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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 1 Mar 1933

Vol. 46 No. 2

Private Deputies' Business. - Re-Union of Irish Nation.

I beg to move:—

That in the opinion of the Dáil a reunion of the Irish nation founded on good-will should be the primary object of our Government policy and that every other constitutional issue should be subordinated thereto.

I am hoping to have the general sympathy of the various Parties in the House for this motion. I propose to deal with it in as non-contentious a manner as possible. Of course, I agree with what Deputy McGilligan said this afternoon about the Oath Bill and I could apply the same remarks to some of the other measures the Government introduced during the past 12 months. I agree that there is an inconsistency between such action and the principle and spirit of this motion; but I do not want to spend our time this evening in crying over spilt milk, or in putting forward propositions that I know the Government Party are not likely to agree to. I want to deal with the matter briefly and non-contentiously and to command such general sympathy for the motion as I can.

The subject-matter of this motion has become very fashionable during the last two months. But we are not raising it in order to be in the fashion. When we formed our Farmers' and Ratepayers' League last September we adopted, as one of our principal aims, the abolition of partition. We proposed to abolish partition by abolishing the animosities which are the cause of partition. Since then we have been stressing the subject at practically all our meetings and it figured prominently in the election manifestoes of the Centre Party. Of course, I am not so foolish as to claim originality on the subject for our Party, but I do want to lay emphasis on the fact that it always has been a very prominent consideration in our minds. Moreover, as the record of our infant Party is necessarily a very short one, I hope I shall not be thought egotistical if I say a few words about my own connection with the subject.

I had my first experience of electioneering in 1910, 23 years ago, when I went off to assist Nationalist candidates in County Derry and County Tyrone and, naturally, my efforts on those occasions were devoted to trying to persuade Ulster Unionists to cast aside their traditional prejudices, antipathies and animosities. When the 1912 Home Rule Bill was being prepared, I took an active part, both on public platforms and on a semiofficial Committee which was formed in London and of which the late Erskine Childers was one of our colleagues, in supporting the widest possible kind of Home Rule so as to get Irish members away from WestMinster and away from the discords that were created by the connection of Irish members with the various English political parties. When about that time a proposal was put forward in order to meet the Ulster problem that Ulster should be excluded from Home Rule for a trial period, I put forward an alternative proposition that Ulster should be included for a trial period and that after a certain term of years, if Ulster had been treated unfairly, she should have the right to go out of the Irish Home Rule Parliament.

That was a proposal that was taken up a good many years later by Sir Horace Plunkett. Then in 1914 when, like many thousands of Irish Nationalists, I joined the British Army and served in the European War, the overpowering motive with the vast majority of us was that we thought that by doing what we did we could accomplish a great deal towards the conciliation of Ulster. That was a very generous hope and, of course, it was a hope that was shattered by what occurred in 1916 and the events that followed 1916. In 1920 I put forward in the Press another proposal bearing on the Ulster question; that was that Southern Ireland should be given Dominion Home Rule for a period of years and that after that we should be given our choice to decide whether we wanted a Republic without Ulster in or to be a Dominion within the Commonwealth with Ulster included. Then, finally, in 1929 I stood for Belfast as a representative of the Northern Nationalists, and when I came into Free State politics it was with the determination to do whatever I could in their cause.

We are not, therefore, introducing this motion in order to be in the fashion. Neither are we introducing it as a matter of tactics to distract the Government from declaring a Republic. If the Government were to declare a Republic to-morrow either for the Twenty-Six Counties or for the Thirty-Two Counties, I should personally not be at all dismayed by their action because I suspect that this is one of the several dissipations that we have still to indulge in before we have sown our wild oats. A Republic in prospect and all the propaganda connected with a Republic in prospect are even a more formidable barrier in the way of reunion than a Republic in being. A Republic may be a stage on the road to unity that it is impossible to cut out even though it takes us far out of the direct way. But if so, do not let us dilly-dally about it. Let us start out and get it over. Some day we shall return from Eldorado with a great many illusions shattered.

This motion does not arise from abhorrence of a Republic. What it does is that it asks the House to take the view that such issues as the Governor-General or no Governor-General, Oath or no Oath, Free State or Republic are trivial in comparison with Irish unity, that such unity can only be founded on goodwill and that it should be the constant preoccupation and the principal aim of all our Governments. We can endure a certain amount of straying from the main road so long as we are quite clear about our destination and are actively determined to get there.

