Sinn Fein Policy.
It is probable that of the four Sinn Fein electoral victories in 1917, that at Longford was the most important. The division had always been regarded as one of the safest of the Party seats (unlike Roscommon, Kilkenny and Clare, which had all certain neo-Fenian traditions), and Sinn Fein itself hardly hoped for success. An English newspaper, The Manchester Guardian, described the return of Mr. McGuinness as the equivalent of a serious British defeat in the field; and the event undoubtedly played a part in inducing the Government to that reconsideration of its non-possumus attitude of March in regard to Irish settlement, which finally produced the Convention. But in picturesque character the contest in East Clare outdid others. The circumstances of the case made attention emphatic, for the vacancy had occurred through the death of Mr. John Redmond’s brother, Major Redmond, a victim of the war whose gallantry was in the mouths of all, and Sinn Fein proposed to fill the vacancy with a man who had been sentenced to execution for a cause seemingly opposite to that for which Major Redmond had died. Mr. de Valera went straight from prison to Clare, where his personality evoked immense curiosity. He was a man of about 35, who had worked for many years in the Gaelic League, and was by profession a school-master. There were unfounded rumours, suggested perhaps by the foreign name, that Mr. de Valera had a past of extraordinary revolutionary adventure in foreign lands. In fact, though born in New York, his childhood and youth had passed quietly in Ireland. He had a Spanish-American father, but his mother’s family was Irish and resided in Co. Limerick. Good reports were spread concerning his leadership and conduct during the rising as rebel Commandant at Boland’s Mills in Dublin, and these emanated not only from his followers but also from friends who were his political opponents.
Clare took to Mr. de Valera at once, and the Sinn Fein progress was a triumphal one. The name itself of the hero seemed to delight the lips of all, especially those of children. Yet Mr. de Valera was little of an orator, and when he spoke he seemed rather to be arguing with himself aloud than trying to convince an audience. His supporters at the election relied largely upon a destructive criticism of the Irish Party’s recent policy. Many priests in the constituency, including the Bishop, had turned anti-Redmondite on the Ulster question, but the chief question at issue was whether “the Crown Prosecutor”—Mr. de Valera’s opponent, Mr. Lynch, had held the position of a Crown Prosecutor—should be preferred to a comrade of “the men who had died for Ireland.” The Party itself put little energy into the combat, and Mr. Lynch, while expressing himself as a follower of Mr. Redmond stood “unofficially.” The result was quickly seen to be a foregone conclusion; but the figure of 3,000, which was Mr. de Valera’s majority, caused consternation amongst the Parliamentarians
Mr. Lennox Robinson, the Irish critic and playwright, has very pleasantly described the final scenes in Ennis, that “town of streams and graceful bridges.” “The gate opens at last and we are swept through it. But there is no rowdyism, no disorder. The Sinn Fein Volunteers take entire possession of the situation; they organise the crowd; they form ranks in front of the Courthouse steps; the discipline is perfect; we mere outsiders are pushed back, we are like civilians at a military review. A line of bored police at the foot of the steps faces the Volunteers; a D.I. strangely aloof from the situation stands at the foot of a granite pillar. . . . There is no longer any doubt about it, de Valera is in, the Volunteers cheer again and again, and the man capers. We breathe a sigh of relief when he is pushed aside and the hero of the day, in Volunteer uniform, comes forward. Young, dark, eager, vivid, the very counterpart of these young men around us. If personality counts for anything, if like be attracted by like, we understand why he has won. . . .”
“‘Going and going!’ What will you bid? The Unionist bids one thing, the Nationalist another, William Redmond throws his life into the scale, de Valera boldly bids an ‘Irish Republic.’ This last extravagant bid is rather like that of a man who, with a balance at his bank of a hundred pounds, offers you a cheque for a million; but five thousand Clare-men have accepted his promise as good, and the bidding has been pushed up. ‘Going, going.’ What will you bid? What will the Convention bid? It must bid high and boldly.”
