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Volume 149: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1921

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I come now to the more vexed question of Ulster. Here we had all given a definitely clear pledge that, under no conditions, would we agree to any proposals that would involve the coercion of Ulster. That was a pledge given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley when I served under him as my chief. I fully assented to it. I have always been strongly of the view that you could not do it without provoking a conflict which would simply mean transferring the agony from the South to the North, and thus unduly prolonging the Irish controversy, instead of settling it. Therefore, on policy I have always been in favour of the pledge that there should be no coercion of Ulster. There were some of my hon. Friends who thought fit to doubt whether we meant to stand by that pledge. We have never for a moment forgotten the pledge—not for an instant. That did not preclude us from endeavouring to persuade Ulster to come into an All-Ireland Parliament. Surely Ulster is not above being argued with. You cannot hold that arguing a question, and saying that a person ought to take a certain course, is coercing him. If you threaten—if you say you will use the forces of the Crown, that is coercion; but if you say that in your judgment it is in his interests, in the interests of the whole of Ireland, and in the interests of the British Empire, in the interests of the minority in the South, that Ulster should come in, surely that is an argument which we are entitled to use, and entitled to press?

I claim that we have used it fairly—quite fairly. We have used every argument in favour of it. I have heard from the benches where the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill) sits my right hon. Friend Lord Carson set forward as the ultimate ideal—the unity of Ireland. I have never heard an Ulster leader challenge the proposition that that was the ultimate ideal. I meant to have the quotation before me, but I did not think that would be doubted. If that be the ultimate ideal, was it unfair to Ulster to recommend that they should consider the question? That is all we have done. The refusal of Ulster even to enter into discussion, as long as an all-Ireland Parliament was a subject of discussion, raised artificial barriers in the way of an interchange of views. We could not have agreed to withdraw the discussion of an all-Ireland Parliament from the Conference without breaking it up, and we should not have been justified in breaking it up upon a refusal even to enter into a discussion of the desirability of the proposal. The responsibility was too great, and we could not accept it.