July 20th, 1912


FROM THE ARCHIVES:British prime minister Herbert Asquith came to Dublin to address a nationalist audience on his Home Rule Bill. This is an extract from the verbatim report of his speech in the Theatre Royal.

For the best part of seven centuries in this country . . . England has sought to recruit, and to recruit from among her best population, an English garrison to preserve English ascendancy. And not content with that, she has sought to transform the character of the whole population by wholesale appropriation, plantation, and settlement.

At the beginning of the 18th century it was computed by a skilled observer that not more than one quarter of the land of Ireland belonged to the native Irish or their descendants, even if you included Anglo-Normans among them. And yet the Pale has always been the same.

Outside the Pale in the old days – and I suppose I ought to say outside Dublin Castle – (laughter) – the actual garrison was powerless, and even within these limits it was not always to be depended upon – (laughter) – while, from the Anglo-Normans down to the present day, each successive group of invaders have, in a classic phrase, become more Irish than the Irish themselves. (Cheers.)

There are few cases in history, and as a student of history in an humble way, I myself know none of a nationality at once so distinct, so persistent, and so assimilative as the Irish (Hear, hear.)

It is the attempt to ignore all this, far more than we ever attempted to do in the case of Scotland, that has doomed the Act of Settlement to continuous and disastrous failure. I start then in dealing with Home Rule for Ireland. I start with the proposition that Ireland is a nation, and that the condition of the success of any scheme that statesmanship can devise is a full and generous recognition of Irish nationality. (Cheers.)

Is that nationality inconsistent with Imperial unity? Ask any of our self-governing dominions. They will answer. (Hear, hear.) Take Canada and South Africa, to take two significant instances. There you have separate nations . . . which, by a grant of the principle of local autonomy have not only been able to live in contentment, peace, and co-operation side-by-side with one another, and also devoted and loyal friends of the Empire. (Hear, hear.)

It is perfectly true you cannot apply the precise precedents on our treatment of our self- governing dominions to the case of Ireland. We live here close together, separated only by a few miles of sea, and joined by an invisible network of ties . . . which make our relations different in kind and different in degree from those of other component parts of the Empire.

It is not statesmanship; it is not wise to refuse to recognise this difference when we are moulding, as we are moulding by this Bill, the same great principle that we have applied throughout our self-governing Empire to meet the exigencies and circumstances of the particular case.