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Against Home Rule: the case for the Union (Author: Arthur J. Balfour (et al.))


Preface by the Right Hon. A. Bonar Law, M.P.

This book, for which I have been asked to write a short preface, presents the case against Home Rule for Ireland. The articles are written by men who not only have a complete grasp of the subjects upon which they write, but who in most cases, from their past experience and from their personal influence, are well entitled to outline the Irish policy of the Unionist Party.

Ours is not merely a policy of hostility to Home Rule, but it is, as it has always been, a constructive policy for the regeneration of Ireland.

We are opposed to Home Rule because, in our belief, it would seriously weaken our national position; because it would put a stop to the remarkable increase of prosperity in Ireland which has resulted from the Land Purchase Act; and because it would inflict intolerable injustice on the minority in Ireland, who believe that under a Government controlled by the men who dominate the United Irish League neither their civil nor their religious liberty would be safe.

To create within the United Kingdom a separate Parliament with an Executive Government responsible to that Parliament would at the best mean a danger of friction. But if we were ever engaged in a great war, and the men who controlled the Irish Government took the view in regard to that war which was taken by the same men in regard to the Boer War; if they


thought the war unjust, and if, as under the last Home Rule Bill they would have the right to do, they passed resolutions in the Irish Parliament in condemnation of the war, and even sent embassies carrying messages of goodwill to our enemy, then this second Government at the heart of the Empire would be a source of weakness which might be fatal to us.

The ameliorative measures originated by Mr. Balfour when he was Chief Secretary, and which culminated in the Wyndham Purchase Act, have created a new Ireland. Mr. Redmond, speaking a year or two ago, said that Ireland "was studded with the beautiful and happy homes of an emancipated peasantry." It is a true picture, but it is a picture of the result of Unionist policy in Ireland, a policy which Mr. Redmond and his friends, including the present Government, have done their best to hamper. The driving power of the agitation for Home Rule has always been discontent with the land system of Ireland, and just in proportion as land purchase has extended, the demand for Home Rule has died down. The Nationalist leaders, realising this, and regarding political agitation as their first object, have compelled the Government to put insurmountable obstacles in the way of land purchase, not because it had not been successful, but because it had been too successful.

The prosperity and the peace of Ireland depend upon the completion of land purchase, and it can only be completed by the use of British credit, which in my belief can and ought only to be freely given so long as Ireland is in complete union with the rest of the United Kingdom. In the present deplorable position of British credit the financing of land purchase would be difficult; but it is not unreasonable to hope that the return to power of a Government which would adopt sane financial methods


would restore our credit; and in any case, the object is of such vital importance that, what ever the difficulties, it must be our policy to complete with the utmost possible rapidity the system of land purchase in Ireland.

It will also be our aim to help to the utmost, in the manner suggested in different articles in this book, in the development of the resources of Ireland. The Nationalist policy, which is imposed also on the Radical Party, is in fact more politics and less industry. Our policy is more industry and less politics. The strongest objection, however, and, in my opinion, the insurmountable obstacle to Home Rule, is the injustice of attempting to impose it against their will upon the Unionists of Ulster. The only intelligible ground upon which Home Rule can now be defended is the nationality of Ireland. But Ireland is not a nation; it is two nations. It is two nations separated from each other by lines of cleavage which cut far deeper than those which separate Great Britain from Ireland as a whole. Every argument which can be adduced in favour of separate treatment for the Irish Nationalist minority as against the majority of the United Kingdom, applies with far greater force in favour of separate treatment for the Unionists of Ulster as against the majority of Ireland.

To the majority in Ireland Home Rule may seem to be a blessing, but to the minority it appears as an intolerable curse. Their hostility to it is quite as strong as that which was felt by many of the Catholics of Ireland to Grattan's Parliament. They, too, would say, as the Catholic Bishop of Waterford said at the time of the Union, that they "would prefer a Union with the Beys and Mamelukes of Egypt to the iron rod of the Mamelukes of Ireland."


The minority which holds this view is important in numbers, for it comprises at the lowest estimate more than a fourth of the population of Ireland. From every other point of view it is still more important, for probably the minority pays at least half the taxes and does half the trade of Ireland. The influence and also the power of the minority is enormously increased by the way in which its numbers are concentrated in Belfast and the surrounding counties.

The men who compose this minority ask no special privilege. They demand only and they will not demand in vain that they should not be deprived against their will of the protection of British law and of the rights of British citizenship.