Published in the Freeman’s Journal, 31st January, 1879. Taken from the appendix of The Irish Agitator in Parliament by Philip Henry Bagenal, published 1880.
SIR,—The frequent mention made of my name in the Irish press in connection with the so-called ‘new departure’ proposed by a portion of the Irish National party, and the very serious errors which have been committed in interpreting the scope and meaning of that proposition, must be my excuse for obtruding myself on the attention of the Irish public. As the Freeman has published so much in connection with this controversy, I hope you will enable me to state the case from the standpoint of those responsible for the original proposition.
The question whether the advanced Irish National party—the party of separation—should continue the policy of isolation from the public life of the country which was inaugurated some twenty years ago by James Stephens and his associates, or return to older methods—methods as old, at least, as the days of the United Irishmen—is agitating the minds of Irish Nationalists on both sides of the Atlantic just now, and certainly no small incident has aroused such wide discussion in Ireland for many a day as the publication of the views of the exiled Nationalists resident in New York on the subject. This shows conclusively the importance of the action proposed. All intelligent Irishmen feel that the entrance into the everyday political life of the country of a large class of men with strong opinions and habits of organisation, but who have hitherto held aloof from it or only acted on rare occasions when a principle was considered at stake, would be an event that would largely influence the future of Ireland. The eagerness with which the subject has been discussed by all parties would prove this if it were not otherwise sufficiently evident, but, as might be expected, much difference of opinion exists as to the direction that future would take. Almost every newspaper in Ireland which has written on the subject, almost every man who has expressed his opinion, has done so from a purely partisan standpoint. There have, it is true, been notable exceptions, and, on the whole, the reception of the proposals has been encouraging to the proposers.
As it is a question of public policy to be carried out if adopted, within the limits of the existing law, it can bear the fullest discussion. In fact, the more it is criticised the better, provided the criticisms be based upon actual facts—the propositions made and the views expressed by the proposers—not on data supplied by the fancy of the critics, or phantoms of sinister motives conjured up by diseased imaginations. Fair and free discussion of the public policy proposed for the acceptance of the National party by men who certainly have a right to their opinions and some claim to a voice in the decision—fair and free discussion of their motives in proposing it, I, as one of those responsible, am prepared to meet in a frank and friendly way. To those who resort to misrepresentation and insinuations of unworthy motives, I will only say that my motives are sufficiently known to my fellow-workers, and I do not propose to defend them. They will bear comparison with those of some who have been rather hasty in resorting to personalities. The policy proposed must stand or fall on its own merits. I would remind some of my ‘Nationalist’ critics, however, that misrepresentation on the part of men who live by scribbling cheap treason, and who never stir a finger to do any real service to the cause for which they profess such zeal, may, if persevered in, provoke a retaliation that would be somewhat inconvenient to them, and not at all edifying. This is all the notice I propose to take just now of the ‘consistent’ patriots who pen the twaddle about ‘Fenians in Parliament’ and the silly impertinences about ‘American babble.’
That the discussion aroused on both sides of the Atlantic by the proposal of a ‘new departure’ has done good, I am prepared to admit, but so many mistakes have been made on your side of the water, and such an amount of misrepresentation indulged in, that a clearer explanation of the objects sought to be attained and the principles professed by the proposers is necessary to enable the Irish people to form a correct judgment on the question. I am convinced that on the judgment formed on this question by the Irish people, and on the action that judgment will dictate, depends Ireland’s political future for many years to come. Even at the risk of having merely ambitious motives attributed to me, I am determined that some recent utterances of mine on the subject of Parliamentary and municipal representation and on the Land Question, which have been rather freely commented upon, shall be fully understood, at least by those who care to understand them, so that they may not be made the excuse for preventing action approved of, in theory, by the majority of Irish Nationalists, but not carried into effect through fear of affording help to a certain class of trading politicians. These politicians, it is feared, might succeed in turning the National party into a mere machine for their own advancement if the ‘new departure’ were adopted, or if any other public policy were determined upon. I am as much opposed to allowing the National party to be used by worthless aspirants for Parliamentary honours as I am to see it made an instrument for the circulation of the nauseating cant about nationality served up by trading speculations calling themselves ‘National’ newspapers, or that its only public appearances should be when called to applaud the bunkum of ‘orators’ who keep their tongues and their hands rather quiet when times of danger come. There is intelligence enough in the National party to save it from the Parliamentary shams, just as it has intelligence enough to stamp as quacks and charlatans those who talk of fighting, and sedulously avoid preparation for it. I am convinced that these fears of the Parliamentarians, where they are honestly entertained, are groundless now, while I fully admit there was ample excuse for them in the past.
