September 14th, 1912
FROM THE ARCHIVES:Erskine Childers was a regular contributor to The Irish Times letters columns: this one followed a speech by Winston Churchill which contemplated a number of local parliaments throughout the British isles.
It was interpreted as the first indication that the Liberal Party cabinet (of which Churchill was a member) would consider a separate parliament for Ulster as a solution to the Home Rule controversy.
SIR, – Pray permit an attentive reader of The Irish Times to express surprise that in your leading article of to-day, you treat Mr.Churchill’s speech purely as a sign of Liberal weakness, without a word of comment on the idea underlying it for an alternative scheme of “Home Rule.”
You have constantly urged that there are two grave difficulties in the way of Home Rule, as at present proposed: – (1) The defects of the bill, which is said to give an insultingly small degree of responsibility to the Irish Parliament; (2) The insurmountable hostility of Ulster.
It is pretty clear that the first of these obstacles is the result of the second. Mr. Churchill indicates a solution which does, to a certain extent, meet both, though, as you know, I favour another scheme. He suggests, we may take it, the federalisation of Ireland; the federalised Ireland to be placed in a semi-colonial relation with Great Britain.
(1) Take the latter point first. Ireland, regarded as a whole, would have, subject to the Crown and Imperial Parliament, as complete a measure of freedom and responsibility as she wants and needs . . .
The financial scheme of the present Home Rule Bill would disappear and Ireland would have the normal and natural power of raising and spending all her own revenue, with the aid, necessarily, of a small initial subsidy. When her means permitted she would contribute to the Imperial services of defence, which would remain as now, under Imperial control . . .
(2) . . . Since the only object of the scheme would be to conciliate Ulster, it would be sufficient to have two provincial legislatures:-- (1) Ulster, or some selected fraction of Ulster; (2) The rest: and above these two a Central or Federal Parliament, elected by all Ireland, and exercising all powers not delegated to the provinces.
What should these delegated powers be? Well, what does Unionist Ulster most fear? Among much ill-defined opposition to Home Rule, two concrete dangers are generally put forward – (a) Unfair treatment in education, on religious grounds; (b) oppressive direct taxation. As in all federations, then, make these two powers, education and direct taxation, provincial powers.
Civil police is also a provincial power in all federations. Give Ulster and the other area police powers, then; though, needless to say, it would be necessary to retain a federal police of some sort to enforce federal authority . . .
It would be an enormous gain, sir, if you could induce Irishmen, and especially Ulstermen, to discuss that subject reasonably and quietly with some such scheme as this as their text . . .
Yours, etc., E. Childers