‘Trust in the healing power of time and experience ...’

Debate on Establishment of an Irish Parliament - House of Commons, 13th June 1912 (Hansard)

Amendment proposed: In Sub-section (1) after the word “shall” [”there shall be in Ireland”], to insert the words “subject to the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, and Londonderry being excluded from the provisions of this Act.” - [Mr Agar-Robartes]. Amendment defeated. Bill passed, but its operation suspended and ultimately never implemented because of first World War.


. . . I think it is natural that I should ask leave to say something on an Amendment which to me, at all events, appears to be the most vital Amendment which probably can be moved during the whole of the discussions in Committee on the Bill.

The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Cowan), who spoke the other day, said that if the Unionist Members from Ireland would accept this Amendment as a settlement of this question – as a compromise of this question – and help us to proceed with this Bill, then I will vote for it. Let him not give any vote under any misapprehension. We do not accept this Amendment as a compromise of the question. There is no compromise possible. We believe that Home Rule would be disastrous for the rest of Ireland, and – because he offers what would be merely a simple act of justice to a portion of Ulster – why should we on that ground abandon our position in regard to a policy which we believe harmful to Ireland?...

To those who tell me that the Union has failed in Ireland I say look to Belfast and the North-East corner of Ulster. They are a product of the Union. It is under the Union that they have grown and flourished, and it is no wonder when you come to analyse what has happened in that not at all most favoured part, by nature, of Ireland that the people are wedded to the system which has developed their liberty and their prosperity to the extent which it has done ….


Then they say: – Why should we be driven by force to abandon the conditions which have led to that success? We can imagine no conceivable reason – no fault that we have committed – which will justify the treatment which this Bill prepares for us. We are to be driven out of our present close connection with England and Scotland; we are to be deprived of the power to control our own future; and we are to be handed over to the government and guidance of men of whose principles we disapprove, and whose capacity has never been applied towards the practical advancement of the material interests of the country...

Have not we a right to ask, where is your precedent? Where is the precedent for driving out of a community against their will people who are satisfied with it? You are always referring to Colonial examples. I happened to be Solicitor-General at the time when the Australian Commonwealth Bill was passed. You never would have passed that Bill if every single Clause had not been agreed to by every single one of the communities concerned….

Take the Transvaal, about which people are always talking. If the Transvaal had refused to give up its autonomous position, and to come into the Union which created the Union Parliament, and took away part of the privileges of that autonomous position, would you have forced the Transvaal, would you have forced Natal, would you have forced the Cape?

I do not want to say one word by way of threat….. I shall assume, for the purpose of my argument, that you coerce Ulster. The hon. Gentleman the Member for North Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) says, Are you going to fight the Navy and the Army? That is an absurd suggestion. I shall assume that the Navy and the Army are going to put Ulster down.

What then? Do you think that people with this burning passion in relation to the Government under which they are to live will be good citizens? Do you really think that the Ulster Scot is the kind of man you can trample underfoot?

Let me examine for the moment the argument which has been put forward. The Chief Secretary said, After all, the people of Ireland, Catholics and Protestants, are not such bad friends as you might imagine. I quite agree with him. I should be sorry if they were. I hope they will be greater friends; if you will only let them alone they would be. But there are deep-rooted historical questions, traditions, ideas, and race, too, which you cannot get rid of by an Act of Parliament, but which you can aggravate by an Act of Parliament.

The Chief Secretary says there is a great deal of trade between the North and South of Ireland. He says there are bankers in the North who have branch banks in the South; and there are men in the North of Ireland who sell seeds to men in the South. What has that got to do with it? Does he mean to say – this is a hopeful outlook – that if Ulster is allowed to remain with the Imperial Parliament here they would never again be allowed to do business in the South of Ireland? That is not a happy augury for the Irish Parliament you are going to set up….

