The World’s Famous Orations.
Ireland (1775–1902). 1906.
John Edward Redmond
Ireland and the Coronation
Now, we claim that Ireland is not bound, morally or legally, by any laws which are not made by the Sovereign, Lords and Commons of Ireland. We specifically deny the moral or legal and constitutional right of the English Parliament to legislate for Ireland. Upon what does this claim rest? The Irish Parliament—people certainly in England seem quite oblivious of the fact—the Irish Parliament was almost coeval with and absolutely coordinate with the Parliament of England, and the first Irish Parliament of which we have any authentic records sat in 1295, and from 1295 until 1495 that Parliament was absolutely supreme, a sovereign Parliament, and no law made in England was binding in Ireland, and altho in 1495 what was known as Poyning’s Law was passed, which provided that the heads of all bills to be introduced into the Irish Parliament were first to be approved by the king and privy council of England, still that law was an Irish law passed by an Irish Parliament, and did not sacrifice the independence of the Irish Parliament or recognize England’s right to make laws for Ireland. It reserved a coordinate authority with the English Parliament, and this condition remained unbroken—aye, remained unquestioned until the reign of George I., and then, in 1719, an English Act was passed declaring that the English Parliament had power of making laws for Ireland.
Now, that clause was always resisted by this country. Ireland never for one hour ceased to protest against it, until at last, in 1782, the freedom of the Irish Parliament was obtained by the great measure which Grattan, backed by the Irish Volunteers, passed into law. The act of George I. was repealed, and the English act of the 23d of George III., chapter 28, solemnly declared as follows: “Be it enacted that the right claimed by the people of Ireland to be bound only by laws enacted by his majesty and the Parliament of that kingdom in all cases whatsoever, shall be, and is hereby declared and ascertained for ever, and shall at no time hereafter be questioned or questionable.” Well, we know that eighteen years after that solemn declaration it was disregarded, and the Irish Parliament, which lasted for five hundred years, was destroyed by the Act of Union. Gentlemen, the Act of Union was carried by force and fraud, by treachery and falsehood. Speaking to an ordinary Irish audience it is unnecessary for me to labor these facts, but I hope you will forgive me if I attempt, in a few observations, to place our case upon record just as if we were making our case to England and not speaking here upon Irish soil. Mr. Lecky, in the second volume of his history, says: “The sacrifice of nationality was extorted by the most enormous corruption in the history of representative institutions. It was demanded by no considerable portion of the Irish people; it was effected without a dissolution, in opposition to the universal majority of the representatives of the counties and considerable towns, and to innumerable addresses from all parts of the country. The Union was a crime of deepest turpitude, which, by imposing with every circumstance of infamy a new form of government on a reluctant and protesting nation, has vitiated the whole cause of Irish opinion.” Lord Grey, speaking after the Union, in England, pointed out there were 300 members in the Irish Parliament. Of that number 120 members strongly opposed the Union, and 162 voted in favor of it; and of those 162, 116 were placemen in the pay of the English government.
Now, from that day to this, Ireland has never ceased to protest against the usurpation of the government of Ireland by the English Parliament. She has never ceased to protest according to the circumstances and the opportunities of the moment. She has protested by means of armed insurrections, and generation after generation has witnessed brave and gallant men sacrificing their lives in prison cell or on the scaffold in defense of Irish freedom. She has protested against it by agitation—never-ceasing agitation—protested against it from generation to generation, on the floor of the foreign assembly to which the Irish representatives have been sent. It is quite true that Ireland has from time to time been willing to compromise her claim for the restoration of Gratton’s Coordinate Parliament. For example, she was willing in the days of Isaac Butt to accept a place in a federal union. She was willing in the time of Parnell to accept such a settlement as Gladstone offered. And I say here to-day—and I claim that I am entitled to speak on this point with authority—I claim to-day that Ireland and the Irish party stand on this question precisely where Parnell stood in ’86. Altho that is so, Ireland has always denied and Ireland still denies that the Union was binding upon her either legally or morally. And here on this historic occasion we have assembled to renew our protest and to place it upon record.
Well, England thus destroyed our Constitution in 1800. What has she given us in return? Has she given us in return her own Constitution? Nothing of the kind. Never for one single hour since the Union was passed has Ireland been a constitutionally governed country. Never for one hour has the sovereign of England been the constitutional sovereign of Ireland. Ireland, in effect, has since 1800 been governed as a Crown Colony, with certain empty forms and pretenses of constitutionalism. Never for one hour has the English government of Ireland obtained the assent, or approval, or confidence of the people of Ireland. Never for one hour have the elected representatives of the majority of the Irish people had the control or even a potent voice in the government of this country. Never for one hour since then has the English government of Ireland rested upon anything except naked force and unabashed corruption. Never for one hour has the British Constitution been in force in this country, whose own Constitution was destroyed. Why, the mere fact that in one hundred years, eighty-seven coercion acts have been passed by the English Parliament for Ireland, in spite of Irish protest, is sufficient to establish the facts that I have adduced. Martial law, suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, suspension of trial by jury, suppression of free speech—these have been the permanent blessings conferred on Ireland by the destruction of the Irish Constitution. No single reform, large or small, has ever been obtained by purely constitutional methods. Let any Englishman who questions that answer this question: Let him point to any single act of justice or reform which has not been extorted in one way or another from the British Parliament by force or by fear. Catholic emancipation, falsely promised before the Union, granted, in the words of Wellington, to avoid civil war. The Church Act and the Land Act, produced by the influence of Fenianism.
