Page images

principle had been thought of when the attempt was made to make of England and Ireland one country instead of the natural and reasonable plan of uniting the two countries into one state.

It is obvious that in carrying out the plans of such a Federal arrangement, so far as Ireland is concerned, there are three general questions practically to be settled.

1st. What is to be the constitution of the Imperial Parliament?

2nd. What is to be the constitution of the Irish Parliament? 3rd. What are to be the functions and the powers of each?

Before proceeding to offer suggestions upon each of these questions there are subjects to which it is necessary briefly to refer.

This tract is not intended as a general discussion of the question of the maintenance of the Union in its present form. It is designed rather to show by practical suggestions how that Union may be safely modified than to argue a question upon which the minds of the great majority of Irishmen are made up. It were easy to show that the necessity of a re-adjustment of the Union arrangements rests upon the plainest practical grounds. The attempt made by the Union to give Parliamentary government to Ireland, through the medium of the English Parliament, increased by the addition of some Irish representatives, has wholly failed. It has failed in producing the results which were sought for by its promoters. It has failed in giving consolidation and security to the Empire at large. The chief argument used by Mr. Pitt in favour of the Union was that the French descent upon Ireland proved that Ireland was the vulnerable part of the Empire. If England were driven or drawn into war to-morrow, Ireland would present a far stronger temptation to an invader than it did in 1798. It has failed in bringing about any identity of interest or feeling ? between the two countries. There never was a period in the

history of Ireland when there was greater dissatisfaction with English rule. No Irishman need be told that it has failed in giving to Ireland either prosperity or peace. At the end of seventy years of Union we are the most disoontented, the most distracted, and, with all our great advantages, the poorest country in Europe.

There is, indeed, another view, and one by no means to be disregarded, in which every year's legislation may be considered as an authoritative declaration by the Imperial Parliament that the arrangement made at the Union has broken down. By the Act of Union restrictions were placed upon the future action of the Imperial Parliament by imposing on it obligations which were termed essential and fundamental conditions of the Union. It can scarcely be denied that this arrangement no longer exists. In many of their most essential provisions the articles of Union have been deliberately and intentionally violated. This in itself amounts to a clear and distinct confession that the arrangement contemplated in those articles cannot, at least in its integrity, be maintained. No one can read the Act of Union without seeing that the system established by it was that of governing by a common Parliament—but a common Parliament restricted and bound by treaty obligations with the extinct Irish Parliament. It is useless to inquire how far such a system could possibly be expected to last. It is enough to say that we are not now living under it. The lapse of time, the inevitable demands of legislation, the inexorable logic of events, have displaced the fiction of a treaty to be maintained as binding a supreme legislature while there was no other party either to enforce or to release it. The mere

of years as it carried us further from the period of the Union, drifted us into a system in which we are ruled by an Imperial Parliament practically unbound by any of the treaty stipulations of the Union. It may be a better or a worse form of Parliamentary Constitution, but it certainly is not that which was separately enacted by each of the Parliaments of England and Ireland in their statutes, in which they attempted to bind by articles the United Parliament into which they merged. The Imperial Parliament has been compelled to abandon the arrangements of the Union, at least so far as they imposed restrictions on its acts, and to legislate for us upon principles entirely and essentially distinct. We are not now governed by a Parliament administering a treaty of Union, but by a supreme Parliament claiming and exercising the supreme control and absolute power of legislation, exactly as if Ireland and · England had always been one country, as if an Irish Parliament had never existed, and a treaty of Union never had been made. This is a form of government of Ireland which never was agreed to by an Irish Parliament, and one to which, in all probability, the assent of ar. Irish Parliament never could have been obtained.


It may, perhaps, be said by some that, in view of the events which are now agitating Europe, this is not the time for the discussion of a re-adjustment of the internal arrangements of the United Kingdom. In a subsequent page I will have something to say of the bearing of these European events upon the Irish question. Let me now say, once for all, that he can have a very inadequate perception either of the magnitude or the pressing nature of that Irish question, who could see a reason for its postponement in the possibility that complications may arise which may involve England in the incalculable troubles and unseen perils of a general European war. If there be any real danger of this in the aspect of European affairs—this is the very strongest reason why we should at once take steps to avert from the Empire the serious and more pressing danger which menaces her at home. Ireland is now the weakness of England. While our present relations last she will continue to be so. This proposal for the concession of a Federal Parliament has not originated in the conflict which is now disturbing Europe. These pages would have been written and published if that conflict had never taken place. But the signs which are darkening the aspect of Europe, so far from supplying any reason for not pressing this subject upon the attention of both countries, only make its settlement the more urgent. I am persuaded in my conscience that if troublous times are near us, the dearest interests of every Irishman-aye, and every Englishman-demand that Ireland, in passing through them, should have the control, the guidance, and the protection which can come only from a national Parliament possessing the confidence, and identified with the interests, of the Irish people.

To those who have read ever so superficially the history of the Union between England and Ireland, it will not fail to suggest itself that the arrangement which it is sought to alter was carried into effect at a time when England actually entered on the greatest war which, up to that time, the world had ever seen. The years 1799 and 1800 were probably among the most anxious and arduous of the great struggle with revolutionary France. The despatches of Lord Castlereagh and the English ministers on the subject of the proposal for the Union, and its reception in Ireland, are strangely intermingled with lamentations on the reverses of England's allies, and the successes of the French arms. The negociations for the purchase of the Irish Parliament went on simultaneously with the wars of Tippoo Sultan in India, the battles of Napoleon in Egypt, his passage of the Alps, his triumphs in Italy, and his assumption of the government of France. The victory of Marengo and the passing of the Act of Union in the English Parliament were events of the same month. It were too long to record all the events of peril and anxiety to England which crowded into the two

years of the effort to carry the Union. The exigencies of the situation compelled Mr. Pitt, amid all the distractions of England's position, to turn his attention to the relations of the two countries, the state of which he thought caused weakness to the Empire in the struggle in which Britain was then engaged. A far stronger necessity must now force every enlightened English statesinan earnestly to desire a re-adjustment which may avert greater and more pressing dangers. The Union was carried into effect to consolidate the power of the Empire when England was engaged in the great effort of the revolutionary war. In the events which now threaten the peace of Europe, and of the world, it is only by a revision of that Union that the same end can be attained.

It is, after all, in periods of great national emergencies that the minds of men are roused to achieve great results. amid the troubles and perplexities which followed the campaign of Sadowa, that Austrian statesmen rose to the necessity of giving to Hungary the free constitution which has made that country the strength, instead of the weakness, of the Austrian Confederation. English statesmen would do well to profit by the lesson before a war overtakes them, with Ireland still the weakness of the British state.

It was

« PreviousContinue »