Just after his victory in Clare, Mr. de Valera devoted much of his time to the constituency. He had apparently established a remarkable personal ascendancy over the young men in this county, and during the early autumn he addressed many large meetings and parades of his Volunteers. His speeches, as reported in the newspapers, suggested that a “second Easter Week” might be in contemplation. It is true that the Sinn Fein leader had often to correct these reports, and that the more fiery passages, when carefully read in their proper context, usually contained important reservations. Journalists were, at all events, attracted to the County Clare, and a Daily Mail “special representative” “wrote up” the progress of the Sinn Fein leader, and described, in a tone at once jocose and wondering, “the splendid manhood” at his command, and the “colleens” who laid gifts at his feet. Suddenly the Government seemed to regret that it had released the prisoners from penal servitude, and a period of scares ensues. Stringent orders had been issued on the eve of the Convention’s meeting against drilling and the carrying of arms. When these were disobeyed arrests were promptly made. Large numbers of the men of Easter Week found themselves again in jail, under sentences varying from two months to three years. Mr. de Valera himself remained unmolested. The Parliamentary representative of Kilkenny City, a popular member of the Irish Party, died, and this urban constituency promptly endorsed the Sinn Fein programme by returning Mr. Cosgrave, one of Mr. de Valera’s colleagues, at the head of the poll.
The tension had grown very acute. One of the most prominent of British publicists, Mr. Austin Harrison, arrived in Ireland and insisted in urgent articles and letters that no treaty of peace between Great Britain and Ireland would be worth the paper it was written on unless signed by Sinn Fein. But Mr. Harrison failed to impress either the Government or Sinn Fein. He wanted the latter to associate itself with a so-called “International Magna Charta,” which was a proposed demonstration in favour of peace on the lines of democracy and the self-determination of nationalities. In return, Mr. Harrison suggested, the Sinn Fein claim would receive favourable consideration from the progressive forces of the allied countries. The leaders of Sinn Fein scented some deep-laid conspiracy on the part of Mr. Harrison, and withdrew from the negotiations; Mr. John MacNeill, however, expressed an interesting personal opinion on Ireland’s position in regard to internationalism, and on the general issues which had been raised, in the English Review, Mr. Austin Harrison’s magazine. “Several of the belligerent powers,” he said, “have themselves questioned the right of sovereignty. Great Britain and France have echoed the declarations of America and Russia. The doctrine of the rights of nations has been set up against the doctrine of absolute sovereignty.” Mr. McNeill for his part accepted the former doctrine, the application of which would lead in the case of Ireland to a situation of interdependence. Ireland claimed,” he said, “national liberty not less than that of any other nation,” but no country would have a greater interest in the world’s peace, and in a reorganised Europe there would be no danger to England of her entering into entangling alliances or engagements. The English military and naval objection to the separation of Ireland presumed the doctrine of absolute sovereignty as opposed to the doctrine of national rights and was therefore not in keeping with Allied professions. As regards the economic side of the question, Mr. MacNeill conceded that in any circumstances the most intimate commercial relations would continue to exist between the two countries, and in this way dissociated himself from the doctrine of economic nationalism preached by Mr. Arthur Griffith and the orthodox Sinn Feiners. In the same number of the English Review the Editor described the situation thus:—”The Government Castle rule is now recognised by all as doomed, yet still this government exists and still it has to govern; and against it there stands ranged Sinn Fein, which the Government regards as a revolutionary party, and so without status. Between these there is Nationalism, which probably at the polls would not return ten members. . . . The danger lies in the anomaly that Sinn Fein is not recognised as a party.”
The philosophical “conversations” between the Sinn Fein leaders and the English Editor did not relieve the tension. The prisoners in Mountjoy jail went on hunger strike, were forcibly fed, and on September 30th one of them, Thomas Ashe, died. Ashe, a native of Dingle, Co. Kerry, who was a schoolmaster in County Dublin, had been a very popular member of the Gaelic League, and during the Rebellion had led the Volunteers in a victorious and bloody affray with the police at Ashbourne in County Meath. After his return from an English prison he soon found himself in an Irish prison convicted on the charge of seditious speech. Ashe died in hospital a few hours after being removed in an exhausted condition from Mountjoy Prison. Preparations were at once made for the organisation of a funeral, which should be the occasion of such a procession through the streets of Dublin as had not been witnessed since the death of Parnell. The funeral was, in truth, an impressive spectacle. Thousands upon thousands of Irishmen and women, country and town-folk, lined the “ancient way” to Glasnevin. Nothing could have been more orderly than their conduct, and the contrast with the public funerals of Irishmen in former times (which ended always with jovial night scenes) was the subject of much comment. Had Ireland become militarised, disciplined, docile? The dominant feature of the day was the reappearance of the Volunteers in uniform and marching order—a breach of the military regulations of which no account was taken.
