What is to be done with Home Rule next session? Until that question is answered, no one can even guess what will be the course of business. Ministers therefore at the November Cabinet must decide first and foremost what they will propose to do about Home Rule, before they propose to do anything else whatever. But although Ministers propose, the Irish dispose.
If the Irish insist upon the reintroduction of the Home Rule Bill and the sterilisation of the whole Session only in order that the House of Lords may reject the Bill a second time by a majority of ten to one, they will no doubt be obeyed. But the Liberal majority will obey as the gladiators obeyed in the arena, crying, "Ave Caesar, nos morituri te salutamus." For there is not a man in our ranks who does not know that the sacrifice of another Session to the dressing of a Home Rule Bill merely that the Peers may have the amusement of throwing it out of the window, amid the cheers of an English crowd, is, to put it tersely, suicide and blue ruin. Suicide for the cause of Home Rule. Blue ruin for the Liberal party. We simply dare not face the constituencies with no other record than a couple of Sessions wasted, not in an attempt to carry Home Rule, but in sending a Bill up to be rejected by the House of Lords.
The Irish, who are much acuter politicians than the somewhat sluggish English, appreciate this fact more keenly than we do. Already we have United Ireland declaring that it fails to see the advantage of reintroducing the Bill next year, and we take it none of the Irish wish to press Home Rule beyond the point at which it would wreck their one chance of carrying it, which consists in the election of a Home Rule majority to the next House of Commons. Mr. Gladstone has committed himself to nothing[.] At Edinburgh, he referred to the Bill as "a measure which, if I can estimate the future, will next Session reappear above the waves in which it has for a moment appeared to founder." That amounts to even less than the usual Gladstonian pledge, which is always framed with a statesmanlike perception of the possible exigencies of the party whip. The Gladstonians outside Ireland are almost to a man impatient to get something done which can be paraded before their constituencies as an instalment of the Newcastle programme. Yet we all admit that we must keep the green flag with the crownless harp flying at the peak. Otherwise there will be a mutiny in the forecastle, and the Irish crew will scuttle the ship. We must keep them in good humour if we would keep the ship afloat. But if we have to throw over all our other cargo in order to load up with the Home Rule Bill, we shall be so top-heavy we shall capsize. What Ministers have to do is to devise a compromise which will satisfy the Irish that Home Rule is being kept to the fore, while leaving the English, the Scotch, and the Welsh some little chance of being able to satisfy their constituents that they have not sacrificed everything to Irish Home Rule.
The situation, though difficult, is not impossible. All that the Irish want is that the House of Commons shall again affirm its devotion to Home Rule. All that the English want is a chance to attend to their own affairs. Both sides would obtain what they want if, instead of bringing in the old Bill once more, with a few inevitable alterations, Ministers would introduce a short measure, a draft of which I publish on another page, constituting an Irish National Convention at Dublin, for the purpose of considering in the Recess the details of the Home Rule Bill. We must never forget that in attempting to frame a Constitution for the Irish people by a Cabinet and Parliament at Westminster, we are acting irrationally and contrary to invariable precedent. As Sir Gavan Duffy reminded us two years ago, the natural and legitimate way in which every Colonial Constitution has been framed, is by the active co-operation of the men who will have to administer it, after full and free debate among the people for whom it is designed, Ireland might, at least, claim to be treated as respectfully as a Colony. Neither can we ignore the fact that practically the Home Rule Bill was not discussed by the representatives of the Irish majority. They sat silent while their leaders enforced assent by a cast-iron discipline to provisions many of were bitterly resented by their constituents. Would it not be a useful training in the difficult art of self-government if the Irish members were to be constituted as a Special Committee of the House of Commons in the Rotunda at Dublin, with instructions to consider the Home Rule Bill of last Session, and to report the same to the House at the end of 1894, with such amendments as they deem indispensable? We should then know where we stand. We should have recognised the principle of Home Rule, and have done homage to the right of the Irish to frame their own Constitution, and we could please ourselves whether we send the Bill up to the House of Lords for them to reject it, or whether we circumvented them by reading the Bill a second time and then relegating it to a Committee of all the Irish members sitting at Dublin during the recess. The former would be the easier, the latter the more practical. But whichever course is taken the Home Rule block would be raised for next session, while the Home Rule flag will be kept flying at the fore! What better could man ask?