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Dominion Status

Volume 149: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1921

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The main operation of this scheme is the raising of Ireland to the status of a Dominion of the British Empire—that of a Free State within the Empire, with a common citizenship, and, by virtue of that membership in the Empire and of that common citizenship, owning allegiance to the King.

And swearing allegiance to the King. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend can make his observations later on.

I will explain as best I can the nature and extent of this transaction. What does "Dominion status" mean? It is difficult and dangerous to give a definition. When I made a statement at the request of the Imperial Conference to this House as to what had passed at our gathering, I pointed out the anxiety of all the Dominion delegates not to have any rigid definitions. That is not the way of the British constitution. We realise the danger of rigidity and the danger of limiting our constitution by too many finalities. Many of the Premiers delivered notable speeches in the course of that Conference, emphasising the importance of not defining too precisely what the relations of the Dominions were with ourselves, what were their powers, and what was the limit of the power of the Crown. It is something that has never been defined by an Act of Parliament, even in this country, and yet it works perfectly. All we can say is that whatever measure of freedom Dominion status gives to Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, that will be extended to Ireland, and there will be the guarantee, contained in the mere fact that the status is the same, that wherever there is an attempt at encroaching upon the rights of Ireland, every Dominion will begin to feel that its own position is put in jeopardy. That is a guarantee which is of infinite value to Ireland. In practice it means complete control over their own internal affairs, without any interference from any other part of the Empire. They are the rulers of their own hearth—in finance, administration, legislation, as far as their domestic affairs are concerned—and the representatives of the Sovereign will act on the advice of the Dominion Ministers. That is in as far as internal affairs are concerned. I will come later on to the limitations which have been rendered necessary because of the peculiar position of Ireland in reference to Great Britain, and the Army and Navy more particularly.