From The United Irishman, November 18, 1899.
The sentiment has become hackneyed by hard work at public meetings and after-dinner displays, and has become accepted by our people as a reality instead of the false and hollow sham which it in reality is. “We shall never take an interest in the British Empire,” says the platform patriot, “till England restores to us our native Parliament.” “I am convinced,” says the pompous self-important politician, “that the one remedy for emigration and famine is the restoration of our native legislature.” The crowd applauds and the Press prints in leaded “caps” the magnificent and convincing speech of Mr. So-and-So. Nobody pauses to think what the sentiment really means, or whether it has any meaning.
It seems a rather bold assertion to allege that we have been giving the whole of the last generation, and of very many other generations, to the pursuit of a myth. This native Parliament, of which we have heard so much, for the re-establishment of which the united energies and resources of our race were concentrated for many a long year, was in origin, essence, and design, in idea and execution, wholly foreign, utterly un-Irish, and even in its most popular form, a bulwark of British power in this country. Whether such a thing in the future might possibly be anything other than what it always was in the past is a question outside this present writing. The terms of the last Home Rule Bill, however, are a not unsafe guide to the amount of good likely to arise from it. It is scarcely necessary, perhaps, to point out that the advocates of Home Rule hoped to make Ireland, under a College Green legislature, not more Irish, but more British. They expected to change us from restless and opportunist irreconcilables to plodding, placid citizens of the empire. They looked to the decay of characteristic, the ruin of every hope, the disappearance of all the memories which have made resistance possible – and for our forgetfulness and contentedness we should receive whatever portion of the proceeds of plunder our masters should not need, and their gracious permission to rob the nations of the East and South, under the protection of the Union Jack. Whether this future is at all in accordance with the views of such men as Tone, Emmet, Davis, Mitchel, Smith O’Brien, or John O’Mahony, the enthusiastic Home Ruler can satisfy himself. We have not such a low opinion of our countrymen as to imagine that any appreciable percentage of them would sacrifice the past for such a future, but a little thought is necessary, for assuredly the majority of us have enthused about Home Rule without exactly understanding what it might or could do for the country. That radical and revolutionary changes alone can bring the slightest improvement to the country everyone, not linked to the chariot wheels of the enemy, must admit. That any such change is likely to result from a machined legislature in College Green or anywhere else we beg leave to doubt.
It needs but little knowledge of Irish history to effectually dispose of the idea that this “Parliament,” over which there has been such pother, is at all a native creation. Neither does it require a minute knowledge to prove its invariably anti-Irish character. From its inception to its decline, its record, with a few widely separated areas of tolerance, is one long story of narrow-minded vindictiveness and relentless war on the rights, privileges, and property of the Irish nation. It was this “Native Parliament” which passed the Statute of Kilkenny, decreeing the killing of a mere Irishman a matter of no consequence, and outlawing any man or woman of English blood who adopted the laws, language, customs, dress or manners of the country, married a person of Irish race, or sheltered, succoured, or assisted them or anyone friendly towards them. It was this “Native Parliament” which at Drogheda, under the guidance of Sir Edward Poynings, passed into “law” an acknowledgement of its incompetency to make laws for itself, allowing to the superior and enlightened wisdom of the English Privy Council a veto on all its acts. It was this “Native Parliament” which admitted the right of Henry VIII to create himself “King of Ireland,” which, at his bidding, confiscated the Church property and declared him head of the faith, executed a volte face when his daughter Mary came to the throne, and again wheeled round when Elizabeth succeeded her. It was this “Native Parliament” which represented anything like the English interest against such men as Fiacha Mac Aodha O’Byrne, Aodh O’Neill, the Geraldine League, Owney O’More, and Cahir O’Doherty. It was this “Native Parliament” which superintended the confiscation of Ulster, the plantation of Connaught, the desolating of Munster, which was Strafford’s sleek and willing ally in every devilish plot conceived to root out the “Irishry.” Finally, it was this “Native Parliament” which, in spite of the protests of Toby Butler and Stephen Rice, callously and treacherously broke the Articles of Limerick and proceeded to reduce the Catholic people of Ireland, nine-tenths of the nation, to a state worse than ever was inflicted on the serfs of any despotism.
