History Politics

Edward Carson: Ulster And Ireland, Puppets In The Political Games Of The Conservative Party

The problem with selective quotes is that they tend to create a selective view of the person being quoted. This is especially true of the famous statement issued by Edward Carson, the acknowledged leader of Irish unionism in the second decade of the 20th century, when he informed a packed House of Lords in the winter of 1921 that he regretted his cooperation with the Conservative and Unionist Party in London during the United Kingdom’s failed campaign to prevent the independence of Ireland: “What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power.”

Over the last century these words have been interpreted in widely different ways by critics or apologists for UK rule in Ireland, becoming something of a cliché for modern historians and journalists. The usual implication is that the Dublin-born lawyer somehow regretted his part in the British-imposed partition of the island and the subsequent establishment of the parastate of “Northern Ireland” in the north-east of the country. Unfortunately for some of Carson’s latter-day defenders, such thoughts were far from his mind when he issued a bitter condemnation of the signing of the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty Between Great Britain and Ireland during a gathering of parliamentarians in Westminster on the 14th of December 1921. The adopted Ulsterman, who had actually spent relatively little time in the nine-county province, was an arch imperialist whose only regret was that his English allies, principally the Tory members of the Liberal-led coalition government in London, had “betrayed” the pro-British unionist minority in the United Kingdom’s first and last colony.

Below is (Lord) Edward Carson’s entire speech from Hansard, the official record of the House of Lords. If you have a few minutes I’d urge you to read the full text from beginning to end. It illustrates the belligerent rigidity in unionist thinking over the last one hundred years and the remarkable lack of change in its rhetoric. I think it’s safe to say that much of this speech could be spoken by pro-union leaders in the north of Ireland today and the fears, paranoia and threats would sound not unfamiliar. Even more so, perhaps, given the references to customs, taxation, reunification and political confusion in London.

LORD CARSON: My Lords, in venturing to address your Lordships’ House for the first time I am bound to admit that the only pleasure I find in such an operation is in having to welcome here the mover of this Address, Lord Morley. I cannot but recollect that it was his speech in the House of Commons just thirty years ago which, when I first spoke there, I had to answer. I think it is befitting that he should attend here at these splendid obsequies of the Unionist Party. I think he is a very proper person to pronounce the funeral oration over all that has been said and done by that misguided Party (as we have just learnt from the noble Marquess) for the last thirty-five years, dead and buried front today, with all this engineered splendour to cover up the defeat and humiliation you have had in Ireland; dead and buried, strangled, without consultation with their followers, by the leaders and trustees who were sent into the Government to protect them.

The seconder of the Address is a brother Irishman. I have known him many years. His one great characteristic has always been that he never could agree with anybody on any subject, and I cannot but congratulate him that this evening he has at last found peace and understanding in the knowledge that he will now be under that perfect Government which will be evolved out of the murder gang in Ireland. I wish him every success and every happiness in the future of his country and of his own life there.

But, after all, we must come down to the realities of the situation. I wish I had something of the eloquence of the noble Marquess in advocating his new-found faith. I wonder when it came to him. It would be worth inquiring. Was it yesterday, or was it the day before? Why, it is not very long ago that he used to tell us that black was very black, just with as great eloquence as he has assured us that it is very white. He has what they call in boys’ slang “gone the whole hog.” It is always the way with a man who has a newly-found faith. I believe in religion they call him a convert, but I should be sorry to apply an epithet of that kind to so great, so eloquent, and so superior a man as the noble Marquess.

It is a curious thing. I once heard the late Duke of Devonshire. It was one of the earliest political meetings I ever attended and it was in Dublin, and he was commenting upon the then recent change of Mr. Gladstone on this very question. Having quoted some of his previous utterances, the noble Duke made this remark, which I commend, if I may most humbly, to the noble Marquess. He said: — “Is it necessary that because a man turns his coat he should divest himself of every particle of his raiment?” I suggest to the noble Marquess that it was not in the least necessary, because he came down here with his coat turned, that he should have tried to picture himself in such a state of absolute nudity as his speech appeared to indicate.

