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LEINSTER LEADER EDITORIAL 19 FEBRUARY 1916

NAAS, SATURDAY,  FEBRUARY 19, 1916.

PARLIAMENT AND THE WAR.

The re-opening of the Imperial Parliament on Tuesday was the principal event of importance of the week occurring in the midst of a world wrecking war; and although bereft of some features of interest marking the opening of a new session in normal times, it was, nevertheless, awaited with all the expectancy of a populace anticipating an authoritive statement on the general situation. The usual pageantry associated with the event was dispensed with, and instead of being opened in person by the King, this function was performed by the Commission appointed in such circumstances. This, of course, was more in harmony with the gravity of the times and the sacrifices exacted by the war which overshadows today every phase of human existence. The Parliamentary machine as far as it applies to domestic questions and problems is at a standstill, and accordingly beyond the discussion of problems connected with the progress of the war the session will be almost barren of legislative proposals and only the imperative needs of the war will, therefore, command almost the exclusive time of Parliament. This will not leave the sitting absolutely devoid of interest, because in the discussion of these problems many military matters of moment in which the public is deeply concerned must come to light, and information elicited that might not otherwise be available. As to the course of events in the different fields of operation in the fighting areas during the past few months, and concerning which a strict press censorship has left vague in many respects, not much further enlightenment is forthcoming in the statement vouchsafed by Mr. Asquith, and it is questionable if all that he has fought fit to give to the public will give general satisfaction. Even allowing for official reticence and the acknowledged necessity for caution and circumstances in dealing with military matters, the speech delivered by Mr. Asquith does not go too far to console or cheer the more pessimistic. It forms a rapid survey of the chief events occurring since last he spoke on the subject in Parliament, the effect of these on the progress of the war, and the steps to be taken to strengthen the Allies general position. Perhaps the most redeeming feature of the speech in the respect was his declaration that he was not a pessimist, and never had been one and that if he had been down he would not be so now. The house was left to glean whatever satisfaction it could from this statement, and judging from the press reports it did not evoke exceptional enthusiasm. No doubt the personal conviction that all was well with the cause of Allies and that the ultimate result must be victory for their arms was implied, but what the character of the victory he anticipated would be was left to the imagination of the house. The omission of a definite pronouncement in this respect, having regard to the uncertainties of the situation and the absence of any real grounds on which to base prospects of terms of peace, is not a very remarkable circumstance; but still, in the early days of the war, and when the fortunes of war were still more in the lap of the gods. There was no hesitation in declaring that peace was only possible when the streets of Berlin resounded to the tramp of the victorious Allied troops, and German power crippled and crushed completely. This was the opened and, and avowed objective, but latterly it does not find such prominence in the pronouncements of responsible ministers, and Sir Ian MacPherson who moved the address in reply to the Speech from the Tyrone, in alluding to a termination of the war confined himself to a general declaration against an inconclusive peace. Whatever the progress of the war and the prospects of the present position have led to a change in the programme embodied in the conditions laid down by orators in the earlier stages of the struggle is not clear, but certain it is that they are not put forward now so positively. Neither does an examination of the situation at first glance convince one of their early realisation. The impression produced on the public by such an examination is that the Central Powers still continue to keep the Allies busy in defending the territory occupied by the latter, rather than resisting invasion, and the march to Berlin is not yet one of the prospects of the immediate future. These are facts which force themselves on the lay mind, but just how long will such conditions prevail or how long German resources are capable of maintaining such a position is a matter for the military expert to calculate. One circumstance, however, cannot be lost sight of even by the layman, namely, that in pursuing such tactics the Germanic powers must be called upon to meet a much heavier strain than if they were merely engaged in tactics of defence. The conveyance of troops to remote positions, the holding of disputed territory, and the strain involved in maintaining lines of communication for supplies of all kinds, are considerations which suggest themselves as involving difficulties in resource and organization which must only bend to weakness in fighting efficiency, and which must, therefore, give the Allies a decided advantage in this respect. Should Germany and the other Central Powers be unable to bear this strain until the Allies are exhausted, then a change in the disposition of their fighting forces would become imperative and give the Allies that opportunity for vigorous offensive that might lead to a general rout ending in disaster to the arms of the Central Powers. The struggle as at present carried on is, therefore, largely one of attrition, and the survival of the fittest must be assured by supremacy in resources. The war was waged in this way, and its effect in making even those at home partake of a share of the hardships involved was indicated by Mr. Asquith when he foreshadowed an increase of taxation to the immense burdens already imposed for the carrying on of the war. The outstanding liabilities in this respect, he said on January 1st had reached a figure quite without precedent in the financial history of any country in the world; a figure so gigantic that when in the course of time the obligations came to be liquidated “they would impose a sensible, indeed a serious, strain in the resources of the country for a generation to come.” What the future holds in store for even the non-combatants in supplying the sinews of war is more strongly emphasised in the following further quotation from Mr. Asquith’s speech to which we commend our reader’s attention without comment, as it conveys in itself in the most forcible way what we may be prepared to meet: – “We must keep up, so far as our military and other requirements allow – the two things must be balanced one against the other – we must keep up our productive activity and our export trade (cheers). Even more important – I am only repeating what has been said before but I repeat it with the added emphasis of growing experience – we must keep down our unnecessary imports (hear, hear), our consumption of luxuries (cheers). We must try and reduce not only in our Government departments, for there I admit the necessity is all important, but in every department, public and local, and in private life we must reduce expenditure to its lowest possible point. It is only in these ways, by submitting to the burden, and a very heavy it will be – of unprecedented taxation by the curtailment of imports and of expenditure on non-necessary things and by the maintenance at its highest possible level of our productive activity in our export trade – it is only in this way we can possibly sustain the unexampled burden which has been cast on our shoulders. But, sir, we can sustain it (cheers), though the strain will be great – in my opinion it is not a greater strain than we could bear. We can render no better service to the cause of the Allies, which is also our own cause, then by co-ordinating and by proportioning our contributions in men, in financial assistance and in actual endurance of taxation, and if need be even of privation both as a community and individuals.” As to Ireland’s particular share in shouldering these burdens, it is only necessary to recall that in both men and money we have furnished more than our proportion compared with Great Britain. While nearly two hundred thousand men from a population continuously drained by emigration for more than 50 years have joined the army and navy, eight millions have been added to the three millions annual over taxation admitted to be exported from this country, and still we are to be called upon to contribute even more. Already taxed beyond its taxable capacity, it may well be asked how is the country going to face further imposts. In many quarters the country is believed to be faced with national bankruptcy, and a condition of things that must spell absolute ruin. In Great Britain money is being poured out lavishly in war contracts and in munition manufactures of all kinds, but in Ireland we have very little compensating advantages in this respect, so that we are all the harder hit in meeting fresh taxation. We have of course, the Irish Parliament Party prepared to serve the best interests of the country in the House, but having committed this country to a part in the war, they are presumably in the position that they cannot consistently reconcile serious opposition to Government measures for carrying on the war with professions of Ireland’s loyalty and anxiety to bear an honourable share in its prosecution. The outlook is anything but pleasant, and the future fraught with possibilities which are anything but encouraging viewed from a purely Irish standpoint.

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