Failure of the Union (Paul-Dubois, 1908)

1.643. L. Paul-Dubois, Contemporary Ireland, with an Introduction by T.M. Kettle, M.P. (Dublin: Maunsel and Company, Ltd.; New York: The Baker and Taylor Co., 1908), pp.514-15. BL

Extract from L. Paul-Dubois, Contemporary Ireland (1908), on the failure of the Union.

This is a passage from the conclusion of Paul-Dubois’s book, in which he reflects on the absolute necessity of an end to British rule in Ireland and the failure of the Act of Union:

¶¶No doubt the obstacles in the road of progress will be many. Were they all surmounted, Ireland would then find herself face to face with the great problem of modern society: how to adapt democracy (in the shape of a democracy of peasants) to the new conditions of life and to the struggle-for-life among the nations. The problem, thus stated, is seen to contain within it many an unknown possibility, many a difficulty that can be forecasted. But if Ireland is to re-make herself, and prosper in the remaking, there is one further condition which must be realised, a condition final, if not primordial, and necessary if not sufficient: autonomy. The Irish people do well to regard national autonomy as a right, and the most inalienable of all rights; they are wrong in regarding it as an end. For freedom is merely a means, but it is the only means by which a nation can attain full development, or live out her life in its integrity. At the bottom of the maladies of Ireland, beneath dissension and fanaticism, wretchedness and decay, lies the fundamental fact of foreign domination. “Not foreign government,” said Wolfe Tone, “but foreign rule is Ireland’s bane.” However just or beneficent, foreign law is hateful because it is foreign. What must be the case then, when it is selfish and oppressive, materially and intellectually ruinous? Ireland needs a guarantee against British exploitation. She must be protected against the drainage — mental, moral, economic and financial — that is exhausting her strength. She needs laws and institutions adapted to her customs and aspirations. She needs a strong government, and a government can be strong only when it is national. So be it! Let the existing regime be reformed, say the Liberal-Unionists, but let the Union be kept and respected. Let Ireland be spared the risks of a freedom for which she has had no preparation. It will be enough to make the Union a reality, to govern the Irish according to Irish ideas, to conciliate them by an intelligent regime of reform and reparation, to do for them wisely and prudently at Westminster what an Irish Parliament, were there one, would do probably in revolutionary fashion at home. Experience unfortunately shows that the profession and the practice of Liberal Unionism have been very different things. Born to political life after 1886, upon the conversion of Gladstone to Home Rule, and the resulting rupture of the Liberal Party, this policy had, for twenty years (with the exception of the short interval 1892-95) a splendid opportunity to apply its doctrines. Home Rule having been rejected, it might have conciliated Ireland by a generous and truly remedial policy, and made of the Rebel Island a Sister Island for all time. But as things turned out, it was not easy to distinguish the Liberal-Unionists, once in power, from the Tories. We will not deny that their influence has counted for something in those measures of concession which Unionist governments have in the last twenty years passed in Ireland’s favour, such as their land laws, their legislation for the Congested Districts, their Local Government Act, and the Agricultural and Technical Instruction Act. But the political result of it all has been merely to put the essential fact of the situation into clearer relief — the impossibility of satisfactorily governing a country against its will — and to make the necessity for Irish autonomy more apparent, more crying than ever. Is not the evidence of experience conclusive, and is it not vain to hope for better results in the future? One hundred and six years have passed, and there was not one promise held out by the Union but has been belied. The case has been heard: Unionism is condemned.