I read a statement in an essay in a paper a few weeks ago by that great statesman, so intimately connected with Ireland, Mr. Birrell. He said this, and I never knew it was true till I heard the noble Marquess speak this evening— “It is a British characteristic, though not an amiable one, that once we are beaten we go over in a body to the successful enemy, and too often abandon and cold-shoulder and snub, both in action and writing, the suffering few who adhere to our cause in evil and difficult times.” I am one of the suffering few. I speak for a good many. I speak—I can hardly speak—for all those who, relying on British honour and British justice, have in giving their best to the service of the State seen them now deserted and cast aside without one single line of recollection or recognition in the whole of what you call peace terms in Ireland. The noble Marquess paid a generous and eloquent tribute to Michael Collins, the head of the murder gang, as Sir Hamar Greenwood described him only a few months ago in the House of Commons.

THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON: I never mentioned him.

LORD CARSON: You mentioned the delegates. Perhaps you did not know he was one of them. I do not know if you were ever there, but he was. He committed many murders with his own hands—the hand that you have now so willingly grasped. But I heard nothing said of a case that I saw in the newspapers only two days ago—a letter written by a brokenhearted mother, whose son had been through the whole war and won honour and distinction for himself, and safety and security for you. The recompense he got was that when he went to see his mother in Ireland he was foully murdered, and the next night her house was burned down, and, while you and your colleagues were carrying on all these negotiations in Downing Street, without remonstrance or interference every single article that this brokenhearted woman had was being auctioned off in the light of day.

THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY: During the truce?

LORD CARSON: Yes, during the truce, and while the negotiations were going on in Downing Street, and you, the Government, are proud of the results that you have brought about. Well might Lord Crewe ask, as he did ask, why, if you are so certain of all this peace being gained by the abandonment of Ulster, did you go on for a year or two years sacrificing these precious lives, and rendering desolate households whose only crime was that they thought you were going to back them up. In that same letter I saw it stated that this young officer was murdered solely because he dared to refuse to subscribe to Sinn Fein, because he thought it was dishonourable; and all the time you were plotting to throw him over and to give to Sinn Fein what you had denied to him— namely, the honour and the glory of having beaten this terrible organisation of crime and assassination which existed in Ireland.

I would like to know where we stand at the present moment. I notice in the Resolution moved by the noble Viscount for an Address in reply to His Majesty’s gracious Speech that we are asked to confirm and ratify what you are pleased to call these Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland. Was ever a House of Lords or House of Commons put into such an extraordinary position? Just see what it is. For thirty years or more the late Unionist Party has been fighting the question of modified Home Rule—as I think the noble Marquess called it, a “milk-and-watery Home Rule,” or something of that kind. All of a sudden they say that that Home Rule is not good enough; you must have the real thing; the country must abandon Ireland at the very heart of the Empire to independence, with an Army, with a Navy, with separate Customs, with Ministers at foreign Courts, and delegates to the League of Nations, where they can vote against you.

And how is it presented to the country? I do not believe, in the whole of the history of our Constitution, anything approaching it has ever been attempted. It is brought out one morning cut and dried, signed, sealed, and delivered; and before making this great act of constitutional change, which is to break up the United Kingdom and, in the words of Sir Hamar Greenwood, “to smash the British Empire”, you are not to present this to Parliament or to the country, but you are to advise His Majesty to give his consent. I say there never was a greater outrage attempted upon constitutional liberty than this Coalition Government have attempted at the present time.

I should like to ask you this. If Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Asquith had attempted to do what you are attempting to do in this case, what would be the speech that the noble Marquess would have made in those circumstances? It would repay the noble Marquess to see what the leader of the Party in the House of Commons said in 1914, when the milk-and-watery Home Rule Bill was put upon the Statute Book. Why, I was ordered to walk out of the House of Commons with indignation—which I did. And now not only am I to have no indignation at the grant of what they are pleased to call Dominion Home Rule to Ireland—and I will show you what they said about it themselves two or three months ago—but I get a long lecture from the noble Marquess which, may I say, I hope in the future he will spare me; because the man (let me speak plainly) who, in my opinion at all events, has betrayed me, has no right afterwards to lecture me.

There you get it all cut and dried, like an Act of Parliament signed by the King. I saw the other day that Mr. Asquith, with whom I never have much sympathy, and never have had, made a speech and said an unusual thing had happened, that when all this came out, of which he entirely approved—indeed, I think he claimed to be the author of it—he felt an unaccustomed moisture coming down his cheeks. I do but wonder.

