How to Settle the Irish Question —and Our Imperial Problem
The Folly of the Sinn Fein:—The First of a Series
George Bernard ShawJanuary11918
How to Settle the Irish Question —and Our Imperial Problem
The Folly of the Sinn Fein:—The First of a Series
George Bernard Shaw
Written for MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE and the l.ondon (Eng.) Express.
EDITOR'S Note.—The last form was on the press when this article came in from Mr. Shaw. It is so “Ing” that we haue stopped the press to insert it. The second and third articles in the series will appear in succeeding issues. Mr. Shaw, satiric and unsparing, but clear-sighted and fearless, begins with the Irish Question, but soon bréales the bounds of his channel and presents a solution for the problems of Imperial relations. Ili» solution embraces Ireland, England, Scotland, Canada ami all parts of the Empire. The articles will, therefore, hare direct interest for Canadian readers. The solution, it is said, has been considered by Premier Lloyd George. With reference to the purely Irish side of it, Mr. Shaw writes: “I am probably the only writer available who could handle both sides without embittering them and setting them hopelessly against the correct and inevitable solution. I am a privileged lunatic with them: and I have been asked to try my hand.”
THE task of the Irish Convention is to reconcile three parties, all of whom have impressed their views on the Irish people by a long and sensational propaganda. The three are: the Home Rule or Parnellite party in the House of Commons; the Ulster or Carsonite party; and Sinn Fein. The first, haying been worn down into opportunism by long parliamentary experience, will accept any settlement that will enable them to come to their constituents as the saviours of their country and the restorers of the Irish National parliament in College Green. They care little for the quality of the settlement provided it will pass on the platform and at the polling booth. The other two, Ulster and Sinn Fein, are the hard nuts to crack. It is quite hopeless to expect that the Chairman of the Convention, Sir Horace Plunkett, popular as he is on both sides, can reconcile them by inducing either to accept the views of the other. But, if solution can be found which reduces them both to absurdity, the Sinn Fein may embrace it because it shows lip Ulster, and Ulster may tolerate it because it makes Sinn Fein ridiculous. And therein lies the hope of the Convention ; for, as the Ulster talk and the Sinn Fein talk are both mostly baby talk, any sane solution must have this double effect. It only remains to find such a solution, and to make a propaganda of it sufficient to convince the parlimentary opportunists that it has acquired a hacking of public opinion.
I shall, therefore, begin by demonstrating to the entire satisfaction of Ulster that the Sinn Feiners are idiots. I shall then demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Sinn Fein that the Ulster Impossibilists are idiots. Having thus ingratiated myself with both parties, I shall venture upon a few incidental references to the interests of the more populous island and the rest of the empire in the question. Finally, I shall propound the solution.
Sinn Fein means We Ourselves: a disgraceful and obsolete sentiment, horribly anti-Catholie, and acutely ridiculous in the presence of a crisis which has shown
that even the richest and the most powerful countries, twenty times as populous as Ireland and more than a hundred times as spacious, have been tumble to stand by themselves, and have had to accept the support even of their traditional enemies. Sinn Fein has an extremely hi till opinion of the Irish people: that is, of itself. It has an inborn sense of .superiority to all who have had the misfortune to he born in other countries, which 1 share, quite irrationally. It is hardly too much to say that Ireland is the Malvolio of the nations, “sick of self conceit,” and the Sinn Fein’s delight is to propagate the m o rose m a 1 ad y. Some of the results are dangerous, others only ridiculous. The dangerous result is the arming and drilling of young countrymen so stupendously ignorant of the magnitude and resources of the great Powers that they speak and read of “Striking a decisive Mow at England” without suspecting that England or any other W estern European power, except perhaps the principality of Monaco, could wipe thorn off the face of the earth, from the water or the air without setting foot on Irish soil. They are quite capable of attacking a police station with all the seriousness of the Germans attacking Verdun, or Sir Douglas Haig investing the Flanders ridges. They actually put up a stunning fight in Dublin in Easter, 1916, and were so clumsily tackled that they are able to point to the walls and portico and statues of their stronghold, the General Post Office, standing unscathed in the midst of acres of devastation as a proof that the British artillery cannot hit a haystack at point blank range.
