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IT WOULD be a great mistake to suppose that the Irish are not one people. In Ireland as everywhere there are sharply marked differences between northern and southern and between townsman and countryman; and these are somewhat accentuated by the fact that our north is more town-dwelling and industrial than the south. But a southern Irishman has much more affinity with a northern than either has with an Englishman. There is of course a special resemblance to the Scotch among Ulster folk, and naturally, for Scotland was colonized and conquered by Gaels from Ulster ten centuries before Ulster was conquered and "planted" with Scotch--many of them descended from the original Gaels. Sir James Craig, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, is no doubt descended from the planters; but he has a good Gaelic name, and one of the best known Gaelic speakers and writers in Ulster was a Craig and a Catholic. Two of the most prominent Ulstermen in the Imperial Parliament, Mr. Ronald McNeill and Sir Malcolm Nacnaghten, descend from clansmen of the Antrim Glens, who indeed came across from Scotland some centuries ago, but came as Catholic Gaels. It is not race that divides us.
Nor is it a lack of pride in country. Sir James Craig, and there could be no figure more typical of Ulster, considers himself just as good an Irishman as any Nationalist. I affirm this because he once invited a friend of mine, an old ex-Fenian in Redmond's party, to drink a glass with him in the House of Commons smoking-room and then solemnly opened their discourse by this asseveration. There is nothing to be surprised at. Every Irishman worth his salt prides himself on being as good an Irishman as any other, Unionist or Nationalist, Protestant or Catholic. What is more, every good Irishman, and for the matter of that every Irish person, good or bad, hates to see Ireland divided. But they differ profoundly as to how it should be united. Men like Sir James Craig would desire to see it, as Scotland is, integrally part of the United Kingdom. They would tell you, and with great justification, that Scottish nationality is as well marked as the Belgian, for example. And if union had been extended to Ireland, as was proposed by those who were then legally entitled to speak for Ireland, at the date of the Scottish Act of Union, and on similar terms--terms very considerate to the weaker contracting party--it is probable that Ireland's evolution might have been like that of the other nation in which the Gaelic strain was strong. But the policy would have needed to be carried out in the same spirit. In Scotland territorial power and social prestige were left very largely with the nobles of the old Gaelic clans. In Ireland all that could be taken from the Gaelic nobility was taken away. Where disaffection to the ruling powers lasted in Scotland it was skilfully conjured away. There was an appeal to Scottish pride when the kilt became a glory of the British Army; but when the Highland regiments were raised most Irishmen were legally debarred even from enlisting in the ranks.
But why? They were not debarred as Irishmen. They were debarred as Catholics. The Gael, if he became a Protestant as some did, was under no disabilities. What divides us is the state of mind inherited from times when citizenship was the privilege of one religion. Protestant ascendancy was adopted as a principle of British policy in the seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth it had unrestricted play in Ireland, where the mass of the people were Catholic. In the nineteenth century, and in the twentieth, the law was altered, after violent struggles, till the principle ceased to have any legal application, beyond that of the Protestant succession to the throne. But in practice Protestant ascendancy existed throughout the whole of Ireland fifty years ago; and the problems of Irish politics still present themselves in terms of ascendancy. There is a difference. Catholics have been content to ask for the application of ordinary democratic principles--naturally, for they are the majority; but also, the fact that many Nationalist leaders have been drawn from Protestant Ireland--including Parnell, the greatest of them all--has given a reality to their constantly affirmed desire that there shall be no prejudice against any creed. But it is not very cynical to suppose that if Catholics had been for two centuries and a half the privileged minority, holding most of the property and having a much higher average standard of education and consequently of efficiency, they, like the Protestants, would have regarded ascendancy as their natural inheritance.
Be this as it may, we in Ireland are confronted with the spirit of ascendancy surviving in the Irish Protestants. For political purposes, it is not so crudely expressed. They call, or called, themselves Unionists. Irish Protestants as a whole liked self-government for Ireland when government was placed exclusively in Protestant hands, as was the case under the Irish Parliament of the eighteenth century. But the increasing pressure of the partially enfranchised Catholic majority frightened their leaders into accepting the Act of Union, and in the nineteenth century Irish Protestants learnt to accept the Union as the one possible guarantee against Catholic ascendancy in Ireland. Parliament at Westminster was a Parliament representing an electorate in which Catholics were permanently and decisively outnumbered. In the twentieth century, when it became probable that Great Britain would consent to restore self-government to Ireland, on a modern democratic basis, Irish Protestants fought the proposal tooth and nail. Partition was first advocated as a tactical device to defeat Home Rule. Belfast politicians knew enough of Irish sentiment to know that Irish Nationalists would hold passionately to the unity of their country; they knew enough of British sentiment to perceive that the same democratic principles which justified the concession of self-government to the demand of a majority could be invoked to secure maintenance of the British connection when a majority of the inhabitants demanded it; they trusted, rightly, that Britain would impose partition of the island as the price of Home Rule; and they believed that no Irish leader could accept that bargain.