And how beautifully it has all been managed! The stage management is one of the most perfect things I ever recollect. The chorus in the papers, frantic telegrams to every Prime Minister to send back another telegram in order that we might have it published here. I know the Prime Minister so well, for I served under him. Make no mistake, I am grateful for all that he did in the war; but I know his methods. “Now I give The Times into your charge; I give the Daily News into your charge; and the Daily Chronicle into your charge; you see that they are all in a chorus tomorrow.” And so they are. And do you think either we or the country are going to be taken in by this manufactured glorification of what you are pleased to call the Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland? No, we are not. We tell you, if you want to pass it, go and ask the country, but you will not dare. That is the last thing you will do, or the last thing you care about. And all this comes from the long continuance in office of a Coalition Government which was formed for entirely different objects and entirely different purposes.

One thing the noble Marquess entirely forgot to tell us was how the Government came to the conclusion that these Articles of Treaty were so much for the benefit of the country. The difficulty I have in commenting upon them at all is that, unless as a matter of mere pretence, when we are seeming to be very dignified and concerned, there is not a noble Lord in this House who believes for a moment that these terms were passed upon the merits. Not at all. They were passed with a revolver pointed at your head. And you know it. You know you passed them because you were beaten. You know you passed them because Sinn Fein with its Army in Ireland has beaten you. Why do you not say so? Your Press says so, and you may as well confess it. There may be nothing dishonourable in it.

But when we are told that the reason why they had to pass these terms of Treaty, and the reason why they could not put down crime in Ireland was because they had neither the men nor the money, nor the backing, let me say that that is an awful confession to make to the British Empire. If you tell your Empire in India, in Egypt, and all over the world that you have not got the men, the money, the pluck, the inclination, and the backing to restore law and order in a country within twenty miles of your own shore, you may as well begin to abandon the attempt to make British rule prevail throughout the Empire at all.

How did this new-born faith come into existence? I have here a speech of the noble Marquess’s leader, which I have no doubt he has read over and over again out of loyalty. This speech was made on October 9 of last year. I am sorry that I shall have to inflict upon the House a certain number of quotations, because I want to show the House the unreality of the pretext put forward for these Articles of Treaty. Here is a speech made on October 9 of last year at Carnarvon by the Prime Minister, and I might mention before I read the passage, in order that you may thoroughly understand what happened, that Mr. Lloyd George, upon rising, was vociferously cheered. Now listen to it: — “Mr. Gladstone went to what he considered to be the safe limit in his concessions to Ireland. There were many who thought he went too far. He went as far as he could consistent with the security of the United Kingdom and of the Empire, and consistent with supremacy in Ireland. The same applied to Mr. Asquith in 1912. But there are men, and responsible men, who would go far beyond anything Mr. Gladstone ever thought safe” — that was the noble Marquess tonight! – “far beyond that which Mr. Asquith himself thought safe in 1912, and I have got to deal with these appeals which have been made. Now mark this— Why are we asked to go further? I protest against the doctrine that you should go further and give more, not because Ireland needs it, not because it is fair to the United Kingdom, but because crime has been more successful. It is a fatal doctrine for any Government in any country (Loud Cheers). Give it because it is right. Give it because it is just. Give it because it is good for Ireland and good for the United Kingdom. Give it because it brings peace and good will, but do not give it because you are bullied by assassins.” And that is what you did, or are trying to do.

We have heard a great deal about delivering the goods. “Only show me somebody,” said the Prime Minister, “who can deliver the goods.” What goods has anyone delivered? I know of no goods that have been delivered as a consideration for these concessions, but five hundred or six hundred bleeding corpses of men who have tried to do their duty and have lost their lives in the service of their country.

Look at the document! I defy anybody to show me anything in that document but one provision, and that is that Great Britain should scuttle out of Ireland. You may talk of a Free State. You may put in window-dressing about the status of the Colonies and everything else, but from the beginning to the end of this document there is nothing you will find except that England, beaten to her knees by the gun of the assassin, says: “We are willing to scuttle out of Ireland and to leave to the tender mercies of the assassins everybody who has supported us in the past.” I noticed this as I looked through these provisions, and I looked through them with anxiety. I know that since the truce was entered into and while you were parleying in Downing Street with, and making up your minds as to the sincerity of these men, they were taking possession of the lands and properties of men in Ireland by force and without any interference upon the part of our splendid Coalition Government. What provision is there about that in this document? Not one word. You leave them in undisturbed possession. You know well that you have not even the courage to tell them that they ought to have the externals of decency in the pretence of carrying out what is supposed to be a peace charter for Ireland.

