From The United Irishman, February 17, 1900.
According to the newspapers the election of Mr. John Redmond to the chair of the reunited Irish Party has been the signal for a shout of joy throughout the country. We all know how prone the journalistic mind is to exaggeration, and one has but to glance through the letters and telegrams given in detail to form an estimate of the depth and breadth of this trill which has shaken the land. We are a singularly forgivable people, or rather we have a decided faculty of forgetting what we ought to remember. I am not prepared to say that Mr. Redmond is not the fittest man to guide the counsels of the combined wisdom which represents Ireland at Westminster. I am not of opinion that unity was not a desirable matter, but I do most sincerely hope that no unity will blind the people to the fact that Mr. John Redmond is the man who at Cambridge in 1895 before an audience of Englishmen took upon himself to say that the Irish nation neither desired nor thought separation from England desirable. Mr. Redmond, or anyone else has a perfect right to hold that opinion – but it is to be trusted that those who do not hold it, and I am sure they are neither few nor far apart in this country – will not forget that it was uttered, and by whom.
The Irish Party may or may not have had the best and most patriotic reasons for reuniting. The reasons need not weigh, the fact is they have reunited, and the question for the country is whether or not a continuance of their services is desirable – whether or not anything possible of achievement remains to be done by Irish representatives in the British Parliament. They are eighty odd in a house of 670; in a house bound by laws and regulations which limit the time for discussion and place a weapon in the enemy’s hands to stop it at any time – in a house which is utterly unsympathetic, generally speaking, with the meanest national demand, and which is unwilling to use its authority in matters which are manifestly crying evils against progress and social order. Let us dispassionately examine the question – let us not be led away by any claptrap about the invincibility of a solid Irish phalanx at St. Stephen’s; let us take the thing for what it is worth, weigh its faults, total up its merits, and having made up our minds prepare to abide by the consequences. The constant attendance of the Irish Home Rule representation would put a considerable hole annually in £20,000. Of Home Rule there is not the ghost of a possibility for years to come, of remedial land legislation which would effectually stop the flow of the life-blood of the nation there is about equal chance – of any measure calculated to improve the condition of our towns or increase the authority of their governing bodies there is a similar hope – of a reduction in Irish taxation there is the same outlook, and in fact of anything likely to prove of the slightest benefit to Ireland there does not appear to be even the faintest indication. This, some one will say, is the result of the chaos of the last ten years. We will be told that an united Irish Party would have forced the Liberals to resign after the throwing out of the Home Rule Bill by the Lords in 1893. What would have been the result? The return of the Tories to power with the same majority which they possess at present. The fact is the Home Rule Bill was allowed to drop by the Liberals, and has never been taken up by the Tories because the British Government recognised that Ireland had broken up all her effective organisation, and concentrated her entire strength in the ranks of Parliamentarianism. The indifference which exhibits itself all throughout the country respecting the representation is wholly due to the fact that the people have lost faith in it. They have seen its impotency to even pass a Bill for the draining of a barony; they have seen it scouted by the Liberals and sneered at by the Tories; they have seen its ranks recruited from men whose sole national work has been a timely contribution to the party exchequer. They have seen, and more vividly within the last three months, the hollowness and humbug of that “Union of Hearts,” for which they cheered themselves hoarse before hotel windows, while the county member spouted eloquently of the utility of forgetting the past and letting bygones be bygones. A generation has grown up which has been trained by cartoon and spicy paragraph to regard each of the leading members of the reunited party as either a West Briton, a toady, a time-server, or a tool. How can the young men who have been educated on such lines have any respect or admiration for these men, or any confidence in their judgement? Either these men are what the party organs painted them, or else the organs have lied, criminally and persistently lied. Yet these are the men for whom the country has flung up its hat in joy, and these are the organs which for the future are to be our Mentors. Let us burn it into our souls, we are to be led by knaves and fools, and spoonfed by
journals that blow hot or cold as the occasion warrants. It will cost, as I have said, nearly £20,000 to maintain this united party in the British House of Commons, and the return will be a harvest of rhetoric – polished if Mr. Redmond, profound if Mr. Dillon, acrid and biting if Mr. Healy – but windy and ineffective withal, and for this we shall be asked to pay £20,000 per year. A glorious prospect with a diminishing population, and markets every year become more and more crowded by foreign competitors. It may be granted for parliamentarianism that it provides an excellent theatre for the display of Irish disaffection, that it affords an opportunity for catching the ear of the world, and making our position known to foreign peoples. It does not occur to the advocates of this theory, however, that the same agency which shuts out foreign opinion from us also has the means of colouring any information it supplies to the Press of other peoples. It does not occur to the
advocates of this theory that half the sum spent on parliamentarianism if spent in subsidising Irish Agents in the principal Courts of Europe might be a more effectual means of bringing Britain to her senses. I have dealt previously with the power which lies in our hands abroad if our people would only act unitedly; the same power acting in the hands of a firm, patriotic representative at Paris, St. Petersburg, or Berlin, might not be wholly ineffective. The possibility of Continental aid for Ireland is at least as likely as the coming of Home Rule or any similar concession.
We shall most likely see a recrudescence of the National League within a few months. No one should object to its reinstitution – organisation of any sort is better than chaos or inaction – but since the scales have to a considerable extent fallen from our eyes, let us see that we are not used any longer merely as marionettes. Let us look before us, and do nothing that does not recommend itself to our own judgement as sound and patriotic. Let us cease thinking that our leading men are miracles of resource or intellect. Let us cease believing that we are a nation of persecuted saints – a nation of martyrs doomed to eternal misery. Let us remember we are men – merely men – and being men let us endeavour to do the part that fits us for citizenship. That does not consist entirely in registration, nor in carrying a torch in a midnight procession. Both of these are necessary duties that occasionally may fall to the lot of every man, but one ought not to stop at them. Let us endeavour to educate ourselves and each other, to understand the fallacy of compromise and the uselessness of cant – for cant is not wholly a British vice. If we do these things, or strive to do them, the unity of the parliamentarians may be the blessing which its organs claim it is. If we maintain a public opinion outside the columns of the
Home Rule Press – if that opinion be kept healthy and vigorous, ready to grasp every difficulty of Britain for its own advantage, ready to emphasise everywhere and at all times the irreconcilable differences which exist between the two nations – we shall keep that representation in our power, make it the servant of the National will instead of its master, make it an instrument to be utilised whenever occasion requires. Let us be independent of it; but let us by all means tolerate it as a weapon in our armoury, but let us not make it our sole and only resource, for that way danger lies. It is a battered suit of mail at best, full of chinks and inequalities, and in no sense as suitable for our nation as the claymore or the battle-axe.