The consequences were different from the forecast. Home Rule was not defeated. But British statesmen came gradually to consider as a serious proposal what was put forward as a mere blocking amendment. Ulster, which began by saying simply, "We won't have it," to all Home Rule proposals, was told that this bald negative could not stand; there must be a constructive policy.
The history is curious. First the Ulstermen demanded that the whole province, containing nine counties, of which three were overwhelmingly Catholic and Nationalist, should be struck out of the operation of Home Rule and should remain as before governed from Westminster. This involved splitting the Irish Unionist forces. Protestants in the south were jettisoned when partition was proposed: for the opposition to Home Rule had come not from Ulster but from Irish Protestants as a whole, with exceptions of a few individuals. Ulster's answer to the protest of southern Unionists was in effect that their proposal would kill Home Rule, as it could not be accepted. But the British Government altered the situation by accepting Ulster's position in so far as it could be upheld on democratic grounds; and they pushed Redmond into consent to a counter-proposal that each Ulster county should be given the right to decide its fate by vote. Four counties out of the nine, containing a large majority of the Ulster population, and the cities of Derry and Belfast, would have been lost to Ireland on this plan; and Redmond never went further than to accept it as a temporary measure for a limited period of years. Sir Edward Carson retorted contemptuously that this was for Ulster sentence of death with a stay of execution. But the whole situation had taken on a new phase. On the one hand, the Nationalist party was shaken to the point of disruption. On the other, the Ulstermen saw that their demand for exclusion of the province went entirely beyond reason; under the electoral arrangements of the moment a majority of the representation of the province at Westminster was voting for Home Rule in 1914. But Ulstermen had pushed their attitude of defiance to actual preparation for armed resistance, and even if their leaders had agreed to accept the plan of county option, the rank and file would have resisted in regard to two border counties, Tyrone and Fermanagh, in which there were roughly speaking 55 Catholics to 45 Protestants though the bulk of the property was in Protestant hands. Civil war was threatened for the sake of these two counties. A conference at Buckingham Palace failed to reach any solution. And then the European War came. The Home Rule Bill became an Act for all Ireland subject to two conditions: first, that it should not be operative till a year after peace had been declared; secondly, that there was to be no coercion of Ulster.
In 1916, after the rebellion of Easter week, attempt was made to bring the Act into operation, with exclusion of part of Ulster; but the negotiation broke down, the Ulstermen insisting that six counties should be left out in permanence, the Nationalists only consenting to five, and that for a limited period unless Parliament should extend it. The excluded Ulster counties were still to be governed directly from Westminster. In 1917-18 an Irish Convention sat, and its proceedings were abortive. But it refused to consider at all seriously the idea of giving to Ulster a local subordinate assembly, like that of Quebec in Canada; and the Ulster representatives did not themselves put forward this, or indeed any constructive proposal.
