Chamberlain: ‘Exclusion of Ulster only basis for peace’
The issue of Home Rule in Ireland dominated proceedings as the House of Commons re-convened yesterday. Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Chamberlain: ‘Exclusion of Ulster only basis for peace’

Asquith remains committed to Home Rule for Ireland

Published: 11 February 1914

‘The exclusion of Ulster is the only possible basis of peace,’ Austen Chamberlain told the House of Commons in London yesterday.

Mr. Chamberlain said he had two questions to ask the government: ‘Were they prepared to exclude Ulster, and would they secure to Ulster the same rights, privileges and duties as were now enjoyed by Great Britain? If the government answered 'Yes', the danger of civil war would be averted, if they answered 'No', civil war was made certain. Mr. Chamberlain was speaking at the opening of the new parliamentary session which was once again dominated by the question of Home Rule for Ireland.

The Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, acknowledged the fact that the idea of Home Rule was repugnant to the protestants of Ulster, but he said his government had been open from the start to practical suggestions on how best to provide them with safeguards.

Mr. Asquith repeated that he remained open to such suggestions, but that under the Parliament Act, the Home Rule Bill for Ireland would become law this year.

He refused opposition requests to hold a general election, saying that it would solve nothing. He asked the Tory Party what they would do with Ireland if they were returned to power: ‘They would find themselves face-to-face with the problem of governing three-quarters or four-fifths of Ireland, consisting of a people bitterly disappointed upon the eve of the fruition of their long-cherished hopes.’

In this letter to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, dated 4 February 1914, John Redmond outlines his opposition to making public any proposal to placate Ulster and the Tories. Redmond states that ‘the merits of your suggested proposals... are open to grave objections..we adhere to our consistent policy of closing no door against any proposal within the limits that you yourself stated, that might lead to the Bill being carried by consent.' Click on image for full document. (Image: National Library of Ireland, MS 15165)

By the same token, Mr. Asquith asked, what would happened if he and the Liberal Party were returned to power: ‘What is going to be the situation then? Is Ulster going to lay down her arms? I should be very much surprised to hear an affirmative answer to that question.’

Earlier, the Parliamentary session had been opened by King George V who had arrived at Westminster following a procession from Buckingham Palace, along streets lined by thousands of his cheering subjects.

In the course of his speech, the King appealed for a resolution to the Home Rule crisis: ‘I regret that the efforts which have been made to arrive at a solution by agreement of the problems connected with the government of Ireland have so far not succeeded. In a matter in which the hopes and fears of so many of my subjects are keenly concerned, and which, unless handled now with foresight, judgement and in the spirit of mutual concession, threatens grave future difficulty.’

‘It is my most earnest wish that the goodwill and co-operation of men of all parties and creeds may heal dissension and lay the foundations of a lasting settlement.’

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