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Difficulties Of Solution

Volume 149: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1921

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These are the things that make a settlement in Ireland difficult, and we found them very difficult of solution. I hope we have found the solution. I never like to be too confident or too sanguine when I am talking of Ireland. Therefore, I am not going to say that we have found the specific at last. It has been said so often, but we must try. At any rate, I can see nothing better.

5.0 P.M.

What were the difficulties? There was the preliminary difficulty that the parties were not ready to come together. There was the difficulty that arose from the geographical and strategical position of Ireland. There was no use saying, "You must treat Ireland exactly as you treat Canada or Australia." There was Ireland, right across the ocean. The security of this country depends on what happens on this breakwater, this advance post, this front trench of Britain. We knew that, and that was one of the greatest difficulties with which we had to deal. There was no use saying: "Apply Dominion Home Rule fully and completely." We had to safeguard the security of this land. I am only now enumerating the difficulties. The next difficulty was the question of the National Debt and pensions. Every Dominion has its war debt and its pensions. Unless you make some arrangement with Ireland now, Irishmen in Ireland would be the only Irishmen who would escape contribution to the Great War. Irishmen in this country, Irishmen in the Dominions, Irishmen in the United States of America, are all paying their share. Unless there were conditions in our Agreement that Irishmen in Ireland should also bear the same burden as Irishmen anywhere else, they would escape.

The third was the difficulty which arose from rooted religious animosities. I am sorry to use the word "animosities" in connection with religion, but there they are. It is no use ignoring them. They produce fears, I think exaggerated fears, but it is a great mistake to imagine that exaggerated fears are not facts because they are exaggerated. Even the exaggeration is a fact which you have got to deal with as long as it is rooted in men's minds, perhaps extravagantly accentuated by recent events in North and South. There were the attacks on Protestants in the South. There were the difficulties about turning men out of shipyards in the North. There were these facts, which accentuated old differences, and added new fuel to old flames and stirred up embers. Then there was the question of protective tariffs and of the accessibility of the ports, the possibility of the exclusion of British ships from the coastal trade of Ireland, just as they are excluded in other Dominions. But the greatest difficulty of all was undoubtedly that created by the peculiar position of the north-eastern end of Ireland itself. That had wrecked every settlement up to the present. Those are roughly the peculiar difficulties, the difficulties which are Irish, which are not Dominion difficulties, and before you applied Dominion status you had to deal with each and all of these complicated troubles rooted in the past history of Ireland.