But let me not be mistaken. It may be that you have to start in a consideration of this question upon the basis that this country was not strong enough to put down crime in Ireland. It may be that that is so. I do not know; I have not the means of judging. I regret it and I feel humiliated by it. But I know that we have gone through a great and terrible war, and it may be that by reason of the expense or of the slaughter that would occur either to your own men or to the people in Ireland, you were bound to abandon Unionist policy and to give up Ireland, which you had tried for so long to retain as a constituent part of the United Kingdom. It may be that that would become necessary. But I ask your Lordships, ought Unionist leaders to have been parties to that—Unionist leaders who had undertaken to defend Unionist policy? At least, they might have said what Peel said and, unfortunately, did not do: “I was elected for another purpose; I was put into office by those who were my followers for another purpose. If there is to be a change of policy it is not for me to carry it out.” That, I think, would have been a more honourable position to take up in public life, but the truth of the matter is that if you go on like this, if you have men in high positions stating today that “A” is white, and tomorrow arguing that it is certainly black, you will destroy the confidence of the democracy of this country in its rulers and in its institutions. I believe that is what has happened in this case, and it will make public life and politics stink in the nostrils of the country for the next twenty years.

When I took up this document involving independence, finance, and the granting of an Army and a Navy, I thought that I recollected a good deal that was said by the Prime Minister during the past year in the House of Commons and elsewhere about the impossibility of granting these things. Here is what he said on February 8, 1921, in very welcome surroundings no doubt, at the meeting of the executive of the Welsh National Liberals at the Central Hall, Westminster— “They must have an Irish Republic, an Irish Army, an Irish Navy. They won’t get it.” But you have given it! Will it be given to them by this now Party? If it will, we ought to know.

It is the most dangerous menace to the life of this country that there ever was. If they do not get it they will kill our policemen and our soldiers, not in open fighting but in hiding, in houses, walking about as respectable tenant farmers, swaggering along the road until they come to their hiding place, where they find rifles ready placed for them, passing perhaps on the way the very policeman they are about to murder, as if they were innocent men. They are not open, straightforward fighters. If I had the time, and if you, my Lords, had the patience, I could trace through the utterances of this great statesman and you would find that his enthusiasm for the preservation of the status quo has cooled as the number of murders multiplied in Ireland. Later, on June 15, 1921, he said at a semi-religious ceremony, the General Assembly of the Calvinistic Methodist Church of Wales, speaking there, no doubt, as a man of peace— “There can be no doubt in the mind of any reasonable man that if Ireland were given complete independence, with its own Army, and control of its own ports, and powers to enter into Treaties with foreign countries, whether they were friendly or hostile to us, that would place Britain in a position of such peril that I should hesitate to think what might befall in the event of a repetition of either the great struggle with Napoleon or the struggle with Germany.” Now, however, that is all put down, cut and dried, with the King’s assent, without the country having the slightest opportunity of passing a verdict upon it, and without the terms being even examined in the way that we were accustomed in the old days to examine proposals of political Parties when they were brought forward.

There are other utterances of the Prime Minister which, I think, will repay a perusal. Here is one where he tackles poor Mr. Asquith. This is what he said in a speech at Carnarvon— “I put to Mr. Asquith a question in the House of Commons.” I remember the scene perfectly well. I think I was rather exuberant over the way the Prime Minister dealt with Mr. Asquith, but at that time I did not know, as I know now, that I was a mere puppet in a political game. I was in earnest. I was not playing politics. I believed all this. I thought of the last thirty years, during which I was fighting with others whose friendship and comradeship I hope I will lose from tonight, because I do not value any friendship that is not founded upon confidence and trust. I was in earnest. What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power. And of all the men in my experience that I think are the most loathsome it is those who will sell their friends for the purpose of conciliating their enemies, and, perhaps, still worse, the men who climb up a ladder into power of which even I may have been part of a humble rung, and then, when they have got into power, kick the ladder away without any concern for the pain, or injury, or mischief, or damage that they do to those who have helped them to gain power.

