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ALTERNATIVE POLICIES IN IRELAND.
Up to the middle of last December, the question of Irish Home Rule had been little discussed in Great Britain. People were familiar with the name, but had not seriously considered the thing. Those who sat in the last Parliament and watched the steady growth and consolidation of the Nationalist party there knew that a crisis was coming. That party was kept at bay: Coercion Bills passed in its teeth, measures which it demanded refused; but the danger drew nearer all the while as a thunder-cloud rises against the wind. The country, however, did not realise what was passing. Wonderfully little was said on the subject at the general election, for the electors were occupied with English or Scottish topics, and those candidates who best knew the gravity of the problem distrusted their own capacity to solve it. The consequence is that the demand for an Irish Parliament now preferred by Ireland through eighty-five out of one hundred and three members comes upon England with the shock of surprise, and startles her people out of that coolness with which they commonly conduct their discussions. We are flurried and perplexed ; we see difficulties start up on all sides, and do not see how to thread our way among them. The newspaper debates of the past six weeks, while throwing full light on some parts of the question, have left others in shadow, and though the country has been warned of the many dangers incident to a scheme of Home Rule, that scheme has not been considered as a whole, nor have the other 'alternative policies been worked out in their consequences, and set beside the Home Rule project for dispassionate comparison. There seems, therefore, to be room for attempting such a wûrking-out and comparison, with a view, not to the advocacy of any particular policy, but to the just comprehension of what each policy requires for its success and involves as its result. Advocacy is premature, for this reason, that one condition necessary for a decision between the possible courses has not yet been fulfilled. We do not know what form of the vague thing called Home Rule the Nationalist party desires or would accept in satisfaction of its demand. Till we do know, we can neither reject nor entertain that demand. Nevertheless, even though the time be not ripe for a final decision, certain leading features of the several competing policies may be set forth, and certain propositions submitted on which Englishmen of all parties may find themselves able to agree. To discover agreement on some points clears the way for the discussion of others. It is this which the present article proposes to attempt. It will keep altogether clear of politics and persons, resisting even the temptation to compare the speeches of Mr. Gibson in Opposition with the conduct of Lord Ashbourne in power.
The difficulty which confronts us is twofold, and it is of the utmost consequence to keep in view both its sides and the distinction between them. One side is the parliamentary problem. We have to secure--I might say, to restore the efficiency of the Imperial Parliament as the means of conducting the government of Britain, her colonies and dependencies. The other side is the problem of Irish administration. If Ireland is to continue directly subject to the Imperial Parliament, the Imperial Parliament must secure life and property, must enforce the payment of rent and fulfilment of other contracts, punish crime, and protect peaceable citizens. If it is removed from the immediate control of Parliament, some means must be provided for making it the interest of whoever becomes responsible for the government of the island to make that government strong and just.
Further, whatever solution is proposed for either side of the problem, but especially for that of Irish administration, ought to have a prospect of permanence. For the last ten years we bave been resisting Irish parliamentary obstruction by a series of make-shift expedients, which have injured the tone of the British Parliament, lowered its dignity in the eyes of the country, furnished mischievous precedents for the future, and yet after all have not prevented a deplorable waste of precious time and strength.
For eighty-five years we have been grappling with the forces of disaffection and disorder in Ireland. Every kind of coercion has been tried. There have been two insurrections; but far more serious than an open insurrection is the fact that during the whole period a state of war has existed between the mass of the people on the one side, the government and the landlords on the other. What the law calls crimes, the people regard as legitimate acts of war. Every kind of coercion has been tried and has failed. No statesmanship is worth the name that can contemplate the continuance of such a position. No proposal ought to be accepted which does not give a hope of its removal. The good fortune which has kept us out of wars with our European neighbours in which Irish rebellion might have proved dangerous may not always protect us from the natural consequences of our own vacillation and want of skill. Augustus used to say, speaking of his situation at Rome, that he held a wolf by the ears : it was equally dangerous to hold on or to let go. We have been some other foe appears. Let us have done with temporary expedients, limited coercion acts, grudging concessions,' sops of money, patronage jobbery and the other means whereby we have demoralised even the governing classes in Ireland. Let us once for all take a departure on broad lines, resolved to give whatever policy is chosen a chance of success by its resolute maintenance for a long term of years.
The policies which have been placed before the country during the last few weeks reduce themselves, neglecting minor differences, to three. : The first we may call the Hold-on policy : government as at present, with Coercion Acts (if necessary) similar to those of recent years.
The second is the policy of small concessions. Give county government, create various local boards, perhaps provincial boards, perhaps central boards for special purposes, following, but not all the way, the precedents of English local government.
The third is the policy of Home Rule. Let Ireland bave a local legislature, with powers sufficient to throw on the Irish people the responsibility for making and administering their own law and its administration.
Let us see what each of these three courses involves. I begin with the Hold-on policy, and ask how it will deal with the parliamentary side of the problem.
It will require, in the first place, the constant presence in the House of Commons of a much larger number of ministerial members than has been hitherto required. More than one hundred will have to be always within sound of the division bell in order to outvote on any casual question eighty-six members whose aim will be to stop business and throw things into confusion. Scores of questions come up in Parliament as to which there is no party controversy, and perhaps little difference of opinion. These are now disposed of by the good sense of members of both English parties after fair discussion, so that the Government of the day has comparatively little trouble over them. But for all such questions it will in future be necessary to keep a ministerial majority constantly at hand. The whips, who find it difficult even now to prevent surprises, and secure the requisite quorum of forty during certain hours, may shudder at the far heavier task that awaits them.
