Ireland's Case For Independenc
IRELAND IS A NATION, not merely for the reason which, in the case of
other countries, has been taken as pre-sufficient, that she has claimed at all
times, and still claims to be, a nation, but also because, even though no claim
were put forward on her behalf, history shows her to be a distinct nation
from remotely ancient times.
For over a thousand years Ireland possessed, and fully exercised,
Sovereign Independence, and was recognised through Europe as a distinct
The usurpation of the foreigner has always been disputed and resisted
by the mass of the Irish people.
At various times since the coming of the English the Irish nation has
exercised its sovereign rights as opportunity offered.
The hope of recovering its full and permanent sovereignty has always
been in the breasts of the Irish people, and has been the inspiration and
the mainspring of their political activities, abroad as well as at home.
English statecraft has long and persistently striven in vain to force the
Irish people to abandon hope. The English policy of repression, spiritual
and material, has never been at rest from the first intrusion of English power
until the present day.
English policy has always aimed at keeping every new accretion
of population from without separate from the rest of the nation, and a cause
of distraction and weakness in its midst.
Nevertheless, the Irish nation has remained one, with a vigorous
consciousness of its nationality, and has always succeeded sooner or later in assimilating
to its unity every new element of the population.
The Irish people has never been intolerant towards its minorities, and
has never harboured the spirit of persecution. Such barbarities as punishment
by torture, witch-burning, capital punishment for minor offences, etc., so
frequent in the judicial system of other countries, found no recognition in Irish law
or custom. Twice in the seventeenth century - in 1642-8 and in 1689 - when,
after periods of terrible persecution and deprivation of lands and
liberty [handwritten insertion] the Irish people recovered for a time a
dominant political power, they worked out in laws and treaties a policy of full
religious equality for all dwellers in the island. On each occasion the English
policy, becoming again dominant, subjected the Irish people to further
large confiscations of property, restrictions of liberty, and religious persecutions.
And when, notwithstanding the English policy of maintaining as complete
a severance as possible, Irish Protestants became attracted to the support of
the National cause, the Catholics of Ireland accorded political leadership to
a succession of Protestant Leaders.
The Irish have long been a thoroughly democratic people. Through
their chosen leaders, from O'Connell to Parnell, they have provided the world
with a model of democratic organisation in opposition to the domination
of privileged classes.
If Ireland, on the grounds of National rights, is entitled to recover
her Sovereign Independence - and that is her demand - the recognition of
her right is due from other nations for the following reasons:
(1) Because England's claim to withhold independence from Ireland is
based on a principle which is a negation of national liberty and subversive
of international peace and order. England resists Ireland's demand on the
ground that the independence of Ireland would be, as alleged, incompatible with
the security of England, or of Great Britain, or of the British Empire. Whether
this contention is well or ill-founded, if it is admitted, then any State is justified
in suppressing the independence of any nation whose liberty that State
declares to be incompatible with its own security. An endless prospect of future wars
is the natural consequence.
(2) Because England's government of Ireland has been at all times, and
is conspicuously at the present time, an outrage to the conscience of mankind.
Such a government, especially in its modern quasi-democratic form,
is essentially vicious. Its character at the best is sufficiently described by a
noted English writer, John Stuart Mill:-
The Government of a people by itself has a meaning and a reality; but
such a thing as government of one people by another does not and cannot
exist. One people may keep another as a warren or preserve for its own use, a
place to make money in, a human cattle farm, to be worked for the profit of its
own inhabitants. But if the good of the governed is the proper business of
a government, it is utterly impossible that a people should directly attend to it.'
(Representative Government (1861), ch xviii).
Consequently, the people of England devolve the power which they hold
over Ireland upon a succession of satraps, military and civil, who represent
no interest of the Irish people; and recent events show that the essential vices
of this government are as active now as in former times.