Allow me for a moment to turn to another aspect of our case. The suppression of the Constitution in Ireland has been followed by disasters unparalleled in the history of the world. Under English rule millions of our people have died by artificial famines, and hundreds of thousands of homes have been leveled by the crowbar brigade. People talk of the devastation in the Transvaal and Orange River Free State. Horrible, inhuman, and disgraceful as that was, it was as nothing compared to what happened in Ireland under the so-called constitutional rule of the English Parliament. The Transvaal, after all, was in a state of war. But in Ireland, in a state of peace, the homes of the people have been leveled, the population of our country has been largely exterminated or expatriated, and our fair and smiling fields have been laid waste and desolate. People sometimes speak of famine as an act of God—an impious phrase, in my opinion, never true in any time or country, but in Ireland the phrase is absolute blasphemy. The Irish famine has been the direct result of English misgovernment.
After all, Ireland, taken as a whole, is a rich and fertile island. With a proper distribution of the population, and with the fostering care of a native government, a population of many millions more than the present ought to live in our land in comfort and happiness. And yet it has marked every part of the rule of Ireland by the English Parliament. In one great visitation half a century ago a million and a quarter of our people died by starvation in the midst of a country which was actually at that time exporting food and grain to the English markets, and which was all the time paying exorbitant rates to maintain the glory and the power of the British Empire. In 1849 there was a Parliamentary return issued, from which it appears that during the three famine years ending in January, 1849, Ireland paid in taxes to the British exchequer £13,293,681—and her starving people perished of starvation in hundreds and thousands by the roadside—exported to England 500,000 head of cattle, 1,000,000 sheep, 500,000 pigs, 1,000,000 quarters of wheat-flour, 3,500,000 quarters of oats and meal. Good God, what a picture! Here is a country paying millions of pounds in taxation to maintain the glory of the Empire to which it is allied, a country exporting millions of beasts and millions of quarters of grain out of the country, and all the time hundreds of thousands of people dying of starvation by the roadside.
Gentlemen, from that day to this the population of our country has gone steadily down from 8,500,000 men to 4,500,000 now. In the reign of Queen Victoria 1,225,000 people died of starvation, 4,000,000 people during that reign were evicted, 4,800,000 people emigrated from the shores of our country, and it is still going on. People who come to this country and pay flying visits to the West of Ireland and see some of the congested districts go away with the idea that Ireland is all a barren mountain or bog. Yes, the congested districts are poor; but the real secret of the position is that the richer parts of Ireland have been made desolate, have been depopulated, and turned into mere cattle ranches.
Fraud, robbery, and murder have characterized the English usurpation of the government of our country. Why, for the last fifty years we have been robbed in the matter of taxes of hundreds of millions. Just in a sentence let me point this out. The accusation is made against England that she is robbing this country by unjust taxation. A tribunal is appointed to consider the question. Appointed by whom? Appointed by the accused, packed by the accused, a tribunal with a majority of Britishers on it, appointed by the accused person, and when the verdict is brought in in favor of Ireland that verdict is thrown in the waste-paper basket, and the English Empire proceeds complacently along, piling up year after year the taxes of this country, until to-day it is absolutely true that Ireland’s contribution toward the expenses of the empire have been since that commission sat increased by almost £2,000,000 a year. We pay for the navy, and we have no commerce for the navy to protect; we pay for the army, and we loathe and execrate the work upon which it has been engaged.
And we hear English statesmen asking us why Ireland is not loyal. Lord Rosebery, the other day, declared that if Ireland were only loyal he would be willing to confer upon her a colonial constitution. Loyal—loyal to what I Why, there is no race in the world which, I believe, by instinct is more inclined to sentiments of loyalty than the Irish. Why do not these English statesmen give us something to be loyal to? What claim has such a system as that to loyalty? Grattan said that loyalty without liberty was corruption. What public liberty exists in Ireland today? The Constitution is suspended. The most trusted and honored men throughout the length and breadth of Ireland are being sent as common criminals to English jails on vague charges of conspiracy, sent there by degraded tribunals consisting of paid and removable servants of the man who brings the accusation. In Ireland there is neither liberty, prosperity, nor loyalty. There is oppression and poverty and misgovernment, and deep-seated and justifiable disloyalty, and to-day—if I may take it upon myself to speak the voice of this party on this historic occasion—I say to England in our names, “You may proceed with your coronation jubilations and celebrations, you may assemble all the nations of the world in London to witness an exhibition of the loyalty, and what you call the unity of the empire, but you can not hide from your guests the skeleton at your feast. You can not disguise from the world that one portion of that empire—and a portion which, all things considered, had probably as great a part in building up that empire as England itself—a portion which was the home of a brave and noble race which has spread throughout the world the fame of their talents, their virtues, and their valor—here lies at your very heart oppressed, impoverished, manacled, and disloyal, a reproach to your civilization, and a disgrace to your name. For these reasons, gentlemen, we, as a party, have decided to take no part in these celebrations.