5. I have said that we were legislating in the dark. But there were two quarters from which light was proffered, the Irish members and the Irish Executive. We rejected the first, and could hardly help doing so, for to accept it would have been to displace our own leaders. We followed the light which the Executive gave. But in some cases (as notably in the case of the Coercion Bill of 1881) it proved to be a “wandering fire,” leading us into dangerous morasses. And we perceived that at all times legislation at the bidding of the Executive, against the wishes of Irish members, was not self-government or free government. It was despotism. The rule of Ireland by the British Parliament was really “the rule of a dependency through an official, responsible no doubt, but responsible not to the ruled, but to an assembly of which they form less than a sixth part." As this assembly closed its ears to the one-sixth, and gave effect to the will of the official, this was essentially arbitrary government, and wanted those elements of success which free government contains.
This experience had, by 1884, convinced us that the present relations of the British Parliament to Ireland were bad, and could not last; that the discontent of Ireland was justified; that the existing system, in alienating the mind of Ireland, tended, not merely to Repeal, but to Separation; that the simplest, and probably the only effective, remedy for the increasing dangers was the grant of an Irish Legislature. Two events clinched these conclusions. One was the Tory surrender of June, 1885. Self-government, we had come to see, was the only alternative to Coercion, and now Coercion was gone. The other was the General Election of December, 1885, when newly-enfranchised Ireland, through five-sixths of her representatives, demanded a Parliament of her own.
These were not, as is sometimes alleged, conclusions of despair. We were mostly persons of a cautious and conservative turn of mind, as men imbued with the spirit of the British Constitution ought to be. The first thing was to convince us that the existing relations of the islands were faulty, and could not be maintained. This was a negative result, and while we remained in that stage we were despondent. Many Liberal members will remember the gloom that fell on us in 1882 and 1883 whenever we thought or spoke of Ireland. But presently the clouds lifted. We still felt the old objections to any Home Rule scheme, though we now saw that they were less formidable than the evils of the present system. But we came to feel that the grant of self-government was a right thing in itself. It was not merely a means of ridding ourselves of our difficulties, not merely a boon yielded because long demanded. It was a return to broad and deep principles, a conformity to those natural laws which govern human society as well as the inanimate world—an effort to enlist the better and higher feelings of mankind in