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POPULAR newspaper correspondents whose regular station is London are largely responsible for the misconception in this country of the position of Ireland in the present war. They have gone over to Dublin for a few days, stressed the absence of darkened streets and air raids, talked to a few very cautious officials, listened to ironical or jocular comments in bars and clubs, and have solemnly reported that the Irish are hopelessly, short-sightedly and incredibly irresponsible. The same story, more or less, was told during the last war, despite the fact that, without conscription, Ireland contributed some half a million men to the British army, afterwards organized a memorial to fifty thousand dead, and has today at least two hundred thousand ex-service survivors.
From these newspaper reports one rarely gathers that British troops are in Ireland -- Northern Ireland -- and that Britain is in complete control of that part of the island, where three famous Irish regiments have their headquarters. The six counties of Northern Ireland are actually at war with Germany. Yet, as in the previous war, although the Imperial Parliament is legally empowered to impose it, there is no conscription in these six counties. They were expressly excluded from the terms of the conscription act for the simple, if paradoxical, reason that Mr. de Valera objected. He pointed out that the 400,000 Catholics who compose one-third of the population of Northern Ireland would resist conscription. Thus once again was exposed the myth of the homogeneous loyal body in the North, the myth upon which the partition of Ireland was based.
However, while imperial defense is strictly within the province of the Imperial Parliament, local defense is a transferred power, controlled by the Belfast parliament. The late Lord Craigavon, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, decided to recruit the Ulster Defense Force, the equivalent of the Home Guard in the United Kingdom, as an auxiliary of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. This aroused criticism and complaints from all sections of opinion in Northern Ireland. The question at once arose as to where the powers of the R. U. C. Inspector-General began and those of the general in command of the British military garrison ended. There was a clash between the police and the military over the allocation of arms and equipment. A better way of weakening home defense could not have been devised.
To complicate the situation further, the Ulster Defence Volunteers are attached to the notorious "B Specials," a subsidiary body of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, regarded by all Irish Catholics as a sort of Gestapo. Even when an ex-service, certified machine-gun instructor tried to join up he was refused on the ground that "we want no Papishers." The subject was hotly debated in the Belfast House of Commons, but under the strictly Protestant, totalitarian rule of Lord Craigavon, the Orange prejudice triumphed over home defense. So much so that an appeal was made to Mr. Winston Churchill to assert the statutory control of the Imperial Parliament over military matters in Northern Ireland. Twenty-four Anglo-Irish army officers, politicians and writers signed this remonstrance, among them General Gough, Colonel James Fitzmaurice, the Earl of Antrim, the Duke of St. Albans, the Earl of Ossory, Major General Charles Gwynn, Major General Hugh Montgomery, Mr. Sean Leslie, Mr. Robert Lynd and Mr. Stephen Gwynn. The diversity of politics and religion between the signers is plain. General Gough was an Ulster hero in 1914, when he refused to use the army against Ulstermen who had organized an armed revolt against Home Rule under the leadership of Lord Carson and Lord Craigavon. The Earl of Antrim, Clerk of the House of Commons, is now serving in the Royal Navy. Captain Stephen Gwynn, who served in the last war, was a member of the old Nationalist Party at Westminster and is one of a distinguished Protestant family in Dublin.
None of these people are either Orange bigots or irreconcilable Catholics. In their appeal they said that the Royal Ulster Constabulary had "incurred the odium attaching to a political police force of the type familiar on the Continent of Europe rather than the general popularity and respect possessed in the fullest measure by the Home Guard throughout the remainder of the United Kingdom." They warned that clashes on the border of Northern Ireland and Eire "may result from the activities of this large force directed by local civilian or police officials without regard to considerations of British policy as to external affairs, or to British military arrangements designed to conform to the requirements of that policy." In conclusion they said: "We deem it our duty to submit these facts in full confidence that in the realization of them you will find instant cause for curative action for the sake of all the supreme interests entrusted to your keeping." Since 1921 the number of B Specials had been doubled, bringing them to 25,000, even before the question of a home defense force arose; in the past year they have again more than doubled and must now number at least 50,000.
The financial structure of Northern Ireland is not self-supporting. The British Exchequer has made itself liable for the budgetary deficiencies of the Six Counties. Therefore the Government of Eire maintains that the British Government is legally and actually responsible for Northern Ireland, its B Specials and the suppression of its very large Nationalist minority. But Lord Craigavon was sure of British support for the Orange lodges. When Mr. Winston Churchill once tried to address the Ulster Liberal Association in Belfast, he was illegally deprived of the use of the Ulster Hall by Lord Craigavon and his Orange cohorts and had to speak in a football field in the Catholic Nationalist quarter. Reminded of this recently, Lord Craigavon said: "I would do the same again if anyone came here to interfere with the rights of Ulster."
