CHAPTER XXVIII. THE ISSUES NOW AT STAKE
And now my appointed task draws to its close. In the pages I have written I have set nothing down in malice nor have I sought otherwise than to make a just presentment of facts as they are within my knowledge. It may be that, being a protagonist of one Party in the struggles and vicissitudes of these years, I may sometimes see things too much from the standpoint of my own preconceived opinions and notions. But on the whole it has been my endeavour to give an honest and fair-minded narrative of the main events and movements of Irish history over a period in which I believe I can claim I am the first explorer. There are some subjects which would come properly within the purview of my title, such as the power, province and influence of clericalism in politics, but I have thought it best at this stage, when so many matters are in process of readjustment in Ireland, and when our people are adapting themselves to a new form of citizen duty and responsibility, to leave certain aspects of our public life untouched. It may be, however, if this book meets with the success I hope for it, that my researches and labours in this field of enterprise are not at an end.
All I have now to do in this my final chapter is to summarise some of the issues that present themselves for our consideration. I do not propose to deal with the activities of Sinn Fein since it won its redoubtable victory over the forces of Parliamentarianism as represented by the Irish Party at the General Election. The country turned to it as its only avenue of salvation from a reign of corruption, incompetence and helplessness unparalleled in history. Mr O'Brien and his friends of the All-for-Ireland League, of their own volition, effaced themselves at the General Election. They had striven through fifteen long years, against overwhelming odds and most unscrupulous and malignant forces, for a policy of reason and for the principles of Conference, Conciliation and Consent, as between all Irish-born men and a combination of all parties, Irish and British, for the purpose of effecting a broad and generous National settlement. Had they received that support which the events of the last two years demonstrates could have been had - had the moderate Irish Unionists, and especially the Southern Irish Unionists, the moral courage to declare their views, temperately but unequivocally, as Lord Midleton and others have recently declared them, the tide might easily have been turned and wiser counsels and policies prevailed.
If the great peace pronouncement of Cork City merchants and professional men, made a few months ago on the initiative of Alderman Beamish, had only been arranged when the All-for-Ireland League was founded; if Lord Bandon had then held the meeting of Deputy-Lieutenants he recently convened to declare for Home Rule; if Lord Shaftesbury, three times Lord Mayor of Belfast, had then made the speech he made at the Dublin Peace Conference last year, nothing could have resisted the triumph of the policy of Conciliation, and Ireland would be now in enjoyment of responsible self-government instead of being ravaged as it is by the savagery of a civil war, in which all the usages of modern warfare have been ruthlessly abandoned. It is also to be deplored that Sir Horace Plunkett, who is now the enthusiastic advocate of Dominion Home Rule (and, indeed, believes himself to be the discoverer of it), did not, during all the years when he could potently influence certain channels of opinion in England, raise his voice either for the agrarian settlement or for Home Rule and refused his support, when he was Chairman of the Irish Convention, to Mr W.M. Murphy's well-meant efforts to get Dominion Home Rule adopted or even discussed by the Convention.
Of course this much must be said for the Unionists who have pronounced in favour of Home Rule within the past few years, that they could plead fairly enough that every man like Lord Dunraven, Mr Moreton Frewen, Lord Rossmore, Colonel Hutcheson-Poe, and Mr Lindsay Crawford, who came upon the All-for-Ireland platform from the first, was foully assailed and traduced and had his motives impugned by the Board of Erin bosses, and other Unionists, more timid, naturally enough, shrank from incurring a similar fate.
But these things are of the past, and we would turn our thoughts to the present and the future.
The country, at the General Election of 1918, by a vote so overwhelming as to be practically unanimous, gave the guardianship of its national faith and honour into the keeping of Sinn Fein. This is the dominant fact of the situation from the Irish standpoint. Other considerations there are, but any which leave this out of account fail to grip the vital factor which must influence our march towards a just and durable Irish settlement. Another fact that cannot be lost sight of is that there is a Home Rule Act on the Statute Book. With this Southern Ireland will have nothing to do! Unionists and Nationalists alike condemn it as a mockery of their national rights. But the Orangeman of the Six Counties are first seriously going to work their regional autonomy - they are going to set up their Parliament in Belfast. And once set up it will be a new and vital complication of the situation preceding a settlement which will embrace the whole of Ireland.