Having regard to the extreme gravity of the course to be followed in Ulster in the event of the measure passing into law, it was decided that the most honest and straightforward thing to do was to put forward at the juncture now reached a policy for dealing with Ulster separately from the rest of Ireland. But in fulfilment of the promise, from which he never deviated, to take no important step without first consulting his supporters in Ulster, Carson went over to attend a meeting of the Standing Committee in Belfast on the 13th of December, where he explained fully the reasons why this policy was recommended by himself and all his parliamentary colleagues. It was not accepted by the Standing Committee without considerable discussion, but in the end the decision was unanimous, and the resolution adopting it laid it down that “in taking this course the Standing Committee firmly believes the interests of Unionists in the three other provinces of Ireland will be best conserved.” In order to emphasise that the course resolved upon implied no compromise of their opposition to the Bill as a whole, Sir Edward Carson wrote a letter to the Prime Minister during the Christmas recess, which was published in the Press, and which made this point clear; and he pressed it home in the House of Commons on the 1st of January, 1913, when he moved to exclude “the Province of Ulster” from the operation of the Bill in a speech of wonderfully persuasive eloquence which deeply impressed the House, and which was truly described by Mr. Asquith as “very powerful and moving,” and by Mr. Redmond as “serious and solemn.”
Carson’s proposal was altogether different from what was subsequently enacted in 1920. It was consistent with the uninterrupted demand of Ulster to be let alone, it asked for no special privilege, except the privilege, which was also claimed as an inalienable right, to remain a part of the United Kingdom with full representation at Westminster and nowhere else; it required the creation of no fresh subordinate constitution raising the difficult question as to the precise area which its jurisdiction could effectively administer.
Carson’s amendment was, of course, rejected by the Government’s invariably docile majority, and on the 16th of January the Home Rule Bill passed the third reading in the House of Commons, without the smallest concession having been made to the Ulster opposition, or the slightest indication as to how the Government intended to meet the opposition of a different character which was being organised in the North of Ireland.
When the Bill went to the Upper House at the end of January the whole subject was threshed out in a series of exceedingly able speeches; but the impotence of the Second Chamber under the Parliament Act gave an air of pathetic unreality to the proceedings, which was neatly epitomised by Lord Londonderry in the sentence: “The position is, that while the House of Commons can vote but not speak, the Lords can speak but not