Page images
PDF
EPUB

Parliament, it would not be necessary, or I think advisable, to propose any change in the existing franchise. The distribution of seats is an essential matter which cannot be avoided, but it would be imprudent to mix up the question of the franchise with that of the grant of the Federal Constitution. Taking the existing franchise as the basis it would be easy to select the towns which should be entitled to return members to the House of Commons. This selection of the towns and the adjustment of boundaries should be, in the first instance, entrusted to a committee or commission on which all political opinions were fairly represented. It would be easy to name men who would enter on such a duty without any other wish or thought than a determination fairly to apportion the representation. It is a subject upon which Irishmen ought to accustom themselves to think, although it is one upon which it would be absurd to anticipate the time for practical action. I will only say

that any one who will give a few hours to study the question, and consider what must be, from the circumstances of the country, the constitution of the borough representation of Ireland, will have no fear that in the Irish House of Commons the intelligence and property of the country will be deprived of its just influence and weight.

Assuming then that we had thus constituted a House of Commons composed of not less than 250, and not more than 300 members, it remains to inquire what should be the constitution of the House of Lords.

The Irish peerage numbers, in all its ranks, 187 members. But of these a large number have not and never had any connexion with Ireland. I have already adverted to the manner in which, before the Union, an Irish peerage was frequently conferred. There are at least fifty Irish titles in which it is impossible to trace the most remote connexion with Ireland or Irish affairs.

The holders of such peerages could of course never expect

to take their seats in an Irish House of Peers. They should of course be permitted to retain their titles and their rank, but they should be excluded from political power, either by a special enactment or by a law, which would probably be sufficient, that no person should claim a seat by virtue of the grant of any Irish peerage which had not been followed up by his ancestor sitting in the Irish House of Lords.

But even of the remaining peerages a large number are represented by absentee proprietors. It would not be an unreasonable law which would prohibit any peer from taking his seat who had not been resident in Ireland for a certain period before he did so.

We should of course restore to the Queen that old prerogative of creating Irish peers of which by the Union the Sovereign was deprived. It would be essential, considering the circumstances of Ireland, that no objection could be offered to the granting to the Sovereign the power of creating life peerages with the privilege of sitting in the House of Lords. I am sure that we could thus form an Irish House of Peers in which the resident nobility of Ireland would take their place in the council of the nation—which would, as a deliberative assembly, maintain the fame and character of the country—and in which the Irish aristocracy could learn, as the English have done, to sympathize with, or, at all events, to yield the enlightened and deliberate opinion of the country, while they exercised the powers of control over rash legislation which it is the province of a second chamber to possess.

When I state these views as to the mode of constituting an Irish Parliament, it must be remembered that these details form no part of the principles of a Federal Union. I can only state the plan which I would, myself, be disposed to advocate and accept. I would be equally ready to assent to any other proposal which would attain the same end by other means-

that end being the institution of a Parliament in Irelandin which enlightened popular opinion would have a free and a full representation, and in which all orders in the state would, in peaceful and constitutional relations, exercise their just and proper influence over the course of national affairs.

It is, however, something to bring clearly before the minds of men, a practical plan for constituting an Irish Parliament which involves nothing revolutionary in its character, and from the practical working of which no one who knows Ireland or the Irish people will apprehend anything inconsistent with the order and well-being of the state.

To a Parliament constituted in this manner I am sure that all classes of Irishmen might safely trust the protection of their liberties and rights. Ireland might confide to it her national destinies and hopes.

CHAPTER V.

POWERS OF THE IRISH PARLIAMENT.

This inquiry has, in a great measure, been disposed of in that which treated of the powers to be conferred upon the Imperial Parliament. The Irish Parliament consisting, be it always remembered, of the Queen, Lords, and Commons of Ireland, would have supreme control in Ireland, except in those matters which the Federal Constitution might specially reserve to the Imperial Assembly.

If the proposals already made were adopted in their integrity, the Federal Irish Parliament would have all the control over Irish affairs which the old Irish Parliament possessed—with this difference only, that Ireland would be subject to the taxation which it would be in the power of the Imperial Parliament, for Imperial purposes, to propose.

Over all the rest of the revenue and resources of Ireland, the Irish Parliament would have complete control—a control to be exercised under that constitutional restriction which obliges all grants of public money to be made only on the recommendation of the Crown. Every matter relating to the internal administration of the country-our railways, our post office, our public works, our courts of justice, our corporations, our systems of education, our manufactures, and our commerce, would all be left under the management of our domestic Parliament.

When I say under the control of our domestic Parliament, I mean in such manner as the constitution points out. The Queen, through her Viceroy, would still exercise all the prerogatives of sovereignty and control, and direct all the departments of administration, of which the constitution gives the management to the Crown. The House of Commons would only interfere when the constitution adınits of its interference. Under such a constitution Ireland would enjoy that which did not exist before the Union-a government carried on by ministers responsible to the Irish Parliament and answerable to that Parliament for each and every of their acts.

The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland would be, as he is now, appointed under the Imperial Great Seal. Personally he would be responsible to the Imperial Parliament; he would be liable to impeachment before the Imperial House of Peers, but all his acts of Irish administration would be done through Irish ministers responsible to the Irish Parliament. Those ministers would stand in the same relation to the Parliament as the ministers in Canada or in the great Australian Colony stand to the Colonial Parliament. Ireland would then for the first time in her history enjoy the benefit of constitutional and parliamentary government—that is, a government carried on by ministers of the Crown, but ministers daily brought into contact with the representatives of the people liable to be questioned in a popular assemblage for each of their acts, and under the necessity of explaining and vindicating their acts in an assembly representing the opinions and sentiments of the country whose affairs they administer. Such a government Ireland certainly does not now possess.

We never can possess it as long as an assembly in which English sentiments are predominant is the only one in which ministers can be questioned as to the management of Irish affairs.

If any one is disposed to doubt the advantage to Ireland of a Federal arrangement which would restore to us a native

« PreviousContinue »