Fed on dreams and Irish air, they are subject to an agonizing desire to die for Ireland, which makes it quite impossible to keep them in order by the ordinary police methods of free countries. To them the war against
England has a mediaeval double quality of being a holy war and a chivalrous romance at the same time: they bear to battle the colors of the Drak Rosaleen. a Dulcinea proof against all disillusion. Baton charges and silly Police Court prosecution of Boy Scouts for illegal drilling produce as much effect on them as briars and bee stings on a bear. Forbidden to wear uniform or carry arms, they form a column three miles long, fully equipped and armed,and give an impressive funeral to Thomas Ashe, whose body has lain in state at the Dublin Guildhall under their guard. Theoretically the Castle could furnish every police station in Ireland with a couple of machine guns, and replace the batons by Mills bombs, ft could exhibit these weapons in practice every week at public parades and drills. It could show the constabulary co-operating with aeroplanes and possibly with local sanitary authority in demolishing a slum occasionally. But practically it does none of these things, perhaps because it dare trust nobody: and perhaps because it is even more hopelessly out-of-date than the Sinn Feiners themselves, and still thinks of a rising as an assembly of pikes at the rising of the moon, to be put down by bayonet and Brown Bess, with plenty of informing and hanging to follow. However that may be, the Sinn Feiners have been so irresolutely handled that they have not the least idea of what they are up against, and see nothing extravagant in the notion that less than a million adult Irish males, without artillery, ships or planes, could bring the British Empire to its knees in a conflict of blood and iron. This is the dangerous (to themselves) side of Sinn Fein.
NOW for the ridiculous side. They propose that the Irish question should he settled by “The Peace .Conference.” By this they mean that, when the quarrel between the Central and Ottoman Empire on one side and the United States of America, the British Empire, the French Republic, Italy. Japan, etc., etc., etc., etc., on the other, comes to lie settled, the plenipotentiaries of these Powers, at the magic words “Gentlemen: Ireland!” will immediately rise reverently; sing “God Save Ireland”; and postpone all their business until they have redressed the wrongs of the Drak Rosaleen. Â wise Irishman might well pray that his country may have the happiness to he forgotten when the lions divide their prey. One hardly wants the unfortunate island to be Hung like a bone to a half-satisfied dog as Cyprus was at the Berlin Conference. But Sinn Fein really does think that the world consists of Ireland and a few subordinate continents.
Nmv let us turn from the megalomanie delusions of rinn Fein to it? practical aspirations. First, there is the Casement scheme. Casement was no ignorant countryside dreamer: he was a traveler and an official diplomatist. His plan, which has been for a long time in print in America, was that Ireland should bank on a German victory when the great war came. Germany’s main object would lie to break England’s command of the sea; and he suggested that the most effective step in that direction would lie to make Ireland an independent State right in the fairway of England’s maritime commerce. This was a perfectly legitimate political speculation and it is by no means improbable that it may still recommend itself to Germany in the event of her coming out of the war in a position to demand such a change. It rushes into the head of Sinn Fein as air rushes into a vacuum. Before the war there was something to be said for it in Ireland: for there was then some excuse for the popular belief that the treaties bv which great Powers, for their own purpose, guarantee the independence of little States as buffers and the like, are something more
than scraps of paper. That is to say, the independence of Belgium and Greece seemed worth having then. Does anyone think it worth having now? Surely, of all sorts of dependence the most wretched is that in which a State is helplessly dependent on a powerful neighbor who accepts no responsibility for her and shares nothing with her, but makes her soil the shell swept No Man’s Land between her frontier and that of her enemy when war breaks out. If the English had a pennyworth of political sagacity instead of being; as they are, inc-orrigible Sinn Feiners almost to the last man, they would long ago have brought the Irish Separatists to their senses by threatening them with independence. It is as plain as the stars in Heaven that, if England tried to cast Ireland off, it would be necessary for Ireland, if she could, to make war on England, as Lincoln made war on Jefferson Davis, to maintain the Union. Yet here are these two sets of fools: one repudiating the invaluable alliance in the name of freedom, and the other insisting on conferring the boon by force in the guise of slavery. How Irish on the part of the English! How English on the part of the Irish !
SINN FEIN has one other pseudo-practical cry : Fiscal autonomy. What it means the dictionary knows, not Sinn Fein. For here again it is quite clear that England has everything to gain and Ireland everything to lose by separate banking accounts. It means shilling telegrams for Ireland and ninepenny ones for England, with postage rates to correspond. Tt means grant-in-aid to all the English countries for housing, education, public health, roads and railways out of the colossal fund of British rent nationalized by super-taxation—and nothing for the Trish country. It means rent and taxes collected in Ireland and spent on munition making in England. When Blucher saw London, he said: “What a city to loot !” That is how I, as an Irish Socialist, feel about London and her ground rents. Sinn Fein wants to protect London from me, and thinks that, in doing so, it is protecting Dublin. Sancta Simplicitas! The beggar refuses to pool with the millionaire; and the millionaire, terrified, calls for horse, foot, and artillery, to force the beggar to rifle his pockets. When people ask me what Sinn Fein means, I reply that it is Trish for John Bull.
Well may Ulster ask: “Are these Sinn Feiners to be allowed to rule us?” Deeply may Ulster feel that in me, the Protestant Shaw, she has found an inspired spokesman. But wait a bit. In my next article I shall put Ulster’s brains on my dissecting table. And then my twenty-four hours’ popularity in Belfast will wane.
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