(3) Because the English temper towards the cause of Irish national
liberty produces atrocious and intolerable results in Ireland. Among the results are:
a depopulation unexampled in any other country, howsoever badly
governed; wholesale destruction of industries and commerce; over-taxation on
an enormous scale; diversion of rents, savings, and surplus incomes from
Ireland to England; opposition to the utilisation by the Irish people of the
economic resources of their country, and to economic development and
social improvement; exploitation of Ireland for the benefit of English
capitalists; fomentation of religious animosities; repression of the national
culture; maintenance of a monstrous system of police rule, by which, in the words
of an English Minister, all Ireland is kept 'under the microscope'; perversion
of justice, by making political service and political subservience almost the
sole qualification for judicial positions, by an elaborate corruption of the jury
system, by the organisation of police espionage and perjury, and the encouragement
of agents provocateurs, and recently and at present, by using for the purpose
of political oppression in Ireland the exceptional powers created for the
purposes of the European war. Under these powers military government is
established, some areas being treated as hostile territory occupied in ordinary warfare;
a war censorship is maintained over the press and over publications
generally; printing offices are invaded and dismantled; the police and military
are empowered to confiscate the property of vendors of literature without
any legal process; persons are imprisoned without trial and deported from
Ireland; Irish regiments in the English army are removed from Ireland, and a
large military force, larger than at any previous time with full equipment for
modern warfare, has been maintained in Ireland; civilians are daily arrested and
tried by court-martial, and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
What are England's objections to Ireland's independence?
The one objection in which English statesman are sincere is that which
has been already mentioned - that the domination of Ireland by England
is necessary for the security of England. Ireland, according to the English
Navy League, is 'the Heligoland of the Atlantic,' a naval outpost, to be governed
for the sole benefit of its foreign masters. This claim, if it is valid, justifies not
only the suppression of national liberty, but also the weakening of Ireland
by depopulation, repression of industry and commerce and culture,
maintenance of internal discord, etc. It can also be held to justify the subjugation of
any small nation by a neighbouring great power.
The proximity of Ireland to England furnishes another plea. But Ireland
is not as near to England as Belgium, Holland, Denmark, etc., are to
Germany, Norway to Sweden, Portugal to Spain. In fact, it is this very proximity
that makes independence necessary for Ireland, as the only condition of
security against the sacrifice of Irish rights to English interests.
Another plea is that, England being a maritime power, her safety
depending on her navy, and her prosperity depending on maritime commerce,
the domination of Ireland is for her a practical necessity. This may explain
why Ireland's harbours, the best in Europe, are empty of mercantile shipping,
except for such shipping as carries on the restricted trade between Great Britain
Once more, Ireland protests that the interests of one country, be they what
they may, cannot be allowed to annul the natural rights of another country.
If that claim be admitted, then there is an end to national rights, and all the
world must prepare to submit to armed interests or to make war against them. We
in Ireland are determined not to submit.
We may expect to find the plea insinuated, in some specious form, if
not definitely and clearly made, that the English rule in Ireland has been and
is favourable to the peace, progress, and civilisation of Ireland. We answer
that, on the contrary, English rule has never been for the benefit of Ireland, and
has never been intended for the benefit of Ireland; that it has isolated Ireland
from Europe, prevented her development, and done everything in its power
to deprive her of a national civilisation. So far as Ireland at present is lacking
in internal peace, is behind other countries in education and material progress,
is unable to contribute notably to the common civilisation of mankind,
these defects are the visible consequences of English intrusion and domination.
The Irish people have never believed in the sincerity of the
public declarations of English statesmen in regard to their 'war aims,' except in so
far as those declarations avowed England's part in the war to have been
undertaken for England's particular and Imperial interests. They have never believed
that England went to war for the sake of France or Belgium or Serbia, or for
the protection or liberation of small nationalities, or to make right prevail
against armed might. If English statesmen wish to be regarded as sincere, they
can prove it to the world by abandoning, not in words, but in act, the claim
to subordinate Ireland's liberty to England's security.
Ireland's complete liberation must follow upon the application [of]
President Wilson's principles. It has not resulted from the verbal acceptance of
those principles; and their rejection is implied in the refusal to recognise for
Ireland the right of self-determination. Among the principles declared by
President Wilson, before and since America entered the war, and accepted by
the spokesmen of the chief Allied powers, we cite the following:-
'No peace can rest securely on political or economic restrictions, meant
to benefit some nations and cripple or embarrass others. Peace should rest
upon the rights of peoples, not on the rights of governments - the rights of
peoples, great and small, weak or powerful; their equal right to freedom and
security and self-government, and to participation, upon fair terms, in the
economic opportunities of the world.
What we demand in this war is nothing peculiar to ourselves. It is that
the world be made fit and safe to live in, and particularly that it be made safe
for every peace-loving nation, which, like our own, wishes to live its own
life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by
other people of the world, as against force and selfish aggression.
An evident principle runs through the whole of the programme I
have outlined. It is the principle of justice to all peoples and nationalities, and
their right to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another,
whether they be strong or weak. Unless this principle be made its foundation, no
part of the structure of international justice can stand.'
