CHAPTER XXIII. CARSON, ULSTER AND OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

As Mr Balfour was not slow in pointing out, this statement made "it impossible to coerce Ulster." The officers who had refused to obey orders, including General Gough, were in effect patted on the back, told they were splendid fellows, and that they would not be asked to march against Ulster. It was the same thing over again in the case of the Fanny exploit, Sir Edward Carson unblushingly improving the occasion by laying stress on the weakening of Great Britain's position abroad that followed as a consequence of his own acts. The Irish Party leaders, who had a few months before still persisted in describing the Ulster preparations as "a masquerade" and "a sham," were now in a state of funk and panic. They found the solid ground they thought they had stood on rapidly slipping from under them. There was to be no prosecution of the Ulster leaders, no proclamation of their organisation, nothing to compel them to surrender the arms they had so brazenly and illegally imported.

Why was not Carson arrested at this crisis, as he surely ought to have been by any Government which respected its constitutional forms and authority, not to speak of its dignity? Captain Wedgwood Benn having in the Parliamentary Session of 1919 taunted Sir Edward Carson with his threat that if Ulster was coerced he intended to break every law that was possible, there followed this interchange:

Sir E. Carson: I agree that these words are perfectly correct.

A Labour Member: Anyone else would have been in prison.

Sir E. Carson: Why was I not put in prison?

Mr Devlin: Because I was against it.

Well may Mr Devlin take all the credit that is due to him for preventing Sir Edward Carson's arrest, considering that he and his Order had been mainly the cause of bringing Carson to the verge of rebellion, but that gentleman himself seems to have a different opinion about it if we are to put any credence in the following extract from Colonel Repington's Diary of the First World War, under date 19th November 1915:

"Had a talk with Carson about the Ulster business. He was very amusing and outspoken. He told me how near we were to an explosion, that the Government had determined to arrest the chief leaders; that he had arranged to send the one word H.X. over the wire to Belfast and that this was to be the signal for the seizure of the Customs throughout Ulster. He called to see the King and told Stamfordham exactly what was going to happen and the arrest of the leaders was promptly stopped."

Note the scandalous implication here! What does it amount to? That Sir Edward Carson went to Buckingham Palace, held the threat of civil war over the King, and intimidated His Majesty into using his exalted office to screen the Orange leader and his chief advisers from prosecution! If it does not bear this meaning, what other can it bear? And what are we to think of its relation to constitutional authority and right usage?

But this is not the only occasion on which Sir Edward Carson shows up in Colonel Repington's pages. Under date 19th October 1916:

"Carson told me that a man who had been on board the Fanny was writing the story of the famous voyage and the gun-running exploit."

We have not got that story yet. When it is published it would be an advantage if we could also have the full account of the circumstances under which Baron von Kuhlman went over to Ireland to prospect as to the imminence of civil war, who it was he saw in Ulster, what arrangements and interviews he had with the Ulster Volunteers and their leaders, who were the other prominent people he met there and, above all, how the Fanny's cargo of German rifles was arranged and paid for? Surely these are questions vital to an understanding of the extent of Sir Edward Carson's culpability for the outbreak of war.

Loyalist Ulster - the Ulster of law and order - was now openly defiant of the law. Mr P.H. Pearse summed up the situation rather neatly in an article in Irish Freedom:

"One great source of misunderstanding" (he wrote) "has now disappeared; it has become clear within the last few years that the Orangeman is no more loyal to England than we are. He wants the Union because he imagines it secures his prosperity, but he is ready to fire on the Union flag the moment it threatens his prosperity.... The case might be put thus: Hitherto England has governed Ireland through the Orange Lodges - she now proposes to govern Ireland through the Ancient Order of Hibernians. You object: so do we. Why not unite and get rid of the English? They are the real difficulty; their presence here the real incongruity."