Kevin O'Higgins once said that we should think a lot about partition but never talk about it. I cannot agree with that view, because if it is not talked about by sensible men it will be talked about on wrong lines by men who are less sensible, and instead of our policy being so conducted as to promote reunion it may be so conducted as to perpetuate partition. Moreover, it is essential that the Nationalists of the North should not feel themselves to be deserted. If 90 per cent. of the Northern Nationalists are pro-de Valera, as they are, the reason is that they were allowed to form the impression that the Cumann na nGaedheal Government was indifferent to their fate. I suggest that the cause of reunion should be often on our lips as well as in our hearts.

What are the principal factors of the problem? British politicians, like politicians everywhere, have evidently short memories and they often speak as if this were a problem which we Irish created for ourselves. In truth, however, the English bear a very heavy responsibility for it. Without troubling to go back into the more distant past, it is safe to say that the action of prominent British statesmen in coming over to incite Ulster's armed resistance to Home Rule and the action of certain British soldiers in promoting the Curragh mutiny are at the root of a great part of our difficulties to-day.

I suggest that it is up to the British to undo a little of the harm they have done. I believe that those of them who think about Ireland at all would like to see partition abolished if only it could be abolished by mutual consent. I wish, then, that they would say so and say it loud and often. The immense and ridiculous buildings erected at the expense of the British taxpayers to glorify the Six-County Government certainly give an opposite impression.

On the whole however, the work of Irish reunion has got to be accomplished in Ireland itself and by Irishmen. And, for us, the beginning of wisdom is the recognition that we are dealing with the Irish Nation of to-day, not with the Irish Nation of before the Milesian invasion or the Danish invasions, or the Reformation, or the Tudor, Stuart, Cromwellian and Williamite confiscations. So long as you confine your idea of nationality to what is Catholic or what is Gaelic or what is persistently and on principle anti-English, you will not master the elements of the problem and all the hope of a union of the Irish Nation founded on good-will is an idle dream. The more you teach the Ulster Unionists to believe that they cannot claim to be Irishmen at all the more insoluble your problem will become.

I suggest that some progress in this matter can be achieved immediately if we can get general agreement on certain fundamental principles. The first of these is that the Irish civilisation of the future ought to embrace all constructive forces amongst us, including the contribution of our non-Gaelic element. I would commend that principle to the Minister for Education and to Deputy Gibbons. The second principle is that the Irish political system of the future should be one to command the sympathies of the non-Gaelic as well as of the Gaelic part of the population if it can possibly be managed. There are many Deputies on the Government Benches to whom I would commend that principle. The third principle is that pending the realisation of these hopes it should be regarded as a crime against the Irish Nation for any of us here to call each other traitors or tools of England or to stir up class antagonisms. I would commend that principle to Deputies Kennedy and Maguire and to the Minister for Finance. The fourth principle is this that in our enthusiasm we should distinguish between what is really worth while and what is not.

In order to establish Irish unity we have to make some apparent sacrifices, but I suggest that we do not really have to sacrifice anything fundamental. After all, geography and economics are fighting on our side. The Border is an artificial product of artificial passions. Read the Ulster Unionist newspapers and see how those passions are kept alive. It does not really serve any useful purpose to claim a monopoly of patriotism or a monopoly of Nationality for the men of 1916 and their successors. It does not serve any useful purpose to make people who do not know the Irish language pretend that they do know it. It does not serve any useful purpose to have a cheap music-hall jingle instead of some splendid and moving Gaelic melody as a national anthem. It does not serve any useful purpose to attack the house of a parish priest because he was a chaplain to Irish troops in the European War, or to desecrate the grave of Bryan Cooper, or to hoot and groan at ex-Ministers as they come out of Church. These things are made the most of by the Orange Press. I have a leading article in my pocket of the "Belfast Newsletter" on the Straide demonstration against the parish priest but I will not trouble the House with it. It is thoroughly typical of the way in which these things are taken up and made the most of against Irish unity. It is not the constructive side of Irish Nationalism that stands in the way of reunion; it is the side that, even if the North did not exist, we should be better without—jingoism, bitterness, intolerance, narrow-mindedness and love of what is tawdry and superficial. Fanatics on both sides of the Border have much the same mentality, but we are the people who want reunion and it is for us to give the lead in propagating charity and common sense.

Let this be the test of a good Irishman—that, whether he prefers Commonwealth or Republic, he puts Ireland first, and remembers that Ireland is more, infinitely more, than any section of her sons and daughters. On this basis we shall soon turn even our minorities in Southern Ireland into missionaries for the reunion of the Irish Nation. And then perhaps the forecast of Edmund Burke, that I have already quoted in this House, will be realised: that when the thing called a country is once formed in Ireland quite other things will be done from what were done when the minds of men were turned to the interests of a Party.

