TOPICS OP THE DAY.
COMPROMISE AND CONCILIATION.
MAY we recall a duelling story which we have already used in the Home Rule controversy ? It often happened in encounters of honour that the seconds were far more combative than the principals, and refused to come to an understanding when the men who had to fight would have been perfectly. ready to make terms. It chanced on such an occasion, while the seconds were exchanging such heated phrases as "Unless your man will apolOgize more fully I insist upon a meeting," " It is too late now," "Honour can only be satisfied by a bond- fide exchange of shots," and so forth, that the two principals strolled up to each other and began a friendly talk while they watched the battle of words between their angry and bloodthirsty representatives. At last one of them broke out: "Look here, old man, this is too much. If you'll shoot my second, I'll shoot yours !" The plan was at once put into execution, honour was declared to be satisfied by the winging of both seconds, and the com- batants shook hands and walked off the field, unscathed and in a good temper. We not only suggest that some- thing of this kind ought to happen now, but we are glad to say that we see evident signs that a temper analogous to that of the principals in our story is beginning to animate the bulk both of the Unionists and of the Liberals in the House of Commons and in the country— the people who, after all, are the principals in this affair. While the extremists on both sides, who may stand for the seconds, are talking angry nonsense about it being better to have it out at once, asserting that no compromise is possible, and suggesting that it must now be a fight to the finish, and so forth, there is an evident movement both in the House of Commons—Sir Mark Sykes's speech. was a most excellent symptom—and in the Press in favour of a settlement. People of all parties are beginning to ask whether, after all, it is worth while to plunge our swords into each other's breasts over the Irish question. Better still, when the extremists on the one side talk about the sacredness of the compact with the Nationalists, and on the other of the sacredness of the Covenant, and want the most literal interpretations of both these documents or compacts, the plain politicians are beginning to declare that if the agreements impede the cause of peace they will have to go by the board. Force majeure, it is pointed out, overrides all contracts and covenants, and there can be no greater or better example of force majeure than a nation's determination to avoid civil war. Such a temper of mind as has been manifested during the past week means a great deal, but, of course, we must agree that it is not everything. History shows that before rebellions and civil wars there has often been a strong desire for peace, and yet peace could not be preserved, so intolerable was the conflict of will. The thing, and a very difficult thing, that still remains to be done is to find a compromise reasonable enough and stable enough to save the situation, even though it may be disappointing to both sides, and therefore some- thing per se for which nobody can feel any very great enthusiasm.
Without further parley, we desire to bring our contribu- tion to the common store of suggestions. It is that a clause should be added to the Home Rule Bill limiting its operation to Ireland minus the six Protestant counties, and making, in addition, those consequential amendments which we have already sketched in the Spectator. It may be noted that this suggestion gives up the scheme of hold- ing a Referendum by counties. We frankly confess that, from many points of view, we should be exceedingly sorry to see this trial run of the Poll of the People abandoned. As out-and-out advocates of the Referendum, we naturally attach very great importance to getting in the thin end of the wedge in its behalf. But at present we are not "out to improve the Constitution," or even to further the cause of the Referendum, but simply and solely trying to find some scheme for avoiding civil war and its ruinous consequences. Even the chance of helping on the Referen- dum must give way to that. But it will be asked : What inducements can you offer to the Liberals to make a clean cut of the six Protestant counties ? Why should they favour your plan ? Our answer is that it will get them out of the difficulty of the time-limit. They tell us that` they cannot consent to advancing an inch beyond the proposal for the six years' reprieve, followed by automatic inclusion, unless in the meantime Parliament has done what, of course, no human being can prevent it from doing in regard to any legislative proposal, including the Home Rule Bill itself—i.e., has changed its mind. But it is clear that the Ulstermen will not accept automatic Inclusion after six years. They say, and with great truth, that if a Referen- dum is the proper way of determining whether a county should be allowed to stand out of the Home Rule Bill, it must also be the proper way of determining whether a county is to go under the Home Rule Bill.
