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Southern unionists issue a manifesto
Pro-union cartoon from the early 1900s. It features Henry Campbell Bannerman smoking a 'Home Rule' cigar that other British politicians find unpleasant Photo: London School of Economics

Southern unionists issue a manifesto

Dublin, 5 March 1918 - A group of prominent southern unionists have issued a rallying cry in defence of law and order and of the integrity of the United Kingdom.

There are 22 signatories to the lengthy manifesto, the aims of which have been distilled into four key policy areas:

1. The enforcement of the ordinary law with firmness, justice and impartiality.
2. The development of the natural resources of Ireland, and the promotion of commerce, industry and agriculture.
3. The completion of land purchase, as land agitation was the lever upon which the home rule movement agitation was based.
4. The obligation and burdens of the war, already imposed on the rest of the United Kingdom, should be shared by Ireland.

The empire, the signatories claim, is passing through the ‘most momentous crisis in its history’ and where Ireland was in a ‘state of anarchy’. It is these specific and dangerous circumstances that required Irish unionists to speak out and defend the legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland.

Portion of an unsigned, undated letter concerning fears that the ‘so called “Southern Unionists”’ will disrupt the work of the Irish Unionist Alliance. Click to enlarge (Image: National Library of Ireland, MS 49,708/1)

The signatories have looked askance at the make up of the revolutionary movement, consisting of ‘the younger and more irresponsible members of the community (including a large number of the younger Roman Catholic clergy), whose ideas and methods are exemplified by the forcible appropriation of the private property of their neighbours, and defiance of all laws’.

The manifesto has not received universal support. The Irish Times, an organ of southern unionist opinion, has described it as unnecessary because ‘no Southern Unionist requires to be told that the Act of Union, decently administered, would be the best form of Government for Ireland’.

The Irish Independent has described it as the ‘production of men who forget nothing and who learn nothing... The point that four-fifths of the country demand full self-government for Ireland is in their eyes of no significance.’

The manifesto and its signatories have been given a more sympathetic hearing in the Belfast Newsletter, which states that it expresses ‘with great force and clearness the principles which were held by the whole Unionist party until after the Home Rule Act was forced on the Statute book’.

The Newsletter points out, however, that the war has changed much and warns the government against imposing a settlement in ignorance of the convictions of any section of the Irish people.

In deciding on what action to take, the Government needs to take account of four essential facts, the Newsletter asserts:

‘Ulster stands where it did, the Unionists of the South and West adhere to their principles, the Sinn Féiners are the dominant Nationalist faction, and the Redmondites, so far as they differ from them, are a dwindling minority. The choice for it, and for all practical politicians, lies between Union and Separation, and any compromise, whether recommended by the Convention or devised by the Government, can only be temporary, and may be disastrous.’

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.