I formally second the motion proposed by Deputy MacDermot and elect to reserve my right to speak later. [No Deputy rose.] As it apparently is not the intention of any member of the Government Party to enlighten us as to their view on the motion which has been laid before the House by Deputy MacDermot, and which I have now seconded, I propose to add a very few words to what Deputy MacDermot has already said. The House will have noticed that we have invited the Dáil to express the opinion that “ a re-union of the Irish Nation founded on good-will should be the primary object of our Government policy and that every other constitutional issue should be subordinated thereto.” My reason for feeling that this motion should come before the House is that I think it would be well for all of us to realise and publicly proclaim that no form of political liberty, of political freedom, is of much value for Ireland except as an Irish Nation. Personally, I make no disguise of the fact that I believe the truest form of freedom for our people can be secured as a united and independent country in association with the other countries of the Commonwealth of Nations. But I am equally clear that that association can never prosper, that association can never have the advantage for us that it should have, or the advantage for the other members of the Commonwealth that it should have, unless and until partition ceases to exist in Ireland.

I represent a Border constituency; a constituency in which a large number of the people belong to a political school of thought which used to be described as Unionist in this country. I have been deeply impressed by the fact that a great many of these men and women, who in the past believed with almost fanatical zeal that this country should remain in the Union of Great Britain and Ireland, are coming to realise now with their Nationalist fellow-countrymen that the Union was not a good proposition, that it was much better for the Irish people to control their own destines; and though they reached that conclusion, a great many of them preserved the belief that it was better for the Six Counties to remain out. Now, I believe there is spreading amongst these people, or there was spreading amongst them, the growing conviction that partition was in the interests neither of ex-Unionists or anybody else in this country. But, unhappily, the practice of keeping on foot in this country a violent and acrimonious agitation for a Republic has resulted, in my opinion, in turning that tide of reconciliation, which, I believe, was flowing, and which, I believe, was about to affect very vital Unionist elements in the Six Counties, in the opposite direction, and has created a feeling of insecurity and doubt, which has thrust back into the much greater distance the hope of reunion and re-establishment of the Irish Nation.

I agree with Deputy MacDermot that rather than maintain a continual agitation in which expletives have been used of "traitor" and such like it would be better to pass through the stage of declaring a Republic for the Twenty-Six Counties and let us make up our minds if a Republic on that basis is worth having. I would prefer that we in this country should come to realise that the feeling and outlook of every element in the country is worthy of consideration, and that before Ireland should come to a conclusion of a finite kind on the political status she wishes to occupy she should first provide that in making that conclusion she makes it as a united nation, and that she should resolve that her first objective should be the bringing back into Ireland of the Six Counties which have gone away, and that with their counsel and consent the future constitutional status of this country should be decided.

I do think that nothing is more to be deplored than the practice which has obtained in Irish politics for some time of continually holding out before the younger generations of our people the lure of an Irish Republic; continually telling them that we are advancing towards the goal of a Republic and that to turn aside or think of anything else is the act of a traitor.

The very people who are telling them that know that it is not true. The very people who tell the younger generations to-day that they are on the road to a Republic for the thirty-two counties know that it is not true; but, by lending their names and their prestige to that allegation they can deceive the younger generations of our people into regarding every political issue from that point of view and persuade our young people that to examine any proposal dispassionately is treachery and the act of a traitor. To my mind that is profoundly wrong. The true objective that we should set before our young people is that the first necessity for Ireland is the reconciliation of every section of its people, based upon good-will and fair understanding of the difficulties of one another. Having achieved that reunion, based on that good-will, it will then be the duty of the Irish people to take into consideration the wider constitutional issues and to decide upon them without acrimony or without a feeling of bitterness one for the other.

I believe that unless we proceed on those lines the reunion of this country is something that we need not hope to see in our lifetime. I believe that unless we proceed along those lines we shall, in our time, precipitate a situation which will bring endless suffering on our people in the North of Ireland. I would urge on the President and his Party to remember that, when they forget the obligation of promoting good-will amongst all sections of our people and when they allow inflammatory politics of the character to which we have listened in recent months to go on here in the Twenty-Six Counties, they are in danger of creating a situation in the North which will result in our people in the North having to bear the burden while our people in the South kick up all the row. If the general tone is adopted which has been adopted here—breathing coercion, breathing violence—that is bound to have reactions in the Six Counties. I beg of members of this House to remember that if these reactions occur in the Six Counties it is the defenceless nationalists of the North who will have to bear the brunt of what may ensue, and the people who will be largely responsible for anything that may happen in the North will be able to do very little to assist them.

