Republished in the Gaelic American, May 4, 1918.
At a very big meeting held recently in Waterford, Mr. Arthur Griffith has referred to the futility of sending Irish representatives to the British Parliament. Since then the Conscription Bill has been passed, in spite of the efforts of the Irish Party, and it is now plain to the world that the Irish Members have no power or influence in a Parliament where the Irish are a helpless minority.
Mr Griffith’s speech is in part as follows:
Why was it that the English Parliament and the English Government were so much concerned with the fact that Ireland was now electing not to send its men to the English Parliament. If that refusal were not hurting England, would she be so much concerned about that election? For nearly one century Ireland made the mistake of going to the House of her oppressors, where she was outvoted, where the game was played according to the oppressor’s rules, and where she was seeking for justice which it was England’s interest to deny. By going there they gave England what she needed in the eyes of the world – the moral sanction to rule the Irish people. They ceased to think of Ireland as a separate nation but only as a province of England.
Recent events had made the Irish Question one of international importance. Ireland was now out in the light of international politics, and it was to their interests, as well as their duty, to keep it there. When, a little over twelve months ago, the first man was elected to act as the Hungarian Deputies acted over seventy years ago when they were in the same position towards Austria as Ireland now was towards England – when they refused to elect members to attend the Austrian Parliament, and elected them, instead, to stay at home – when a man was elected for Roscommon pledged not to go to the English Parliament – the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons the Irish Question had become acute; and when the second man was elected in Longford, Mr. Lloyd George, who had said one month previously that unless Ireland accepted Partition, Ireland would get nothing, said in the House of Commons, that the Irish Question had become such a matter of importance to the Empire for settlement that he should leave it to a Convention of the Irish themselves to decide what form of Government they would have. And he “appointed” a Convention which he himself nominated. He invited Sinn Féin to send five members to that Convention and they offered to do so on four conditions:
First – That our countryman, De Valera, and others who were in Lewes Jail should be treated as prisoners of war.
Second – The Convention must be elected by the free votes of the whole people of Ireland.
Third – Whatever decision that Convention came to, even if it be the establishment of an Irish Republic, England must guarantee beforehand to accept it; and
Fourth – That England should pledge herself to America to accept the decision of the majority of the Convention.
Mr. Lloyd George replied that those terms were preposterous and impossible, and they said to him:
“Go ahead with your Convention; it is merely a sham and an imposture on the Irish people, and you will never sidetrack Ireland from its demands by that false Convention.”
The intention of the Convention at the time, as they knew, was to keep Ireland talking until Lloyd George would deliver the “Knockout Blow” which was so long overdue, and if he had succeeded in delivering that knockout blow, he would deliver another knock-out blow to Ireland.
He referred to the speeches of Sir. F. E. Smith who delivered anti-Irish orations to the Orangemen of Toronto, Canada, and crossing into the States, delivered himself in the same strain, and was promptly asked to return home. He said in one of his speeches: “The Irish Convention is one of the best things yet devised. Let them keep on talking.”
At the present time, and for the past four months there has been the most insistent pressure put on the English Government by President Wilson to settle the Irish Question. We know that twice within the last four months messages have come from the American Government, telling England she must settle the Irish Question – that the war cannot go on on the present basis while all this talk of small nations is being ridiculed throughout the world because England will not release the small nation of Ireland.
They know also that Japan and France have made representations to the same effect. We know that France has told England that by her action towards Ireland she is placing France in a most absurd position with regard to Alsace-Lorraine.
Captain Redmond had said he was following the principles of his father, whose principles twenty-seven years ago when he stood with Parnell were Nationalist principles (he was at one time a good Nationalist). But evil communications corrupt good manners, and no matter what man they sent to the English Parliament – no matter how strong in character he might be, not one man in fifty would survive that atmosphere for ten years, for there they would be surrounded by all the boycotting and sapping influences of England; would first be threatened, and if they could not be intimidated they were bought, and if they could not be bought, they were cajoled. Parnell told them that neither he nor any other man could keep the Irish Party independent in the English Parliament for ten years. They know now from experience that the Irish Party had long since ceased to remain independent in that atmosphere. Twenty-five years ago Mr. John Redmond made speeches in which he stated the national principles – principles by which Sinn Féin now stood, and which Mr. Redmond’s followers had abandoned.
They had now an opportunity Parnell or O’Connell never had – that no one had since the days of Grattan. They had an opportunity of having Ireland a case taken away from the court of its enemies and put before the free Tribunal of the free Congress of the world. It only needed the Irish people to show that they demanded their country’s case should be tried in the same way that Poland claimed for hers. All the small nations that England had induced to fight for her had gone under (although she said she was fighting for small nations). They in that movement were fighting for a free Ireland – for the Ireland Thomas Francis Meagher fought for – an Ireland that would be prosperous as well as independent. But they were also fighting for an Ireland that would be the Ireland of their forefathers – a Gaelic Ireland speaking its own tongue, living its own life; and the ideal before Sinn Féin was not only a free and prosperous Ireland, an Irish speaking Ireland, but the ideal they stood was the ideal William Rooney wrote of when he said Ireland’s hope was for the day when the tongue of generations would ring through the land from sea to sea, and Ireland stood among the nations erect and free.