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Letter Advocating Federalism as an Alternative to Repeal

Letter Advocating Federalism as an Alternative to Repeal

November 1844

William Sharman Crawford

The Repeal movement of the early 1840s under Daniel O'Connell's leadership was dealt a notable setback in October 1843, when the British government prohibited the holding of the "monster meeting" at Clontarf and then proceeded to indict and try O'Connell and other leading Repealers for conspiracy. As the prospects of Repeal dimmed, the northern landlord and tenant-right advocate William Sharman Crawford (1781–1861) sought to promote the idea of a federal solution to the Anglo-Irish relationship in a series of public letters.

SEE ALSO Local Government since 1800; Politics: 1800 to 1921—Challenges to the Union

Sir, I have in the preceding sections [actually, in earlier letters] shown, first, the evils produced to Ireland through the want of local legislation by a local body. I have shown, secondly, that it is the principle of British policy to grant local legislative bodies to portions of the empire so circumstanced, and I have taken the constitution of Canada as an example of their construction. I now proceed to inquire on what basis a legislature could be constructed for Ireland which would secure to her these two things; 1st, protection for her rights, and 2dly, the management of her own resources—and would at the same time avoid any danger to the integrity of the empire by leaving in the hands of an imperial parliament those matters of legislation which imperial interests require.

As it is always prudent to adopt a precedent in existence when not inconsistent with the purposes sought to be obtained, I shall take as my basis the act for the constitution of Canada, already referred to in my second section [letter]. I shall suppose, then, that a legislature is constituted for Ireland, consisting of two houses—a House of Lords, which may be considered analogous to the Legislative Council of Canada, and a House of Commons, analogous to their House of Assembly. I shall not now enter into the particular details of construction; I shall at once refer to the power with which such a parliament may be invested.

  1. That this parliament shall be competent (with the royal assent) to make all laws necessary for Ireland and to impose and apply all necessary taxes, subject to the limitations and regulations hereinafter stated.
  2. That all bills which may be passed by the local parliament, which make any provisions with regard to religion or religious worship, or pecuniary grants or payments for the purposes of religion, or any bills which relate to [omission in original], shall be subject to the regulations contained in the 42d section of the Canada Act—viz., that before the royal assent be given to any such bills, they shall lie for thirty days on the tables of the houses of the imperial parliament, and in case the said houses shall address the sovereign to withhold the royal assent, such assent shall not be given. (Note—Upon the subject of this exception with regard to religion, I may remark that before any new political constitution can be established, I conceive that some equitable settlement with regard to the Irish church [the Anglican Church of Ireland] and its revenues must be effected; such being made, it is only a reasonable concession to the apprehension of many persons well affected to local legislation, to provide that such settlement shall not be disturbed by any act of the local legislature without the approval of the imperial parliament; and I would further add, by any act of the imperial parliament without the approval of the local parliament. It would be a matter for consideration whether any bills, regarding any other laws than those relating to religion should be made subject to the same rules.)
  3. That all acts of the imperial legislature which regard the succession to the throne or the appointment of a regent (if such should be necessary) shall be binding on Ireland without being referred to the local legislature.
  4. That the local parliament shall have power to impose and apply, with the assent of the Crown, all taxation necessary for the purposes of Ireland, subject to the regulations and limitations hereinafter stated.
  5. That the imperial parliament shall retain a power similar to that provided by the 43rd section of the Canada Act—to impose all duties necessary for the purposes of commerce over the United Kingdom.
  6. That the net produce of all duties so imposed shall—in conformity with the proviso contained in the 43rd section of the Canada Act—be paid into the Irish exchequer and placed at the disposal of the local parliament, in [the] same manner as all taxes imposed by the local authority.
  7. That if any bill be passed by the local parliament, proposing to alter or repeal, with regard to Ireland, any duty which had been so imposed by the imperial parliament, or to impose any new duty on any article of foreign or colonial produce imported into Ireland, such bill shall be subjected, previous to the royal assent being declared, to the same regulations as provided under the second head with regard to certain laws to be submitted to the consideration of the imperial parliament.
  8. That it be a fundamental law that no duties shall be imposed by either parliaments [sic] which would impede the perfect freedom of trade between Great Britain and Ireland.
  9. That Ireland shall pay a certain quota to the military and naval establishments and other expenses of the empire, that this quota shall be a sum fixed for a certain number of years, not to be increased under any circumstances during the time specified, except by a free grant of the parliament of Ireland; that at the termination of the period specified a new arrangement of the quota may be made if both parliaments consent.
  10. That Ireland shall pay the expenses of all her civil establishments and institutions out of her own revenue.
  11. That no law made, nor tax imposed, by the local parliament of Ireland shall have operation beyond the limits of Ireland; and that all foreign and colonial legislation of every description shall remain under the control and authority of the imperial parliament.
  12. That no law or act of the imperial parliament made after the passing of this act, and operating locally in Ireland, shall be binding on Ireland unless assented [to] by her local parliament—with the exception of those matters reserved in proposition no. 3 and the power of imposing duties reserved in no. 5.
  13. That all laws and statutes now in force shall be binding on Ireland till altered or replaced according to the power given by this act.

If the above propositions be examined, I think they shall be found to define with sufficient accuracy the general powers which I would propose to vest in a local and imperial parliament. They are not powers or distinctions which are the mere creations of my imagination—they are taken from the laws of England as developed in her legislation towards her colonial possessions. . . .

I am aware that these propositions will not meet the views of those who claim for Ireland a separate national existence—they will allege that my propositions would place her rather in the position of a colony of a[nother] nation. I cannot help this; I repeat what I have often before stated—that I cannot conceive [any] . . . means of separate national existence, except by a separation of the Crown as well as of the parliament. By this I mean a perfectly independent condition, and I think this condition cannot be obtained, and if temporarily obtained, could not be preserved. I care not what name may be given to the position in which Ireland may be placed if it gives the best practical security for her rights and her interests. Ireland is now in the position of a conquered country, held only by the military power of England; I wish to redeem her from that state by founding the connexion on a just and useful basis.

Freeman's Journal, 15 November 1844.

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