Page images
PDF
EPUB

If I attempt to sketch that design, it is not from the vain imagination that I can offer it in the precise shape which it is likely ultimately to assume. The outline I suggest is intended rather as a framework for suggestion and deliberation than as a complete plan. With all the difficulties that attend such proposals, I am quite sure that there are many questions upon which it is of importance that some one should take the risk of placing before the public a distinct and definite proposal, so as to bring them from the range of mere speculative discussion into that of real and practical deliberation. The question of a Federal Constitution for Ireland is pre-eminently one of these. I do not hope or indeed desire that a universal acquiescence should be given to all the details of the proposals which I make, but I believe that I may do an essential service to the cause of Irish nationality by submitting a plan suffi. ciently detailed to be a practical one, and which may, at all events, accustom men to reflect and reason upon the principles which I attempt to embody in that plan.

It is in this spirit, and this spirit only, that I take on myself to present an outline of a Federal Constitution, which I believe would have a chance of securing the support of large classes of the Irish nation, and to which we can reasonably ask the assent of the English people. I cannot too distinctly say that for the proposals I make no one is responsible but myself. I should be very sorry to be supposed even to bind myself to them as the best that can be devised even for the immediate object which they have in view. If we can accomplish a peaceful settlement of the great international question between England and Ireland, room must be left for mutual concessions after consultation with many interests and deliberations upon many things. If the present opportunity for such an adjustment is let pass we may soon, in the rapid progress of modern events, be carried far beyond the reach of proposals like those which I now make.

Upon the general principles of a Federal Constitution I cannot do better than quote resolutions which three months ago were unanimously adopted at a meeting of gentlemen representing very different shades of political opinions. These resolutions have since been submitted to a large number of persons throughout the country, and it is not too much to say that they have received an amount of approval and adhesion from men of all creeds and classes, such as never was accorded to any proposal for securing home government. A large number of gentlemen (more I believe than 400), including landed proprietors and mercantile men of high standing-Protestant and Roman Catholic clergymen, and men of political opinions generally supposed to be irreconcilable, have formed themselves into a committee, hitherto a private one, of which they have declared the following to be the objects:

" To obtain for our country the right and privilege of managing our own affairs, by a Parliament assembled in Ireland, composed of Her Majesty the Sovereign, or her successors, and the Lords and Commons of Ireland.

“ To secure for that Parliament, under a Federal arrangement, the right of legislating for and regulating all matters relating to the internal affairs of Ireland, and control over Irish resources and revenues, subject to the obligation of contributing our just proportion of the Imperial expenditure.

" To leave to an Imperial Parliament the power of dealing with all questions affecting the Imperial Crown and Government, legislation regarding the Colonies and other dependencies of the Crown, the relations of the United Empire with foreign states, and all matters appertaining to the defence and the stability of the Empire at large.

“ To attain such an adjustment of the relations between the two countries, without any interference with the prerogatives of the Crown, or any disturbance of the principles of the constitution."

The committee which has adopted these resolutions includes within it a sufficient number of men representing various sections of political opinions to give fair ground for the belief that all classes of Irishmen are prepared to unite in a demand for a Federal arrangement, based upon the general principles contained in them—or, perhaps, to speak more accurately, that Irishmen generally would be willing to place their own peculiar views as to the future of their country in abeyance, in order honestly and fairly to try the great experiment involved in the proposal of such an arrangement.

Beyond these resolutions no one has authority to commit any of those who have concurred in them. I can only take on myself to suggest a plan by which I believe the spirit of these resolutions can be carried out, at least in all essential elements. It is one in which in substance I would counsel all who are sincerely desirous for the establishment of Irish nationality to ask the concurrence of all classes of their countrymen.

The arrangement proposed is, I have said, that which is popularly known as a Federal Union between the countries. It is not worth while to consider whether the word Federalism, in its proper sense, be the most appropriate term to express what is proposed. I will not even stop to inquire whether the Union I suggest belongs to that class of arrangements which Lord Brougham calls Federal Unions proper, or to those which he designates as improper or imperfect, or, as is more probable, is one partaking of the character of both. It is enough to say that I intend to propose a system under which England, Scotland, and Ireland, united as they are under one sovereign, should have a common executive and a common national council for all purposes necessary to constitute them, to other nations, as one state, while each of them should have its own domestic administration and its own domestic Parliament for its internal affairs. I say each of them, because, although my immediate concern is only with Ireland, I do not suppose that if Irishmen obtain the separate management of Irish affairs it is at all likely that Englishmen or Scotchmen would consent to the management of their domestic concerns by a Parliament in which Irish members had still a voice. Whether England and Scotland would still desire to have the internal affairs of Great Britain managed by one common Parliament is a matter entirely for themselves to decide.

History, it need scarcely be said, records many instances of Federal Unions existing in all ages of the world. The principle has been at all times recognized by mankind that there may be countries so united by circumstances and position as to make it their common interest to be joined in one common state-yet so separate as to make it necessary for the domestic affairs of each of them to be managed by an administration of its own. Federalism is, indeed, only an application of the great principle of freedom which maintains local privileges against the despotism of central power. From the formation of the Achæan League to the incorporation of the North American Provinces into one dominion of Canada, the principle has forced itself upon nations. The Germanic Confederation, established at the Congress of Vienna, recognized it. For centuries each of the Swiss Cantons has preserved its perfect independence—while differing as they do in religion, in language, and in race, they have found unity and security in one general confederation, and one general diet of them all. The great confederation of the States of the Western Republic is only another illustration of the universality of the instinct which teaches men that nations as well as individuals may combine, and that there is no inconsistency between the existence of a legislature regulating the internal affairs of each portion of the confederation and a central legislature, directing with efficiency and unity the combined power of all.

some

But, perhaps, the most remarkable tribute to the principle of Federalism is to be found in the course taken by the British Parliament in the year 1867, when it was thought wise to incorporate into one dominion all the North American provinces of the British Crown. Each of these provinces had its separate legislature and separate administration. When the English Parliament combined them into one dominion, each of them was left with that separate administration and separate legislature for its own domestic affairs. A common Parliament and a common Adninistration were provided for the concerns of the dominion. The contiguity of these provinces to each other necessitated". details which would be inapplicable to the case of England and Ireland. The control of railways was, for instance, reserved to the Parliament of the dominion lest a central State might interfere to prevent the best and most direct communication between its neighbours. There is no reason why Ireland should not have exclusive control over its own railway communication. A similar observation applies to the Post Office and to some other things. The insular situation of Ireland fits us for a larger share of government than may be given to a country separated from another by an imaginary line. The limits of the central and the local power must depend in each Federal Union upon the circumstances and position of the countries comprising it, and in no small degree upon their constitution. We have, at all events, the remarkable fact that when the North American provinces were united in 1867, this was done upon a Federal principle preserving for each province its distinct Parliament. Well would it be for both England and Ireland if the same

« PreviousContinue »