A month was occupied with the inquest on Ashe. During the proceedings the jury proposed that the Chief Secretary might have useful evidence to impart. But Mr. Duke did not put in an appearance at the Coroner’s court. The Prisons Board pleaded privilege. Mr. Healy, M.P., who appeared for Ashe’s relatives, seemed uncertain as to whether the English Government or the Prisons Board, or the doctor who had administered the forcible feeding should be the object of his attack. At the head of the Prisons Board, as it happened, was Mr. Max Green, who was the son-in-law of Mr. Redmond himself. Finally the jury, which was by no means Sinn Fein in its composition, delivered its verdict as follows:—”We find that the deceased, Thomas Ashe, according to the medical evidence of Professor McWeeney, Sir Arthur Chance, and Sir Thomas Myles, died from heart failure and congestion of the lungs on September 25, and that his death was caused by the punishment of taking away from his cell his bed, bedding, and boots, and being left to lie on the cold floor for fifty hours, and then being subjected to forcible feeding in his weak condition, after a hunger strike of five or six days. We censure the Castle authorities for not having acted promptly, especially when the grave condition of the deceased and other prisoners was brought under their notice on the previous Saturday by the Lord Mayor and Sir John Irwin; and find that the hunger strike was adopted against the inhuman punishment inflicted, and as a protest against their being treated as criminals after they demanded to be treated as political prisoners in the first division. We condemn forcible or mechanical feeding as an inhuman and dangerous operation, and say that it should be discontinued. We find that the assistant doctor that was called in, having had no previous practice in such operations, administered forcible feeding unskilfully; and that the taking away of the deceased’s bed, bedding and boots was an unfeeling and barbarous act. And we censure the Deputy-Governor for violating the prison rules, and inflicting punishment which he had no power to do. We infer that he was acting under instructions from the Prisons Board at the Castle, which refused to give evidence and documents asked for. We tender our sympathy to the relatives of the deceased in this sad and tragic occurrence.”
Concessions were made by the Irish Government in regard to the treatment of imprisoned Sinn Feiners (who had demanded the status of political prisoners); and if these concessions did not altogether satisfy the national sentiment, they at least made it likely that another tragedy like that of Ashe would be avoided. Dublin Castle made it clear that while drilling would not be tolerated, a considerable latitude would be allowed to the expression of Sinn Fein opinion. The crisis, however, lingered on, and numbers of arrests of the smaller fry of the movement continued to be made. In the month of October Nationalists were made very indignant by the action of the police, acting under military instructions, in making extensive raids for the arms belonging to the old Redmondite or “constitutional” Volunteers. It was charged to the partiality of the Government that the arsenals of the Northern Unionists were left un-invaded. Mr. Duke defended himself as follows:—Colonel Moore, who before the split among the Nationalist Volunteers had been one of the principal officers and leaders of the movement, now proposed to reorganise the force. But Colonel Moore, although not a Sinn Feiner, no longer saw eye to eye with Mr. Redmond on political matters, and the force, if reorganised as proposed, would have been emancipated from the control of the Irish Parliamentary Party. There was the possibility of a rapprochement with the Sinn Fein Volunteers. The Irish Command enquired of Colonel Moore whether he could give a guarantee that the possessions of his Volunteers would not fall into undesirable hands. Colonel Moore was unable to do this, and therefore in the interests of public safety orders were given for the disarmament of his men.