Redmond died while the Convention was sitting, and his death was followed by England's attempt to enforce conscription, which flung Ireland into violent reaction; and at the General Election which followed the armistice Sinn Fein swept the board outside of Ulster and declared for a Republic. A year passed and it became necessary either to repeal the Home Rule Act or put it in force. But there remained also the necessity of fulfilling the pledges to Ulster. A Coalition Government was now in power, predominantly Tory; the Sinn Fein members having refused to take their seats, Nationalist Ireland was represented at Westminster only by half a dozen men. Recourse was had to the solution which even in a modified form the Convention had rejected. The Lloyd George Ministry decided to bring in a new bill, repealing the Home Rule Act and setting up instead two parliaments of Northern and Southern Ireland, having equal powers, including the right to unite if it so pleased them. A shadowy Council of Ireland, composed of twenty members from each Parliament, was vested with some vague attributes, as the germ of union. Ireland at large repudiated the proposal which never operated outside Ulster. Ulster decided to work the measure which assigned six counties as the area of Northern Ireland. A Unionist Council was held at which delegates from the three counties thrown in with Southern Ireland pleaded for the province to be the area. Had this proposal been pressed in Parliament on behalf of Ulster it would certainly have been carried; the Catholic minority would then have been strong enough to hold some forty percent of the seats and could have hoped by a treaty with Labor to check the party of pure ascendancy. But the Ulster leaders definitely turned it down. They wanted an area in which Protestant ascendancy would be absolutely unchallengeable; but they wanted it as large as possible and so they claimed and got in addition to the four really Protestant counties two others in which the party desiring union with the rest of Ireland was in a definite though not large majority. This arrangement was unjust and resentment against it has embittered the whole question ever since. As a protest against it, the Catholic members returned to the Northern Parliament refused to take their seats and have continued this abstention. In the interval, the system of Proportional Representation introduced by the Act of 1920 has been swept away and constituencies have been redistributed in such a manner that at the next election Catholics will have much smaller representation than their members should receive in fairness.
Of course, there is no mention in legislation of any religious qualification or disqualification; but in Ulster every man's creed is known and noted and ninety-nine men in a hundred vote according to their creed. No proposal is considered on its merits by the individual with reference to his own interests. Some Protestants take sides with the Catholics from Nationalist convictions; some Catholics with the Protestants from Unionist leaning or association. But, broadly speaking, the two strains in the Irish people are still locked in a struggle for ascendancy.
In a sense, Ireland has won, for there is self-government in Ireland. Every part of Ireland is self-governing. Further, England is out of the picture. The whole of Ireland if it chooses can become a self-governed unity at any moment. Yet in a sense also Ulster has won, for Ulster always refused to come under a Dublin Parliament, and it is today partly under the Imperial Parliament and partly under a Parliament of its own.
This principle of two parliaments in Ireland has in a limited sense secured general acceptance. Mr. de Valera while he was in America during the guerilla war against British forces announced the proposal that Ulster should have the status of Quebec. His successors in the leadership have always maintained this offer; and though many people in Ireland regard the duality as wasteful it has full justification. Northern Ireland differs from the rest in that it is industrial and city making. Belfast and to a less degree Derry have been created by the enterprise of industrialists--all of them Protestant. The northern cities are entrepots for trade no less than the southern, but the southern are nothing else, except centers of education and places of residence. The population which created Derry and Belfast is naturally unwilling to allow control of its life to pass to the representatives of a population which has no instinct for the industrial type of society. Again, a Protestant population does not willingly allow education to be controlled for it by Catholics; though on this matter opinion seems rather to be divided into lay and clerical, Church of Ireland and Presbyterian clergy insisting almost as strongly as Catholics on the need for some clerical control.
But the root of the trouble is that Protestants believe themselves to be more efficient, and more efficient because they are Protestants. They are in point of fact more efficient. Belfast merchants beat Dublin merchants in the distributing trade throughout Ireland; they give more satisfaction to Catholic customers and clients; yet for a century and a half at least the distributing trade has been fully open without let or hindrance to Catholics. In the main, Ireland agrees that Northern Ireland being mainly Protestant shall have a legislature to manage its local affairs according to Protestant ideas. They accept this unreservedly for local matters such as Quebec controls.
If Ulster would agree to transfer to an Irish Parliament the powers of central taxation and military control now exercised over Ulster from Westminster, then no question of area would arise. But Ulster refuses. The Free State agrees then, unwillingly, that Ulster shall exercise the option allowed it by the Treaty, but insists on determining according to the Treaty what area Ulster shall be entitled to control. The matter is full of difficulty.
When the Treaty was signed between representatives of the unrecognized Irish Republic and of the British Cabinet, Article XII laid down that, if the Ulster Parliament so chose, the Act giving dominion status to all Ireland should not be applicable to Northern Ireland, provided that a Commission of three should be set up to "determine in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants, so far as may be compatible with economic and geographic conditions, the boundaries between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland."