I now come to the Prime Minister, who gave us a very severe lecture on our daring to desert those who, according to us, were placed in peril in other parts of Ireland…. The people in Ireland will not in the least misconstrue what we are doing on this occasion, whatever the lectures of the Prime Minister may be. They know perfectly well that that is all nonsense so far as they are concerned.


On Tuesday last the late Leader of the Opposition complained of the silence of Irish Members on these benches on the question of this Amendment, and he called for an explanation from us as to our position on this question of the separate treatment of Ulster. I remained silent on Tuesday last because I felt I was entitled to know before I spoke the attitude of the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir E. Carson) and his Friends, and until the speech which he has delivered this afternoon was made I honestly did not know what his attitude was going to be. We all remember that in his speech in Belfast he called, as we thought, for separate treatment for Ulster, and we know that the very moment he made that declaration that the idea of separate treatment for Ulster was loudly denounced by the organ of opinion of the Unionists of the South and West of Ireland

Then, subsequently to the denunciation in the name of the Unionists of the South and West of Ireland to the idea of separate treatment for any part of Ulster, the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke, as has been said, in Dublin and there, as we understood, he repudiated the idea of the separate treatment for Ulster. This afternoon he says he is going to vote for it; but he has made, I am bound to say, his position perfectly clear. He has been perfectly candid. He has not said he is going to vote for separate treatment for a portion of Ulster for the purpose of improving this Bill, or as a compromise on which this matter could be settled, because he has told us that even if this. Amendment were carried the opposition of himself and his party to the Home Rule Bill would be as vehement as ever.

I was entitled to know, before I rose to speak upon this matter, did the Unionist party, and especially the Ulster Unionist party, put this forward as their demand for a settlement of this question, or did they not? It is now evident, of course, that they do not, and that they do not treat it as any approach to a settlement of the question. I assert that there is at this moment no single section of Unionist opinion in Ireland in favour of the Amendment. ..

I could quite understand some Friends of ours on the other side of the House giving very serious and anxious consideration to this proposal if it were put forward as the price to be paid for a settlement of this question; that is to say, If the Ulster Unionist Members declared that if this Amendment were carried they would accept the Bill. Even then, I am bound to say, it would not have received the approval or sanction of my colleagues or myself…. It is put entirely on one side as a means of bringing about a compromise, and it is supported frankly as a wrecking Amendment. .. I appeal to any genuine friends of Home Rule in Ireland how, in these circumstances, they can possibly give a vote in favour of the Amendment?

Consider for a moment what this Amendment is. It proposes to exempt from the operation of the Home Rule Bill four Ulster counties out of the nine which comprise the province, namely, Antrim, Down, Derry, and Armagh. Mark you, it does not propose to exempt Ulster. That would be too absurd, because, as is well known, in Ulster, taking the whole province, the population is very evenly balanced indeed, even between Catholic and Protestant, and if allowance were made, as I think it ought to be, for at any rate a margin of Protestant Home Rulers, you would have the result that a majority of the people of Ulster were in favour of Home Rule.

The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken (Sir E. Carson) asked: Could you have passed your Commonwealth Bill for Australia if one of the Australian Colonies had objected? I do not suppose you could. These Australian Colonies were separate entities. Will anyone say that four counties in Ireland are a separate entity… When you were passing the Commonwealth Bill in Australia if you had found, say, in the Colony of New South Wales one small section of the population, a very small minority as compared with the whole, had objected, of course your Commonwealth Bill would have gone through all the same.