Our people in the North are entitled to look to us for help and encouragement. The most valuable help and encouragement that we can give them is the promotion of the reunion of this country based upon good-will. I believe that is a possibility in our lifetime. It is a possibility to persuade the Unionists of the Twenty-Six Counties and the Unionists of the Six Counties that their interests and our interests are best served by coming together again. It is a big job. We all know the immensity of the prejudices that we have got to overcome: the deep prejudice still to be found in the Six Counties. It is, however, work that I believe with courage and resolution we can carry through. It is work which is well worth doing and it is work which this motion calls upon the Dáil to sanction, to encourage and to promote amongst our people.

I do not want to go into the past. I did not think any of us desire to dwell upon the differences that parted us during the last fifteen or sixteen years. On more than one occasion we have all been able to join in paying tribute to the men who laid down their lives in the Great War for Ireland, in Easter Week for Ireland or in the Civil War for Ireland. The men who sealed the sincerity of their purpose with their blood command nothing but respect from their opponents. Their memory should be an inspiration. Their example is something to look back to though we may have differed from them. We can look back upon them as brave men who did not lack the physical courage to do what they deemed it their duty to do. So should we in this generation have the moral courage to do what it is our duty to do now. If we have, I believe that we should come out now and say, that the President should say, that Deputy Cosgrave should say and that every section should say that we are prepared to work first for the reunion of this country; that having achieved that, we are prepared to examine solely from the point of view of Ireland what our ultimate aim will be in regard to our political status: that until we have achieved reunion, and reunion based upon good-will, constitutional changes of another character hold little attraction or little hope for the nation as a whole.

The motion proposed——

I do not like to see the motion put without saying a word or two. It is very difficult to speak on this motion, particularly after the speeches that have been made because neither the motion itself nor the speeches I have listened to give any material whatever for comment. Everybody knows that we all desire the unity of our country. Everybody knows that the members of this Party, speaking time after time, said that they regarded partition as the greatest crime that had ever been committed against this country; but has there come from anybody a suggestion as to how this crime is to be undone? Does anybody show us how we are going to achieve the unity of this country? I see no suggestion in this motion as to how it is to be done. The motion speaks of "a reunion of the Irish Nation founded on good-will." I claim that we have shown goodwill: that as far as we are concerned and our brethren in the North on every possible occasion we have shown that we want them to enjoy the advantages of a free Ireland on the same terms as everybody else. We want no privilege for anybody in this country, and we are denying no equality to anybody. No matter what section of the people our citizens may belong to, they are entitled to get in this country of ours equal treatment.

As far as we are concerned, at no time have we said, or by our actions indicated, that that equality of treatment would be denied. Partition has taken place against our will. If there is anybody in this House that can claim to have opposed it those at present sitting on these benches can make that claim. When negotiations were entered into with the British in 1921 we put it first and foremost as the basis of any settlement between the two peoples. One of the principal reasons why those of us who opposed the Treaty did so was because we saw that the Treaty ultimately did mean partition. We saw how the clauses of it were drawn up: we saw that they were designed to secure partition. On every occasion that we had contact with British Ministers, that contact convinced us that the fundamental aim of British policy was to partition this country.

What, then, can we achieve by good-will so far as we are concerned? We have indicated time after time that a policy of force, of coercion, against the North is not our policy. We indicated that from the start in our negotiations with the British in 1921. What does Deputy MacDermot or Deputy Dillon suggest can be done? They have made no suggestion. They have tried to suggest that we, in this part of Ireland, are doing something which gives the people in the North the right to remain out, or gives to our opponents across the water a reason for using their power and their influence to make partition, so far as they can, permanent in this country.

The whole suggestion behind this motion is that there was need for it in this House. I say that there was no need for it. I believe that in this one instance there is a united House, that everyone of us here would do everything that is humanly possible to end partition, if there was any solution put forward, but there is no solution put forward. We say that we cannot coerce them—we will not coerce them, even if we could. That is not our purpose.

