Asquith proposes the temporary partition of Ireland
Mr Bonar Law: 'I don't seem to care much for his teeth.' Photo: Punch, 11 February 1914

Asquith proposes the temporary partition of Ireland

Carson rejects proposed compromise

Published: 10 March 1914

The Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, has announced his revised plans for the introduction of Home Rule for Ireland.

Such was the interest in the debate in the House of Commons that the attempts of MPs and observers to secure a place in the chamber or in the galleries were said to resemble the crush outside the gates of a football ground before an important match.

Mr. Asquith told parliament that he did not expect his proposals to be received with enthusiasm, but he asked that they be given deliberate and dispassionate consideration.

He said that if the Home Rule Bill were introduced unchanged there would be violence and civil strife in Ulster, while if it were not introduced at all there would equally be disastrous consequences in the rest of Ireland.

It was these hazards, he said, that had led him to a compromise: between the dates of the passage of the Home Rule Bill and the actual establishment of a Home Rule parliament in Dublin, each of the counties of Ulster may vote upon the question of exclusion for a period of six years.

The Irish Trades Union Congress passed numerous resolutions voicing its opposition to partition. (Image: National Archives of Ireland)

After six years, any counties that had voted to opt out would only be forced to come into the administration of the parliament in Dublin with the consent of the majority of the electors of the United Kingdom.

The Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law, immediately rejected the proposals saying that they had caused in him a feeling of grave disappointment. He repeated his view that only the holding of a General Election could pave the way for the resolution of the current crisis.

The leader of nationalist Ireland, John Redmond, told the House of Commons that he thought the Prime Minister had gone to the extreme limits of concession. He continued: ‘If the opposition rejected these suggestions, and spurned the sacrifice of the nationalists, then the bounden duty of the majority of the House, to go forward with the Bill as it was at present, was plain and straight.’

Nonetheless, Sir Edward Carson, rejected the scheme as unacceptable. He said that the men of Ulster would never agree to sacrifice their friends in the south and west. The leader of Ulster unionism continued by saying that he welcomed the fact that the principle of exclusion of Ulster had now been admitted, but that what they did not want was a sentence of death with a stay of execution.

Sir Edward concluded by saying if the time limit was removed, then he would call a convention in Ulster to decide the merits of the proposal.

Mr. Carson’s comments were echoed across Ulster. The Northern Whig, a leading unionist newspaper based in Belfast was clear that the government’s proposals were not enough: ‘If Mr. Asquith has spoken his last word, there is nothing between Ulster and civil war. Protestants should strengthen their defences, to give a good account of themselves when the time comes. The government’s callous conduct has effaced the boundaries, and all Ulster Protestants are animated by a determination to stand together to the death.’

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