Problems of Empire/The Irish Question
THE IRISH QUESTION.
Extract from Address at Pokesdown, Bournemouth, November 8th, 1898.
Ireland is undoubtedly more contented, and one might almost say more prosperous, than she was ten years ago. The fact that the Lord Mayor of Dublin for the first time for many years recently met the Lord Lieutnant in his civic robes is not without significance. To whatever cause the change may be due, whether to the operation of the Land Purchase Acts, in connection with which Mr. Gladstone played so prominent a part, whether to the community of feeling that was aroused between landlords, tenants, and labourers by the publication of the Report of the Financial Relations Commission, or whether to the splendid work which Mr. Horace Plunkett has been doing in the cause of agricultural co-operation in Ireland a work which has already brought increased prosperity to many districts a change has taken place, and we should be grateful for it. But that would not, in my judgment, constitute a reason why the Liberal party should abandon its effort to secure for Irishmen the right to manage their own local affairs in their own way. When, in August last, I expressed the opinion that no Prime Minister would, within the next ten years, introduce a Home Rule Bill for Ireland, I did so on other grounds. They were these, and I place them in order of their importance.
I.-The passing of the Local Government Act during last session. This Act gives the Irish people a power in local government which they have never previously possessed. Before proceeding further in the same direction, time must be given to see how the Act works. It is to be hoped that it will have the effect of training up a class of men able to serve their country honourably and efficiently in a larger sphere. The character of the Irish representation is often condemned by those who forget that Irishmen have been largely excluded from the management even of local affairs, and have therefore not had the same opportunities of training as are open to us Englishmen.
II.-The dissensions amongst the Irish Members.
III.-The absolute repudiation by the Irish Leaders of alliance with any English party.
My opinions on the Home Rule question are the same as they were when I first became a Candidate for Parliament, now over eight years ago. I condemned then, as I would condemn now, the exclusion of Irishmen from a voice in the control of Imperial questions. That was my objection to the Home Rule Bill of 1886. I condemned then, as I would condemn now, the provision giving Irishmen a voice in the decision of purely English questions, while leaving them free to manage their own affairs independently of us. That was my objection to the Home Rule Bill of 1893, as sent up to and as rejected by the House of Lords. No satisfactory solution of the Home Rule question has yet been put before the country, and I believe now, as I have always believed, that no solution will be found, except in connection with an even greater question, with which statesmen will be face to face before the twentieth century has run a quarter of its course, viz., the relations between the mother country and her Colonies. The feeling is growing, not only at home but in the Colonies, that it is unjust that the taxpayers of the mother country should practically bear the whole burden of the defence of the Empire. It is true that the Colonies have done something in regard to local defence, and that they have in some cases voluntarily come forward and offered to contribute to the general defence. But in their present stage of development they are not able to contribute substantially; and it is certain that they would not do so unless they had a voice in the control of the expenditure. When the Colonies are ready to bear their share of Imperial burdens, the Home Rule question may be satisfactorily solved.