The Home Rule Bill: Memoranda on Amendments [Union Defence League] (London 1912) - Clause III.

[Source: Available at Internet Archive - online; accessed 17.08.2014. Also treated in this number of the series are the topics 1. Compensation for Property, 2. Religious Endowments, and 4. Conscience Clause. Page numbers are given in square brackets and designate the start of each new page.]

IRISH LANGUAGE.
[This sect. begins by listing proposed amendments to the Third Home Rule Bill - as follows:]
 

Sir Gilbert Parker.
Clause 3, page 3, line 17, after “make” insert “any law order or regulation which would provide for an alternative language to the English language to be used officially in the Irish legislature or in official documents or records.”

Mr. Ronald M’Neill has a similar amendment at Clause 3, page 3, line 23.

Mr. Ian Malcolm
Clause 3, page 3, line 23 at end, insert “or impose any test disqualifying any candidate or official for employment or promotion in an official position on the ground of ignorance or imperfect knowledge of the Gaelic language.”

These amendments are prompted by the attempts to bring about a general revival of the Irish language for political and separatist purposes.

The point was raised on an amendment to the 1893 Bill, but the matter was not then thought worth serious consideration. (Parl. Deb., June 15, 1893, col. 1079.) Since that date the revival of the Irish language has been developed as a powerful instrument in the hands of the separatists in Ireland. The Gaelic League nominally purporting to be an Association for intellectual and educational purposes - but being in fact an Association with strong separatist tendencies - has taken great pains to revive the use of the Irish language, flavouring their campaign with anti-English sentiment. It enjoys too the embarrassing friendship of the Clan-na-Gael and other extreme organisations which probably value the work of the Gaelic League more for political than intellectual reasons. [18]

The following declarations of policy by the President of the League, Dr. Douglas Hyde, are indicative of the aims of the League.

Speaking at Londonderry in reply to an address from the United Irish League Executive he said that the United Irish League and tlie Gaelic League were working for the same end, though by different means. Their's was a movement of politics; the Gaelic League's was of intellect. (Irish Independent, January 16, 1912.)

Again at Castlerea Feis on August 4, 1912, “They (the Gaelic League) were working to-day on the very same principles that they started upon, and its principles were first of all that Ireland was in itself a Nation and it will never become an inferior third-rate make-believe second-hand English province or anything else.” (Roscommon Messenger, August 10, 1912.)

He is also reported in the Freeman's Journal, of October 3, 1911, to have said:

“We ask henceforth the teaching of Irish by Irish teachers and through the medium of Irish, and that every schoolmaster or schoolmistress who cannot teach the three R's in Irish be either exchanged at once or generously pensioned.”

Mr. Shane Leslie, a Nationalist Candidate at the last election, speaking at New York on behalf of the Irish Gaelic League, on November 10, 1911, is reported to have said:

“And though I know right well that the Gaelic League and its movement preaches rather love of Ireland than hate of any other country, though we are glad that good relations should be established between the two, though we gladly say, ‘Let there be reciprocity, and even a dim affection, across the Channel, and let reciprocity abound[19] between the harbours of the two, and let the pleasantest of feeling exist between the two governments, yet even so, let there be no disguise of what we are after in Ireland. Let there be no second thought upon my words; let them be stated the truth, nakedly and unashamed, that we who have taken upon ourselves to save a dying language and to restore every custom and every legend tliat we can rake out of the past, that we, deliberately and knowingly, have set ourselves — if I may use a great phrase — ׃to break the last link’ that lies between Ireland and England.” (Gaelic American, November 18, 1011.)

The influence of the Gaelic League is considerable. Mr. Dillon once declared that “Criticism of the Gaelic League is a difficult and dangerous task.” (Freeman’s Journal, December 13, 1911.)

Certainly Mr. John Redmond is not disposed to criticise it. Speaking at Aughrim on September 25, 1911, he said:

“For my own part I have always been in favour of the Gaelic League, notwithstanding the fact that critics in the Gaelic League have said that I opposed it. I care not for what they say. I say that myself and the members of the Irish Parliamentary Party have not been opposed to the ideals of the Gaelic League. We have done what we could for the ideals of the Gaelic League in Parliament, and the ideals of the Gaelic League are our ideals, and we will struggle for them in the future. However, soon indeed you will find that these ideals will be realised when Ireland will not only be self-governing - and will not be self-governing as a province of a foreign nation but in the sense of a fully self-governed and self-reliant nation dependent on the genius and talent of our own people, a country able to work out her own destinv.” (Freeman’s Journal, September 26, 1911.)

The growth of the movement in the schools is shown by the following figures: [20]

In 1899 teaching in Irish was provided in 105 schools for 1,825 children. In 1911 it was provided in 3,066 schools for 180,000 children.

The Gaelic League have been recently successful in their relations with the new National University. They have secured that Irish shall be a compulsory subject at the Matriculation examination for entrance to the University.

And they have been successful also in influencing the County Councils, through which indeed they brought pressure to bear on the National University, to make Irish a compulsory subject for the County Council scholarships to the National University.

The evidence shows the power of the League which would undoubtedly press for recognition of the Irish language by the Irish Parliament in its debates, its official correspondence, and in its Civil Service. Yet it would be hard to justify Irish as a compulsory subject of examination from the number of persons in Ireland who speak Irish only. The Census Returns of 1911 show them to number no more than 16,873 of the population.

Having regard to the proportion which this number bears to the total population of Ireland it is absurd to suggest that there is any necessity for a widespread knowledge of the language among public officials and members of the Civil Service. But there is no doubt that in the event of a Parliament being set up in Dublin the efforts of the Gaelic League would be directed to these ends.

In view of the success attending their pressure on the County Councils there is reason to believe that they would [21] exercise the same control in the Irish Parliament. The use of Irish as an alternative to English in official documents and public records, and the compulsory knowledge of Irish by Civil Servants are the two innovations most to be expected.

It is easy to imagine that ignorance of the Irish language would be used as an excuse for keeping out ‘minority’ candidates from the Civil Service - particidarly in view of the fact that most of those eligible for the higher posts in the Civil Service would be drawn from the National University and its constituent colleges which are confined in practice for the most part to Catholics and where, as already stated, Irish is to be a compulsory subject. The combination of circumstances presents an easy means of practising unfair discrimination against Protestants which could not be prevented by any legislative safeguards against religious intolerance.

The Prime Minister and Mr. Birrell, in answer to questions in the House of Commons have admitted that there is nothing in the Bill as it stands to prevent Irish from being made compulsory in the State supported schools and for appointments in the Civil Service or from being made the official language in the Law Courts, the Irish Parliament and the public service generally. {Parliamentary Debates, April 25, 1912, Col. 1218; May 9, 1912, Cols. 561-2 ; July 2, 1912, Col. 957) - though on the last-named occasion Mr. Birrell suggested that the statutory veto of the Lord Lieutenant would be available against “outrageous legislation.”

The untenable position of a Lord Lieutenant who found hmiself compelled by the Imperial Executive to veto legislation which was the result of the deternnned policy of the Irish Cabinet supported by a majority in the Irish House of Commons will be more appropriately considered in connection with the amendments to Clause 7.