CHAPTER XX. THE RISE OF SIR EDWARD CARSON
"The question I put to myself is this: In the years of failure, where have we gone wrong? What are the mistakes we have made? What has been the root cause of our failure? The Lord Chancellor was perfectly frank so far as the Unionists were concerned. He said, indeed, that he was still a Unionist, but he had come to the conclusion that the maintenance of the Union was impossible. What lesson have we who have been Home Rulers to draw from the past? I think the mistake we made in the beginning was that we did not sufficiently realise the absolute necessity of taking into consideration the feeling of Ulster."
These notable words were spoken by Viscount Grey of Falloden in the debate in the House of Lords on the Partition Bill on 24th November 1920. A more remarkable vindication of All-for-Ireland principles and a more utter condemnation of the egregious folly of our opponents it is not possible to imagine, coming especially from so clear and calm-minded a statesman as the former Liberal Foreign Secretary. The root principles upon which Mr O'Brien and his friends proceeded from the start were that success was to be had by making an Irish settlement depend, in the first place, upon the co-operation of a million of our Protestant countrymen, and next by enlisting the co-operation of both British parties, instead of making the Irish Question the exclusive possession of one English Party. These two principles are now universally acknowledged to be the wise ones, yet when we were urging them in the Home Rule debates we could find no support from the Liberal-Irish cohorts, and although we sedulously devoted ourselves to urging a non-party programme and the conciliation of the Protestant minority - about which all parties are now agreed - we only received vilification and calumny for our portion.
Great play is being made by distinguished converts within the past few years of Dominion Rule as if they were the discoverers of this blessed panacea for Ireland's ills, but it is proper to recall that the All-for-Ireland Party specifically proposed Dominion Home Rule in a letter to Mr Asquith in 1911 as the wisest of all solutions. Scant attention was paid to our recommendation then and it is not even remembered for us by the protagonists of a later time. In all our efforts to conciliate Ulster and to allay the alarms it undoubtedly felt owing to the growth and aggressiveness of the Catholic Order of Orangeism, we never received encouragement or support from the Government or the Irish Party. On the contrary, they denounced as treason to Ireland the proposal made by us that for an experimental term of five years the Ulster Party, which would remain in the Imperial Parliament, should have the right of appeal as against any Irish Bill of which they did not approve, the decision to be given within one month. This, we held, would have been a more effectual safeguard than any proposed since to satisfy Irish Unionists that legislative oppression would have been impossible.
Other proposals of a representation in the Irish Parliament proportioned to their numbers and of guarantees against the establishment of any Tammany system of spoils in favour of the secret sectarian association were also submitted. But all our overtures for a peace based on reasonable concessions were repudiated by the official Party and contemptuously rejected by them and we were held up to public obloquy as proposing to subject Ireland to the veto of fourteen Orangemen.
In the early stages of the opposition to Home Rule, curiously enough Sir Edward Carson did not count as a figure of any particular power or malignancy. True, he had his early period of notoriety in Ireland when he acted as a Crown Prosecutor under the Crimes Act. But when he transferred his legal and political ambition to England it is alleged that he was for a season a member of the National Liberal Club and was thus entitled to be ranked as a Liberal in politics. Whether through conviction or otherwise, his allegiance appears to have been promptly and permanently transferred to the Unionist Party, but even then he was in no sense regarded as an Ulster Member - he is himself a Southern Irishman by birth - and in the House of Commons comported himself as a good Unionist, holding office as such. It was only when the Irish Party set their faces sternly against any concessions to Ulster that Sir Edward Carson stepped into the breach and came to the front as the duly elected leader of the Ulster Party. It is the sheerest nonsense and pure ignorance of the facts to say that Sir Edward Carson created the Ulster difficulty. It was created by the statesmen and politicians who, in the words of Viscount Grey, "did not sufficiently realise the absolute necessity of taking into consideration the feeling of Ulster." When the full history of this period is written, and when documents at present confidential are available, I believe it will be shown that if the concessions and safeguards suggested by the All-for-Ireland Party had been offered by the Government or the Irish Party in the earlier stages of the Home Rule controversy they would have been, in the main, acceptable to Ulster Unionist opinion. I well remember Mr (now Mr Justice) Moore declaring, from his place on the Ulster benches:
"My friends and myself have always marvelled at the fatuity of the Irish Party in throwing over the member for the City of Cork (Mr William O'Brien) when he had all the cards in his hands."