This is what the Prime Minister said in October last year— “I put to Mr. Asquith a question in the House of Commons. I said you are talking about Dominion Home Rule.” The noble Marquess told us tonight that that is exactly what they are giving. The Prime Minister spoke of it as if it were a ridiculous idea— “You are talking about Dominion Home Rule, but the Dominions have got Armies and Navies of their own”. A terrible point that against Mr. Asquith. “Their ports are entirely in their control. They can shut their ports against British ships, and we know perfectly well that we could not interfere.” No more than you could interfere with Ireland. I ask, would you give the same rights to Ireland? If not, it is no use talking about Dominion Home Rule. And yet every word of that the Cabinet have now agreed to, without consulting, so far as the Unionist members were concerned, the Party, and without consulting the country. They have agreed to pass into law all that. It may be right or it may be wrong, but I say, if that is the way measures are going to be allowed to be passed in this country, then set up an autocracy in Downing Street and get rid both of the House of Lords and of the House of Commons.

But that is not all. There is another quotation— “Nobody wishes to manage Ireland’s domestic affairs, but dangerous weapons like Armies and Navies I think we had better not trust them with. It would hurt them to grasp weapons of that kind, and for the sake of Ireland they had better not have them. As far as I am concerned, and I speak on behalf of the Government, we shall certainly resist out and out any demand for an Army or Navy to be set up in Ireland at our doors to menace the existence of the United Kingdom.” And you, my Lords, are expected to be the complaisant puppets of His Majesty’s Government, and without demur and with extreme politeness, such as we heard in all the speeches which went before mine, to take off your hats and say: “Thank God for our Prime Minister and our Foreign Secretary and all the rest of them. They have done everything which they told us would ruin the United Kingdom, and with the open minds they have, and great hearts, are prepared even to risk that for the sake of putting down assassination in Ireland.”

But that is not all. Upon what issue I did you go to the country? You went to the country upon the issue setting up the Home Rule Act, which was on the Statute Book; which retained the Army and Navy here, which retained all finance here, which provided that Ireland was to have only a subordinate Parliament and which preserved the supremacy of the Crown. The noble Marquess and I used to go down to platforms together and tell the people that that Act would be absolute ruin to this country and mean the break-up of the United Kingdom and the Empire. I suppose you were humbugging all the time and had your tongue in your cheek. I was not. I was taking risks, right or wrong; and you were encouraging me all you knew. Many a man who is now party to all this treason and treachery has come up to me time after time in the House of Commons and elsewhere, and said, “For God’s sake do not give way an inch, and we will win the next Election.”

I hope you are proud of your Treaty. Let me say this, and it is the last word so far as this point is concerned. I think it is an innovation which this House ought very carefully to consider—namely, the entry into a Treaty between different parts of one Kingdom. Was such a thing ever heard of before? The next time you have a dispute in the coal fields of this… you will find suddenly coming down here, with the King’s Assent to it beforehand, a Treaty between England and the coal-owners and coal-miners of Yorkshire, Derbyshire and elsewhere.

A Treaty! On the very face of the document itself it is false. It says: “A Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland,” and before you signed it you never even asked Ulster. Nor is her signature necessary. It is only to be signed in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland and by this House, and your Lordships, Who only last year set up a separate entity in the Six Counties consisting of 1,200,000 people, disregard that as part of Ireland. But when you come to ask for contributions and taxes then you say: “Small patch as you are” (to use Mr. Asquith’s phrase) “you must pay 44 per cent. of the contribution.” I say the document has a lie on the face of it. And it is put there purposely. It is put there for this reason—that you wish to admit in the presence of those men, because you were afraid of them, that they were representative of the whole of Ireland. They are not, and please God they never will be.

Let me say before I sit down—I deeply apologise to the House for the time I have taken—a word about Ulster. Like everybody else, you have betrayed Ulster. The noble Marquess, in his lecture to me, hoped that I would advance opinions that Ulster should come in. This constant preaching at Ulster is nauseating. The other evening I saw with disgust that Mr. Austen Chamberlain, the son of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, having agreed to put Ulster into these terms, then said he made an appeal to the comradeship of his old friend Sir James Craig to come in and submit to the domination of Sinn Fein. I could not help thinking that it was very like, after having shot a man in the back, going over to him and patting him on the shoulder and saying: “Old man, die as quickly as you can, and do not make any noise.”