It was generally anticipated that Ulster would exercise the right of voting out, and it so happened. But I have been assured by many Unionists in Ulster that within the first weeks after publication of the Treaty opinion in the north was trending to the choice which meant giving up representation at Westminster and receiving instead full representation in a Central Irish Parliament. The general approbation with which the Treaty was hailed at first in the south helped this trend. But when opposition led by Mr. de Valera developed in the Dail, Ulster heard one speaker after another justify acceptance of the Treaty merely as a stepping stone to complete separation; and on that path Ulster had no disposition to enter. Then followed a campaign in which the Republican party deliberately tried to provoke England to attempt reconquest of Ireland, and proceeded in the first instance by provocative outrages in the six counties, over which the Irish Provisional Government could exercise no control. In Belfast especially a state of horrible savagery prevailed during the first half of 1922. Murder replied to murder, bombing to bombing. Then civil war broke out in the south and the best proof that the disturbing agents came from the south is that henceforward peace began to settle down on the north. But the early days of the Free State did not furnish much encouragement for any one exempt from its jurisdiction to put himself under it. Mr. Cosgrave and his colleagues by their resolute countering of insurrection earned respect; but the task of restoring order and reestablishing finance has involved drastic measures and heavy taxation which made the Free State Government unpopular; it was open, it still is open, to everyone in Ulster to assert that the Free State totters and that the only alternative government would declare for a republic. Even suppose the Government stable, its annual expenditure still far exceeds its revenue, yet the citizens pay every tax imposed in the British area and an extra sixpence on income tax; they pay twopence for a stamp which north of the border would be only three halfpence; and old age pensions, the benefit most widely appreciated, have been reduced by a shilling a week.
In the face of all this Mr. Cosgrave and his ministers knew that the proposal to transfer unwilling persons from Northern Ireland to the Free State must be open to grave objection. Yet the Free State construction of the Treaty was publicly declared to imply a claim to the whole counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh and also to Derry city; and, stated in its extreme form, it asked also for the southern part of counties Armagh and Down as well. The official demand was simply for a transfer under the terms of the Treaty of territory whose inhabitants might declare a wish to come over; but speakers publicly assumed that a fair construction of the clause would leave Ulster so restricted in area and population that it could not continue to exist as a self-governing state. These declarations very naturally produced in Northern Ireland a disposition which expressed itself in Sir James Craig's refusal to nominate a Commissioner for the task of fixing the boundary. He was, however, willing to cooperate with the Free State in rectifying the frontier by mutual consent without the intervention of a third party, and certain negotiations took place. But the gap was too wide to be bridged.
For more than two years no effective action was taken. The Free State had its hands full of other business, and the Conservative Government in England had every reason to avoid the subject. But when a Labor ministry came in, by tradition hostile to Ulster's pretensions, Mr. Cosgrave was naturally urged to press for a settlement. It was hoped in Ireland either that Labor would force Ulster out of its attitude of defiance; or, if Labor shirked the task, that it would be open to Ireland to say that the Treaty was disregarded and that they were no longer bound by such clauses as have been specially unpopular --for instance, that imposing the oath of allegiance on members of Parliament. Even if a republic were declared, no one thought the British Labor Party would actively oppose the step.
Whatever Mr. Cosgrave's personal view of the expediencies, his position was not strong enough to disregard popular opinion. Ireland held that it would be cowardice and folly to refrain from pressing the legal advantage. Consequently, Great Britain last summer named a commissioner, and, when Ulster renewed its refusal, referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council the question whether the Crown might appoint in default. The Judicial Committee reported that only a fresh Act of Parliament could get over the difficulty; and after vehement opposition from the Conservatives an Act was passed this autumn authorizing the Crown to complete the Commission. The Irish Parliament has also passed this measure and by the time this is printed a third commissioner will have been appointed. The question is, what next?
In the first instance, delay. That in itself is not bad, but delay may breed incidents. How is the Commission to ascertain the wishes of the inhabitants? By plebiscite? In Northern Ireland one may doubt whether the Government will facilitate such a proceeding. In Southern Ireland there would be a different difficulty. Southern Ireland contends that the status of a free dominion was accorded to Ireland as a whole; that the area known as Northern Ireland was granted the power to exclude itself, provided that the people along its border who wished to be in the Free State could transfer themselves. In other words, there were to be no transfers of territory for the Free State, but only transfers to it. They might therefore on principle refuse to allow any plebiscite in their territory, and break with the Commission on this point. But probably while Mr. Cosgrave remains in power they will adhere to his pledge to accept the findings of the Commission and may extend this to mean that the Commission must have power to interpret the Clause under which it acts.
