The Exclusion of Ulster
From Forward, 11 April 1914.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.
Socialists and Labour people generally in Great Britain have had good reason to deplore the existence of the Irish question and to realise how disastrous upon the chances of their candidates has been the fact of the existence in the constituences of a large mass of organised voters whose political activities were not influenced solely or even largely by the domestic issues before the electors. Our British comrades have had long and sore experience of contests in which all the arguments and all the local feeling were on the side of the Socialist or Labour candidate, and yet that local candidate was ignominiously defeated because there existed in the constituency a large Irish vote – a large mass of voters who supported the Liberal, not because they were opposed to Labour, but because they wanted Ireland to have Home Rule.
Our British comrades have learned that the existence of that Irish vote and the knowledge that it would be cast for the Home Rule official candidate, irrespective of his record on or his stand upon Labour matters, caused hundreds of thousands who otherwise would have voted Labour to vote Liberal in dread that the Irish defection would “let the Tory in.” For a generation now the Labour movement in Great Britain has been paralysed politically by this fear; and all hands have looked forward eagerly to the time when the granting of Home Rule would remove their fear and allow free expression to all the forces that make for a political Labour movement in that country. Even many of the actions and votes of the Labour party in the House of Commons which have been strenuously complained of have been justified by that Party on the plea that it was necessary to keep in power the government that would get Home Rule out of the way. Now, in view of this experience of the Socialist movement in Great Britain, we can surely not view with any complacency a proposal chat will keep that question to the front as a live issue at British elections for six years longer or rather for a totally indefinite period. We know that this “six years period” so glibly spoken of by politicians has no background of reality to justify the belief that that term can be considered as more than a mere figure of speech.
In the Daily News and Leader of 6th April, Mr. H.W. Massingham, writing of the Ulster Limit, says, and the saying is valuable as indicative of the trend of Liberal thought:
“Should we, therefore, make an absolutely dead halt at the six years– milestone? Both parties implicity admit that that is impossible, for one Parliament cannot bind another.”
And in the previous week the Liberal Solicitor General declared in Parliament that if within the six years– period
“the other side brought in a Bill to exclude Ulster, it would have a royal and triumphant procession to the foot of the throne.”
Thus we have it clearly foreshadowed that there is no such thing as a six years’ limit which can be binding upon future Parliaments and that therefore the question of Home Rule for the Ulster Counties will be a test question at future elections in Great Britain, and will then play there the same disastrous role for the Labour movement as the question of Home Rule does now. The political organisation of the Home Rule party will be kept alive in every industrial constituency on the pretext of working for a ‘United Ireland,’ and in the same manner the Unionist Party will also keep up its special organisations, Orange Lodges, etc., in order to keep alive the sectarian appeal to the voters from Ireland who will be asked to “vote against driving Ulster under the heels of the Papish Dublin Parliament.” Labour men in and out of Ireland have often declared that if Home Rule was wanted for no other purpose, it was necessary in order to allow of the solidifying of the Labour vote in Great Britain, and the rescue of the Irish voters in that country from their thraldom to the Liberal caucus. It might not be far from the truth to surmise that the Liberal Party managers have seen the same point as clearly as we did ourselves, and have quietly resolved that such a good weapon as the Nationalist Party sentiment should not be entirely withdrawn from their armoury. The reader will also see that with a perfectly Mephistophelian subtlety the question of exclusion is not suggested to be voted upon by any large area where the chances for or against might be fairly equal, where exclusion might be defeated as it might be if all Ulster were the venue of the poll, and all Ulster had to stay out or come in as a result of the verdict of the ballot box. No, the counties to be voted on the question are the counties where the Unionists are in an overwhelming majority, and where therefore the vote is a mere farce – a subterfuge to hide the grossness of the betrayal of the Home Rule electors. Then again each county or borough enters or remains outside according to its own vote, and quite independent of the vote of its neighbours in Ulster. Thus the Home Rule question as far as Ulster is concerned, may be indefinitely prolonged and kept alive as an issue to divide and disrupt the Labour vote in Great Britain.
The effect of such exclusion upon Labour in Ireland will be at least equally, and probably more, disastrous. All hopes of uniting the workers, irrespective of religion or old political battle cries will be shattered, and through North and South the issue of Home Rule will be still used to cover the iniquities of the capitalist and landlord class. I am not speaking without due knowledge of the sentiments of the organised Labour movement in Ireland when I say that we would much rather see the Home Rule Bill defeated than see it carried with Ulster or any part of Ulster left out.
Meanwhile, as a study in political disparity, watch the manoeuvres of the Home Rule Party on this question. The deal is already, I believe, framed up, but when the actual vote is to be taken in the Counties of Down, Antrim, Derry and Armagh and the Boroughs of Belfast and Derry, Messrs. Redmond, Devlin and Co. will tour these counties and boroughs letting loose floods of oratory asking for votes against exclusion and thus will delude the workers into forgetting the real crime, viz., consenting to make the unity of the Irish Nation a subject to be decided by the votes of the most bigoted and passion-blinded reactionaries in these four counties where such reactionaries are in the majority. The betrayal is agreed upon, I repeat, the vote is only a subterfuge to hide the grossness of the betrayal.
It still remains to be seen whether the working class agitation cannot succeed in frightening these vampires from the feast they are promising themselves upon the corpse of a dismembered Ireland.
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Last updated on 19.8.2007