CHAPTER XXIII. CARSON, ULSTER AND OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
With the nearness of the time when Home Rule must automatically become law, unless something happened to interfere, events began to move rapidly. The Tory Party, largely, I believe, through political considerations, had unalterably taken sides with Ulster. The Liberal Party were irresolute, wavering, pusillanimous. Mr Redmond's followers began to be uneasy - they commenced to falter in their blind faith that they had only to trust Asquith and all would be well.
"In the Ancient Order of Hibernians," Mr Henry tells us, "all sections of Sinn Fein, as well as the Labour Party, saw a menace to any prospect of an accommodation with Ulster. This strictly sectarian society, as sectarian and often as violent in its methods as the Orange Lodges, evoked their determined hostility."
"This narrowing down," wrote Irish Freedom (the organ of Mr P. H. Pearse and his friends), "of Nationalism to the members of one creed is the most fatal thing that has taken place in Irish politics since the days of the Pope's Brass Band," and the Ancient Order was further referred to as "a job-getting and job-cornering organisation," as "a silent, practical riveting of sectarianism on the nation." The Irish Workerwas equally emphatic. "Were it not for the existence of the Board of Erin the Orange Society would have long since ceased to exist. To Brother Devlin and not to Brother Carson is mainly due the progress of the Covenanter Movement in Ulster."
Though no doubt in Ireland religion exercises a considerable influence, it is nevertheless a mistake to think that it was purely a question of religion with those redoubtable Northern Unionists whom Sir Edward Carson led. They attached more importance to their political rights and independent commercial position, which they believed to be endangered; corruption in matters of administration was what they were most in dread of. The Irish Party used to point proudly to the number of Protestants who had been elected as members of their Party. The reply of Ulster was that they owed their election to their accommodating spirit in accepting the Parliamentary policy and not because of their rigid adherence to Protestant principles.
Then came the Lame gun-running expedition, when the Fanny sailed across from Hamburg, under the noses of English destroyers and men-of-war, and, it is said, with the knowledge and connivance of the officers commanding them, safely landed 50,000 German rifles and several million rounds of ammunition, which were distributed within twenty-four hours to the Covenanters throughout the Province. It is clear that at this time extensive negotiations were going on between Germany and the Ulster extremists. The Ulster Provisional Government were leaving nothing to chance. History is entitled to know the full story of all that happened at this most fateful period - what "discussions" took place between the Ulster leaders and the Kaiser, how far Sir Edward Carson was implicated in these matters and how real and positive is his responsibility for the world war that ensued. And it should be borne in mind that these seditious traffickings with a foreign state were going on at a time when there was no Sinn Fein army in existence, and that the man who first showed a readiness not alone to invoke German aid but actually to avail himself of it, was not any Southern Nationalist rebel leader but Sir Edward Carson, the leader and, as he was called, "the Uncrowned King" of Ulster. When critics condemn the Nationalists of the South for their alleged communications with Germany, let them not, in all fairness, forget Sir Edward Carson was the man who first showed the way. To whom then - if guilt there be - does the greater guilt belong? When the news of this audacious gun-running expedition was published, Ireland waited breathless to know what was going to happen. Warships were posted on the Ulster coast, ostensibly to stop further gun-running, and the Prime Minister announced in the House of Commons that "in view of this grave and unprecedented outrage the Government would take appropriate steps without delay to vindicate the authority of the law."
But in view of what The Westminster Gazette termed "the abject surrender to the Army" of the Government over the Curragh incident, when officers were declared to have refused to serve against Ulster, not much in the way of stern measures was to be expected now. The Government on the occasion of the Curragh incident had declared: "His Majesty's Government must retain their right to use all the forces of the Crown in Ireland or elsewhere to maintain law and order and to support the civil power in the ordinary execution of its duty. But they have no intention whatever of taking advantage of this right to crush political opposition to the policy or principles of the Home Rule Bill."