Assuming that it carries through its work, various possibilities present themselves. One is that the transfers proposed may be so slight that Ulster will say, "This is what we always meant." It is possible then that Mr. Cosgrave may say, "We are disappointed but we abide by the decision." If so, there will be a violent clamor headed by the Republicans and backed by all those whom Mr. Cosgrave's ministry has alienated (some by its good qualities, some by its bad) and Mr. Cosgrave may be defeated. If a British Labor Ministry were in power, this result and the return of a Republican Party would be probable. But with Tories in the saddle at Westminster, putting Republicans into power will seem more serious. Nobody in Ireland wants a renewal of fighting, and fighting might come of that.
Finally, there is the chance that the Commission might propose transfers which Ulster would not accept. In that case Sir James Craig has declared in Parliament that he will resign office and take his part in leading the resistance. This speech was not generally approved, because Ulster also is for peace. Yet it would be acted on.
One factor, moreover, exists that was not there ten years ago. Ulster has got self-government; it did not want it; but after trial of it, it has no intention of giving it up. Talk to one of their ministry, and you will find him complaining that the British Treasury is constantly butting in. I said to one that within five years it would have butted them into the Free State if the Free State gave natural forces a chance. He answered, regretfully, that as things were there was no hope of that happening. Again, it is certain that in this year the Free State has won a case against Ulster with the British Parliament as judge. Ulster did its utmost either to prevent the Commission from being set up, or to have it set up with limiting terms of reference. Great Britain as a whole insisted on construing its obligations under the Treaty according to the interpretation put on them by those Irishmen with whom the bargain was made. In a word, Ulster failed to get Parliament to do what Ireland thought unfair. That will have been a disappointment to Ulster--and salutary. Others may follow, if Ulster tries to prevent the Commission from doing its work. If they are merely minor rebuffs, the likelihood is that Ulster in anger against those on whom it counted, may be disposed in mere spleen to draw closer to the Free State. Tactful handling south of the border could do much, and tactful really means generous. For, if the finding is such that Ulster would only submit to it under compulsion, grave harm must follow.
Here is the position. If the British army were withdrawn altogether, it is improbable that the Free State could take one inch of territory by force from the six counties. The effect of the period from 1920 onward, when Ireland was a pandemonium, was to prompt Ulstermen to organize their Protestant population as a military police. The scheme was thought out and directed by a very able soldier, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson. There is, first, a regular constabulary of the old type--men who are professional police, carefully trained to police work, but trained also to the use of arms. These are not a sectarian body and in Ulster they are carrying out the law without fear or favor. Secondly, there are the so-called "B" police, who have a uniform, and a small pay for the period of duty. These enforce the curfew regulation which throughout the whole six counties forbids any movement after midnight. Probably the regulation, now unnecessary, is maintained so as to keep this body active and justify its existence. The "B's" give protection, they maintain order, but they are in practice exclusively recruited from Protestants, and they are really a defense force. Behind them are the "C" police, to which belong nearly all "loyalists" (meaning in practice Protestants of military age). Each man is furnished with a rifle, and is bound to attend a brief period of training yearly. This training given in mass makes the men virtually a militia ready to be called out.
In the event of a collision with the Free State all these forces would be led by men having experience of the European War. A large proportion of the rank and file have been soldiers. That element is present also in the Free State army. But the Free State troops have no single officer accustomed to handling troops on a large scale in actual war, because for political reasons they refused to employ those who offered, or were willing. Also they have no experience of artillery work. The most hopeful fact is that the Free State army since it has had time to organize and discipline itself realizes these aspects of the situation. Recourse to arms is improbable and nobody talks of it except some Ulster politicians who did not see fighting abroad.
Financiers expect a peaceful solution of the immediate problem. But nobody looks for an early readjustment of Ulster's relation to the rest of Ireland. Yet everybody is agreed that unless and until unity of some kind is achieved, Ireland as a whole must labor under a heavy handicap.