What inducement can we hold out to them? That we go back into the Union again, is it? It is suggested here that every constitutional issue should be subordinated to that desire. How can you subordinate anything to a mere desire when you do not see when that desire is going to come to fruition? If there is put up to us a definite, clear proposition by which the unity of this country can be secured, then we will have something to talk about and then we will have some standard by which we can test whether we are properly subordinating what should be subordinate issues to a major issue. But there is nothing of the sort here. We are talking in the air and really we are only wasting our time, except in so far as some members may wish to give us a lecture on national good behaviour. Perhaps it is needed. If it is, well and good; we will suffer nothing by listening to it, but, from the practical point of view of trying to put an end to this crime, I have heard nothing to-night and I do not expect that if I were listening to speeches until to-morrow morning I would hear from any member of this House any practical suggestion as to how, with all the good-will in the world, we are going to bring about the end of partition. Personally, I think that every Deputy on this side of the House feels that this is purely a pious expression of opinion and that nothing is going to be gained either by passing it or by not passing it, that it leaves us exactly where we were and, consequently, I feel that I, too, am wasting my time talking about it.

I do not know what is meant when it is said that every other constitutional issue is to be subordinated. Subordinated to what? —Subordinated to this object which should be the primary object of Governmental policy, the securing of the unity of the country. I have said that we cannot subordinate because there is no definite road by which anybody can show how the unity of the country can be secured. If there is no way to secure it, why should we not make an advance in the direction in which we know we are advancing and why should we slacken, for one moment, in the move that is going to give greater freedom and security here in this part of Ireland. I know that it is suggested that if we do this or if we do that, it will give offence to the North. "It will give offence to the North." and we are being blackmailed, so to speak, constantly, by this cry "Do not do this or do not do that because if you do, you are going to give offence to the North."

Who is blackmailing?

It is equivalent to blackmail.

But who is blackmailing?

Those who, at every effort, say, when you are going to advance in a direction in which you can advance, in which a definite policy is obvious, "Do not go along that road because if you do, this unity of Ireland which nobody can see how to bring about at the moment is going to be put further off." It is up to the people who make claims like that to show us how it is going to come, if we refrain from the other action. We here to-day, in the matter of the Oath, are providing for internal peace in this part of Ireland—at least, I hope we are. It was one of the main intentions behind the passing of that Bill. I did not reply to-day because I had made replies formerly in which I said that the passing of that Bill is in accordance with the Treaty, perfectly in accordance with the Treaty, but we are told that if we do not take an Oath which we think, in the first place, is unnecessary, and, in the second place, is causing disunion in this part of Ireland, if we do not continue taking an Oath that we do not want to take, we are going, in some way or other, to put still further off this infinitely distant day on which by good-will we are going to bring about the union of these two parts of Ireland.

Again, I say that those who want to use that argument must show us a practical way by which it can be secured. There is no lack of good-will so far as we are concerned, no lack whatever, and when we have a motion of this kind, there is a suggestion that there is a lack of good-will. If there is good-will lacking, then, it is not on our part and we cannot induce good-will except by continuing our present attitude to those who are opposed to the union of the country at the present time. I do not think, as I have said, anything is to be gained either by voting for or voting against the motion. If it is a mere demonstration of our desire for the unity of the country, we are willing to vote for it, but, apart from that, I do not see any real purpose that is going to be served.

Before the President sits down, might I ask has he any policy himself for abolishing partition?

The only policy for abolishing partition that I can see is for us, in this part of Ireland, to use such freedom as we can secure to get for the people in this part of Ireland such conditions as will make the people in the other part of Ireland wish to belong to this part.

Hear, hear!

I intend to reply only very briefly and in very few words. I am quite unable to follow the President's reasoning when he appears to suggest that it is useless for the Government to have in its mind as a guiding principle the union of Ireland founded on good-will. It seems to me that if that motive is constantly present to their minds and to the minds of their supporters it must be of enormous value in gradually bringing about that reunion. I did not bring in this motion for the purpose of casting blame on anybody. It was not intended to be a challenging or offensive motion in any way, but there is no use shutting our eyes to this, that there are a number of speeches made, leaving aside, now, questions of acts committed in the past, every day which, if any one of us were an Ulster Unionist, would harden us in our determination not to be incorporated in the same country as the Irish Free State.

There is an exclusiveness of outlook with regard to what Irish civilisation should consist of, and there is a lack of the spirit of compromise, or of conciliation, with regard to the political system under which this country has to live, which forms a desperate barrier to the getting rid of partition. If I could think that this motion was accepted sincerely by members of the Parties in this House, and would constitute a guide for future Governments in the measures they put before the House, I honestly believe we should be accomplishing a very great deal to secure the reunion of the Irish Nation and good-will.

Motion agreed to.