Your Lordships, I have no doubt, read the papers. I hope you read more of them than I do. For the last three or six months the whole vitriolic power of the Press, inspired by No. 10, Downing Street and their able propaganda department, have been carrying on week after week and day after day a campaign of falsehood and misrepresentation against Ulster: bellowing, bullying and blustering as if Ulster cared one farthing about it. But why is all this attack made upon Ulster? What has Ulster done? I will tell you what Ulster has done. She has stuck too well to you, and you believe that because she is loyal you can kick her as you like.

In 1914 the whole Conservative Party, headed by the noble Marquess, had pledged the whole force and power of the Party and, if they got into the Government, of this country, to maintain and keep Ulster outside the modified Home Rule Bill of 1914. What has happened since to change your attitude? When the war came on and you were in want of men, just at the point when you were turning Ulster (as she thought, at all events) out of the United Kingdom, I was asked to go over and try to raise a Division. I had to go to the men who were smarting under the fact that you were trying to turn them out of the heritage of citizenship to which they were loyal and devoted, and I had to say to them: “Never mind; that is merely an act of the Government and not an act of the people; the people are all right, and, after all, our union and the United Kingdom are all wrapped up in the success of this war.” I said to them: “Go and enlist, go and bring glory to Ulster and safety to the Empire; that is your first duty.” And they went, and they suffered, and they lost thousands and thousands of men, while your new-found friends were murdering your troops in the city of Dublin. Is it that which has turned you from your desire to help Ulster?

And then, in 1916, after the Rebellion, I was asked by the present Prime Minister, at the instigation of Mr. Asquith, who was then his chief, to go to Ireland and to try to induce the Ulster people to agree to the setting up of the Act of 1914 in the south and west on the condition that the Six Counties should be left out. I knew they would hate it, but I cared more about the success of the war than I did even about Ulster. I am not ashamed to say it, because I thought the one involved the other. I went over, and I had as a guarantee a letter from the present Prime Minister, which I shall always keep as a precious possession, guaranteeing me that the Six Counties would be left out, and that they never could be put back again without an Act of Parliament. Was it my action on that account which has turned you to take a different attitude towards Ulster?

Again, conscription was brought in for Ireland—in my opinion far too late, and at a very fatal moment, as I advised at the time—and Ulster was willing to be conscripted. But all your friends, your new-found friends in Ireland, went down and met together in solemn conclave with the Catholic Hierarchy, and determined to send to perdition anybody that dared even to advocate and allow it. And there again they beat you. Was it that which turned you against Ulster? And in 1920, when this Government came into power and you brought in your Home Rule Bill of 1920, was that your policy? Did it represent your policy, or was it a sham? Do any of your Bills ever represent your policy, or do you mean to correct them the moment the ink is dry upon His Majesty’s signature? Was it your policy? All I can say, as I said in the House of Commons at the time, is that I refused absolutely to go over and ask Ulster, which loathed and detested it, to accept a Parliament there unless I had the most solemn assurances from the Prime Minister that that was to be a settlement of the case, and a permanent one, so that Ulster might proceed, after being threatened for thirty years, to the natural development of her resources and to the progress of the great democratic community over which she presides.

I got those solemn assurances over and over again from the Prime Minister. I went there, and I lost many friends. Lord Farnham can tell you something of what I went through at the time, because he was there. I am not sure he did not very nearly fall out with me himself, only he is far too good a fellow. I went through all that, and I came back and supported it, and did what I could to support it in this House. I was not a member, but many members asked me about it, because they knew I was interested in it, and I think they believed I was sincere.

Then the Bill was passed; and you advised His Majesty to open this new Parliament, with all the paraphernalia and splendour of a new-born Parliament in the Empire. He did so, with great success, and he met with a loyalty that he himself declared had never been exceeded in any part of His Majesty’s Dominions. And then what happens? The murders go… [indecipherable text] and you forget all your pledges. What a splendid thing a statesman’s conscience is in modern times! It is becoming nearly as elastic as the conscience of the Press, and I do not know which of them I have insulted more in saying that.