For one thing, a customs frontier and two separate fiscal systems are grave inconveniences in so small an island. For another, the present military establishments are a crushing burden. The Free State maintains an army at a yearly cost of nearly four million pounds--more than £1 a head on the population. Its existence is justified at present by the need to preserve internal order: the Republican Party has never renounced the project of upsetting the Free State by physical force. While that army exists, Ulster will remain mobilizable: it may or may not succeed in getting the British taxpayer at large to foot the bill. Taxation pressure is so sharply felt in the Free State that possibly after a period Ireland may disband an army which is not really of service except to reinforce the police; for Ireland is protected against any possibility of British aggression by European and American opinion, best expressed in the registering of the Treaty at Geneva. If the Free State army disappeared, so would the "B" and "C" specials. But the customs barrier is a different affair. Ulster is convinced at present that her interests require a fiscal system identical to that of the United Kingdom. Ireland at large is at present obsessed by a desire to grasp at every symbol of independence: and behind that is the same instinct which today makes all the British dominions maintain a rigid tariff against British imports. Ireland has the same desire to develop a manufacturing industry which outside of Ulster has no considerable being. She is likely to become more protectionist than less, and to desire protection chiefly against British imports. If Ulster ever contemplates coming under a central Parliament of Ireland, she would certainly insist on keeping control of her own tax system and of her fiscal relations with Great Britain.
That contingency is at present remote and will continue remote so long as the rest of Ireland expresses the aspiration to become a separate republic. Ulster (the statutory "Northern Ireland") is linked to the British system by a sense of interest, but more strongly still by a solidarity of sentiment. It is easy to laugh at Ulster "loyalists" who have repeatedly expressed the intention to rebel as an expression of their loyalty; but the sentiment of solidarity is real. According to the best of my observation, it is incomparably more real than the supposed attachment of Nationalist Ireland to the idea of a separate republic. That cry was taken up generally no longer ago than 1918; and it was in the main an expression of violent and angry reaction against British attempts to rule Ireland by force in a period when Britain was everywhere professedly championing the rights of small nationalities. It has infinitely less substance than the desire to see Ireland united.
The matter is complicated, at present, by the question of Gaelic. Our Constitution has affirmed that Gaelic is the national language. Yet there is scarcely one person in a thousand throughout Ireland who cannot speak English and scarcely one in ten who can speak Irish easily. The theorists are at present attempting to spread the use of Irish by all means at the command of Government, and Ulstermen, who in the main are not descended from Gaelic speakers even in a remote past, resent this: they think it an attempt to secure jobs for Catholics by setting up a test which will disqualify most Protestants. But already in the Free State itself there is a reaction against what somebody called 'Gaelic on forced draught." And here also time may remove a good deal that today makes against union. The problem of actual symbols may be more difficult: it will not be easy to combine the Union Jack and the tricolor, and I cannot conceive that either party would surrender its flag.
Thus the obstacles to union in the main are ideals, symbols, pretenses or pretensions, and prejudices: and no one who knows Irish human nature will underrate their stubbornness. Yet the Ulster people who were so ready to fight for the cry "No Home Rule," would fight too, much more stiffly, to retain self-government. Self-government has altered them already; it will alter them much more. And the same is true of the rest of Ireland. Politics in Ireland were passionate for an idea, "Home Rule," or "No Home Rule." But once you begin self-government, issues less abstract set up new cleavages and affinities. In short, political education has now begun seriously in Ireland, both North and South; and only education can get the better of prejudices.
These are stronger among the country folk than the townsmen; the Ulster farmer is even nearer to the seventeenth century mentality than the Belfast shipyard hand. But read Shan Bullock's recent book, "The Loughsiders," one of the best Irish novels ever written: it describes with humor and affection and perfect fidelity a community of Ulster farmer folk among whom there is not one Catholic. Yet their attitude towards the great affairs of life,--the land, marriage, and the law,--is precisely that of Catholic farmers of the class in any adjacent county. They are as Irish as Synge's people, though in a different way. The man of a house dies and he is buried with his Orange sash on him: it is part of his religion, exactly as the Catholic equivalent to him would have the insignia of a Land Leaguer or a Hibernian. Even for Ulster agriculture is the main industry and there is no distinction by provinces in that. In Ulster as elsewhere land tenure is unlike that of England: it is a system of peasant proprietary, imperfectly worked out. At the present moment the Free State offers farmers better terms of state-aided purchase than they get in Northern Ireland. This fact may ease something in the transfer of an agricultural district,--though not much, for at present the burdensome Free State taxation offsets this advantage. Yet, to any unpurchased Ulster tenant, citizenship of the Free State offers one material attraction. Similar inducements may be more widely extended. Ireland's financial embarrassments are temporary. She is really trying to pay off her national debt out of revenue. When income tax is lower--as it is likely to be within five years--in the Free State than in the six counties, union will begin to be seriously considered on all hands.