It is the abstention of the Nationalists as a body from the public life of Ireland which gives trading politicians a chance of using a large number of them locally for personal ends, and it is simply ridiculous to say that, individually, the majority of the Nationalists do not take part in elections of all kinds. But they do not enter the political arena as an organisation, with a programme and policy of their own. They scatter themselves according to their personal tastes, and generally vote for the party which comes nearest to their own in its professions, very often without regard to the personal merits of the candidates, or thinking of the consequences of endorsing them. The result is that the advanced National party exerts less influence over the current of public events in Ireland, less influence in determining the opinion of the world as to Ireland’s wants and wishes, than its numbers would entitle it to if it took its proper share in public life and was organised for public action.
This fact must be apparent to every thinking Nationalist, and many of the best men in the party have expressed themselves very strongly on the subject in recent years. It has been long felt by many that the policy of abstention from public life is a policy of effacement, a policy which multiplies the difficulties in the way of Irish independence, and gives enormous advantages to the friends of English rule. It is somewhat like the old story of the Irish warriors who thought it cowardly to wear armour, and were trodden down by the mail-clad Norsemen as a consequence of their foolish pride. A general whose ambition is to beat an army superior in numbers to his own and infinitely better appointed may be a very chivalrous fellow, but he never wins battles, and he goes down to posterity as an arrant fool, if his name goes down at all.
It has long been a notorious fact, that men who represent but a small minority of the population claim to represent Ireland, and that circumstances would seem to justify them in doing so. Nationalists who have lived all their lives in Ireland, and who knew exactly how these things are done, but very little of what foreigners think of Ireland, can scarcely realise the immense moral effect produced by this state of things in foreign countries—even in the United States—in favour of English rule in Ireland. This effect tells principally where the Nationalists would least wish that Ireland should be misunderstood, and when Ireland’s actual condition is taken into account the result is simply disastrous. England’s difficulty is only Ireland’s opportunity, if Ireland knows how to use it. Self-reliance is a very necessary quality in a people desirous of winning their freedom, but a disarmed people can have little of it, and Ireland cannot afford to disregard the opinion of Continental Powers whose interests clash with those of England. Notwithstanding the innocent confession of gross ignorance made by one of the clever people who want us to stick to the time-honoured rat-hole policy, foreign Powers do judge of us ‘by the number of our votes and the eloquence of our representatives’—that is, when they see no armed force whose power has been tested in the field on which to base their calculations. It is not very likely that the ‘Lees’ of the National movement can provide the latter, and as there is no other means of enlightenment, it might be well for those self-sufficient individuals to learn a little of the rudiments of politics before undertaking to give lessons to men who have long ago passed that stage. People with narrow minds cannot be expected to take a broad view of anything, and therefore it is not surprising that another oracle, whose only feat in the National movement has been the accumulation of a mass of paper that may take fire some day, and endeavouring to hoodwink Irish American Nationalists should pronounce the ‘new departure’ a ‘rag baby.’ Very appropriate title from a man of straw! This kind of impertinence comes in all cases from men who are now doing nothing, but who have in the past done a good deal of ‘agitating’ in public.