It will also involve sweeping changes in the procedure of the House of Commons. There will be needed a more stringent power of closure, and the extinction of other rights now enjoyed by minorities. For instance, forty members can now insist on having any subject discussed at question time as to which a minister of the Crown has given an answer they think inadequate. This power of interrupting the regular business of the day will become intolerable if the Nationalist leaders choose (as they may) to use it frequently. There are many customs and rules of the House which, strained as
they have been of late years, still can be made to work, because English and Scotch members, owing allegiance to responsible leaders, seldom abuse them, but which will have to be abolished. Mechanical regulations will take the place of the old sway of good sense and good feeling. The whole House of Commons will suffer, and the business of the country with it; for either the majority will be clothed with despotic powers, or the Ministry will be forced, in order to obtain the help of the English Opposition, so to yield to it that strong government and energetic English legislation will become impossible.
These are inconveniences which England and Scotland may put up with for a session or two. But after a time they will either be felt insufferable, or will seriously alter for the worse the character of Parliament. It is also doubtful whether any changes in procedure can overcome the difficulties which eighty or ninety members, if bent upon mischief, can raise. Probably the exasperation will increase until it will seem the simpler and more logical course to eject this hostile element altogether. Especially will this be the case if many of them are suspected of promoting sedition or agrarian agitation in Ireland. When the irritation caused by outbreaks of crime in Ireland has supervened on the irritation caused by obstruction in the House of Commons more effective than we have yet seen, the tendency to stronger measures against both will be irresistible. Why allow questions and debates in the House of Commons to weaken the executive in its struggle against crime? Why suffer Nationalist members to scatter over Ireland through the medium of their reported speeches incitements to sedition and lawlessness which their constituents would be prosecuted for uttering at a public meeting ? Suspension of Irish representation, as Mr. Goldwin Smith and others have long ago said, is the natural and logical result to which the policy of repression carries us.
What will the Hold-on policy involve in Irish administration ?
Obviously some fresh Coercion Act. We are told that the National League rules Ireland. We know that the fall in the price of stock and produce has caused distress; we can foresee that the refusal of remedial legislation will excite the people. Even making those enormous deductions that must be made from the Irish news supplied to English readers, it is probable that rents will not be paid, that evictions will be resisted, that boycotting and outrages will increase, until we are forced to grant the executive some further powers than it now possesses for tracking and convicting offenders. It may be quite right to do so. All criminal law threatens coercion ; all criminal courts and officers carry it out. To be a terror to evildoers is the magistrate's first duty in every state, and Parliament must arm him with such powers as he needs for that purpose. But observe the consequences as regards Ireland. If the new statute relates to Ireland only, as former Coercion Acts have
done, it will be one more declaration and confession that we have one law for Ireland, another law for Great Britain, and that peoples which we allege to be one are really distinct. It will, moreover, be only the old prescription, which has sometimes driven the disease inwards, but has never cured it. So far from holding out a prospect of permanent improvement, it will, if we may judge from past experience, tend rather to increase the activity of secret societies and the influence of the violent men who act from Paris and America. People assume that because crime diminished after the passing of the Crimes Act in 1882, it will again diminish should a similar statute be enacted. But as the Arrears Act also had then been just passed, and as the Nationalist leaders were anxious to keep the country quiet with a view to the Franchise and Redistribution Bills, which soon appeared on the horizon, the effect of the Crimes Act may well have been due to these transient causes. Hence hopes based on the success of the Act of 1882 rest on a weak foundation. Something much stronger may prove to be needed to meet the emergency that will arise if remedial legislation be refused. And if the result of a Coercion Act plus the refusal of such other demands as the Nationalist party may prefer should be to transfer the control of the movement from the parliamentary leaders to the conspirators, then still more stringent repression will be called for. Political assassinations may recommence. The nitro-glycerine men may succeed better than hitherto in killing innocent people at railway stations or in places of public resort. Such crimes will of course bave no terrors for a British Government or Parliament, but they may exasperate our people, and may lead to demonstrations against Irishmen in England, perhaps even to lynchings. Had the London explosions taken place in Lancashire, and caused the deaths of women or children, a fierce revenge might probably have been taken by the English workmen. It is a vista of crime, violence, and embittered hatred that the policy of coercion opens before us, and whether peace and order lie anywhere at the end of that vista must remain more than doubtful.
This at least is certain, that if a repressive policy is to succeed in pacifying Ireland, in forcing her people to renounce those fancies which have so long floated before their minds, and submit to be finally assimilated with the population of Great Britain, such a policy must be pursued in a different spirit and manner than heretofore. In the first place, it must be maintained with unwavering firinness through a long series of years. The plan of Coercion Acts limited to two or three years does not and cannot quell the spirit of disorder, but at best interrupts its display for a short time. It brings the question of Irish discontent before Parliament every few years, consumes the time of the nation, shakes Ministries, dislocates government, and withal (as we know to our cost) does not produce permanent improvements in administration. If the habits of crime