Next you enter into your parleys with the Sinn Feiners. I want to be perfectly frank about that. I do not see any reason why the Prime Minister should not enter into parleys with these gentlemen if he thought he could save bloodshed, or get such modifications of the Act of 1920 as would make a real settlement. But what happened? Without one word of warning to Ulster, without one single communication to the Prime Minister or Government of Ulster—which, after all, you cannot altogether despise, as you are the parents of it—that would be an unnatural thing of which I would never accuse the noble Marquess—without one word of warning there is sprung upon them this: “We have arranged with the Sinn Feiners that there is to be a Parliament for the whole of Ireland, that the Six Counties are to go in, and if you go in here is good news for you, because you are not to pay a 6s. Income Tax, but probably only a 1s.6d. one, and now how happy you ought to be.” Ulster is not for sale. Her loyalty does not depend upon taxes. Ulster values her heritage as citizens of the United Kingdom, and neither you nor the Press, nor your friends in the south of Ireland, need try to terrorise her by the bogey of her having to pay more. At the same time, I make this observation in passing, that it does seem an extraordinary idea of British justice that because Ulster will not join the enemies of this country, and will not go under the murder gang in Dublin, therefore she must pay higher taxation. However, I merely make that observation in passing.

When Ulster refuses to accept these terms, you proceed behind her back, having promised to submit new proposals to her which you never did until they were signed—you proceed to pass the Treaty, as you call it, which is now under discussion. Even then you must outrage her sentiments by putting her, without her consent, into what they call the Free State of Ireland. Why should you do that? Do you not know perfectly well that the way she takes that is this, and I am sure she is right—that you are throwing the whole weight of the British Government into the policy of compelling her to go under the Sinn Fein Parliament in Dublin? Why else did you put her in in that way, and how have you framed your Bill if she comes out? And I promise you she will come out. I promise you that she will come out within ten minutes of her hearing of the King’s Assent being given to a Bill putting her in.

Then, how does she stand? You have tried to make—and I charge you that you have done it wilfully and deliberately—you have tried to make her position impossible, and, what is more, I believe you have told the Sinn Fein delegates so. What have you done? You give these people power to have an Army and to pay for it out of the taxes which they collect. You give them the free Customs, which enables them to bring in arms, ammunition and all the weapons of war, as they like. What do they want an Army for unless it be to invade Ulster? What do you give them the Army for? What is your plan? Is it to invade America, or the Isle of Man, or the Channel Islands? You know well that you want to strengthen her against Ulster, and that Ulster will have standing on her frontier, a difficult frontier always, a standing Army supported out of the taxes of the south and west of Ireland.

Ulster has no provision for raising an Army. That you have reserved for yourselves. Of course you may answer me: “You need have no fear, because the British Army will be at Ulster’s disposal.” Do you think, after what has happened, that we can trust any Government that it will be so, and, above all, that we can trust a Government who have shown by their framing of the Bill that their policy is to drive us under? No! We will have to trust our own right arm, and we will trust our own right arm. But what a message of peace to send to Ireland, to tell the south and west: “You can maintain an Army and all the accoutrements of war for the purpose, if you like, of invading Ulster and of compelling Ulster to come under you. You can commence with an Army, and also, if you like, with some naval ships.” Peace! What is the good of pretence? You are crying peace when there is no peace.

But that is not all. What more have you done? You have given free Customs to the south and west, and you have retained Ulster under your own powers of taxation here. When Ulster goes out, what does that mean? At the present moment, and for some months past, a vigorous boycotting of Ulster goods, or goods that come into Ireland through Ulster, has been going on by the south and west, and not merely Ulster goods but also English goods, for I am told that you cannot buy any Ulster or any English goods anywhere in the south and west at the present moment. You have that boycotting going on, and you have trains stopped daily and the goods of loyal merchants pitched upon the ground, or into rivers, or burnt, merely as a coercive policy towards Northern Ireland; and of course without any interference—for how could you interfere after the character you have given them tonight?—by the British Government.

