Speech delivered by Mr. William Redmond to members of St. Patrick’s Society at the annual banquet in the Windsor Hotel, St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, 1914
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Bill Safeguards Minority
The man who says religious liberty is to be denied in Ireland because the majority of the people are Catholics must be ignorant or cannot believe what he says. But, after all, there are people so saturated with prejudice that they cannot believe their religion is not endangered. What do we say to them? Turning to the Home Rule Bill again we say, assuming the people are so degenerate as to act contrary to the whole history of the race, under Home Rule it is impossible for them to do so. The bill contains limitations, safeguards, very galling and almost insulting to a liberty loving people, but we have consented to their inclusion in the Bill to ensure that there is no right of liberty, or citizenship that is not guaranteed by the bill or by the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament. If any fair-minded Canadian looks closely into this question he will find there is no real cause for fear in Ireland.
Ulster Dominance Over
I have nothing bitter to say against those in Ulster who are opposing this measure. I am confident that some of them will be amongst the most valued legislators in Ireland eventually. But they have enjoyed great privileges and ascendancy in the past. During the last one hundred and fourteen years the whole majority of the Irish people have been practically ignored. Ireland has been governed largely by (he opinions of people coming entirely from Ulster. We submit that our Protestant countrymen will receive equality. Their rights, even their sentiments and feelings will be scrupulously respected but they will get no more ascendancy. Every man will be judged upon his merits whether Catholic or Protestant. (Applause). Let me give you some figures to show what privileges the Unionist minority have been allowed. Ireland returns 103 representatives to the British Parliament. Of these 85 are strongly in favour of Home Rule and will vote e in the same lobby as I do in favor of it in a week or two. Sixteen of these representatives are drawn from a portion of Ulster and are opposed to Home Rule. These are the popular representatives. That distinguished man Sir Edward Carson represents the University of Dublin which is well enough in its way, but for the purposes of popular opinion we will leave the University representatives out. Of the eighty-five Nationalists seventeen are elected from North Ulster. Let me observe that there is no one county in Ireland in which the Nationalists have not elected even one member. (Applause). Now, therefore, what is the position? You have the whole of three great provinces of Ireland, Munster, Leinster and Connaught, and you have more than half of the elected representatives of Ulster itself supporting Home Rule. The contention of the Ulsterites is that if the Government does not recommend itself to the sixteen minority, even if the eighty-five majority support it there is to be civil war.
An Insupportable Proposition
Some of the prominent Unionist statesmen seem to have lent their weight to this proposition. What a proposition it is. We see in every country in the civilised world there is a great unrest, among the masses of the people; a great movement for better conditions. And what a lesson this is to teach to these unsettled people, that if their way cannot be had, if their way cannot be gained it is legitimate, and even approved in the highest quarters of England, that there shall be an appeal to arms. I do not believe it is conceivable; I cannot contemplate the likelihood of the hopes of the Irish people being frustrated, but should that take place how are these men to explain the speeches and feelings to which they have given utterance. If it is legitimate for the minority to wage war, what is to be said of the vast majority? These things only need to be enquired into ui order to justify the position of the present Government. I do not believe there will be civil war, I do not believe the world’s history shows an appeal to arms without real cause, and if our countrymen in the North wait for justification for war, they will wait for ever.
Ireland’s Indisputable Right
What is considered the duty of the great leaders of progressive thought in England to-day? These men, and all the men of surpassing talent that they have gathered round them, are as sincere in the cause as any of my Nationalist colleagues. They have watched the course of Government in Ireland, they have watched the effect of the present system, and these men and the great majority behind them, and the great majority behind Parliament, occupy the position that they are going to give us Home Rule because the Irish people have made out a case for it; and, perhaps, because they recognise that the withholding of Home Rule has brought neither credit nor profit to the British Empire.
An Imperial Achievement
This is not merely an Irish question; it is an Empire question. In spite of all the turmoil, as the thing draws nearer, in spite of all the alarmist reports, I venture the prediction that this question is going to be settled now, that if this Government were supplanted no Government that would take its place could ignore the Irish question. The day for arguing is past, and the utmost our bitterest opponents can say is that they do not like this plan of Home Rule now before Parliament. Ireland is about to be restored the right of governing herself and the result will justify the policy in Ireland as it has been justified in Africa and every other part of the British Empire. (Loud applause). And I believe before long, shortly after this great controversy is settled, our wisest men of both parties will say of Ireland that the policy of trusting the people was right, that Home Rule after all was a great achievement. (Applause). It will be so from a three-fold point of view. For England it will mend one of the really weak spots in her armour; it will reconcile to England after long years of bitterness, in every part of the Empire one of the most virile of races; it will be a great achievement for this great Empire because the day that sees Irishmen governing themselves in Ireland will move the hearts and spur the energies of Irishmen in every part of the world so that with redoubled vigour they can go into the work of building up and advancing this Empire. (Applause). It will be a great achievement for Ireland. Many in whose veins Irish blood runs to-day, cannot help feeling a strong thrill of elation, knowing that this question is so near to being settled and their home and Motherland being allowed to rule herself within this Empire.
Sorrow and Triumph
But many of the men who have made this great movement have passed away. Parnell is in his grave in Dublin, and Davitt is gone. Generation after generation has passed away who have not lived to see this great day. Even since I have come to this country I have to mourn the loss of one who was my colleague in the House of Commons for many and many a day, who brought the enthusiasm of his free Canadian heart to work for the land of his fathers, the Hon. Chas. Devlin. Only those of us who have the blood and history of the past burnt into our brains know what the settlement of this question means to us, and I can only say, and say it reverently, that the dominating feeling of Irishmen everywhere is one of humble thankfulness to Almighty God that He has allowed so many of us to live to see this day for which so many of our forefathers would have died. When Ireland does, at last, take her place as a nation she will turn with a glad smile to these great countries beyond the seas; she will turn to each and every one of you and thank you for the sympathy given to her in her hour of trial. And she will pass her word, that word which has never been broken, that freedom being granted she is yours, in any thing, hand in hand, in the advancement and development of the Empire against the whole world. (Loud and continued applause).