This statement ,was made in a debate in Parliament on October 23rd, on a motion by Mr. Redmond, deploring the policy of the Irish Executive. He described the situation in Ireland as one of extreme gravity, and referred to the seizure , of arms, and the arrest and treatment of Sinn Fein prisoners, and the death of Thomas Ashe as instances of an irritating policy. The Chief Secretary, in his reply, agreed with Mr. Redmond that “this is a time in Ireland of grave crisis and peril, but it is also a time of unprecedented and unequalled opportunity.” He proceeded to defend the policy of the Executive on the ground that “the young men of Ireland—200,000 of them—are being enrolled for the purpose of creating a new Rebellion in Ireland. . . . Week by week, extending over a period of several months, there has been steadily growing, in every parish in Ireland, a new organisation of Irish Volunteers.” Referring to the deportations in February, he said that the deportation of “a certain number of people who had been engaged, and are now engaged, in this conspiracy,” was ordered because “the helping hand of Germany was being held out again, and His Majesty’s Government knew it well.” Mr. Duke went on to declare that “half of the trouble in Ireland during recent weeks has arisen because the Convention is doing well. The design of the leaders of the Sinn Fein movement requires the failure of the Convention.” To an interrogation asking why Mr. de Valera was at large, the Chief Secretary replied that for mere political controversy, however extreme, while a new Constitution for Ireland was in the making, there should be no arrest which could be avoided. Nothing could be more helpful to the propaganda of secession. He concluded by saying that there had been, and there would be, no arrests except of people who directly incited to violence, or for the deliberate infringement of public safety. Later Mr. Lloyd George intervened in the debate. Mr. de Valera’s speeches, he said, were “calm, deliberate and almost cold-blooded incitements to rebellion.” The Government could not possibly forget what had previously happened when speeches of the same sort were delivered, and there was the same kind of drilling, and the same sort of information about intrigues to get German rifles into Ireland. It was essential that the Government should take action—not provocative action but firm action. The Prime Minister added that there were three things which the Government must make quite clear in the interests of the Convention and of Ireland. First of all, the incitements to rebellion could not be tolerated, and the language of Mr. de Valera was language that could have no other meaning. Anything that was part and parcel of an organisation for rebellion must be stopped. In the next place, as to the Sinn Fein demand for sovereign independence, “the Government could not accept anything of that sort.” Finally the Prime Minister repeated in specific terms the Government’s undertaking to give legislative effect to any finding of the Convention which commanded “substantial agreement.”
The death of Ashe had exalted and extended the sentiment of Sinn Fein. Nevertheless, as the Convention continued to do its work, the hope of a constitutional and peaceful settlement began to grow very strong throughout the country. The militarism attributed to Mr. de Valera received a set back, even in communities which remained wholly Sinn Fein in sentiment. A clerical party which was by no means dependent on Mr. Redmond but yet disliked greatly the doctrine of physical force began to establish its influence. Dr. O’Dwyer, the Sinn Fein Bishop of Limerick, Sir John Maxwell’s antagonist, was dead, and his mantle of patriot had fallen to some extent upon Dr. Fogarty, Bishop of the neighbouring See of Killaloe. Dr. Fogarty had voted for Mr. de Valera at the East Clare Election, and had written a very popular comment on the Ashe case. But Dr. Walsh, the Archbishop of Dublin, whose intervention in the Longford contest had proved of inestimable benefit to Sinn Fein, was now silent. Such dignitaries of the Church as spoke uttered what were described as “solemn notes of warning.” They besought their countrymen not to forsake the paths of constitutional agitation, and quoted Papal dicta in regard to the need of obedience to lawful authority. These pronouncements were directed evidently against the Volunteers rather than against the Sinn Fein movement proper. The Volunteer and Sinn Fein organisations had been formally recognised as separate from each other at the Sinn Fein Convention of October 25th, the details of which are given below. Mr. de Valera and other leaders replied to the Bishops; denied that another rising was in contemplation; but demurred to the description of British Government as a lawful authority. Towards the end of November Cardinal Logue issued a long statement on the war, on Ireland and the Convention. He expressed his regret that Europe had refused to be guided to the conclusion of a Christian peace by the admonitions of the Vatican. Ireland surely, he continued, would not add to the general misery of the world by any rash, foolish or un-Christian action of her own. Any pacificist might have subscribed to the Cardinal’s statement, which, nevertheless, contained several direct reproaches of Sinn Fein. Cardinal Logue characterised the Republic propaganda as an insane one, and asserted that the whole hope of Ireland depended on a successful outcome of the Convention.