The object aimed at by the advanced National party—the recovery of Ireland’s national independence and the severance of all political connection with England—is one that would require the utmost efforts and the greatest sacrifices on the part of the whole Irish people. Unless the whole Irish people, or the great majority of them, undertake the task and bend their whole energies to its accomplishment—unless the best intellect, the financial resources, and the physical strength of the nation be enlisted in the effort—it can never be realised. Even with all these things in our favour, the difficulties in our way would be enormous, but if firmly united and ably led we could overcome them, and the result achieved would be worth the sacrifice. I am not one of those who despair of Ireland’s freedom, and am as much in favour of continuing the struggle to-day as some of those who talk loudest against constitutional agitation. I am convinced that the whole Irish people can be enlisted in an effort to free their native land, and that they have within themselves the power to overcome all obstacles in their way. I feel satisfied that Ireland could maintain her existence as an independent nation, become a respectable Power in Europe, provide comfortably for a large population within her borders, and rival England in commerce and manufactures. I contend she can never attain the development to which her geographical position, her natural resources, and the moral and intellectual gifts of her people entitle her, without becoming complete mistress of her own destinies and severing the connection with England. But I am also convinced that one section of the people alone can never win independence, and no political party, no matter how devoted or determined, can ever win the support of the whole people if they never come before the public and take no part in the every-day life of the country. I have often said it before, and I repeat it now again, that a mere conspiracy will never free Ireland. I am not arguing against conspiracy, but only pointing out the necessity of Irish Nationalists taking whatever publication for the advancement of the National cause they may find within their reach—such action as will place the aims and objects of the National party in a more favourable light before the world, and help to win the support of the whole Irish people.
I am met at the very outset by the assertion that this entrance into the public political arena would simply result in bringing forward a number of dishonest and insincere politicians who would sell the people. My only answer is that if this be true it is simply a hopeless task to attempt to free Ireland, and that if Ireland got free by chance these men will then be just as willing to sell themselves or their country. If the country is so sunk in corruption that honest men cannot be found to fill the public offices and representative positions, why continue a useless effort? On another hand I hear a lot of familiar stuff about the ‘stern work’ required to make revolutions. I am as ready for the stern work as some of the gentle men who write so eloquently about it, but that stern work will never be done if other work, of a more prosaic, perhaps, but none the less necessary, kind be not done before the time comes for sternness. The stern work will certainly never be done if we confine ourselves to writing eloquent sentences about the ‘true path,’ and provide ourselves with nothing sterner to work with than sharp pens.
The cause of independence is not served—no cause is served—by a policy of inaction. If men who subscribe to the doctrine of independence are given nothing to do—if they are only required to be ready for an emergency which is to come at some future day—they will waste their time uselessly, for while they are waiting the rest of the world is moving, and they will not have the people with them when they want them. They must recognise that there is work for to-day and to-morrow as well as for the distant future.
Those who propose the new departure merely want to provide good wholesome work for the National party, which will have the effect of bringing all sections of Nationalists into closer relation by giving them a common ground to work upon, a platform really broad enough for all to stand upon, demanding no sacrifice of principle, no abandonment of Ireland’s rights. They have long felt the necessity for some such action, and imagine they can see in the present state of parties in Ireland the best opportunity for proposing it which has yet presented itself. Most of the individuals responsible for the proposition are ineligible to Parliament, and in the few in stances where this is not so other equally insurmountable obstacles occur, so that their own personal chances as Parliamentary candidates are entirely out of the question. Furthermore, I do not know a single man of them who would take the necessary oath, or who believes it right for a man who has taken the oath of the Irish Republican Brotherhood to take the Parliamentary oath. They are personally opposed to such men going into Parliament, but think the constituencies are the proper judges of the merits of the candidates, and that the National movement has more important work to do than standing sentinel at the door of the House of Commons to keep out some half-dozen ambitious and not over-scrupulous men, They think that there are good men enough in the country, who are not bound by any such pledges, who could be trusted to act honestly in Parliament and outside of it, and who, if backed by the country, would not hesitate to adopt a bold policy. They were not frightened at the prospect of concessions from England, and are a little tired of the grievance-mongering resorted to by some for the propagation of National principles. Ireland desires independence simply because it is her right, and because she can best manage her own affairs, not on account of any of the many grievances she endures at the hands of England. If these grievances were all removed to-morrow, the spirit of independence and the ambition to play a larger part in the world would be stronger than ever, and the unwilling concession of rights which have been denied as long as was consistent with safety will never be regarded by the Irish people as gifts to be thankful for. The idea that the continuance of grievances is necessary to the national propaganda is utterly at variance with all experience and is not worthy of consideration. The grievance of foreign rule has ever been the main one, and will always be intolerable.
