can that consent be won ? Clearly it can be won only on condition that the preoccupying wishes or prejudices or whims— call them what you like—of North-East Ireland are respected. If, therefore, a beginning is to be made of persuading North-East Ireland, Mr. De Valera, if he had any sense, would acknowledge that he must talk to the Ulstermen while the Ulstermen still feel themselves safe. The maddest and most dangerous and most hopeless of all courses would be first to detach North-East Ireland from its allegiance to England by inducing the British Governmen temporarily to stand aside, and then to talk to the Ulstermen while they were in a fit of wild suspicion and resentment. It will hardly be believed that this is the very course which Mr. Dc Valera proposes. Yet it is so. The papers of Tuesday reproduced the report of an interview with Mr. De Valera which had appeared in the French newspaper La lAerte. As this interview has not been contradicted we may assume that it is correct. Mr. De Valera said :- " Ireland is a nation. No one now would contest it, and as a nation Ireland can choose the form of its Government. I consider the people of Ulster as Irish. If they are ready to act as Irishmen, my Government will go to the limit of possible concession. To those who remain in Ireland we will give all the guarantees they require. To the Ulster people who prefer to leave the country we shall give financial compensation. With England we shall sign as equal to equal. That is to say, such treaties which shall be as much in our interest as in the interest of England. We shall never admit nor permit that England, any more than any other country, impose itself upon us and compel us, in a permanent manner or otherwise, to impose its ships in our territorial waters nor its Army on our shores."
The impertinence of this is amazing. The people of the Six-County Area have carved their fortunes out of the most infertile part of Ireland ; they have created, developed and maintained vast industries ; they have a population exceeding that of New Zealand. And they are now told quite plainly that if the Government consent to stand aside the Dublin Parliament will " bring them in " against their will ! Generous concessions of course are hinted at, but Ulster Unionists simply do not believe in this generosity. That is why there is an actual " partition " of Ireland into two desperately hostile camps. We wonder whether ever before a man, chosen to wield great political power, made such a proposal as this under the British Constitution —that a rich and prosperous majority should pack up and clear out, bag and baggage, from their land unless they consented to the wild and incompetent kind of rule which is suggested and foreshadowed by Mr. De Valera's letter ?
It is not only in dealing with Ulster that Mr. De Valera would be in a much stronger position if Southern Ireland remained a free yet integral part of the British Empire. Southern Ireland would be in a very much better and happier position from its own point of view. Membership of the British Empire guarantees the member from all the assaults of all possible enemies. Again, it will hardly be believed that Mr. De Valera emphatically declares that he would rather be a little foreign Power adjacent to England, having to bear the fearful responsibility and expense of defending itself. Yet this is actually what he does say. And in making this declaration he writes as though the Irish leaders had always demanded it. Of course they demanded nothing of the sort. They. had more sense. Mr. Lloyd George, with a skilful series of quotations from Irish patriots in the past, has no difficulty in convicting Mr. De Valera of talking nonsense. But perhaps the most nonsensical part of Mr. De Valera's last letter is that in which he asks for a basis for negotia- tions. He professes to believe that real negotiations cannot be begun because the British Government have made the basis too narrow. Reading his words one could hardly suppose, what is the fact, that Mr. De Valera actually came to London and actually conversed with Mr. Lloyd George on a basis of no reservations at all. How can he talk now as though such things had never happened ? Or was it a wraith of Mr. De Valera which came to London ?
