The Government and the Press of this country always maintain that the Irish question is a purely domestic one in which foreign Governments and nations have no concern. Technically this is true, for even the Covenant of the League of Nations is so drawn as to give to oppressed nationalities no right of appeal to the League; but, in fact, foreign opinion is not indifferent to the Irish question, and as opinion influences policy, the question of Ireland is really of international importance, for our relations to other States are being affected, and must be affected, by the way we handle it.
During the last year or two Ireland has been flooded with correspondents of foreign newspapers, and they have kept their readers well informed of the progress of events. The riots, burnings, arrests, the long martyrdom of the Mayor of Cork, his death and his funeral, the whole series of tragic events, have been written up, photographed, and made the subject of political cartoons. The fact that we are in alliance with what are claimed to be the more liberal Powers in Europe has imposed a certain restraint on the comments of their Press, but it is sufficiently clear that our Irish policy has furnished a welcome weapon to those who hate us, while it has disgusted and alienated the Liberal, Labour, and Socialist Parties of foreign countries. Especially has it had this effect on Roman Catholics, that is, on a large and influential part of the people of France, Italy, and Belgium. It is not pleasant for an Englishman to read the more outspoken comments of foreign opinion on the Irish policy of our Government, and it is less pleasant because he knows that there is nothing to be said in excuse or palliation.
Perhaps the most remarkable foreign manifesto on the Irish question was the letter addressed to Cardinal Logue and the Bishops of Ireland by Cardinal Mercier, who made the famous protest against German atrocities in Belgium, and by five other Belgium Bishops:—
“We hasten to tell you,” says that this document, “that our hearts are with you, sharing not only in your anxieties and sorrows but in your invincible hopes….. What is your history but the long Calvary of a people incessantly betrayed, despoiled, starved, but ever unfailing in its faith and in its passion for liberty.
“Several months have already passed since the Primate of Ireland said, without doubt or hesitation, to his compatriots: ‘We condemn crime from whatever side it comes,’ but at the same moment he condemned, and at this moment the Irish episcopate condemns with him, the murders, the raids, the burnings, the violences of every kind which are daily repeated in your country places, your villages and towns, giving rise to general disorder and anarchy. Such a state of things will not last long; the British Government will not tolerate it. We range ourselves by your side in the demand that a Tribunal of Inquiry of unquestioned impartiality be instituted for the purpose of reassuring the public conscience. We have not forgotten that the British Government was the first to espouse the cause of light with us when our country was subjected to an unjust aggression and the atrocities of an invader without conscience. On the day when the inquiry which you solicit shall have established that the people of Ireland see not injustice, but liberty and its rights, a new era of consolation and hope shall open for you. We who, to-day, associate ourselves cordially with you in your trial, shall not fail to share in your consolation and your joy.”
This letter of Cardinal Mercier and his colleagues was published in full in the organ of the Vatican, which approved its sentiments and trusted (not very wisely) that “its eloquence and justice will move the hard hearts of the English Cabinet.”
The letter we have cited, while clearly condemning the Irish policy of the Government, avoids direct and provocative attack. Writers in the Press show less reserve; they point out how inconsistent is the British treatment of Ireland with all our professions about the right of small nations.
“Ireland, like Egypt, is a nation which demands to exercise the right of a people to dispose of itself. What has Mr. Lloyd George to reply to that? Has he not admitted this principle of self-determination? Did he not formulate it? Has it not been continually on his lips? Are there then two morals according to him, one for the conquerors, the other for the vanquished?” — Le Populaire de Nantes, 28th August, 1920.
“Since the insurrection of 1916, and above all since the armistice of 1918, England has had plenty of time to rectify her Irish policy, to apply in her own case that respect for nationality which she claimed to impose on others. But she has only showed, like so many other Powers, the fundamental hyprocrisy of her policy. The right of nationalities in her hands was nothing but a tactical weapon.
She employed it to raise against her enemies the populations they had enslaved. She reserved the power to maintain, to her own profit, servitudes which seemed to her useful.” — Humanité, October 26th, 1920.
As might be supposed, these foreign critics do not fail to draw a parallel between the treatment of her subject nations by Germany and the treatment of Ireland by the English. Thus the special correspondent of the Matin (which is the Daily Mail of France) writes:—
“How is it possible that a country which is the home of liberty should, by a sort, of automatism, persist in a policy which produces the opposite of what it intends and recalls the worst follies of the Germans in Alsace Lorraine and Poland?” —Le Matin, 6th September, 1920.
Here is an extract from an Italian organ:—
“Speaking on the 29th July, Mr. Lloyd George said:
‘Poland has chosen her own Government by universal suffrage, and it would be intolerable that any foreign nation should impose on her a Government that she does not want.’ The same man who spoke these words is now trying with constantly increasing violence to prevent catholic Ireland from choosing the free form of Government that its heroic and truly martyred people has shown that it desires with a unanimity that is not to be found in Poland or in Bohemia or in any other small nation.” — La Liguria del Populo, 1920.
The Italian paper already quoted says of the sack of Lahinch:—
“This horrible slaughter, this ferocious sacking, this cruel torture, was not the work of the German Kaiser, nor of the Huns, nor of the Turks, but of the agents of that same Lloyd George who has so constantly preached the rights of nations….. Perhaps some European Power will protest — some one of those Powers that expressed such indignation at the crimes committed against Serbia and the Belgians.” — La Liguria del Populo, November 30th, 1920.
The opinion of Europe, perhaps a Government and a House of Commons so indifferent to honour and right as that which now rules us may think they can afford to ignore, since with France they dominate, for the time being, the political situation. It is otherwise with American opinion. The Irish in America are the avengers of the Irish in Ireland, and they are by no means impotent. At every election their vote must be placated, and their vote, like their influence, is steadily cast against England. In America, as on the Continent of Europe, our doings in Ireland have been widely advertised by the Press, and the effect is to be seen in demonstrations which no serious statesman can ignore.
In March, 1918, the American House of Representatives passed a resolution in favour of a free and independent Ireland by 216 votes to 41.
In June, of the same year, the Senate passed a similar resolution with only one dissentient.
In the same year an American deputation visited Ireland and published a report, the accuracy of which indeed was challenged, but which had, as it was intended to have, the effect of inflaming American opinion. The Irish in America carried on a violent agitation against the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles, and it is generally admitted that that agitation was not without effect on the event. Recently, De Valera, the President of the Sinn Fein Republic, has been conducting an agitation throughout the United States against the British Government, and in favour of an independent Ireland.
It is well known also that Canada, Australia, and New Zealand look with disgust upon our policy of coercion, and cannot understand why Ireland should be denied the status they themselves possess. The policy of the Government in Ireland is alienating from this country the great new democracies of the world, and that fact constitutes a far greater danger to us than any that could arise from a free Ireland. Friendly co-operation between ourselves, our Self-governing Dominions, and the United States is a cardinal point for our security. Yet this the present Government is deliberately sacrificing by its obstinacy in pursuing in Ireland a policy of military domination. Such a policy cannot ever succeed in destroying the aspiration of Ireland for liberty until it has massacred the whole Irish people, and even then their ghosts will arise in America to avenge her. But it can succeed, and it is succeeding, in embroiling us with the democracies of the new world as well as with all liberal opinion in Europe.
We shall pay dearly in international friction, perhaps in our own ruin, for this attempt to emulate in Ireland the conduct of Germany in Poland and in Belgium.
SAVE BRITAIN’S HONOUR.