The Dawn of the Practical in Ireland (Plunkett, 1904)

1.647-49. Sir Horace Plunkett, Ireland in the New Century, (London: John Murray, 1904), pp.10-12. BL

Extract from Sir Horace Plunkett, Ireland in the New Century (1904).

On the importance of the Land Act (1903), not least within a conciliatory ‘constructive Unionism’, and ‘the dawn of the practical’ in Ireland:

¶¶The reason why I dwell on the true nature of the undoubted change in the Irish situation is not in order to exaggerate the importance of the part played by the new movement in bringing it about, nor to detract from the importance of Parliamentary action, but because a mistaken view of the change would inevitably postpone the firm establishment of an improved mutual understanding between the two countries, which I regard as an essential of Irish progress. I confess that my apprehension of a new misunderstanding was aroused by the debates on the Land Bill in the House of Commons. As regards the spirit of conciliation and moderation displayed by the Irish, and the sincere desire exhibited by the British to heal the chief Irish economic sore, the speeches were, if not epoch-making, at any rate epoch-marking; but they showed little sense of perspective or proportion in viewing the Irish Question, and little grasp or appreciation of the large social and economic problems which the Land Act will bring to the front. Temporary phenomena and legislative machinery have been endowed with an importance they do not possess, and miracles, it is supposed, are about to be worked in Ireland by processes which, whatever rich good may be in them, have never worked miracles, though they have not seldom excited very similar enthusiasms in the economic history of other European lands.
¶¶I agree, then, with most Englishmen in thinking, though for a different reason, that the passing of the Land Act marked a new era in Ireland. They regard it as productive of, or co-incident in time with, the dawn of the practical in Ireland. I antedate that event by some dozen years, and regard the Land Act rather as marking a new era, because it removes the great obstacle which obscured the dawn of the practical for so many, and hindered it for all.
¶¶Whatever may have been the expectations upon which this great measure was based, I, in common with most Irish observers, watched its progress with unfeigned delight. The vast majority regarded the hundred millions of credit and the twelve millions of ‘bonus’ as a generous concession to Ireland; and I sympathised with those who deprecated the mischievous suggestion, not infrequently heard in English political circles, that this munificence was the ‘price of peace.’ On one point all were agreed: the Bill could never have become law had not Mr. Wyndham handled the Parliamentary situation with masterly tact, temper, and ability. To him is chiefly due the credit for the fact that the Land Question, in its old form at any rate, no longer blocks the way, and that the large problems which remain to be solved, and, above all, the spirit in which they will have to be approached by those who wish the existing peace to be the forerunner of material and social progress, can be freely and frankly discussed.