Some of the arguments used in favour of the policy of isolation are very plausible, some of them very absurd; but there is not one sufficiently strong to justify a continuance of it under existing circumstances. When used by men who are, and have been for years, simply doing nothing, they do not deserve to be treated with common respect, as in the case of earnest men who practise what they preach. The proof that these arguments do not convince the people—not even the rank and file of the Nationalists—is to be found in the incontrovertible fact, that the great majority of those who believe in independence and who have the franchise vote at all elections. Many of those who write and speak about constitutional agitation have, on certain memorable occasions, taken a very active part in Parliamentary elections in favour of certain candidates, and few of them let slip the smallest opportunity of speaking in public. I suppose we are expected to believe that the holding of public meetings where public questions are discussed, and writing articles and letters on political subjects in newspapers, are not within the limits of ‘constitutional agitation.’ Of course, it is an easy matter to settle an argument if you can get your opponent to accept your definition of the meaning and scope of the terms used. I do not propose to argue under any such conditions, however, and I do not hesitate to assert that more ‘constitutional agitation’ can be laid at the door of some of the critics of the ‘new departure’ for one year than those who proposed it have to answer for during their whole lives; while in the matter of work done for action of another kind there is really little to boast of on either side.
Whether this interference in Parliamentary politics arose from the strength of the popular pressure, from personal inconsistency, from the inherent weakness of a position hastily taken up, or from the necessity presented by certain circumstances of asserting the principle of nationality by means not thought proper for permanent use, the result remains the same, that the most ardent followers of the physical force school have occasionally used Parliamentary agitation as a means of advancing the national cause or defending its advocates. This shows there is no permanent policy of abstention from constitutional agitation. There is certainly no existing Irish journal, and I am not aware of any man of weight in the advanced National party, that has consistently, and under all circumstances, advocated it. If the Irish People had been in existence at the time of the Rossa, Kickham, or Mitchel contests in Tipperary, or even that of John Martin in Longford, I cannot see how it could have preached non-interference, and I am convinced that, had it done so, its advice would have been disregarded by the people. But the policy of abstention, whether consistently carried out or not, whether a good or a bad policy, has not always been followed by the advanced National party. All the fine talk we hear about the ‘traditional policy,’ the ‘only pure path,’ has simply no foundation in fact. John Mitchel was the first man of any note to preach the doctrine that ‘no good can come to Ireland from the English Parliament;’ but even he advocated interference in Parliamentary elections on certain occasions, and died member for Tipperary. That he would not take the oath no man who knew him has any doubt, but he numbered among his friends many men who did take it, notably George Henry Moore, John Martin, and Joseph Ronayne. John Mitchel simply wanted to turn the people’s attention to the final means to be used to attain National independence, but he did not advise or practise continuous abstention from Parliamentary agitation. Some of us who are now criticised, not to say abused, for ‘departing from the true path,’ by men who are not following any path at all, have had much better opportunities of learning to the fullest extent what John Mitchel thought on this subject than those who now undertake to speak for him, and we are even presumptuous enough to have views of our own.
