THE FIRST BUSINESS OF PARLIAMENT.
WE sincerely trust that when Mr. Gladstone's Govern- ment has been formed, and those wretched re-elections have been got through, the Ministry will make of Home-rule their first and most pressing business. It is quite useless to attempt to govern strongly, or to introduce business of im- portance, with such a question as that hanging over the head of Parliament. No vote upon any question will, or can, be given on its merits, the dominant idea being always that Mr. Gladstone must be supported or resisted because of his supposed plan for the conciliation of Ireland. That would be a most unsound condition of affairs, more especially as it would be impossible during the whole time to restore- the reign of law in Ireland. That country is now under the rule of the National League—that is, of a combina- tion antagonistic to the law—and it is impossible for Mr. Gladstone to suppress the League without the consent or the expulsion of Mr. Pamell's party, who, simply by talk- ing, can exhaust all the working hours of the Session. They will not consent to a Crimes Act, and to expel them just before a Home-rule proposal to which their adhesion is indispensable, would be to pursue two lines of policy at once. Everybody, moreover, who understands politics at all, understands that Home-rule, if proposed in any form which will satisfy Ireland, must in the end be sub- mitted to the people. They alone can consent to disintegrate their own commonwealth. The House of Lords would be morally dead if it did not stake its existence upon a vote compelling that appeal, and the House of Commons would, therefore, if Home-rule were hung up for any period, be a House working under the prospect of an immediate and an inevitable dissolution. We say nothing of the chance, the serious chance, that Mr. Parnell and those who, like him, care for Home-rule only, would refuse to allow their best. weapon to be broken in their hands by the removal of agrarian discontent, and press only the argument that the work of the State could not go on healthily, that the Government would be weak, the parties uncertain, the country irritated by a sense that its leaders were evading the realities of the situation, and allowing law to cease in Ireland merely to avoid a difficulty which is ultimately unavoidable. The question is too urgent to be hung up even for a Session.
We do not overlook, we entirely admit, the force of the
argument on the other side. There are many politicians, including, it is evident from the article in the Fortnightly, some Radical leaders, who are still convinced that Home-rule is not a passion in Ireland, that the mainspring of the revolt is economic suffering, and that if the agrarian struggle could once be ended, the freeholder democracy would drop their Home- rule cry, and would incline to rely upon the State for a defence of their newly acquired property. These observers point to the ultra-conservatism of peasant-owners all over the world, and declare that the Irish ask a Parliament only in order to obtain the land, and if the land were once secured, would be careless about the nationality of the legislating power. In part, we believe that conclusion to be just. The fuel of Irish discontent has ahvays been the economic condition of the island, in which a race singularly ill-fitted to profit by its few natural advantages has struggled vainly for ages to make a land of second-rate fertility support more people than it could comfortably sustain. Had perpetuity of tenure been granted twenty years ago at a low quit-rent, we might never have heard of Home-rule, though we should have heard for ever of gigantic plans for paying out of State loans for profitless schemes of drainage. That opportunity, however, has passed away. What- ever the peasants themselves think, they follow leaders whose ideal is Home-rule, and who, if the land were pre- sented to the peasants, would still persuade them that the alien Parliament was the cause of low prices, wet seasons, and general want of wealth. Nor can we be blind to the fact that the great redaction of rent caused by the Land Act, and the partial suspension of rent enforced by the National League, have alike increased instead of diminishing the Irish desire for Home-rule. It is after the House of Commons has tried to alleviate economic misery, and after it has proposed to make peasants freeholders by easy purchase, that Ireland has sent up eighty-six Home-rulers of the new and extreme type. We doubt, therefore, whether even a final settlement of the agrarian quarrel would restore Irish loyalty ; and if it did not, it would be merely a dangerous reward for an agitation pushed far beyond the bounds that Irishmen themselves, in their saner moods, acknowledge to be moral. It is a smaller diffi- culty that expropriation and Home-rule seem to be inex- tricably bound up together, no security for the money being possible unless certain payments from the Imperial Treasury cease, for we do not know the limits of Mr. Gladstone's financial ingenuity. He may see his way to securities of which we have no idea, and may propose to meet the emergency by means entirely unlike those sug- gested by Mr. Giffen. But so far as can yet be perceived, no scheme can be even discussed until the future, relation of Britain to Ireland has been finally determined. God only knows what the new constituency may do ; but if they can be persuaded to spend £150,000,000 in order to plant a hostile nation close to their own shores, they are Englishmen so much changed that discussion about their policy or their character is merely futile. They will and must judge the Expropriation project by the Home-rule project. To postpone Home-rule, therefore, to an agrarian project, however large, is to postpone the essential datum of thought to the conclusions we expect to derive from it. Nothing would be gained except a few months of bewildering uncertainty, during which Parlia- mentary government, already grown difficult and hard to manage, would become still more demoralised, and throughout which the real dictator of English policy would be Mr. Parnell.
We must add, for it is useless writing without speaking out one's whole mind, there would in such a policy be a sus- picion of shiftiness. The pivot of all recent politics has been the belief that Mr. Gladstone contemplated some immense change in the relation of Ireland to the United Kingdom. The Tory Government has been overthrown because of that. A Radical Government has come in because of that. The Moderate Liberals are holding aloof because of that ; and because of that every Parnellite vote is given or refused. Mr. Gladstone is now in power, and it is time that the country should know what his plan, the mere rumour of which has caused such changes, really is. The Premier was perfectly justified in refusing to explain before he had been placed in power, and in insisting that on so grave an occasion he should he allowed a free hand ; but he is now responsible, the whole country is waiting, all politics are in suspense, and as soon as business is resumed in Parliament, the plan should, in its essen- tials at least, be placed before the country. The talk about "inquiry " is nonsense. Mr. Gladstone knows perfectly well all the conditions of the case ; it is by his political genius that the plan must be devised; and it is he, and no one else, who must convince the country that it is safe and feasible. Nations are not made or unmade by "inquiries," especially into facts as old as modern history, and national impulses towards good and evil which can be known by the Almighty only. We might as well 44 inquire " into the comparative expediency of Monarchy and Republicanism as into that of Unity or Federalism, and should produce rather more result. The single suggestion for delay worth discussion is the proposal that the way should be cleared by a settlement of the agrarian quarrel first, and the answer to that is, as we believe, given above. Why are we to build a costly road before we know what is to pass along it To the
rumoured compromise that both measures should be introduced together, we have, of course, nothing to say. So long as all is known, any measures can be discussed on their merits, and these two may be, almost must be, interdependent.