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The Irish Government Bill And The Irish Land Bill
by [?]

A mere enumeration or analysis of the contents of the Irish Government Bill, 1886, and the Land (Ireland) Bill, 1886, would convey scarcely any intelligible idea to the mind of an ordinary reader. It is, therefore, proposed in the following pages, before entering on the details of each Bill, to give a summary of the reasons which led to its introduction, and of the principles on which it is founded. To begin with the Irish Government Bill–

The object of the Irish Government Bill is to confer on the Irish people the largest measure of self-government consistent with the absolute supremacy of the Crown and Imperial Parliament and the entire unity of the Empire. To carry into effect this object it was essential to create a separate though subordinate legislature; thus occasion was given to opponents to apply the name of Separatists to the supporters of the Bill–a term true in so far only as it denoted the intention to create a separate legislature, but false and calumnious when used in the sense in which it was intended to be understood–of imputing to the promoters of the Bill the intention to disunite or in any way to disintegrate the Empire. Indeed, the very object of the measure was, by relaxing a little the legal bonds of union, to draw closer the actual ties between England and Ireland, in fact, to do as we have done in our Colonies, by decentralizing the subordinate functions of government to strengthen the central supremacy of natural affection and Imperial unity. The example of the effects of giving complete self-government to our Colonies would seem not unfavourable to trying the same experiment in Ireland. Some forty years ago, Canada, New Zealand, and the various colonies of Australia were discontented and uneasy at the control exercised by the Government of England over their local affairs. What did England do? She gave to each of those communities the fullest power of local government consistent with the unity of the Empire. The result was that the real union was established in the same degree as the apparent tie of control over local affairs was loosened. Are there any reasons to suppose that the condition of Ireland is such as to render the example of the Colonies applicable? Let us look a little at the past history of that country. Up to 1760 Ireland was governed practically as a conquered country. The result was that in 1782, in order to save Imperial unity, we altogether relaxed the local tie and made Ireland legislatively independent. The Empire was thus saved, but difficulties naturally arose between two independent legislatures. The true remedy would have been to have imposed on Grattan’s Parliament the conditions imposed by the Irish Government Bill on the statutory Parliament created by that Bill; the course actually taken was that, instead of leaving the Irish with their local government, and arranging for the due supremacy of England, the Irish Legislature was destroyed under the guise of Union, and Irish representatives were transferred to an assembly in which they had little weight, and in which they found no sympathy. The result was that from the date of the Union to the present day Ireland has been constantly working for the reinstatement of its National Legislature, and has been governed by a continuous system of extraordinary legislature called coercion; the fact being that between 1800, the date of the Act of Union, and 1832, the date of the great Reform Act, there were only eleven years free from coercion, while in the fifty-three years since that period there have been only two years entirely free from special repressive legislation. So much, therefore, is clear, that Irish discontent at not being allowed to manage their own affairs has gradually increased instead of diminishing. The conclusion then would seem irresistible, that if coercion has failed, the only practical mode of governing Ireland satisfactorily is to give the people power to manage their local affairs. Coming, then, to the principle of the Bill, the first step is to reconcile local government with Imperial supremacy, in other words, to divide Imperial from local powers; for if this division be accurately made, and the former class of powers be reserved to the British Crown and British Parliament, while the latter only are intrusted to the Irish Parliament, it becomes a contradiction in terms to say that Imperial unity is dissolved by reserving to the Imperial authority all its powers, or that Home Rule is a sundering of the Imperial tie when that tie is preserved inviolable. Imperial powers, then, are the prerogatives of the Crown with respect to peace and war, and making treaties with foreign nations; in short, the power of regulating the relations of the Empire towards foreign nations. These are the jura summi imperii, the very insignia of supremacy; the attributes of sovereign authority in every form of government, be it despotism, limited monarchy, or republic; the only difference is that in a system of government under one supreme head, they are vested in that head alone, in a federal government, as in America or Switzerland, they reside in the composite body forming the federal supreme authority. Various subsidiary powers necessarily attend the above supreme powers; for example, the power of maintaining armies and navies, of commanding the militia, and other incidental powers. Closely connected with the power of making peace and war is the power of regulating commerce with foreign nations. Next in importance to the reservations necessary to constitute the Empire a Unity with regard to foreign nations, are the powers required to prevent disputes and to facilitate intercourse between the various parts of the Empire. These are the coinage of money and other regulations relating to currency, to copyright or other exclusive rights to the use or profit of any works or inventions. The above subjects must be altogether excluded from the powers of the subordinate legislature; it ceases to be subordinate as soon as it is invested with these Imperial, or quasi-Imperial, powers.