Even if there were a ‘traditional policy,’ a ‘beaten path,’ some of us would take the liberty of going outside of one or the other if by doing so we thought we could advance the National cause. For myself, I must plead guilty to a strong disinclination to walk in the narrow ‘paths,’ or ‘tracks,’ or ‘grooves,’ marked out for my guidance by people whose ability for leadership, whose earnestness, and whose judgment I have the best reason to doubt. I yield to no man living in the lengths I am prepared to go to get rid of foreign domination in Ireland, but I refuse to be guided by the narrow dogmatism through the instrumentality of which a few pigmies managed for a sad decade or so to retain a leadership for which neither nature nor training ever fitted them. I want to see the national will consulted through the only means at present available, and when the country speaks I am not afraid of the result, for I am convinced that Ireland desires independence to-day as ardently as ever, and that nothing less will ever satisfy her. But it is simply absurd to ask the Irish people to follow a dangerous political course with their eyes blindfolded, and trusting implicitly in guides of whom they know nothing. I am willing to trust the people, and think the issue is safe in their hands. When the country is convinced of the necessity for vigorous and decided action, I am not one of those who think the responsibility will be shirked. It was not the people who failed in recent National movements, but those who, without the capacity, the judgment, or the courage necessary to lead the people in times of trial and danger, assumed the responsibility and broke down when the ordeal came. The Irish people have had more than enough of this kind of thing, and want no more self-appointed leaders, or men labouring under a hallucination that they were born with a mission to generate them.
When the Irish Republican Brotherhood was started, the prevailing feeling among the people was distrust of Parliamentary agitation, and of noisy agitators of all kinds. The collapse of the Tenant-right movement, and the treachery of Keogh, Sadleir, and their infamous confreres, had given a shock to the people from which it took them years to recover. They were in a state of political torpor. I may be told that Fenianism took them out of this lethargy and infused a soul into Ireland. It did nothing of the sort. It found the National spirit reviving; it was, in fact, one of the effects of that revival, and it turned the re-awakening spirit into a certain channel. Whether this was fortunate or not I will not discuss just now; but I have too keen a recollection of the period, know a little too much about the spirit of the young men of that time, to be led away by the claptrap which passes current among a certain number of enthusiastic young men for historical fact, having the simple object of bolstering up the reputation of one of those heaven-sent leaders with whom we are sometimes blessed. Among the Nationalists of that day the doctrines of John Mitchel prevailed. They had drunk deeply during the years of inaction of the literature of Young Ireland, and the boldest and most outspoken of that school was a decided favourite. He continued to address them after his escape from prison through the National papers in Ireland long after the other Forty-eight leaders had laid down their pens and ceased to work. The young men were ripe for the hand of the organiser, and their future course depended on the impulse then given. Besides, there were many reasons why at that period Parliamentary agitation should be discouraged; but I may be permitted to express my conviction that the discouragement was carried very much too far, and great mischief was done in consequence. The fact, however, is undeniable, that the policy of complete abstention was a ‘Fenian’ policy only, and that it was never, previous to the starting of Fenianism, the settled policy of the National party, though, naturally, the attention of men seeking separation was turned principally to physical force methods.
It is equally true that the advanced National party in Ireland has never had a clearly-defined policy, further than a declaration in favour of independence, or, sometimes, an independent republic, to be obtained by force of arms. The people have never been told what kind of an Ireland we should have if the making of it depended on the Nationalists, or how the Nationalists proposed to grapple with any of the burning social and political questions which would demand solution if the country were free to-morrow. The national sentiment of the people alone was appealed to, especially in the Fenian movement, while their judgment as to the capacity of the men proposed to regenerate them was left entirely out of the question. Of course, the people had many opportunities of forming an opinion on these points through public speeches and writings; but in this respect the constitutional agitators, honest or dishonest, had many advantages over the extreme Nationalists, inasmuch as public profession of their principles or intentions brought the latter into conflict with the law. The lack of political training and of practical acquaintance with public business—such even as could be acquired by membership of a town council—has always told heavily against the Nationalists, while their absence from such bodies left the whole country in the hands of the West Britons, who are only a miserable minority. This enabled the minority not alone to speak and act in the name of the country, but gave its members the means of strengthening and consolidating their party and crushing out their opponents. The more this is examined, the more ruinous this policy of isolation will appear, and the more advantages to be derived from an organised, steady, and persistent effort to get possession of those local bodies will be seen. While I admit that Nationalists now vote at these elections, I deny that they act as a body, or with any settled plan or purpose.