This division of Ireland is the crux of every Anglo-Irish problem. When the partition was made, for example, it was decided to gerrymander Ulster. So as to reduce the large Catholic minority, Donegal, the most northerly county in Ireland, was excluded. It is part of the Free State today. England is thereby deprived of the invaluable harbor of Lough Swilly which, with Bere Haven and Cobh in the south, are the three vital naval bases whose loss Mr. Churchill bemoans. When the Free State Treaty of 1921 was drawn up, control of these bases was reserved, and they were occupied by British naval and military forces. Finally Mr. Chamberlain agreed with Mr. de Valera to hand them over to Irish control, despite the protests of Mr. Churchill, whose arguments for preparedness were consistently ignored by both Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Chamberlain. Now, as seems inevitable in all such Anglo-Irish deals, the world is told that Eire is depriving England of essential bases. The fact that Lough Swilly would now be under British control, but for the anti-Catholic gerrymandering of Ulster, is not mentioned. Three million Irishmen must be wrong, if they are citizens of the Irish Free State, but one and a half million must be right, if they are the Protestant inhabitants of six out of Ulster's nine counties.
Naval strategists very well recall the importance in the last war of Bere Haven in Cork, commanding the seaways around Cape Clear and the south coast; of Cobh, the transatlantic port of call; and of Lough Swilly, commanding the route along the north of Ireland from Scotland to America. Mr. Churchill may describe the loss of these harbors as a "most heavy and grievous burden . . . which should never have been placed on our shoulders." But the Irish point of view is that nothing Irish is a burden on anybody's shoulders, since Ireland is a separate and independent country, which never wished for any connection with Britain, burdensome or otherwise. Unless this basic conviction of the vast majority of the Irish people is understood, the position of the Free State Government will always seem absurd and incomprehensible.
It is frequently asked how the Irish, depending as they do on Britain for their market for foodstuffs, on the British mercantile marine for shipping, on the British Navy for defense against invasion -- how can they refuse to fall in line with the other Dominions? Have they not seen the fate of Denmark, also a small agricultural country? What of Poland, a fighting, Catholic country, whose history has so often paralleled that of Ireland? The Irish have a number of very simple answers. Poland has been partitioned, Ireland is partitioned. They do not notice the faults in the analogy. Racial and religious persecutions are matters of record in Ireland. Irish history is bestrewn with broken treaties and "scraps of paper." The result is that most Irish people have as deep a suspicion of British policy as any Briton has of Hitler. Aside from their own country, the Irish believe only in the United States. During the last war, America could have recruited every able-bodied Irishman. But the bulk of the population could not believe then, and cannot believe now, that the British Empire ever fought for any ideal other than the security of England.
Completely under clerical control today, Eire knows little about Nazism and Fascism. It knows that the Catholic Church favored Franco in Spain and turns a lenient eye on Mussolini. The only people behaving like fascists that the Irish Catholics have ever seen were British Black-and-Tans. And the Orangemen in the North are fascist in the sense that they believe in Protestantism and hate the Papists exactly as Hitler believes in Aryanism and hates the Jews. The Government of Northern Ireland wishes only to suppress Catholic thought, while the Free State Government tries to put down all liberal thought of any kind. As compared with Great Britain or the United States, both are semifascist régimes. Proportional representation was abolished by Lord Craigavon; Mr. de Valera abolished the Dublin Senate. Both interfered with the totalitarian purposes of the respective leaders.
Ireland perfervidly believes in the rights of small nations and has been fighting for that right against England for seven hundred years. This does not mean that the people are interested in parliamentary democracy. Too many centuries of tutelage and government by an alien parliament have passed over their heads for them suddenly to believe in and practice something so long denied to them. They have always been devoted to the Führerprinzip, which made the conquest of Ireland possible by setting chief against chief, clan against clan. The Irish are socially and intellectually democratic, but they are contumacious individualists and love a leader, an individual, a man. Their record in American politics readily shows these deep-seated tendencies. Seven hundred years of government by England have left them a very different conception of politics from that gradually achieved by free, self-governing democratic nations.
The methods of Nazism and Fascism have surprised and horrified the democracies. But in Irish eyes Hitler seems to be doing only what Cromwell did at the Massacre of Drogheda in 1649, when he drove the "mere Irish" to "Hell or Connacht;" when he put them outside the pale in their own country; when they were deprived of all human rights until Catholic Emancipation was finally wrung from Queen Victoria's reluctant government. The question of course arises, Why always go back to the seventeenth century? Granted that the mistakes of England in Ireland were inexcusable, still here we are in the year 1940. Do the Irish really believe that Hitler would treat them better than Cromwell did, or Lloyd George? They frankly do not know, although they ought to. They see invaders only as invaders. Their present neutrality is based on their will to resist all invaders.