Behind all the emptiness of Mr. De Valera's generalities there is always the one irremovable fact that the Sinn Feiners will not consent to govern themselves unless they are allowed to govern the whole of Ireland. It is a pleasure to be able to record that Liberal newspapers in England are now almost without exception warning Mr. De Valera that what he wants is impossible. If self-determination is the right of Sinn Fein, it is also the right of loyal Ulster. The pity of it is that these Liberal warnings have come much too late. We do not profess to be able to understand the state of mind of those Liberals who always find excuses for those outside the borders of England who violate Liberal principles and who go on finding excuses until a crisis or a tragedy is upon the world. Then, to do them justice, they suddenly pull themselves together and say what they ought to have been saying all the time. It is a puzzle to account for this frame of mind, common though it is. In the days before the war, Liberals habitually explained away or minimized the great offences against the Liberal spirit committed by the German Emperor and all the Prussian Junker class. When the war came they all fell in on the right side, but it is possible that if they had been true to themselves in the preceding years and had told Prussia the truth about herself, and had consented to adequate preparations against aggressive barbarism, the world might have been spared the war. So again with Ireland. It has been a traditional Liberal illusion that the Southern Irish as patriots were reasonable people who would certainly be contented with a reasonable offer, and that the British Government in not making such an offer were allowing themselves to be drawn at the cart tail of obstinate, bigoted and brutal Orangemen who were the real obstacle to peace in Ireland and the real rebels. Now that not only a reasonable but a most generous offer has been made to the Southern Irish and has been refused, Liberals with one voice inform Mr. De Valera that, after all, it is impossible for them to consent to Ulster Unionists being coerced against their will. Why did they not try long ago to plant that obvious truth in Mr. De Valera's brain ? The general effect of their speeches and leading articles on Ireland was to encourage Sinn Feiners to believe that Ulstermen would be thrown to the wolves. Really - we think that Mr. De Valera has some grievance against them. Probably he will now require a great deal of convincing in the opposite direction. The very bad riots in Belfast must have some meaning. Liberal newspapers point to Ulster as the one blot upon a country which is enjoying a deep truce and attribute all the trouble to the callous refusal of the Orangemen to be conciliated. We do not and perhaps cannot know the whole truth, but past experience in Ireland at least gives as a very strong reason to suppose that the Sinn Fein leaders who are parties to a truce in one part of Ireland are not only ready but anxious to stir up trouble in another part. It is significant that the troubles in Belfast began with the kidnapping of Protestants. For the purposes of Sinn Fein propaganda the aim is usually to provoke Orangemen to retaliate. When once the process of retaliation has set in, as it no doubt has in Belfast, every kind of political use can be made of the trouble. Never have the Sinn Fein gunmen been so daring or so obviously well-prepared as in their battues in the Belfast streets.
We have considered the latest letters between Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. De Valera from the point of view of what they positively say, but we cannot admit that the dispute will necessarily be brought to a head one way or the other when a simple yes or no is returned to the British offer of Dominion Home Rule for Southern Ireland. There is an alternative policy, and in our opinion the Government ought at once to make it plain that they have this alterna- tive in reserve. There is no need for war. No doubt the Sinn Feiners think, and rightly think, that the British people are so tired of war that they could hardly be per- suaded to enter upon another, and that therefore a refusal of the terms would not really mean the military suppression of the Sinn Fein rebellion. No doubt they actively hope that yet another concession or two could be wrenched from the Government. In these circumstances the Govern- ment surely ought to say something of this sort—something in this sense, though in very different words—to Mr. De Valera. " It is quite true that we do not want war in Ireland. We cannot afford the time or the energy or the money. Besides, to make open war upon you in spite of all the murders committed by the Irish Republican Army would be extremely distasteful to us. You have refused an equal partnership in the British Empire which would, as a matter of fact, leave you perfectly free, would guarantee your safety, and would give you representation on the League of Nations in company with all the other British Dominions. The alternative is that we shall cut you off. We shall withdraw all our troops and police. The seas will be patrolled by the British Navy • a line will be drawn between you and the territory of the Northern Parlia- ment ; and we will see that loyalists who wish to leave your area are properly compensated. If it comes to the point, we can easily exact compensation as we shall, of course, be able to ban your trade whenever we like. You have lived in a world of illusions, and nothing that we have been able to say has moved you. You seem to think that by calling yourself a Republic you can ignore the fact of ' geographical propinquity ' and be free for ever from every kind of influence or intervention from Great Britain. Unfortu- nately this is not so. We could not make it EC, even if we wished. We are all the victims of facts. If you remained as a free part of the British Empire it would be our duty and our pleasure to help you. But as you have refused this, nothing can be gained by keeping Englishmen in political contact with people who hate them so much as you do. Within your own territory, when you are cut off, you can do as you please, can call yourselves what you please: We honestly think it would be a very bad thing for you, and we do not advise you to accept it. But so long as you regard the British Empire as an alien and foreign Power with which you can have no dealings, we do not see what else we can do. We cannot go on pretending that you are friends when you are really relentless enemies." The advantage of stating this alternative would be that it would speed up the negotiations. Mr. Lloyd George has several times spoken of the dangers of delay. We do not say that he is right—there may be virtues in delay—but at all events he believes what he says. Nor, even from his own point of view, need Mr. Lloyd George regard the alternative as a final policy. After the Southern Irish had lived for a generation in the bitter school of facts—a poor, separate and unaided minor nationality — they would probably see things quite differently.