With the majority of these bodies in our possession, even without the Parliamentary representation, we should be in a position to do many things we can only dream of now. With the municipal bodies and men of spirit and determination as Parliamentary representatives, backed by the country and by millions of the Irish race scattered over the world, there would be no necessity to go to London either to beg or to obstruct, and Irish Nationalists would have no more Tallaghts or ‘cabbage-gardens’ flung in their faces. Can this be accomplished? I claim it can, but only by a combination between all sections of Irish Nationalists—between all those who are dissatisfied with the existing order of things, and desire self-government in any form. The Home Rulers cannot do it, for no one among the people really believes in Mr. Butt’s so-called ‘Federal’ scheme. The Nationalists cannot honestly support the scheme, for it gives to the English Parliament the prerogative which belongs to the Irish people of calling the proposed local Parliament into existence and defining its powers—therefore having the right to abolish it by a simple act. It is a concession of England’s right to rule Ireland. It is claimed that it would place Ireland in exactly the same position towards the British Empire that the State of New York holds towards the United States. This is such an astounding blunder that it is almost incredible it can be seriously made. New York is one of a number of independent States bound together in a federation; it elects its own Governor and Legislature—which existed prior to the federation—and has an army of National Guards, under command of the Governor, to defend its liberties. On the contrary, Ireland under Mr. Butt’s plan would bear exactly the same relation to England as the City of New York does to New York State. The municipality of New York is created and its powers defined by the State Legislature, and the charter is tinkered up afresh every time there is a change of parties in the Legislature. The Nationalists can never consent to have Ireland placed in such a position, and therefore the Home Rule movement, except it changes its programme, can never command the support of the whole country, without which it can never hope for success.
The Repealers can never again arouse the enthusiasm of the people, because, though having a strong historical point in their favour, simple Repeal would restore the Irish House of Lords, which few in Ireland would endure now. The Repealers furthermore are not organised, and many of them, as well as many weak-kneed Nationalists, support the Home Rulers for want of something better. In fact, the whole rank and file of the Home Rule party is composed of men who would prefer a larger measure of self-government if it could be obtained.
The Nationalists could only obtain control of the local bodies and of the Parliamentary representation by the adoption of such a broad and comprehensive public policy as would secure the support of that large class of Irishmen who now hold aloof from all parties, but are Nationalists in heart and feeling, and vote for the man or the party that comes nearest to their ideas, and which would further detach from the Home Rule party all who are really in favour of a larger demand than that of Mr. Butt, but who now give the Home Rulers a conditional support.
The object, however, could be reached much more easily by an honourable compromise. This compromise is only possible by leaving the form of self-government undefined—putting off the definition until a really representative body with the country at its back, and elected with that mandate, could be assembled and speak in the name of the nation. When the nation speaks all parties must obey, and a united Irish nation can shape its own destiny. There is no use defining the form of self-government for the mere purpose of bringing forward a motion in Parliament once a year or once every session, only to be thrown out by a hostile majority, and complete independence cannot be demanded without coming into conflict with the law. As the battle of Irish freedom must be fought outside Parliament, and as Home Rulers, Repealers, and Nationalists all call the form of autonomy they desire ‘self-government’—as, in addition to this, they agree substantially as to the present needs of Ireland, there should be nothing to prevent them agreeing on a common platform which would bind them together for the common good of the country, till the country itself should speak in such a manner as to command the allegiance of all.
