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The "Unionist" Position
by [?]

Such were the professions of the opponents of Home Rule in 1885 and in 1886. They have now been in office for eighteen months, and what do we behold? They have passed a perpetual Coercion Bill for Ireland, and the question of any kind of self-government has been relegated to an uncertain future. In his recent speech at Birmingham (Sept. 29), Mr. Chamberlain has declared that the question is not ripe for solution, and that the question of disestablishment, in Wales, Scotland, and England successively, as well as the questions of Local Option, local government for Great Britain, and of the safety of life at sea, must take precedence of it. That means the postponement of the reform of Irish Government to the Greek Kalends. What justification can be made for this change of front? No valid justification has been offered. So far from there having been any increase of crime in the interval, there has been a very marked decrease. When the Coercion Bill received the royal assent last August, Ireland was more free from crime than it had been for many years past. Nothing had happened to account for the return to the policy of coercion in violation of the promise to try the experiment of conciliation. The National League was in full vigour in 1885-1886, when the policy of coercion was abandoned; boycotting was just as prevalent, and outrages were much more numerous.

Under these circumstances it is the opponents of Home Rule, not its advocates, who owe an explanation to the public. They defeated Mr. Gladstone’s Bill, but promised a Bill of their own. Where is their Bill? We hear nothing of it. They have made a complete change of front. They now tell us that the grievance of Ireland is entirely economic, and that the true solution of the Irish question is the abolition of dual ownership in land combined with a firm administration of the existing law. England and Scotland are to have a large measure of local government next year; but Ireland is to wait till a more convenient season. A more complete reversal of the policy proclaimed last summer by the so-called Unionists cannot be imagined.

Still, however, the “Unionists” hope to be able some day to offer some form of self-government to Ireland. For party purposes they are wise in postponing that day to the latest possible period, for its advent will probably dissolve the union of the “Unionists.” Lord Salisbury, Lord Hartington, Mr. Bright, and Mr. Chamberlain cannot agree upon any scheme which all can accept without a public recantation of previous professions. Mr. Bright is opposed to Home Rule “in any shape or form.” Mr. Chamberlain, on the other hand, is in favour of a great National Council, on Mr. Butt’s lines or on the lines of the Canadian plan; either of which would give the National Council control over education and the maintenance of law and order. Latterly, indeed, Mr. Chamberlain has advocated a separate treatment for Ulster. But the first act of an Ulster Provincial Assembly would probably be to declare the union of that Province with the rest of Ireland. Ulster, be it remembered, returns a majority of Nationalists to the Imperial Parliament. To exclude Ulster from any share in the settlement offered to the other three Provinces would therefore be impracticable; and Mr. Bright has lately expressed his opinion emphatically in that sense. In any case, Lord Hartington could be no party to any scheme so advanced as Mr. Chamberlain’s. For although he declared, in his Belfast speech, that “complete self-government” was the goal of his policy for Ireland, he was careful to explain that “the extension of Irish management over Irish affairs must be a growth from small beginnings.” But this “growth from small beginnings” would be, in Lord Salisbury’s opinion, a very dangerous and mischievous policy. The establishment of self-government in Ireland, as distinct from what is commonly known as Home Rule, he pronounced in his Newport speech to be “a very difficult question;” and in the following passage he placed his finger upon the kernel of the difficulty:–“A local authority is more exposed to the temptation, and has more of the facility for enabling a majority to be unjust to the minority, than is the case when the authority derives its sanction and extends its jurisdiction over a wide area. That is one of the weaknesses of local authorities. In a large central authority the wisdom of several parts of the country will correct the folly or the mistakes of one. In a local authority that correction to a much greater extent is wanting; and it would be impossible to leave that out of sight in the extension of any such local authority to Ireland.”