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The "Unionist" Position
by [?]

Is it not time that the opponents of Home Rule for Ireland should define their position? They defeated Mr. Gladstone’s scheme last year in Parliament and in the constituencies; and they defeated it by the promise of a counter policy which was to consist, in brief, of placing Ireland on the same footing as Great Britain in respect to Local Government; or, if there was to be any difference, it was to be in the direction of a larger and more generous measure for Ireland than for the rest of the United Kingdom. This certainly was the policy propounded by the distinguished leader of the Liberal Unionists in his speech at Belfast, in November, 1885, and repeated in his electoral speeches last year. In the Belfast speech Lord Hartington said: “My opinion is that it is desirable for Irishmen that institutions of local self-government such as are possessed by England and Scotland, and such as we hope to give in the next session in greater extent to England and Scotland, should also be extended to Ireland.” But this extension of local self-government to Ireland would require, in Lord Hartington’s opinion, a fundamental change in the fabric of Irish Government. “I would not shrink,” he says, “from a great and bold reconstruction of the Irish Government,” a reconstruction leading up gradually to some real and substantial form of Home Rule. His Lordship’s words are: “I submit with some confidence to you these principles, which I have endeavoured to lay down, and upon which, I think, the extension of Local Government in Ireland must proceed. First, you must have some adequate guarantees both for the maintenance of the essential unity of the Empire and for the protection of the minority in Ireland. And, secondly, you must also admit this principle: the work of complete self-government of Ireland, the grant of full control over the management of its own affairs, is not a grant that can be made by any Parliament of this country in a day. It must be the work of continuous and careful effort.” Elsewhere in the same speech Lord Hartington says: “Certainly I am of opinion that nothing can be done in the direction of giving Ireland anything like complete control over her own affairs either in a day, or a session, or probably in a Parliament.” “Complete control over her own affairs,” “the work of complete self-government of Ireland, the grant of full control over the management of its own affairs:” this is the policy which Lord Hartington proclaimed in Ulster, the promise which he, the proximate Liberal leader, held out to Ireland on the eve of the General Election of 1885. It was a policy to be begun “in the next session,” though not likely to be completed “in a day, or a session, or probably in a Parliament.”

Next to Mr. Gladstone and Lord Hartington the most important member of the Liberal party at that time was undoubtedly Mr. Chamberlain, and Mr. Chamberlain’s Irish policy was proclaimed in the Radical Programme, which was published before the General Election as the Radical leader’s manifesto to the constituencies. This scheme, which Mr. Chamberlain had submitted as a responsible minister to the Cabinet of Mr. Gladstone in June, 1885, culminated in a National Council which was to control a series of local bodies and govern the whole of Ireland. “His National Council was to consist of two orders; one-third of its members were to be elected by the owners of property, and two-thirds by ratepayers. The National Council also was to be a single one, and Ulster was not to have a separate Council. As the Council was to be charged with the supervision and legislation about education, which is the burning question between Catholics and Protestants, it is clear that Mr. Chamberlain at that time contemplated no special protection for Ulster.”[15] Moreover, in a letter dated April 23rd, 1886, and published in the Daily News of May 17th, 1886, Mr. Chamberlain declared that he “had not changed his opinion in the least” since his first public declaration on Irish policy in 1874. “I then said that I was in favour of the principles of Home Rule, as defined by Mr. Butt, but that I would do nothing which would weaken in any way Imperial unity, and that I did not agree with all the details of his plan…. Mr. Butt’s proposals were in the nature of a federal scheme, and differ entirely from Mr. Gladstone’s, which are on the lines of Colonial independence. Mr. Butt did not propose to give up Irish representation at Westminster.” It is true that Mr. Butt did not propose to give up Irish representation at Westminster; but it is also true that he proposed to give it up in the sense in which Mr. Chamberlain wishes to retain it. Mr. Butt’s words, in the debate to which Mr. Chamberlain refers, are, “that the House should meet without Irish members for the discussion of English and Scotch business; and when there was any question affecting the Empire at large, Irish members might be summoned to attend. He saw no difficulty in the matter.”[16]