Speaking on behalf of the American people at New York, on the
27th September, 1918, President Wilson said:-
'We accepted the issues of the war as facts, not as any group of men either here
or elsewhere had defined them, and we can accept no outcome which does
not squarely meet and settle them. These issues are these: Shall the military
power of any nation or group of nations be suffered to determine the fortunes
of peoples over whom they have no right to rule, except the right of force.
Shall strong nations be free to wrong weak nations, and make them subject to
their purposes and interest? Shall peoples be ruled and dominated, even in
their own internal affairs, by arbitrary and irresponsible force or by their own
will and choice? Shall there be a common standard of right and privilege for
all peoples and nations, or shall the strong do as they will, and the weak
suffer without redress? Shall the assertion of right be haphazard and by casual
alliance, or shall there be a common concert to oblige the observance of common rights?
No men, no group of men, chose these to be the issues of the struggle.
They are the issues of it, and they must be settled by no arrangement or
compromise or adjustment of interests, but definitely and once for all, and with a full
and unequivocal acceptance of the principle that the interest of the weakest is
as safe as the interest of the strongest. ...The impartial justice meted out
must involve no discrimination between those to whom we wish to be just and
those to whom we do not wish to be just. It must be justice that plays no
favourites and knows no standards but the equal rights of the several peoples concerned.'
If England objects to the application of those principles to the settlement
of the ancient quarrel between herself and Ireland, she thereby testifies:
(1) That her international policy is entirely based on her own selfish
interest, not on the recognition of rights in others, notwithstanding any professions
to the contrary.
(2) That in her future dealings with other nations she may be expected,
when the opportunity arises, to use her power in order to make her own
interest prevail over their rights.
(3) That her particular object in keeping possession of Ireland is to secure
naval and mercantile domination over the seas, and in particular over the
North Atlantic and the nations which have legitimate maritime interests therein;
ruling Ireland at the same time on a plan of thoroughgoing exploitation for her
own sole profit, to the great material detriment of Ireland, and preventing
the establishment of beneficial intercourse, through commerce and
otherwise, between Ireland and other countries.
It is evident that, while Ireland is denied the right to choose freely
and establish that form of government which the Irish people desires,
no international order can be founded on the basis of national right
and international justice; the claim of the stronger to dominate the weaker
will once more be successfully asserted; and there will be no true peace.
It must be recognised that Ireland has already clearly demonstrated
her will. At the recent general election, out of 104 constituencies (Trinity
College, Dublin, having the power to elect two representatives), 73 returned
Republican Candidates, and 6 returned representatives who, though not Republicans,
will not oppose the free exercise of self-determination by the Irish people. Nor
is there the slightest likelihood that this right will at any time be relinquished.
Here it may be necessary to anticipate special pleas that may be put
forward to the effect that Irish independence may properly be conceded gradually
or that a 'breathing space,' as it is called, ought to intervene. The Irish people will
regard any proposal of this character as deceptive and dangerous. They
are thoroughly capable of taking immediate charge of their national
and international affairs, not less capable than any of the new states which
have been recognised since the beginning of the war, or which are about to
The effect on the world of the restoration of Ireland to the society of
free nations cannot fail to be beneficial. On the part of the nations in general,
this fact will be a guarantee of the new international order, and a reassurance to
all the smaller nations. On the part of England, if justice to Ireland be not
'denied or sold or delayed,' the fact will be an earnest to other peoples,
especially to those whose commerce is borne upon the Atlantic Ocean,
that England's naval power is not hostile to the rights and legitimate interests
of other countries.
Ireland's voice in the councils of the nations will be wholly in favour
of peace and justice. Ireland will have no possessions and no territorial
claims outside her own well-defined geographical bounds. Her liberty cannot
infringe on that of any other people. She will not make any war of aggression or
favour any. The prosperity to which, in remembrance of her unexampled
progress during a brief period of legislative, but not executive independence
(1782-1798), she looks forward confidently, will contribute to the prosperity of all
countries in commercial relation with her.
The longest agony suffered by any people in history will be ended, the
oldest standing enmity between two people will be removed. England will be
relieved of the disgrace she bears in the eyes of all peoples, a disgrace not less
evident to the remote Armenian than to her nearest continental neighbours.
In proportion as England gives earnest of disinterestedness and
good-will, in like proportion shall Ireland show her readiness to join in with England
in allowing the past to pass into history. The international ambition of
Ireland will be to recreate in some new way that period of her ancient independence
of which she is proudest, when she gave freely of her greatest treasures to
every nation within her reach, and entertained no thought of recompense or of