But that argument cannot hold good against Ireland, unless indeed you are prepared to say that these four counties in themselves form a separate nationality. If you want to be logical in exemption you ought to exempt simply Belfast, and if you start in exempting Belfast what are you going to do about the 100,000 Nationalists in Belfast, and about the Protestants who returned my hon. Friend for West Belfast? Are they to have separate treatment inside Belfast? Why, that question, I submit, reduces the whole argument to an absurdity We put forward our claim for Home Rule for Ireland as a national demand. That is its essence. The national demand, the national spirit, has been the soul of the movement ever since the Union was carried. We say that Ireland is a nation, whose rights and liberties have no doubt often been invaded, but a nation, a national unit to-day, just as much as is England, or Scotland or Wales! We are not dealing with the case of a few counties of Britain that happen to be separated from this island by a few miles of water. We are putting our case forward as a case of a nation, and it is on that ground that our claim rests, and from that claim it will never be divorced. The idea of two nations in Ireland is to us revolting and hateful. The idea of our agreeing to the partition of our nation is unthinkable. We want the union in Ireland of all creeds, of all classes, of all races, and we would resist most violently as far as it is within our power to do so - [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] -Yes, so far as we have the power to do so-the setting up of permanent dividing lines between one creed and another and one race and another. Men will say that the dream of a union complete and lasting between all creeds and classes in Ireland will never be realised. It is our hope, our ambition, our belief, that it will be. To attempt to cut off the Protestants under the two-nation theory from the national traditions and aspirations of the Irish race sounds to many of us something like sacrilege. Yes, many of the most revered of our national saints and martyrs in the national struggle have been Protestants. Many of the greatest and most honoured leaders of the Irish race in their struggles, both on the field and in the constitutional region, have been Protestants. Grattan's Parliament, which possesses today the enthusiastic and affectionate remembrance of the Irish people, was a Parliament in which no Catholic could sit; for election to it no Catholic was allowed to vote. I say to you here that most of the Catholics of Ireland would prefer tomorrow to take back Grattan's Parliament with all those disqualifications than to continue to be governed under the Union or consent to the partition of the Irish nation. Why, let me ask before I sit down, is Ireland to be the only country in the whole world where religious animosity is to permanently divide the people? We demand that under Home Rule we in Ireland shall be given the same chance as was given to the Catholics and Protestants in Canada; to the Boers and Britains in South Africa; the same chance to sit down side by side and to endeavour to administer jointly "the affairs of our common country so that we may be able to bury the memories of the past and open a new chapter of unity. That is our ambition-at any rate that is the ambition which we will never surrender. I am faced with this proposition: We are told that in any case a section of the population of Ulster will not agree, and if we object to the idea of separate treatment for Ulster, what, we are asked, is our alternative? I say that our alternative is to trust the healing process of time and experience. Trust the people of Ireland, as the people of all colours, of all races, and of all creeds have been trusted elsewhere in your Empire, and you will most undoubtedly find as a result what has happened everywhere else will happen in Ireland: that men will come together; they will forget the past; they will sit down at the same table, and endeavour to do all they can for the welfare and freedom of their common country. We say this Amendment is absurd; we say it is illogical and unworkable; that it is not asked for by any section of Unionists in Ireland. We say it can only be supported by intelligent men as a wrecking Amendment. Above all, we oppose it, because it would destroy for ever our most cherished ambition, namely, to see the Irish nation in the near future made up of every race and every creed and every class working unitedly for the well-being and freedom of the Irish race and doing so through the instrumentality of a native Government which, in the words of Thomas Davis, "Shall rule by the right and might of all, Yet yield to the arrogance of none."

John Redmond in the House of Commons, 11 April 1912, when the 3rd Home Rule Bill was introduced: "If I may say so reverently, I personally thank God that I have lived to see this day."

Prime Minister HH Asquith to Carson in the Commons, April 11th 1912: "It was impossible to concede the demand of a small minority to veto the verdict of the Irish Nation." TC Agar-Robartes, Liberal MP, putting forward a motion on 11 June 1912 to exclude the four north-eastern counties from the operation of the Home Rule Bill: "I have never heard that orange bitters will mix with Irish whiskey."

Ulster 1912 by Rudyard Kipling

Published by the Morning Post in April 1912 The dark eleventh hour Draws on and sees us sold To every evil power We fought against of old. Rebellion, rapine hate, Oppression, wrong and greed Are loosed to rule our fate, By England’s act and deed . . . . . . What answer from the North? One Law, one Land, one Throne. If England drive us forth We shall not fall alone.