Yet one could scarcely marvel at this “Native Parliament,” seeing that it represented nobody but the English and anti-Irish elements, scattered here and there in the walled towns of the country. Its servility and truckling ended, however, not with the breaking of faith with the “mere Irish.” When William Molyneux raised his voice to declare the independence of the Irish Parliament and the individuality of the Irish nation, it was this self-same Parliament which consigned his pamphlet, “The Case of Ireland Stated,” to the hands of the common hangman to be burnt. It was this “Native Parliament” that granted a patent to William Wood to deluge the country with counterfeit coinage, which offered a reward for the writer of the “Drapier’s Letters,” and which consigned the printer to prison. It was this “Native Parliament” which enacted time and again all conceivable restrictions on the rights and religion of the people, which persecuted and drove into exile Charles Lucas, and which was shaken into a semblance of respectability and manliness by the swords and cannon of the Volunteers. Even then, during those boasted few years of “independence,” what higher weal had the most advanced thinker in that assembly than a share in the glories of the British Empire? The cardinal boast of every volunteer corps was its loyalty, and though some few men like Napper Tandy and Hamilton Rowan did venture further there never was a less really National organisation than those same Volunteers. In fact one may, with very great justice, attribute their decline to the very narrowmindedness of their leaders. No one can possibly accuse Charlemont of Nationalist; he was a bitter opponent of Catholic claims, and indeed this self-same fear of the strength of enfranchised Catholicity had as much to do as anything else with the disbanding of the forces which wrung “Free Trade” from Britain. The rapidity with which the olden pro-British tone of “Our Native Parliament” developed after the break-up of the volunteers affords proof that the assembly at any time was never truly Irish or National, and their condescension to the view of the British Viceroy is amply testified by the Convention Act, the Indemnity Act, and the numberless other evidences of their enmity to everything but their own interests. As noted already, this was scarcely unreasonable, for not one per cent of the representatives, and not one-fifth of the representation were native. All the members were descendants of the enriched and ennobled followers of Cromwell and William, with a slight sprinkling of old Norman, and one or two perverted Celtic families, the electors in the main were exactly similar. The granting of the franchise to Catholics in 1794 had but little effect; the character of the chamber may be judged by the speeches of such men as Sir John Parnell and Colonel O’Donel, both fierce anti-Unionists, and both equally bitter enemies of the United Irishmen. The advocates of “Our Native Parliament” are possibly unaware that it was this assembly which sanctioned the half-hangings, house-burnings, pitch-cappings, and other horrors, which make ’98 the memory it is to Wexford, Wicklow, and other places.
Tone began his public career with an idea that the reformation of the “Irish” Parliament was possible, and, with the widening of the franchise and admission of Catholics, that good might accrue. A study of the subject showed him how utterly hopeless was the task. The chamber was entirely in the hands of the minister, and as long as England had money to bribe she would find men only too ready to thank God they had a country to sell. The fault was not with the Parliament, but with the system which corrupted it, and nothing short of the entire abolition of the system could effect a remedy. Towards the extermination of that system he gave his life, and he was scarcely cold in his clay till the assembly justified his opinion of it by voting its existence away for a few hundred thousands. Half a century later, and at various intervals ever since, a crop of politicians have endeavoured to delude the people into agitating for the recreation of this hotbed of corruption and treachery. Hollow talkers have bellowed and honest men have believed that the salvation of the land depends upon the restoration of this foreign-conceived and foreign-influenced body.
We most decidedly do believe that this nation has a right to direct its own destinies. We do most heartily concede that men bred and native to the soil are the best judges of what is good for this land. We are believers in an Irish Nation, using her own tongue, flying her own flag, defending her own coasts, and using her own discretion in the affairs of the world. This we most certainly believe can never come as the gift of any Parliament, British or otherwise; it can only be won by the strong right arms and the grim resolves of men.
“The radical vice of our Government,” said Tone, “is the English connection.” He wrote this with “our Native Parliament” sitting; consequently the cure for our evils cannot be its resurrection.