There is no occasion here to explain in detail the proposals contained in Mr. Asquith’s Home Rule Bill. They form part of the general history of the period, and are accessible to all who care to examine them. Our concern is with the endeavour of Ulster to prevent, if possible, the passage of the Bill to the Statute-book, and, if that should prove impracticable, to prevent its enforcement “in those districts of which they had control.” But one or two points that were made in the course of the debates which occupied Parliament for the rest of the year 1912 claim a moment’s notice in their bearing on the subject in hand.
Mr. Bonar Law lost no time in fully redeeming the promises he made at Balmoral. Challenged to repeat in Parliament the charges he had made against the Government in Ulster, he not only repeated them with emphasis, but by closely-knit reasoning justified them with chapter and verse. As to Balmoral, “it really was not like a political demonstration; it was the expression of the soul of a people.” He declared that “the gulf between the two peoples in Ireland was really far wider than the gulf between Ireland and Great Britain.” He then dealt specifically with the threatened resistance of Ulster. “These people in Ulster,” he said, “are under no illusion. They know they cannot fight the British Army. The people of Ulster know that, if the soldiers receive orders to shoot, it will be their duty to obey. They will have no ill-will against them for obeying. But they are ready, in what they believe to be the cause of justice and liberty, to lay down their lives. How are you going to overcome that resistance? Do Honourable Members believe that any Prime Minister could give orders to shoot down men whose only crime is that they refuse to be driven out of our community and be deprived of the privilege of British citizenship? The thing is impossible. All your talk about details, the union of hearts and the rest of it, is a sham. This is a reality. It is a rock, and on that rock this Bill will inevitably make shipwreck.”
The Unionist leader then made a searching exposure of the traffic and bargaining between the Cabinet and the Nationalists by which the support of the latter had been bought for a Budget which they hated, the price paid being the Premier’s improper advice to the Crown, leading to the mutilation of the Constitution; the acknowledgment in the preamble to the Parliament Act that an immediate reform of the Second Chamber was a “debt of honour”; the omission to redeem that debt, which had provided a new proverb—“Lying as a preamble”; and, finally, the determination to carry Home Rule after deliberately keeping it out of sight during the elections. The Prime Minister’s “debt of honour must wait until he has paid his debt of shame”; and the latter debt was being paid by the proposals they were then debating. If those proposals had been submitted to the electors, “there would be a difference,” said Mr. Bonar Law, “between the Unionists in England and the Unionists in Ireland. Now there is none. We can imagine nothing which the Unionists in Ireland can do which will not be justified against a trick of this kind.”