Its purpose appears to be to offer an explanation of, and an excuse for, the conduct of the Nationalist Party in obstructing the extension to Ireland of compulsory military service, which the rest of the United Kingdom has felt compelled to adopt as the necessary means of defeating the German design to dominate the world. At a time when all the free democracies of the world have, with whatever reluctance, accepted the burden of conscription as the only alternative to the destruction of free institutions and of international justice, it is easily intelligible that those who maintain Ireland’s right to solitary and privileged exemption from the same obligation should betray their consciousness that an apologia is required to enable them to escape condemnation at the bar of civilised, and especially of American, opinion. But, inasmuch as the document referred to would give to anyone not intimately familiar with British domestic affairs the impression that it represents the unanimous opinion of Irishmen, it is important that your Excellency and the American people should be assured that this is very far from being the case.
There is in Ireland a minority, whom we claim to represent, comprising one-fourth to one-third of the total population of the island, located mainly, but not exclusively, in the province of Ulster, who dissent emphatically from the views of Mr. Dillon and his associates. This minority, through their representatives in Parliament, have maintained throughout the present war that the same obligations should in all respects be borne by Ireland as by Great Britain, and it has caused them as Irishmen a keen sense of shame that their country has not submitted to this equality of sacrifice.
Your Excellency does not need to be informed that this question has become entangled in the ancient controversy concerning the constitutional status of Ireland in the United Kingdom. This is, indeed, sufficiently clear from the terms of the Nationalist manifesto addressed to you, every paragraph of which is coloured by allusion to bygone history and threadbare political disputes.
It is not our intention to traverse the same ground. There is in the manifesto almost no assertion with regard to past events which is not either a distortion or a misinterpretation of historical fact. But we consider that this is not the moment for discussing the faults and follies of the past, still less for rehearsing ancient grievances, whether well or ill founded, in language of extravagant rhetoric. At a time when the very existence of civilisation hangs in the balance, all smaller issues, whatever their merits or however they may affect our internal political problems, should in our judgment have remained in abeyance, while the parties interested in their solution should have joined in whole-hearted co-operation against the common enemy.