How the Government of Ireland Bill was brought into the House of Commons on April 8th, amid circumstances of curiosity and excitement unparalleled since 1832; how, after debates of almost unprecedented length, it was defeated in June, by a majority of thirty; how the policy it embodied was brought before the country at the General Election, and failed to win approval—all this is too well known to need recapitulation here. But the causes of the disaster have not been well understood, for it is only now—now, when the smoke of the battle has cleared away from the field—that these causes have begun to stand revealed in their true proportions.
Besides some circumstances attending the production of the Bill, to which I shall refer presently, and which told heavily against it, there were three feelings which worked upon men’s minds, disposing them to reject it.
The first of these was dislike and fear of the Irish Nationalist members. In the previous House of Commons this party had been uniformly and bitterly hostile to the Liberal Government. Measures intended for the good of Ireland, like the Land Act of 1881, had been ungraciously received, treated as concessions extorted, for which no thanks were due—inadequate concessions, which must be made the starting-point for fresh demands. Obstruction had been freely practised to defeat not only bills restraining the liberty of the subject in Ireland, but many other measures. Some few members of the Irish party had systematically sought to delay all English and Scotch legislation, and, in fact, to bring the work of Parliament to a dead stop. Much violent language had been used, even where the provocation was slight. The outbreaks of crime which had repeatedly occurred in Ireland had been, not, indeed, defended, but so often passed over in silence by Nationalist speakers, that English opinion was inclined to hold them practically responsible for disorders which, so it was thought, they had neither wished nor tried to prevent. (I am, of course, expressing no opinion as to the justice of this view, nor as to the excuses to be made for