TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE IRISH DEBATE. •
THE first Irish debate of the Session, which occupied all Friday and Monday night, was creditable to the House of Commons. The Irish members adhered to facts, and their opponents, Mr. Roebuck excepted, answered without the acerbity an Irish grievance is apt to provoke among the repre- sentatives of the more prosperous island. Light was really thrown on the condition of the country, and even some slight progress made towards suggesting a remedy for the evils admitted. Speakers on all sides agreed in deploring the suffering still apparent in many counties, in repudiating State alms as a panacea, and in recognizing the certainty of con- tinued emigration. The small farmer, it was admitted on all Bides, was better off in the colonies or America, and being better off he, as his education improved, naturally went there, taking very often considerable capital with him. The points of difference were the injury entailed by this great move- ment of population, the possibility of arresting it, and the mode in which State resources could be employed to increase the temptations to remain in the country. Of course with speakers so wide apart as Mr. Hennessy and Mr. Gladstone there was room for argument, but the general sense of the House came out sufficiently clear. The majority evidently believed that emigra- tion, though a cause of great suffering, was not productive of national injury, that it could no more be arrested than the operation of any natural law, and that the State, if called upon to assist, should lend its aid in the shape of great loans for drainage made to the proprietors of the soil. Whether such loans should be concentrated on the improvement of the Shannon or diffused generally over the country was left un- certain, but water, it was allowed, and not whisky, was the curse of Ireland. Her clouds are too heavy, her streams too fall, her watercourses too abundant, her soil too spongy for the profitable growth of sufficient cereals, and as neither clouds, nor rivers, nor springs clan be diminished at the bidding of man, the only course is to place the volume of water under strict regulation. Dirt, said Lord Palmerston, is only matter in the wrong place, and the great physical evil of Ireland is water in the wrong place. A population of Dutchmen or Chinese would turn Ireland into a garden, and the first task of statesmen must be to teach, and if necessary bribe, Irish proprietors to commence the work which Chinese or Dutchmen would finish without either bribery or instruction. That, though not expressed in votes, was the obvious "sense" of the House ; even Mr. Gladstone, though he again reminded Irish members that they enjoyed great grants from the State in the shape of exemptions, expressing his readiness to con- sider any reasonable plan for a campaign against the wetness of Ireland. Lord Palmerston of course half promised a com- mittee of inquiry—be would vote for a committee of inquiry if forty members submitted a project for tunneling the moon— but the bulk of the Liberal speakers went beyond the Premier. If this is the net result of the discussion, a resolve to bring the whole power of England to bear in facing the great physical obstacle to Irish improvement, Mr. Hennessy will have done much more than if he had carried the motion de- feated by so overwhelming a majority. There is no use in vaguely "regretting the decline of population" in Ireland any more than in Suffolk, but there is use in trying to make an acre grow twice as many bushels of wheat. It is not -------pasaible to make Ireland Protestant, or convert Celts into Anglo- Saxons, or eradicate habits of mendicancy in a generation, or educate an ignorant peasantry except very slowly, but to drain is within our power, and if drainage will help Ireland, Ireland ought to be drained.
Perhaps the most interesting single feature in the debate was the speech of Mr. Lowe, one of the best, if not the very best, which he ever delivered. It displayed in a very striking way the higher side of his intellectual character, enabled strangers to understand why, in spite of his failure in the Education Department, the adhesion of the member for Caine is of value to any party. His "hardness" of head, to use a popular expression, which renders him so unpopular when dealing with questions which involve complicated personal interests as well as principles, renders him singularly fit for a discussion in which impartiality is almost the one thing needful. He judges Ireland as he would judge France, not irritated by complaints, not biassed by popular outcry, but bringing political science to bear with a wish that it should succeed in making people content. His experience, too, as a colonist helps him in comprehending Ireland, and for once he suppressed that slight accent of Boom which on other occasions has made his ablest suggestions so offensive. There was an under-current of sympathy in his speech for the people whose request he was refusing which, so to speak, gave it warmth, and he contrived to put in a powerful argu- ment for emigration without saying, as so many do, that he was glad to be rid of the emigrants. Some of his arguments. were very striking. Lord Robert Cecil had easily enough answered the plea that the Irish are miserable because they are Celts by pointing to the condition of France, and that they are Catholics by describing the Belgians ; and Mr. Lowe in like manner refuted the charge that Irish distress is owing to Irish party divisions. Irishmen fight elsewhere than at Belfast, but they don't starve too. He had himself helped' to pass a "Party Emblems Act" to prevent their factioir fights in Australia, yet in Australia these very men who were inviting each other to battle in large bodies as if they had been in Tipperary were evidently prosperous. Several speakers; had alleged that free trade, which benefited England, had ruined Ireland, but, said Mr. Lowe, "the real cause of ruin, was protection, which had raised up in Ireland the factitious. industry of growing cereals for which the climate was not. adapted." Upon that industry the Irish had multiplied until. when the system collapsed the only remedy was to swarm off to other lands. And then, rising altogether beyond the sphere of party politics, speaking as only a nominee member can wa fear in England afford to speak, Mr. Lowe re-suggested, for the first time, we believe, since the Emancipation Act, the re-endowment of the Roman Catholic Church. He would abolish "the taxation which the people of Ireland out of their misery and destitution are compelled to impose upon themselves for the maintenance of ministers of their religion." It is "competent to this House to take into- consideration if it pleases the question of the Irish Church. It is competent to it, if it think fit, to adopt the colonial plan of apportioning the revenue set apart for public worship in the proportion of its numbers to the aggregate of population," thus neither abolishing the Protestant Church nor establishing the Catholic, but leaving each to become sole and supreme if it can by the gradual process of persuasion and enlightenment. There is not a liberal statesman in England who does not in his heart believe that suggestion wise and just, and it is not to the credit of our institutions that no member responsible to constituents would venture to make it quite so plainly. With the ecclesiastical grievance removedi the Lord-Lieutenancy swept away, and Ireland regarded not as a province or a colony, still less as a separate country, but as an actual part of the Empire, there would remain but one want—the capital which English laws up to 1829 prevented Irishmen from accumulating, and the absence of which now renderathe bulk of the people dependent upon agriculture alone. That capital is accumulating in Ulster even now, and when once the native clergy have been reknit to the cause to which all clericals naturally belong, it will be poured in from Great Britain as readily as it is now poured over the colonies. Ire- land has no mines but she can have large manufactures, and with large manufactures, population reduced to the French average, and as little agrarian crime as there is now crime of any other kind, there is no reason why, as Mr. Lowe put it with happy moderation, "Ireland should not rise to a position something like that occupied by Scotland," separate from England, that is, in temperament, in genius, and in the institutions which tem- perament and genius produce, but one with her in objects, n interests, and in loyalty to the imperial power. English members who desire that result will greatly help it on by discussing Irish grievances in the tone and with the animus displayed on Monday night by the member for Lord Lans- downe's estate.