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.