Such a common platform was suggested in the cable despatch from New York, which has been called the ‘new departure.’ The talk about the ‘folly’ of publishing the substance of this telegram is almost too silly to waste words upon. It is simply the height of folly to imagine there was anything to be concealed in it. There was nothing proposed which is not strictly within the law, and no man in Ireland would have the slightest reason to fear the consequences of avowing his acceptance of the propositions. They would not bind a member of Parliament to accept the revolutionary policy, nor could he be held responsible for threats or speeches of the pro posers in the United States. They simply bind all who accept them to carry them out, and the carrying of them out breaks no British law. It is not an ‘alliance’ between Home Rulers and revolutionists which is proposed, but the adoption of a broad and comprehensive public policy which Nationalists and men of more moderate views could alike support without sacrifice of principle.
No party or combination of parties in Ireland can ever hope to win the support of the majority of the people except it honestly proposes a radical reform of the Land System. No matter what may be said in favour of individual landlords, the whole system was founded on robbery and fraud, and has been perpetuated by cruelty, injustice, extortion, and hatred of the people. The men who got small farms in the time of confiscation settled down in the country, and their descendants, no matter what their political party, are now ‘bone of our bone’—have become Irish—and perform a useful function in the land. No one thinks of disturbing them. If the landlords had become Irish, and treated the people with humanity, the original robbery might be forgiven—though a radical change in the tenure of land must come of itself some day—but when, as a class, they have simply done England’s work of rooting out the Irish people; when the history of landlordism is simply a dark story of heartless cruelty, of artificial famines, of evictions, of rags and squalid misery, there is no reason why we should forget that the system was forced upon us by England, and that the majority of the present landlords are the inheritors of the robber horde sent over by Elizabeth and James the First, by Cromwell and William of Orange, to garrison the country for England. It is the interest of Ireland that the land should be owned by those who till the soil, and this could be reached without even inflicting hardship on those who deserve no leniency at the hands of the Irish people. A solution of the Land Question has been reached, to a large extent, in France, in Prussia, and in Belgium, by enabling the occupiers to purchase their holdings. Let the Irish landlords be given a last chance of settling the Irish Land Question amicably in this manner, or wait for a solution in which they shall have no part.
Let a beginning be made with the absentees, the English lords and the London companies who hold stolen land in Ireland, and there will be enough of work for some years to come. Let evictions be stopped at all hazards, and the rooting-out process come to an end. But I shall be told the English Parliament will never do any of these things. Then, I say, these things must only wait till an Irish Parliament can do them better; but in the meantime good work will have been done, sound principles inculcated, and the country aroused and organised.
To those who are alarmed at language like this in regard to the Land Question, I would say: ‘Look at France, at Prussia, and at Belgium, and you will find that the secret of their prosperity lies in the number of tillers of the soil who own their holdings. Listen to the mutterings of the coming storm in England, and ask yourselves what is going to become of the land monopoly after a few more years of commercial and manufacturing depression—a depression sure to continue, because the causes of it are on the increase.’ The English are a very practical and a very selfish people, and will not let any fine sentiment stand in the way when they think it is their interest to redistribute the land. What, may I ask, would be come of the Irish landlords—especially the rack-renting, evicting ones—in case of a social convulsion in England? It is a question which they themselves must decide within the next few years. With them or without them the question will be settled before long, and many who now think the foregoing assertions extravagant will consider them very moderate, indeed, by-and-by.
The education question is only approached at present from a purely religious standpoint. There is no reason why it should not be treated also from a utilitarian point of view, not to speak of a National one. The curse of Ireland for several centuries past, after foreign rule—indeed, as a direct result of foreign rule—is sectarianism. It is the interest of the Irish people that the rising generation of all creeds should receive a sound, practical training that will fit them for the battle of life, and enable them to compete with the young men of countries hitherto more favoured in that respect. The natural resources of Ireland will never be developed by men trained as the majority of the present generation have been. Why not insist on the history of Ireland being taught in all our schools, and on the nationalisation of the schools where the Protestants are trained? It cannot be expected that men trained up in anti-Irish ideas will make good Irishmen, nor can it be expected that any large number of Protestants will join any political party which devotes its principal efforts to a purely Catholic object. It is fear of the Catholic majority more than love of England which makes anti-Irish Irishmen of so many of our Protestant fellow-countrymen, and if they are ever to be won over to the National side some sacrifice must be made. He must be a dull Irishman indeed who will assert that their aid is not worth having, and anything that is worth having is worth paying for. The price in this case is the exclusion of all sectarian issues from the National platform. This would not produce any miraculous transformation. We must wait for results, but they are sure to come, for the simple reason that it is for the material interest of the Protestants as well as the Catholics that Ireland should govern herself.
