HC Deb 12 February 1914 vol 58 cc336-7

Yesterday, in the course of the Debate, the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) made a very distinct reference to myself which, if passed in silence, would in the end create a false impression. Speaking of the question of religious persecution, he referred to my own career, and said:— He could not have possibly done that if he had regarded Great Britain as anything but a foreign country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1914, col. 206.] I intend to speak to the House not by the dexterous use of argument, but to give the plain statement of an honest man. I will say, frankly, at the beginning, that at the time of the South African war I would not have been disinclined to accept the definition of the Noble Lord. I was born in Australia, of Irish parents. I had no great respect for the British Constitution. I considered I had no attache to this country. In South Africa I fought for liberty. I was tried and condemned to death. That is a condition which produces reflection. At a moment like that a man sounds deeply his own convictions, and lesser motives of rancour and vanity disappear. A man is face to face with his own soul. I can say to the House that never for a moment in that condition did I regret my actions or retract my principles. We are all condemned to death, Mr. Speaker, and we can only envy the man who can march straight forward, keeping unsullied his early ideals. Since that time, however, a great deal of water has flowed under the bridges. The very men with whom I fought, including my great leader, General Botha, have become subjects of these Condominions. I returned to this country on the same conditions, on those terms, and with no afterthought. Moreover, since that time a great deal has been done by this present Government for South Africa and for Ireland. I, myself, have declared on the floor of this House that if England were now attacked by a foreign enemy I would fight for England. I go further, and say that all whom I could influence would also fight for her. Before I sit down I will conclude, seeing that this reference Arose out of the question of religious persecution, by saying that temperamentally I have no quarrel with the men of Ulster. I go further, and say that if I believed what they believe, or believed what they profess to believe, that so far from opposing them, I would, even now at the eleventh hour, turn round and fight on their side.


We would not have you.


They are glad to get anybody.


I have fought for civil liberty, but I believe there is one sentiment dearer to the human mind than civil liberty, and that is the great ideal of religious liberty. The fact that I remain in these ranks of itself proves that I have no fear on that score. I believe that when Home Rule does come, as it is sure to come, that it will redound not only to the glory of Ireland, but to the strength and honour of England.