What will it be when the Act passes? Why, you will have legitimised all this, because you will have given power to the Sinn Fein Parliament in the south and west, by prohibition or tariffs, just as they please, to prevent anything coming into Ireland through Ulster, or anything being sent from Ulster to the south and west. Therefore, I say that you have given into their hands the power of actual physical coercion, and also the power of economic coercion. Is it any wonder that Ulster has, I regret to say, begun to break away from you. You have been preaching at her day after day and beseeching her to become Sinn Fein, and what is the result? That for the first time the people are wavering towards you. I have had many letters and many communications. Perhaps you will allow me to read a passage from one. This is not from a politician; it is from an official— “The feeling here” — that is, Londonderry— “is very bitter, and a strong feeling exists that if solid, reliable guarantees could be got, Ulster should join in with a Republican Ireland and wash its hands from all connection with such a perfidious people.” In my opinion all faith of the Ulster Protestants in Englishmen’s honesty or capacity has been wrecked. That is the record of your message of peace.

But I say to my Ulster friends, and I say it with all sincerity and solemnity: “Do not be led into any such false line. Stick to your old ideals of closer and closer connection with this country. The Coalition Government, after all, is not the British nation, and the British nation will certainly see you righted. Your interests lie with Great Britain. You have helped her, and you have helped her Empire, and her Empire belongs just as much to you as it does to England. Stick to it, and trust the British people.” But I warn the Government of this tendency, because do not imagine that, if any such thing happens, it would be merely that you had achieved your ambition to turn the people of the North of Ireland into Sinn Feiners and assassins. Not at all. Out through the whole Empire—Canada, Australia, New Zealand—Ulstermen are strong and powerful. Toronto is an Ulster city. Do not do something which, throughout the length and breadth of our Empire, will turn Ulster against the British connection. God forbid! And do remember that when, through your laws, Ulstermen were driven out of Ireland and went to America, it was thirty-six Ulstermen, smarting under a grievance, who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Loyalty is a strange thing. It is something which you cannot get by merely sitting round a table and trying to find a formula for an Oath of Allegiance which means nothing. It is something born and bred in you. I have often—I admit it—when we have been threatened because we were loyal in Ulster in times past, threatened day after day and night after night, for no crime except that we were loyal—if have often said to myself: “Well, why don’t you give it up and join the others?” And I never did, because I know I could not, because I know that it is something that is born in you, inherited in you, and that is the safety of the State. But do not try us too high! Do recognise that we have tried to help you, as you have helped us, and do not, when we want to stay with you, do anything to turn us out.

As we move towards the end game of Brexit, with factions of the ruling Conservative Party in London fighting for power in alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party, the modern Carsonite grouping, such historical parallels are worth keeping in mind.

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6 comments on “Edward Carson: Ulster And Ireland, Puppets In The Political Games Of The Conservative Party

  1. Remember that as Founding father of Unionism, Edward Carson was judged by the English as having made “no outstanding contribution to British politics”.
    He undoubtedly made only a deleterious contribution to Irish politics
    Edward Carson or Oscar Wilde?
    Both children of the same time period in ireland

    Who finally won out in the end?
    Who is finally winning out?

    https://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/edward-carson-1854-1935/

    • Yes, a very destructive politician and certainly not out of step with the anti-democratic and authoritarian figures who appeared in Europe in the aftermath of WWI. That is the most important point about Carson. He was fundamentally an anti-democrat who favoured violent force over the ballot box when the latter failed to meet his expectations.

      • And we are still told that we can’t have reunification and independence, with a 50% plus one vote in the six counties, because the loyalists would use violence again.

  2. theotherside

    The first thing to go with a United Ireland is that ghastly statue

  3. ar an sliabh

    All the trust and loyalty led to even him realising in the end that he had been had. If you live on our island or are from here, you better understand that you will never, ever, be part of the other, no matter how pure english you are, how loyal or self-deprecating, how far you crawl up the empire’s arse, or how many atrocities you commit its name. If you like to be crapped on because of your heritage, language, the way you speak english, your religion, or where you are originally from, go live over there. Jesus, they do that to themselves! Where does anyone from somewhere else think they will get “in”? If you live anywhere here on our Island and want to stay here, or have to stay here, or have to want to stay here (thanks Liam), be Irish and be done with it. You are better off that way.

    • Pat murphy

      Best reply I’ve read in a long time. The English want nobody in there circle and likewise they are not wanted anywhere else. Paul McCartney hit the nail on the head.

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