If Ireland were free now one of the first things, after the Land Question, which would demand solution, would be that of county government, and the principle should be laid down in the National programme. The whole people have an interest in the local as well as the national administration, and should have the selection of a county council or board, having much the same powers as the council-general of a French department. The present abortion of county government, called a grand jury, which enables the foreign garrison to look after its own interests at the expense of the people, will not, of course, be abolished by the English Parliament, though it may be tinkered, but its abolition should be demanded, and the principle of the people’s right to do their own business, through their elected representatives, clearly enunciated.
While the right to the franchise of every man born on Irish soil who has not forfeited his rights of citizenship by conviction of crime against society should be affirmed, the very least that should be demanded at present is the equalisation of the Irish franchise with that of England.
If a programme such as I have roughly sketched above were adopted and vigorously carried out, its acceptance made the test for election to all offices in the gift of the electors, and the people thoroughly organised for its support, the country would soon throb with a vigorous and healthy life from end to end, and we should at last begin to see the dawn of our day of liberation. It would give Ireland the materials out of which a National Government could be formed, which would command the confidence of the Irish people at home and abroad and the respect of foreign nations. From the very outset it would seriously embarrass the diplomacy of England abroad, and, if carried out with firmness, resolution, and judgment, it would make Ireland count for something in the world even before she won self-government.
It has been objected by some very well meaning people that the publication and explanation of this programme is the avowal of designs that England will take good care to provide against; but a little reflection will convince any intelligent man that the first public step taken as a result of its adoption would clearly indicate the ultimate object. It would be as clear as the noonday sun to English statesmen; but England has entered on a career in which she cannot stop, and she can no longer treat us as in the past. That vast agglomeration of hostile races and conflicting interests scattered over the world called the British Empire has been held together up to the present by favourable circumstances, which are disappearing day by day. It is filled with inflammable material within and beset with powerful and watchful enemies without. It was constructed for commercial purposes alone, is conducted on merely commercial principles, and cannot stand a great strain. It cannot last, and the crash will come as sure as fate. It has passed the summit of its glory and its infamy, and is now on the descent which leads inevitably to ruin. It is our turn now. Our watchwords should be: Patience, Prudence, Courage, and Sleepless Vigilance. Great events are coming upon us, and on the way we demean ourselves during the next few years will depend whether we are to play a considerable part in those events, and build up a nation, or sink in the ruins of one of the broken empires of the world.
No one who looks at the present condition of the East, who con siders the inevitable effects of the policy inaugurated by the present Government of England and the settled policy of Russia—no one who has any knowledge of the immense interests at stake—can seriously think that war on one of the largest scales ever witnessed can much longer be averted. In such a war the blood and treasure of Ireland would be poured out like water for the interests of a Power which has robbed us of everything and rooted out and exterminated our people. Ireland would gain nothing by it. It is time to ask shall Ireland have something to say about this expenditure of her vital necessaries, and if it is inevitable can she find no better way to apply them? This is a question which Home Rulers as well as Nationalists will be called upon to answer some of these days, and now is the time to make up their minds.
It was considerations like these which dictated the proposition of the ‘new departure,’ and this explanation is given so that the Nationalists of Ireland may not be misled by the misrepresentations and the mistakes which have appeared in print in reference to it. They have as yet come to no decision, and I hope when they do it will be a wise one. They must, however, beware of those ‘friends’ of theirs who raise the cry of ‘dictation from America.’ No one in America wants to dictate to them; but these gentlemen must pardon me if I respectfully decline the honour of being classed as an ‘American.’