16 FEBRUARY 1940, Page 9


UNLESS Irish public men of all the constitutional parties recover their composure and take courage to utter unpopular truths, the country may descend into the lowest pit of demoralisation. It was expected by those familiar with the national psychology that there would be an outcry about the execution of the death sentence upon the men convicted of having caused the Coventry bomb ex- plosion. The tumult of resentment, however, has reached larger proportions than it would otherwise have done owing to errors of judgement on the part of some who are entirely opposed to terrorism.

The first mistake was Mr.. de Valera's. That he should make representations in favour of a reprieve is understand- able, since he believed that the carrying-out of the sentence would impair Anglo-Irish relations and strengthen his enemies in Ireland, but he should not have allowed the fact of his intervention to become known. A similar blunder was made by various more conservative elements, whose public support at the eleventh hour of the movement for a reprieve added nothing useful to what had been done in private, but gave impetus to a campaign that was less concerned with the fate of Barnes and McCormick than with the exploita- tion of a promising situation. In the end the clamour of those who maintained either that the two men were innocent and that their conviction was a travesty of justice, or that they were the heroes of an act of gallantry and should have been treated as prisoners of war, or (surprising as it may seem) that both these propositions were simultaneously true, quite drowned the voices of such as sought for a reprieve on grounds of international policy and made no pretence that the conviction was wrong or that the bombing was right.

On Sunday, February 4th, there was a crowded public meeting in the Round Room of the Dublin Mansion House, at which I was present. The Lord Mayor was in the chair. The speakers included one venerable Senator (an instructor of youth at the National University) from Mr. de Valera's party, who described the bombers as animated by " the pure spirit of patriotism." They also included an Anglo-Irish doctor and writer, who distinguished between the hardness of the British Government and the kindliness of the British People, and suggested that, if mercy were exercised, the extremists should abandon the use of explosives—a senti- ment received wtih marked disapproval by the audience. The other speakers, with perhaps a single exception, were definite left-wingers. One described the condemned men as " chivalrous," another as " valuable workmen," and several declared that, whatever happened, the fight to end partition must continue on the same lines and with even greater intensity. [An account of Irish opinion written by me which appeared in The Spectator last October was thought by some to be unduly pessimistic, but I confess that the spirit of this meeting was more sinister than I expected. There were per- haps 2,500 people there, besides larger numbers outside to whom the speeches were relaid. Communist newspapers were on sale. There was no clergyman present that I could see ; certainly there was_ none on the platform. This was unfortunate, for some authoritative guidance on the moral issue was desperately needed.] It so happened that on that same Sunday morning the Catholic bishops issued their Lenten Pastorals, of which long abstracts were given in the following day's newspapers. A number of these roundly condemned the society calling itself the I.R.A. and all its works, and one said explicitly that deaths resulting from its operations were murder. How far will these admonitions be attended to? Their effect is cer- tainly weakened by the circumstance that our clergy have only too often ended by applauding and celebrating what they once denounced. The Church can do much, but it will need to be backed up by leaders of political opinion. If they speak out boldly, they can bring our people to their senses. If they take the easier course of declaiming against England, the flame of passion will continue to rise and the consequence of passion will be further violence both in Ireland and in Great Britain.

There is none of us here who does not deplore partition and realise that it is a formidable obstacle to good relations with our neighbours across the Irish Sea, to internal peace and order, and to our taking an objective view of our own interests. Like most other nations, we are disinclined to allow much weight to claims to self-determination when they impinge upon territory that seems to us part of our historical inheritance. Yet, in the long run, if our repudiation of the Crown and of Commonwealth membership is definitive, we can hardly withstand the case to be made by the Northern Unionists against being severed from the political institu- tions they most care about. Their present weakness lies in the fact that they are controlling substantial areas adjacent to the Boundary which are overwhelmingly Nationalist. The 1920 Home Rule Bill which created the Northern Parliament looked forward to an ultimate Irish unity within the Empire. The fading of this prospect has changed the situation and made a revision of the Border seem inevitable.

One result of such a revision would very possibly be the collapse of the Belfast Parliament, and the Unionist residue would in that case have to choose quite simply between Westminster and Dublin. The solution is not one that any- body would really like, least of all those of us who desire an Irish, rather than a purely Gaelic or pseudo-Gaelic, Ireland, and who see in the Northerners an element much needed from many points of view. Nevertheless, it is the just and logical solution, and, even though Great Britain were execrated for applying it by North and South alike, it would make her position stronger.

The trouble is that Unionist and Nationalist show no tendency to draw nearer to each other ; the drift is steadily in the wrong direction. Mr. de Valera himself has lately admitted (what seems so obvious to an Englishman) that the Northern Unionist is a third and important factor in an issue which we are accustomed to treat as between ourselves and England only. Moreover, one or two of his colleagues have spoken in statesmanlike terms of the need for winning the hearts of the Northerners as well as their territory. Alas! such sayings are but drops in an ocean of misunderstanding. England is still, even for Mr. de Valera, the principal culprit, and not the plainest compulsion of our own economic interests, nor our regard for the future of free institutions throughout the world, can bring us to show her any steady friendship or unequivocally to denounce acts of terrorism, when she is the victim.

It is to be hoped that English statesmen will not merely avert their eyes from Ireland as from the tedious and sadden- ing spectacle of an incurable disease. The disease has got to be cured ; attack it in that spirit and it will be cured. As for ourselves, we must slay the demon of anarchy or perish. Our own great thinker, Edmund Burke, has written: "It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free ; their passions forge their fetters." Unless we take heed, we shall arrive at a situation in which none of us can be allowed to have a mind at all, but will merely register the thoughts prescribed by a dictator. The open enemies of freedom are not more dangerous to it than are many of our patriots and their admirers.