Throughout this essay I will explain how Carson, Craig and the Ulster Unionists were opposed to the Home Rule bill, and how they felt they were justified in using armed force if necessary, to get what they believe was their right to a British government for Ireland. I will also detail some background on each Carson and Craig.
Edward Carson was described as the founding father of Northern Ireland, he was a protestant Dubliner and became the acknowledged leader of the Ulster Unionists due to his efforts to keep the six northern counties under British rule. Carson dedicated his political life to opposing the Irish Home Rule and was prepared to use immeasurable force, if necessary, to prevent the Home Rule bill being passed.
James Craig was born in Belfast and had a very strict Presbyterian upbringing, which led him to totally distrust any Northern Irish Catholics. Like Carson he also dedicated his life to upholding the Union of the north. In 1910 he became the leader of the Ulster Unionists, but was more widely known for his other interests and leadership was not his main agenda so he ceded the leadership to Edward Carson. Carson became the official figurehead whilst Craig did the background work. Craig organised the meetings while Carson was the speaker.
When the third Home Rule bill was introduced at West Minister in 1912, the Ulster Unionists faced it’s greatest challenge yet as they were opposed to any such rule being approved. In response to this Carson and Craig began organising a series of protest demonstrations, otherwise known as Monster meetings. Their 1st Monster meeting(Sept 1911) was attended by 100,000 Ulstermen and Carson made a speech that marked him as a potential rebel,
“We must be prepared in the event of a Home Rule bill passing, to take such measures as will enable us to carry on the government of those districts of which we have control. We must be prepared, the morning the Home Rule passes, ourselves to become responsible for the government of the Protestant province of Ulster.”
As Carson and Craig were leaders of the Union and opposed to any reform for the six counties of Northern Ireland, they believed that as they were loyal and committed to the crown and British rule, they expected the same loyalty and respect from West Minister and any passing of Home Rule would be seen as a corrupt political deal and they would be forced to take up arms against the crown. (www.bbc.co.uk/history)
On that note they staged another Monster meeting(Sept 1912), where 470,000 men and woman across the province signed ‘Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant, which was drafted up by Craig. The signatories were signed in one’s own blood as they pledged to stand by one and another defending the position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom and using any means to defeat the conspiracy of the Home Rule parliament in Ireland. They believed it was their duty to rid their king of what was nothing less than disloyalty to them and they felt justified in doing so.
The U.V.F.(Ulster Volunteer Force) was born out of the Covenant, this being a force to bring violence into the Ulster Unionists struggle, and was composed of all males who previously signed the Covenant. A decision which in due course was to transform Irish politics, Again this was found justifiable as the Monster meetings were paying little effect on the British ministers and this was to add additional pressure on the British government, using possible force to resist an all Ireland government. By 1914, 90,000 volunteers had enlisted and although their were well trained, they were inadequately armed, which brought about the Larne gun running in where the Unionist leaders purchased in total 25,000 rifles and 3 million rounds of ammunition. This again was able to exert more pressure on the Liberal government.
The ‘Extra Parliamentary’ opposition to the Home Rule was justified by the Loyalist/Unionist camps on the basis of the ‘Social Contract Theory’ which had two basic rules,
We must not harm one another and we must be able to rely on each other.
They also felt that the ‘Act of Unionism’ meant that they were entitled to an implicit guarantee that the West Minister Parliament and their Monarch would protect ‘their civil and religious liberties’ of Loyalist in Ireland.
One of the main barriers to previous Home Rules was that of the House of Lords, but in 1911 the ‘Parliament Act’ effectively reduced their power to delay as opposed to outright rejection. The leader of the I.P.P. (Redmond) at that time was in favour of the Home Rule and had stated that it was the Lords veto that came between Ireland and a successful Home Rule Bill.
In 1910 Herbert Asquith’s Liberal government fought 2 general elections and needed the support of the I.P.P. but in exchange for their support Redmond wanted the Home Rule bill passed, this in turn enraged the Conservatives and the Unionists as they regarded it as corrupt and called Redmond ‘The Common Blackmailer’. Unionists believed that Asquith was lusting for power and that his desire for this was so great that he allowed himself and the government of the Great British Empire to be held at ransom. They felt he was betraying Unionists for party advantage and held no love nor care for the Irish nationalist or Home Rule. In granting Home Rule the Ulster Unionist feared a precedent would be followed by other peoples of the Empire and this would threaten the kings dominions and was both intolerable and unconstitutional. (www.historylearningsite.co.uk/home_rule_and_ireland.htm)
Because of the Unionists belief that they were being ‘Sold Out’ they decided that the U.V.F. was formed and armed for their struggle against the Home Rule. In 1914 Asquith’s government ordered the army based in Ireland , Paget (commander in chief of the troops) summoned them and informed them that active operations against Ulster were imminent. He indicated that anyone not prepared to carry out their duty will be dismissed from the service, 58 of the officers elected for dismissal, this was known as the ‘Curragh Mutiny.’
The Ulster Unionist still seen no hope for the Home Rule being rejected and on addressing a July 12th rally, Carson told the people that a great climax was due and cannot be delayed for any longer as the fate of their country was in their hands. A set back was then announced, on July 24th 1914 war broke out which meant the Ulster crisis had to be deferred and Carson placed his U.V.F. army at the disposal of authorities for the Home Defence.
“England’s difficulty is our difficulty and England’s sorrows have always been our sorrows,” Carson affirmed.
So the Home Rule bill was deferred until the war was over, this then was to lead to the Easter Rising of 1916.
Craig applied for the enlisted for the army to fight for the British, he was not accepted due to medical reasons, although he did work for several government posts in the duration of the war. Carson was later to become a Law Lord, he did state very bitterly,
“What a fool I was! I was only a puppet and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative party into power…….these terms were not passed on their merits. Not at all. They were passed with a revolver to your heads. And you know it…I ask your Lordships, ought Unionists leaders to have been a party to that-Unionists leaders who have undertaking to defend the Unionist policy? Of all the men in my experience that I think the most loathsome it is those who will sell their friends for the purpose of conciliating their enemies.
Ulster could not have been saved for the British crown, if it weren’t for the determination of the Unionist and Carson’s inspiring leadership. Ultimately it was the threat of the armed defiance from the Ulster Unionist.
Carson’s perennial question is still repeated,
“Will liberal-minded governments ever learn that submission to lawlessness, so far from appeasing, only whets the appetite in Ireland.