It appears that during the month of October very considerable pressure was exercised upon the military and civil authorities of Dublin Castle, with the object of inducing the arrest of Mr. de Valera and the complete suppression of Sinn Fein. We have already mentioned the Irish debate in the House of Commons in which the Premier had quoted some strong passages from Mr. de Valera’s speeches, and had indicated that at any moment the Government might cease to tolerate Republican propaganda. He had replied with the word “never” to the Sinn Fein demand for the complete “self-determination” of Ireland, and declared that in no circumstances would Great Britain grant to Ireland the right of secession. The interests and influences represented by the militarist Morning Post asserted that the natural corollary of such declarations was the application of force. Conscription offered the remedy; for conciliation and compromise had been tried and found wanting—as the Sinn Fein attitude towards the Convention showed. Towards the end of the first week in November the Nationalist Press of Dublin and the provinces began to display signs of extraordinary alarm. It was widely reported on the one hand that another rising was contemplated, and on the other hand that the Government had decided to arrest Mr. de Valera. It had been announced that there would be a parade of Volunteers through Dublin on the following Sunday, November 4th, and that a Sinn Fein meeting, to be held at Newbridge, near the Curragh, had been proclaimed by the military authorities. The Independent newspapers published alarming appeals to Sinn Fein to desist from any action that might lead to bloodshed, and there were wide-spread and extravagant rumours as to the immense military preparations and precautions that had been taken. The rumours, in fact, coincided with extensive troop movements which, as it proved afterwards, had no connection with the state of Ireland. In face of the police preparations the proclaimed meeting was abandoned. In many parts of the country, including the outskirts of Dublin, contingents of the Irish Volunteers held uniformed parades and route marches, but nothing happened in the end; the dreaded Sunday passed off quite quietly The scare was, however, the subject of newspaper comment for many weeks, during which the Freeman’s Journal discoursed on the attempts of a “hidden hand” to provoke trouble in Ireland with the object of hampering the work of the Convention.
A speech by Lord Wimborne, the Viceroy, in the House of Lords some days later lent colour to this view of the situation. Lord Wimborne said that the Government had been circumstantially informed that there would be a rising, “but the Chief Secretary, with my full concurrence, refused to take advice tendered as to what his duty was. Far from there being a rising, or even an armed demonstration, or indeed any demonstration at all, not a dog barked.” He added that had preventive action been taken it would inevitably, “as perhaps was intended,” have killed the Convention. In the same speech the Lord Lieutenant said that the Government possessed an adequate military establishment for the enforcement of law and order, that the drilling in the south and west had at present no military significance, and that in these circumstances “the policy of the Irish Government must be not to seek trouble, but if trouble came to be ready to meet it.” The governing factor in the Irish situation was the Convention. The Irish Government had a double duty to perform: its duty to Ireland was to pursue the policy of appeasement and reconciliation; its duty to the Empire to protect it from untoward and hampering perils in the prosecution of its task. Both these duties, Lord Wimborne declared, were being faithfully performed.
Let us now retrace our steps a little and allow Sinn Fein to speak for itself, officially, as it did at the Sinn Fein Convention which assembled in the Dublin Mansion House on October 25th, and concluded its proceedings on the following day. These proceedings threw some new light on its quality and strength. Observers were much impressed by their dignity, order, and self-discipline, and by the general freedom of the movement from the meaner political vices and those personal jealousies and suspicions which have commonly infected Irish politics. A report read by Dr. T. Dillon, one of the secretaries, showed the progress made by the Sinn Fein organisation during the past year. It stated that the past eight months had been a period of unprecedented growth and activity in regard to the movement for the achievement of Irish independence. The tremendous victories of East Clare and Kilkenny were the first fruits of the amalgamation of all the national political organisations. There were at present affiliated to the organisation close on twelve hundred clubs, representing a membership of a quarter of a million. The Convention consisted of seventeen hundred delegates, representing rather more than a thousand clubs.
