From The Freeman’s Journal, June 20, 1916.
Sir – The practical question for Ireland to consider at the present moment is whether the position in which the country will be placed by accepting the Home Rule offer is better or worse than the position in which it would be placed by rejecting it.
It is not whether Ireland is better off now than it would be if Home Rule for twenty-six counties were in operation. It is not a question as to whether Ireland was better off a year ago or five years ago than she will be after accepting the proposed arrangement. We cannot go back to any past condition, and we cannot stay in the present condition. The internal state of feeling in Ireland, the attitude of public feeling in England, and the consequent attitude of the English Government towards Ireland, have been profoundly changed by recent events. Most important of all perhaps is the change that has taken place in the amount of sympathy that has been aroused for Ireland in neutral countries, especially in the United States.
All these conditions are liable to be again profoundly changed the moment that Ireland’s decision becomes known. The state of feeling in Ireland itself will be affected by it, the attitude of England towards Ireland will be profoundly affected by it, and perhaps most of all the opinion of neutral countries will be affected by it.
We are now in the limelight. We occupy a central position in the world’s stage. We shall not be able to hold that place for very long. The world is too busy to occupy itself very long with a small country, even though it happen to be such an interesting one as Ireland. As soon as we have announced our decision the world will in a short time be no busy with other things that it will have ceased to bother itself with Ireland.
It is not enough that the decision we come to be right. It is perhaps more vital in our case that it be recognised as right by our friends throughout the (line illegible) …Central Powers did their best to throw all the blame on the Allies, and the Allies did their best to -? the responsibility upon the Central Powers.
It is infinitely more important for us that we should carry with us the approval of public opinion throughout the world. Even though the opinion of the world goes against any of the Great Powers, it still has its army and navy to fall back upon. If we lose the sympathy of the world we have nothing to fall back upon.
If we reject Home Rule rather than agree to the exclusion of the Unionist parts of Ulster, what case have we to put before the world? We can point out that Ireland is an island with a definite geographic boundary. That argument might be all right if we were appealing to a number of island nationalities that had themselves definite geographical boundaries. Appealing as we are to Continental nations with shifting boundaries, that argument will have no force whatever. National and geographical boundaries scarcely ever coincide. Geography would make one nation of Spain and Portugal; history has made two of them. Geography did its best to make on nation of Norway and Sweden; history has succeeded in making two of them. Geography has scarcely anything to say to the number of nations upon the North American Continent; history has done the whole thing. If a man were to try to construct a political map of Europe out of its physical map he would find himself groping in the dark. Geography has worked hard to make one nation out of Ireland; history has worked against it. The island of Ireland and the national unit of Ireland simply do not coincide. In the last analysis the test of separate nationality is the wish of the people. A man who settles in America becomes an American by transferring his love and allegiance to the United States. The Unionists of Ulster have never transferred their love and allegiance to Ireland. They may be Irelanders, using Ireland as a geographical term, but they are not Irishmen in the national sense. They love the hills of Antrim in the same way as we love the plains of Roscommon, but the centre of their patriotic enthusiasm is London, whereas the centre of ours is Dublin.
We claim the right to decide what is to be our nation. We refuse them the same right. We are putting ourselves before the whole world in the same light as the man in the Gospel who was forgiven the ten thousand talents, and who proceeded immediately to throttle his neighbour for a hundred pence. After three hundred years England has begun to despair of being able to compel us to love her by force. And so we are anxious to start where England left off, and we are going to compel Antrim and Down to love us by force.
I know exactly how the Yankee will take it. He will say: “I guess you people over there in Ireland want to run your own little affairs in your own way. By all means you should have it. It is a shame that you should be held down so long by brute force. And these men up there in Belfast, they want things in a different way; let them have it too.” That will settle the whole case, and the Yankee will forthwith proceed to think of something else. We shall, of course, retain the support of our own old reliable following in the United States, no matter what decision we may take. But we must remember that they are only a fraction, even of the men of our own blood.
It would not be safe to build very much upon the depth of England’s desire to settle the Irish question. What England wants to do is to get rid, as far as possible, of the bad taste left in the world’s mouth by her recent samples of militarism in Ireland. She can do that in one of two ways; either by making a settlement that will look satisfactory in the United States, or by making us a plausible offer and then throwing the blame upon us for rejecting it.
What then is the choice that lies before us? How shall things be in Ireland in two or three months’ time? We shall have either a Home Rule Parliament experimenting upon twenty-six counties, and the other six as they were, with the neutral world taking a mild and sympathetic interest in the doings of the baby government which its influence helped to call into being, and anxious to see it get a chance to grow. Or we shall have the whole thirty-two counties under a new and slightly improved form of friendly Birrelism, with the neutral world turned away from us in disgust as an impracticable and impossible race.
There will not be much occasion for lighting bonfires in either case, but at least there ought to be no difficulty in deciding which to choose.
And then we must not forget the men who are pining in English prisons. Alas! That so many are gone beyond the reach of all but our prayers.