From this point of view St. George’s Channel and the Irish Sea should be a means of communication, constant and in every direction, between the two Islands, and not a sort of boundary ditch to be deepened and rendered difficult of passage.
If Ireland wishes to share England’s prosperity she must not build up a wall against the credit, trade, and special products of her richer sister. If England wishes to have and to foster a magnificent source of food supply, well and strategically secured against continental foes, she also must do all that can be done to encourage intercourse. To develop traffic between Great Britain and Ireland is the policy which both experience and theory point to as advantageous to both countries; to subvert this policy and make Ireland’s commerce local and self-sufficing, seems to be the narrow and mistaken ideal of Nationalist aspirations.
It follows that the Unionist Party must oppose any plan for “nationalising” the Irish railways, whether by the credit of the United Kingdom, or otherwise. The policy we advocate is to be found in the Minority Report of the Viceregal Commission, signed by Sir Herbert Jekyll, Mr. W.M. Acworth, and Mr. John Aspinall, not as politicians, but experts; and in the Report of the Royal Commission on Canals and Inland Navigation dealing with the question of canals and water transport in Ireland.
In the case of railways, the aim should be to amalgamate them into two or three large companies to standardise as far as possible the light railways, and level them in respect of gauge, gradients, works, and rolling stock with the larger companies. Unquestionably many of the smaller railways to be amalgamated, though not light railways, need large expenditure for the purpose of duplication of running lines, straightening of curves, stations, stores, and conveniences, and many extensions and cross-lines will also be needed to connect them with the trunk lines, and to open out districts now unprovided with railway facilities. Many of these projects, though industrially remunerative to Ireland and advantageous to England also as tapping new sources of food supply, would not be, in strictness, commercially remunerative in the sense of giving fair return on capital over working expenses, and it is idle to expect that private capital will ever be subscribed for these purposes. They can only be undertaken either directly by State funds, or by money provided by the State, and lent to the large amalgamated lines at low interest. This is the policy inaugurated by Mr. Arthur Balfour, which has been of untold benefit to many districts in Ireland. Probably a public grant of, say, L2,000,000, and loanable money available to the extent of L8,000,000, would largely solve the problem. For the reasons already given it is only by Imperial credit, and under the aegis of a united Parliament and Government, that capital on this large scale can be available for these purposes.