Mr. Arthur Griffith, in his Presidential Address, said that the fundamental position for which Sinn Fein strove had been gained: Ireland had renounced the British Parliament, and with that renunciation she had destroyed the moral sanction of British authority in the country. He proceeded to deny in emphatic terms the allegation of “German gold.” The money received and spent by Sinn Fein was set out in their balance sheet, and every penny of it was subscribed by the Irish people. The balance sheet, adopted earlier in the proceedings, had shown that the subscriptions and other receipts up to September 30th amounted to £4,566, with an expenditure, chiefly on organisation and election expenses, of £3,315, leaving a balance in hand of £1,251. If their opponents were surprised at the resources of Sinn Fein, said Mr. Griffith, he replied to them that for almost all the work of the movement the workers gave their services and their energies voluntarily and without pecuniary reward. After recalling the circumstances in which Sinn Fein had refused the offer of representation on the Irish Convention, the President went on to say that Ireland’s case at the Peace Conference could only be heard under two conditions. The first was the destruction of the Irish representation in the English Parliament, for if that representation were to remain it would be taken as a repudiation of Ireland’s demand for sovereign independence. In default of a general election, however, they must have a Constituent Assembly chosen by the whole people, which would speak with authority for the people. They must see that every constituency selected its representatives to meet afterwards in Dublin in an assembly which would speak for Ireland at the Peace Conference. When that assembly sat they would have taken a longer step towards Irish independence than had been taken for the last hundred and twenty years. Finally Mr. Griffith spoke of the danger of a split in the movement. All differences on minor points must be subordinated to the great issue, to carry out to the fullest degree the object for which men had died in every generation—the complete independence of Ireland.
Mr. Cathal Burgess, seconded by Mr. Sean Milroy, then proposed the adoption of the Constitution. This Constitution, embodied in a lengthy document, contained as its essential clauses the following:—”Sinn Fein aims at securing the international recognition of Ireland as an independent Irish Republic. Having achieved that status the Irish people may, by referendum, freely choose their own form of government. This object shall be attained through the Sinn Fein organisation, which shall, in the name of the sovereign Irish people:—(a) deny the right, and oppose the will, of the British Parliament or British Crown, or any other foreign Government, to legislate for Ireland; (b) make use of any and every means available to render impotent the power of England to hold Ireland in subjection by military force or otherwise. And whereas no law made without the authority and consent of the Irish people is ever, or can be, binding on the Irish people, therefore, in accordance with the resolution of Sinn Fein, adopted in Convention, 1905, a Constituent Assembly shall be convoked, comprising persons chosen by the Irish constituencies, as the supreme national authority to speak and act in the name of the Irish people, and to devise and formulate measures for the welfare of the whole people of Ireland.” The clauses of the Constitution were carefully scrutinised by the Convention, but it was finally adopted with no substantial modification. The most notable incident in this part of the proceedings was the moving of an addendum to the Constitution insisting on the right of Irishmen to drill and arm for the defence of Ireland, and declaring that men of military age should be educated in the use of arms. After the President had suggested the advisability of entangling the political organisation of Sinn Fein with the military organisation of the Volunteers, and Father O’Flanagan had declared that for Sinn Fein to attempt to enforce conscription as their method of defending Ireland would lead them to disaster, it was decided to adopt the proposal as an expression of opinion, but not to embody it in the Constitution.