From the standpoint of world politics, in terms of the existing fight between totalitarianism and democracy, Ireland is heavily handicapped by her extremely self-conscious nationalism. The very modern notion of warfare between ideologies rather than nations has not yet begun to penetrate the Irish mind. This obtuseness derives from the fact that the Irish still envisage war as a struggle between nations for trade and power.
Mr. de Valera, like Mr. Chamberlain, upheld the notion of appeasement at Geneva, where he was popularly admired as an advocate of peace. His sentiments, like those of Mr. Chamberlain, must have been very definitely affected by the disastrous consequences of the Munich policy. He has, however, like all other Irishmen, to take cognizance of the history of Ireland.
It is impossible for any liberal-minded Irishman to have any sympathy for the two semi-totalitarian régimes that govern partitioned Ulster and partitioned Ireland. It is obvious that the defense of the Six Counties should be taken out of the hands of the Orange lodges; there should be no Ulster "Gestapo." If the defense of Northern Ireland were in the hands of British military and naval authorities, whose names are above and beyond the eternal Protestant-Catholic intrigues of the old régime, a first step could be taken towards home defense. The idea of defending Ireland as a whole appeals to all citizens of Eire. As a united country, Ireland will fight. It is not too late to achieve this end. Even today the Irish admit it is better to deal with the devil you know than with the devil you don't know. But there can be no understanding between Northern Ireland and Eire so long as the Orange group that promoted mutiny in the British Army in 1914 is still in power. In order to get coöperation from Eire, Mr. Churchill would be better advised to find out what the Orange Gestapo, which ran him out of Belfast 26 years ago, is trying to do today, rather than fall back on the stereotyped argument that the Irish are impossible.
They are not impossible. They are a people that thoroughly appreciates freedom. They are a people that rather movingly believes in the United States, the country where half their eight million population emigrated. If the United States believes in help for Britain -- every measure short of war -- so does Ireland. The fact that Uncle Sam is on the side of the British battalions means more to Eire than any amount of propaganda about democracy. If the jinx of partition were removed, if it were even modified by the elimination of the Ulster B Specials, a united Ireland would stand with the United States to defeat Hitler.
In many important respects the relations between Britain and Ireland are very different from those that prevailed during the last war. Self-government for Eire has been achieved. Mr. de Valera coöperated with Mr. Chamberlain in that now discredited policy which was to give us peace. Mr. Chamberlain ceded the naval bases to Mr. de Valera, and the English garrisons departed on the friendliest terms with their Irish successors; the relations between the two countries have never been better. Himself an ex-I.R.A. man, Mr. de Valera has denounced the I.R.A. fanatics and taken drastic measures to suppress them in Eire. While recruiting is not permitted in neutral Eire, men have been going to England to join the British army or navy (although they are not allowed to appear in uniform in any part of Ireland outside the Six Counties). All shipping between Britain and Ireland is under British control and most of it actually under the British flag. Freedom of the sea is vital to Irish exports, now of increased importance to England since the elimination of Denmark as a source of agricultural produce; and it is equally vital to Irish imports, which are now almost exclusively from Britain. Ireland has neither the will nor the power nor a motive for helping Germany. Is the neutrality of Eire, therefore, dangerous?
Sir Horace Plunkett once said that Irish history was for Englishmen to remember and Irishmen to forget. Unfortunately, only the Irish ever seem to be sufficiently interested in the history of Ireland to see the country in its true perspective. Have they ever contemplated the possibility of the conquest of England by Hitler and their fate under a Nazi régime? Before they had self-government they not only contemplated it, they actually tried to coöperate with those intent upon the conquest of England. Their efforts to support the Corsican Fuehrer came to no good. And even in the last war, Roger Casement got little encouragement from Germany and was captured as he landed with the message that Sinn Fein could not count on German support.
Last year the Free State Minister for Defensive Measures said that, from Britain's point of view, "it is of infinitely greater strategic importance that this island should be a strong and united neutral, with high morale and a firm purpose, than that it should be a weak and reluctant belligerent torn with doubt and division." This is the plain common sense of the problem. It is useless to speculate as to what a minority of I.R.A. fanatics may wish, or to doubt the sincerity of Mr. de Valera and his people when they strive to keep the horrors of war from their country. Hitler proceeds on the divide-and-conquer principle of all dictators. In Ireland the division stands ready made. To undo the evil work of partition is to unite Ireland. A united Ireland will be no help to Hitler.