In itself the movement is vital to the prosperity of rural Ireland. The disfavour shown to it arises from apprehensions respecting its indirect bearing upon the great issue between Unionism and Nationalism. Home Rulers who oppose the co-operative movement find themselves in this dilemma: either they hold that nothing in the way of material improvement could affect the demand for Home Rule, or else they are really afraid lest “better farming, better business, and better living,” should weaken the attractions of their own political nostrum. In the former case, they are left without a shadow of justification for their attitude towards the I.A.O.S.; in the latter, they tacitly admit that the interests of the farming classes must suffer in order that the cause of Home Rule may be promoted.
Unionists are in no such difficulty. Our policy is clear and consistent. Improvement in the social and economic condition of the people must be our first object. It is an end to be pursued for its own sake, whatever the indirect consequences may be. But the indirect consequences need cause us no anxiety. Increased material prosperity, and the contentment which inevitably accompanies it, whatever their other effects may be, are not likely to strengthen the demand for constitutional changes. Successful resistance to Home Rule at the present crisis may well mean the saving of the Union for good and all.
[Footnote 70: Originally published in the Irish Homestead, and quoted in Sir Horace Plunkett’s “Ireland in the New Century,” p. 190.]
[Footnote 71: “Ireland in the New Century,” p. 220.]
[Footnote 72: In this connection attention may be called to the remarkable increase of wealth in Ireland in the past twenty years. The deposits in the Joint Stock Banks have increased from L33,700,000 in 1891 to L56,011,000 in 1911, the balances in the Post Office Savings Banks in Ireland from L3,878,000 in 1891 to L12,253,000 in 1911, and the number of accounts from 261,352 in 1891 to 662,589 at the end of 1910. Irish investments in Government Funds, India Stocks, and Guaranteed Land Stock have increased from L26,609,000 in 1891 to L41,363,000 in 1911. But more noteworthy still, perhaps, is the increase in Irish trade. Figures are only available since 1904, but in that period Irish imports have increased from L54,078,399 to L65,044,477—an increase of L10,966,078 in seven years. Irish exports have increased in the same period from L49,712,400 to L65,844,255, or an increase of L16,131,155. Or, if we take the aggregate trade, there has been an increase from L103,790,799 in 1904 to L130,888,732 in 1910, an increase of L27,097,933. In other words, the aggregate import and export trade in Ireland in the year 1910 amounted to nearly L28 sterling per head of population, while the corresponding figure for Great Britain is just over L20. These figures are, I submit, eloquent testimony that the general policy of the Imperial Parliament in relation to Ireland during recent years has been wisely conceived, and that the successful solution of the “Irish Problem” is to be found in the steady pursuit of methods which have already achieved such striking results.]