On these dangers I do not in this brief note propose to dwell, though it seems to me insane either to ignore them or to belittle them. The point on which I desire to insist is that they arise not from the establishment of a subordinate Parliament alone, nor from the existence of a “nationalist” sentiment alone, but from the action and reaction of the sentiment upon the institution, and of the institution upon the sentiment.
Let me conclude by asking whether Irish history does not support to the full these gloomy prognostications. The Parliament that came to an end at the Union was a Parliament utterly antagonistic to anything that now goes by the name of Irish Nationalism. In every sphere, except the economic sphere, it represented the forces, political and religious, which the Irish Nationalist now regards as English and alien, and against which, for many years, he has been waging bitter warfare. Yet this Parliament, representing only a small minority of the inhabitants of Ireland, found its position of subordination intolerable. It chose a moment of national disaster to assert complete equality, and so used its powers that at last the Union became inevitable. It is surely no remedy for the ancient wrongs of Ireland—real, alas! though they were—that we should compel her again to tread the weary round of constitutional experiment, and that, in the name of Irish Nationalism, we should again make her the victim of an outworn English scheme, which has been tried, which has failed, which has been discarded, and which, in my judgment, ought never to be revived.
(Author of “The End of the Irish Parliament”; Editor of the Northern Whig)
When Pitt commended his proposals for the Union to “the dispassionate and sober judgment of the Parliament of Ireland,” he argued that such a measure was at once “transcendently important” to the Empire, and “eminently useful” to the true interests of Ireland. Lord Clare, as an Irishman, naturally reversed the order, but his compelling points were the same:—To Ireland the Union was a “vital interest,” which at the same time “intimately affected the strength and prosperity of the British Empire.” From that day to this the two fundamental arguments for the Union of Great Britain and Ireland have remained unchanged, and they apply with ever-growing force to the existing situation at home and abroad. But the argument from history has, perhaps, been a little neglected of late, and calls for at least a passing notice.