But if Parliament, as under our plan, does not call the Referendum into existence to determine the question, but makes a clean cut of its own, then nothing need be said about any time-limit or any conditions whatever. Par- liament, having been the authority which cut the counties out, will also have the amplest authority, moral as well as legal, to put all six of them, or any less number, under the Dublin Parliament, should it come to the conclusion that it is in the interests of Ireland and of the United Kingdom that they should be put under it. When county has once decided by the solemnity of a popular vote not to change its Parliamentary allegiance, it is obviously a very arbitrary act to tell its people that their decision, though it was so solemnly taken, is going to be disre- garded absolutely after six years. If they have never been asked the question whether they would or would not like to go under the Dublin Parliament. this objection does not arise. The point is curiously illustrated by what happened with the officers at the Curragh. Everyone now admits that it was an enormous blunder, in view of the circumstances existing in Ulster, first to ask the officers whether they were willing to go north if they were ordered, and then, when they said they were not willing, to turn round on them and say that nevertheless they must go, and that if they resigned they would have applied to them the rigours of military law. Clearly an officer or a county thus treated has a much greater grievance, and is much more likely to be provoked to overt acts, than if the supreme authority gives its order without any previous questioning, and on the assumption that it must be obeyed. There is another reason, one of expediency, in favour of our plan of the clean cut for the six counties, as against the Government's proposaL In view of all that has just happened, it is impossible not to feel that s. Poll of the People held in the counties where the majority is doubtful —as in Tyrone and Fermanagh—would almost certainly lead to riot and bloodshed, and that if, as might well be the case, the majorities were very small either way, it must result in an open defiance of the decision of the polls. On the other hand, if the clean cut were made, there would not be any poll held under conditions so ominous, and, again, there would be far less fear of objections being raised in the doubtful counties. We feel sure that we are not exaggerating when we say that the mass of the popula- tion in Tyrone and Fermanagh would be intensely re- lieved at not being forced to decide their fate at a poll, knowing, as they do, that whichever way the poll went their areas would be thrown into confusion. There are a great many Nationalists and Roman Catholics in Tyrone and Fermanagh who, if there were a poll, would feel that they were pledged in honour to vote for Inclusion, but who yet nevertheless would be exceedingly glad to avoid having to make this sacrifice, and would rather, 'pending quieter times and the possi- bility of converting their neighbours, consent to being left out of the area to which the Home Rule Bill would apply. To win safety in this way might appear a little inglorious from the Nationalist point of view, but it would have its consolations from the standpoint of taxation as well as of law and order. Reluctant as we are to say anything against the use of the Referendum, we are bound to recognize that the Government's specific proposals are contraindicated. It will possibly be urged against our scheme that it fails to recognize what has, after all, proved the most popular line of compromise—the possibility of reconstructing our Constitution on Federal lines to get us out of our present difficulties. We agree that it would be a great pity not to make use of the strong force of opinion which; though it does not personally appeal to us, we candidly
admit is now setting in the direction of a Federal solution. But it is a mistake to suppose that our plan of the clean cut for the six counties, with nothing said as to subsequent Inclusion, could not perfectly well be made to fit in with the Federalist aspirations. To be specific, we suggest that the set of opinion in regard to a Federal solution should be utilized in the following way. We would have recourse to a statement in a preamble such as that which was adopted by the Liberals in regard to the Parliament Act. The preamble of the Parliament Act runs as follows :-
" Whereas it is expedient that provision should be made for regulating the relations between the two Houses of Parliament
And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation And whereas provision will require hereafter to be made by Parliament in a measure effecting such substitution for limiting and defining the powers of the new Second Chamber, but it is expedient to make such provision as in this Act appears for restricting the existing powers of the House of Lords."
Why should not a preamble added to the Home Rule Bill run thus :—" Whereas it is expedient that provision should be made for the establishment in Ireland of an Irish Parliament : And whereas it is intended to substitute for our present Constitutional system a system of federaliza- tion, devolution, or decentralization, but such substitu- tion cannot be immediately brought into operation : And whereas provision will require hereafter to be made by Parliament in a measure effecting such substitution, but it is expedient to make such provision as in this Act appears for the immediate establishment of a Parlia- ment in Ireland having authority over all Ireland except the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Derry, Tyrone, and Fermanagh : Be it enacted, &c., &c." Then would follow the present Home Rule Bill, plus the consequential amendments required for the Exclusion of the six counties. Unionists and anti-Federalists like ourselves need have no objection to a preamble of this kind, even though they have no idea of agreeing to Federalism if they can help it. The intentions would not be their intentions, but those of the majority of the House of Commons at the present moment—intentions which could be defeated, as we hope and believe we shall defeat the intentions of the Parliament Act in regard to the estab- lishment of a Second Chamber constituted on a non- hereditary basis.
For the Liberals, however, who do honestly want " Home Rule all round," and for those Unionists who are also honestly in favour of Federalism, the intentions expressed in the preamble would stand as a Parliamentary pledge, which it would be their endeavour to redeem at the first opportunity. Meantime the Ulstermen would have no grievance, for they would say : " Whatever may be your intentions, we mean to insist that if Federalism comes the six counties shall be a unit by themselves, and shall not be included unless we are induced in the meantime, by the perfection of the Government established in Dublin, to change our minds."
A clean cut of the six counties as a solution to avoid civil war, and a preamble in favour of Federalism in order to set the Federal door open and keep it open for those who believe they can convert the country to use it, are our proposals in brief. Let no one suppose, however, that we are so foolish or so much in love with our own scheme as to be unreasonable in regard to other schemes. If it can be shown that not enough people will accept our plan, but that there are enough to carry some other form of the Exclusion proposal (minus, of course, that antiquarian nightmare of a separate poll in Derry City), piles some agreement for future federalization instead of a time-limit—and here again the preamble might be useful —we shall not hesitate to give such scheme our support. What we want is to avoid civil war, not to cling pedanti- cally to our own plan, even though we are convinced that it is, in truth, the most likely to succeed.