Location: Mansion House Round Room. Public meeting.
PROF. MCNEILL read a statement on the question of the Freedom of the Seas to the effect that in no part of the world was any country better situated to make the service of the sea profitable to man than Ireland. In former times Irish shipping passed freely between Ireland and other countries, and the shipping of other countries resorted to the harbours of Ireland. Since the English Government acquired by violence the mastery it now held over the Ocean, and in particular over the land and harbours of Ireland, the commerce that once existed between Ireland and Europe and Ireland and America had been shrinking, until Ireland had hardly any export or import trade except what passed between Ireland and England under English control. Since the battle of Trafalgar the ocean had been turned into a private avenue for the English Power.
One of President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points. In his speech to the Congress, he proposed:
“Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war”.
He spoke of the spectacle of Ireland's great harbours frequented by no shipping except what belonged to England and carried English commerce, and some of their finest harbours with no shipping at all except England's ships of war. On the freedom of Ireland, more than on any other factor, the freedom of the seas depended. The Rulers of England were enabled to menace France, Spain, Norway, and even America. The freedom of Ireland and the full possession of the harbours and shipping of Ireland constituted no danger to the rights of any country. Whoever desired that the sea should be free would understand that one might virtually declare the freedom of Ireland and the freedom of the seas to be one and the same thing.
No place in Ireland suffered more from English monopoly than the city of Derry. England had taken the Port and the land around it, and the railway to Belfast, and ships had now been diverted from Derry, so that traffic came into Derry through Belfast from Heysham, and nothing could enter or leave Derry save by England's will.
Heysham Port had been opened in 1904.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER expressed the hope that the personal note would be kept in subjection as much as possible in any references to President Wilson in connection with the debate on the Freedom of the Seas.
Dr. RYAN declared that England was opposed to Irish prosperity and progress. Hence Ireland could not hope for full freedom until the seas were freed from English supremacy.
Mr. KEVIN O'HIGGINS said that if England let Ireland go England could not continue to play the bully and pirate of the high seas. It was no new thing to them to see England advancing one wrong in extenuation of another. If Ireland remained unfree the seas must for ever remain unfree.
Mr. BOLAND maintained that the international importance of Ireland had been recognised for generations by the Government that held Ireland. In the British Navy League manifesto it was described as the "Heligoland of the Atlantic," and therefore it was absolutely essential, in order that the British Empire might last, that Ireland should be reduced to an English fortress.
Heligoland: small German archipelago in the North Sea. Between 1814 and 1890, the islands were in British possession. Became a major naval base for German Empire.
Mr. GINNELL said it should never be forgotten that England and the British Empire were the most universal, outstanding instance in all history of successful piracy on the high seas. The Irish connection with England proved that the freedom of the seas did not arise only in time of war. England had actually prohibited Irish trade with foreign countries. In 1913 she allowed an English Shipping Company to discontinue the calls at Queenstown, and prevented the Hamburg-American line from calling there instead. That very week England had exhibited how she regarded the freedom of the seas by holding up the message of the President of the United States to his own country. That was England's illustration of her present actual policy in time of peace against a Power that she associated with in the war.
On 25 August 1913 the Cunard Company issued instructions that neither the RMS Lusitania nor the RMS Mauretania would call at Queenstown harbour on their cross-Atlantic route. It was felt it would lead to a loss of £500,000 a year in revenues from Ireland.
Mr. MCSWINEY said Ireland did not ask the Peace Conference to free her— she had taken that in hands herself— but it rested as a matter of duty on the Conference to aid Ireland.
MADAME MARKIEVICZ said they should regard the question from a world point of view. In the struggle for the balance of power which might be the end of the negotiations which were going on at present there was a possibility that the nations of the world would find one thing which they could come together over against Britain, and that was the question of the trading of the world or the freedom of the seas.
Mr. MCENTEE suggested that the motion be printed and placed in the hands of the representatives of the civilised Powers.
Mr. GRIFFITH said what was meant by freedom of the seas was, that, in times of war, as in times of peace, a country possessed, as England was, of a dominating fleet, should not interfere with the rights of other nations. The interpretation of the freedom of the seas that neutrals understood, that Holland attempted to defend, and that Norway laid down, was the interpretation that they, as representatives of Ireland, accepted. If there was to be true freedom of the seas hereafter it was obvious that the one country in Europe that must be free was Ireland, because by its geographical position, it commanded 80 per cent. of the trade routes of the world. It was because of that position that Ireland suffered so much at the hands of England. A free Ireland with its harbours free would secure the benefit of that trade passing through its shores, and in those circumstances English commercial domination would largely disappear. If militarism was a bad thing, navalism was no less abhorrent.
He regarded the position of Ireland in the matter of the Freedom of the Seas as in a way equivalent to the position of Switzerland. What would have happened in the late war if there had been no Switzerland? It was an island of peace surrounded by a sea of war. If there had been no Switzerland he very much feared that there would have been no civilisation left in Europe. If they destroyed militarism on land and navalism on the sea there would be little left for men to fight about. Men's attention then would be turned to questions to which it ought to be turned—not to destruction of their fellow-man. None of them in seeking a free Ireland desired to set up an Ireland that would lose its head in a day of freedom by seeking to become an imperialistic power.
The motion was passed.