But not under a republic. Ireland of the Free State claims justly that it shall be free to maintain its own historic national pride and identify itself triumphantly with the close of a long drawn-out struggle in which the weaker nation has won. It must, however, leave to that part which is Irish in a different sense--with three centuries instead of thirty behind it--its own pride both of race and of achievement. The Ulster people will never come in as beaten men. The Ireland which is not Ulster has its very real glories in the past and in the present: Dublin has much to boast of in culture. Yet even in this sense it would be wrong to underrate Belfast. The Ulster theatre has nothing to set against the work of Synge: but its comedies and its actors may fairly stand comparison with most that is to be seen at the National Theatre. Belfast's poet, Richard Rowley, does not approach the class of Yeats, and he is no better than half a dozen of his contemporaries in the South: but he is a poet and he is fully typical of Belfast. On canvas nobody has done for Dublin what William Connor is doing for the northern streets and their inhabitants. Paul Henry, the best landscape painter in Ireland, with not many superiors out of it, paints Connaught by choice; but he is Belfast, born and bred.
Yet the essential is elsewhere. The great linen mills are ugly things, but they represent a perfect application of modern mechanical invention to the trade from which Belfast has grown within a hundred and fifty years from a small town to a great city. There is no ugliness in Belfast's supreme achievement which only began to develop within living memory. I left the harbor on a moonlight night last week and steamed down the Lough past the gigantic frames which cradle the largest and most beautiful works of the shipbuilder: and no man seeing that could fail to understand why this breed of our people in this corner of our island, having such works of skill and energy to show, so little matched elsewhere, should be attached to the system, both commercial and political, under which they have grown to such stature: none need ask why they should be slow to trust control of their destinies to an assembly in which their voice may be overborne by numbers, who have neither competence nor experience in this whole way of life and work. Ulster is too strong, not only in her close and guarded alliance with Great Britain, but in her own self, to be forced into any compact except on her own terms. Yet if there is a sentiment holding Ulstermen back from even a nominal union with their countrymen, there is also a sentiment, obscure but vital, pushing them towards it. The true wisdom for the rest of Ireland is, first, to direct effort to reinforcing this sentiment for unity by a clear perception of material interest, and, next, to seek to reconcile Ulster's pride with their own.
There is no use in looking for that wisdom on the day after a country emerges from such experiences as Nationalist Ireland has known, if only since 1918. We shall have to grow into it. But for my own part I think it will come: because I believe that the aspirations of the ordinary Ulsterman for his country are very much liker those of the ordinary Irishman in Dublin and Cork than would appear from a study of what is uttered by the zealots, whether Orange or Republican, North or South.
P. S. The British elections have probably improved the chances of peace in Ireland. No doubt a section of the swollen Tory representation will demand that this parliament go back on its forerunner's decision and by some means lay it down that detailed rectification of the boundary by small alterations is the scope of the Commission's task. Ulster, by raising technical or legal difficulties in the way of the Commission's work, may contrive to bring the issue before Parliament. But the British electorate has voted for a quiet life. Everybody knows that any rescinding or modification of the Act which enabled the late ministry to fill up the Commission and bring it into operation would make President Cosgrave's position impossible. This would be taken in Ireland--and perhaps outside Ireland--as a deliberate tampering with the Treaty. I do not believe that Mr. Baldwin or his colleagues will risk incurring that reproach.
Setting aside this possiblity, it is certain that no finding of the Commission will meet with resistance from Ulster. Ulster Loyalists construe loyalty as the duty of rendering obedience to a British government--unless it consists of Labor and Liberal members, because these, being Home Rulers, are "disloyal." There is no chance of a situation arising in which the British Government will need to force the Ulster Government into evacuating territory by even a show of British troops.
On the other hand, even if the Commission's findings prove unacceptable to southern Ireland there is little likelihood that a wave of resentment, real or fictitious, will throw out Mr. Cosgrave (who has declared in advance his determination to abide by the finding) and put in some other ministry pledged to declare the Treaty broken. There would have been a temptation to this with either a Labor or a Liberal Ministry in power, because Irish opinion generally believed that such a ministry would take no drastic action in reply. Ireland is quite aware that a strong Tory ministry will take whatever action is necessary to enforce observance of the Treaty. Such action need not be military. To close the British ports against all imports from the Free State would probably suffice--Britain being virtually Ireland's sole market.