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On Home Rule at Wicklow

On Home Rule at Wicklow

5 October 1885

Charles Stewart Parnell

As a critical general election approached in the autumn of 1885, Parnell gave a speech at Wicklow openly acknowledging that a Home Rule parliament in Ireland would move to protect certain nascent Irish industries—a stance likely to scare Liberal adherents of free trade. But he also tried to turn on its head the argument of opponents that Home Rule would lead to Irish separation and complete independence. To hear him tell it, it was the current forcible yoking together of the two countries in the same British parliament that led to the extreme Irish disaffection that threatened imperial unity.

SEE ALSO Home Rule Movement and the Irish Parliamentary Party: 1870 to 1891; Parnell, Charles Stewart; Politics: 1800 to 1921—Challenges to the Union

When I last spoke in public in Ireland, I expressed my conviction that in the new parliament we should be able to form our platform of a single plank, and that plank [is] the plank of legislative independence (cheers), and that we should carry that plank to a successful issue in the same way as during the last parliament we have carried other subordinate planks, such as the extension of the franchise and so forth (cheers). My declaration has been received by the English press and by some, although not by all, the English leaders with a storm of disapproval, and they have told us that the yielding of an independent parliament to Ireland is a matter of impossibility. But nothing that has been said in this interval has in the slightest degree diminished my confidence in the near success of our efforts (loud cheers). On the contrary, very much that has been said by our enemies in reference to this claim of ours has very much increased my confidence (cheers). They practically admit that things cannot be allowed to go on as they are; that it is impossible to keep an unwilling people and unwilling representatives in forced legislative connexion with the other two kingdoms (hear, hear). They admit that there must be some change; but the two conditions that they put forward in regard to this change, and as a condition of this change, are—firstly, that the separation of Ireland from England shall not be a consequence of the grant of legislative independence to Ireland; and in the second place they claim that we shall not be allowed to protect our manufacturers at the cost of those in England. . . . To take the last point first and to deal with the question of the protection of Irish manufacturers, I have claimed for Ireland a parliament that shall have power to protect these Irish manufacturers (cheers) if it be the will of the parliament and of the Irish people that they should be protected (cheers). But it is not for me to say beforehand what the action of such a freely elected Irish assembly would be. I may have my own opinion as to the best course for that assembly to take, but I have claimed that no parliamentary assembly will work satisfactorily which has not free power over Irish affairs (applause); which has not free power to raise a revenue for the purpose of government in Ireland as shall seem fit and best to that assembly (applause). I am of the opinion . . . that it would be wise to protect certain Irish industries at all events for a time (hear, hear); that it is impossible for us to make up for the loss of the start in the manufacturing race which we have experienced owing to adverse legislation in times past against Irish industries by England, unless we do protect these industries, not many in number, which are capable of thriving in Ireland (applause). I am not of the opinion that it would be necessary for us to protect these industries very long; possibly protection continued for two or three years would give us that start which we have lost owing to the nefarious legislative action of England in times past (hear, hear). . . . I believe there are several industries which would thrive, and could be made to thrive, in Ireland. But I think that as regards many other branches of manufacture, of which we have now to seek our supply from the English markets, we should still have to go to their markets for supply on account of natural reasons which I have not time to enter into at the present moment. But I claim this for Ireland, that if the Irish parliament of the future considers that there are certain industries in Ireland which could be benefited by protection, which could be nursed by protection, and which could be placed in such a position as to enable them to complete with similar industries in other countries by a course of protection extending over a few years, the parliament ought to have power to carry out that policy (cheers). . . . I will proceed a little further, and I will deal with the claim that has been put forward, that some guarantee should be given that the granting of legislative powers to Ireland should not lead to the separation of Ireland from England. This claim is one which at first sight may seem a fair one. It may appear preposterous, and it undoubtedly would be preposterous, to ask England to concede to us an engine which we announced our intention of using to bring about either separation of the two countries, or which we accepted silently with the intention of so using it; but there is a great difference between having such an intention or announcing such an intention and giving counter guarantees against such an intention. It is not possible for human intelligence to forecast the future in these matters; but we can point to this—we can point to the fact that under 85 years of parliamentary connexion with England, Ireland has become intensely disloyal and intensely disaffected (applause); that notwithstanding the Whig policy of so-called conciliation, alternative conciliation and coercion, and ameliorative measures, that disaffection has broadened, deepened, and intensified from day to day (cheers). Am I not, then, entitled to assume that one of the roots of this disaffection and feeling of disloyalty is the assumption by England of the management of our affairs (cheers). It is admitted that the present system can't go on, and what are you going to put in its place? (Cries of "Home Rule.") My advice to English statesmen considering this question would be this—trust the Irish people altogether or trust them not at all (cheers). Give with a full and open hand—give our people the power to legislate upon all their domestic concerns, and you may depend upon one thing, that the desire for separation, that means of winning separation at least, will not be increased or intensified (cheers). Whatever chance the English rulers may have of drawing to themselves the affection of the Irish people lies in destroying the abominable system of legislative union between the two countries by conceding fully and freely to Ireland the right to manage her own affairs. It is impossible for us to give guarantees, but we can point to the past; we can show that the record of English rule is a constant series of steps of bad to worse (cheers), that the condition of English power is more insecure and more unstable at the present moment than it has ever been (applause). We can point to the example of other countries—of Austria and of Hungary—to the fact that Hungary, having been conceded self-government, became one of the strongest factors in the Austrian empire. We can show the powers that have been freely conceded to the colonies—to the greater colonies—including this very power to protect their own industries against and at the expense of those of England. We can show that disaffection has disappeared in all the greater English colonies, that while the Irishman who goes to the United States of America carries with him a burning hatred of English rule (cheers); that while that burning hatred constantly lives in his heart, never leaves him, and is bequeathed to his children, the Irishman coming from the same village, and from the same parish, and from the same townland, equally maltreated, cast out on the road by the relentless landlord, who goes to one of the colonies of Canada or one of the colonies of Australia and finds there another and a different system of English rule to that which he has been accustomed to at home, becomes to a great extent a loyal citizen and a strength and a prop to the community amongst whom his lot has been cast; that he forgets the little memories of his experience of England at home, and that he no longer continues to look upon the name of England as a symbol of oppression and the badge of the misfortunes of his country (cheers). I say that it is possible and that it is the duty of English statesmen at the present day to inquire and examine into these facts for themselves with their eyes open; and to cease the impossible task, which they admit to be impossible, of going forward in the continued misgovernment of Ireland and persisting in the government of our people by a people outside herself who know not her real wants (cheers); and if these lessons be learned, I am convinced that the English statesman who is great enough and who is powerful enough to carry out these teachings, to enforce them on the acceptance of his countrymen, to give to Ireland full legislative liberty, full power to manage her own domestic concerns, will be regarded in the future by his countrymen as one who has removed the greatest peril to the English empire (hear, hear)—a peril, I firmly believe, which if not removed, will find some day . . . an opportunity of revenging itself—(loud cheers)—to the destruction of the British empire—for the misfortunes, the oppressions, and the misgovernment of our country (loud cheers).

Freeman's Journal, 6 October 1885.

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