After some resolutions dealing with labour questions, the Convention next proceeded to the election of officers. Count Plunkett and Mr. Griffith then announced their withdrawal from candidature for the Presidency in favour of Mr. de Valera, who was unanimously elected President —an office which Mr. Griffith has previously filled for six years. When the name of Mr. John MacNeill was mentioned as a member of the Executive, Madame Markievicz protested against his election on the ground of his attitude at the time of the rising. Mr. de Valera intervened in a somewhat embittered discussion to say that he knew what happened better than any living man, and that, while fault might be found with Mr. MacNeill’s judgment, there was no tribunal understanding what took place would do other than acquit him of anything like cowardice or dishonesty. Finally he closured the discussion with the remark that it was for the delegates by their votes to say whether Mr. MacNeill did not deserve to be honoured by his countrymen. In the subsequent voting Mr. MacNeill was returned as first member of the Executive Committee. In the voting for the V ice-Presidents Count Plunkett ‘received 386 votes, Mr. Griffith, 1,197, and Father O’Flanagan 786. The two last named were thus elected Vice-Presidents; Mr. W. T. Cosgrave and Mr. Ginnell were elected Hon. Treasurers, and Mr. Austin Stack and Mr. Darrell Figgis Hon. Secretaries, while the Executive Committee was constituted of twenty-four persons. Most of the first day’s sitting was occupied by a protracted discussion, which extended into the second day, on schemes of organisation prepared by Mr. de Valera and Mr. Cathal Burgess. The latter’s scheme favoured a small business-like Executive; Mr. de Valera recommended a scheme which purposely made the representation on the National Council large, in order to show the country that Sinn Fein was a democratic organisation, that it would be run by the people themselves, and that those they elected would not be able to machine them. Finally the scheme submitted by Mr. de Valera was adopted. It was agreed that the membership fee should be one shilling a year, and that a club having a paid up membership of 150 should be entitled to three delegates on the National Council, 200 to four delegates, and 250 to five, on payment of £1 in addition to the affiliation fee for each delegate above two, no club in any case to have more than five delegates.
After Mr. Ginnell and Mr. McGuinness had moved and seconded a resolution expressing the gratitude of the Convention to Count Plunkett and Mr. Griffith for having withdrawn from the contest for the Presidency in favour of Mr. de Valera, the new President addressed the Convention. Mr. de Valera said that by his unanimous election the people of Ireland had endorsed the vote of the people of East Clare, and declared to the world that the policy which he had put before the electors of East Clare was the policy of the people of all Ireland. In the course of his speech he referred to theological criticism of the Sinn Fein movement, and said that the condition of reasonable hope of success which justified rebellion against an oppressive authority was one of which they should take advantage.
Their flag was the flag of the Irish Republic. “We have,” concluded Mr. de Valera, “nailed that flag to the mast; we shall never lower it, and I ask you all, in the words in which Grattan saluted Ireland a nation in his time, to salute that flag, nailed to the mast, which we will never lower, and say ‘Esto perpetua.'” Before the Convention closed resolutions were passed calling on all nations at the Peace Conference to sanction Ireland’s claim to independence; “repudiating an English nominated Convention.”
In connection with the Sinn Fein Convention we may note a certain divergence which had earlier become manifest between the extreme political Nationalist movement and the Irish Labour movement, though the two movements had for a moment fused and met in the Rebellion of 1916. The Convention passed two resolutions dealing with labour Questions. One asserted the right of Labour to air and reasonable wages; the other called upon Irish workers who were members of trade unions with headquarters in Great Britain to sever their connection with such organisations. Spokesmen of the Labour movement, which shortly afterwards established an independent weekly newspaper under the general direction of Mr. Thomas Johnston, Past President of the Irish Trades Union Congress, were quick to join issue with Sinn Fein on these resolutions. They pointed out that the first was of a platonic character to which any association of employers might have assented without demur, and that the second ignored the conditions of the development of the Irish Labour movement, which could not afford to match the political nationalism of Sinn Fein with industrial nationalism. Against this doctrine they urged that, apart from the largely unskilled labour indifferently grouped and organised in the Irish Transport Workers’ Union, skilled workers in Ireland were relatively too few and too dispersed to stand aside from the British trade union system; the most important bodies of skilled workmen in Ireland—such as the railwaymen, the engineers and allied tradesmen, and the builders—depended so much in the present stage of their development upon their unions and federations with headquarters in Great Britain that to sever them from the British labour movement (especially at a time when that movement was taking active steps to extend its influence in the national life) would compromise the whole basis of the growth of trade union organisation in Ireland.
A divergence between Sinn Fein and the Irish Labour movement was, indeed, inevitable. The mating of insurgent Nationalism and insurgent Labour in the Easter Week rising was inherently an instable union. The whole gospel of James Connolly, the real driving force behind that rising, was a preaching of nationalism in economic terms: he sought always to interpret and express the Irish struggle for political freedom in terms of, and as an integral part of, the international struggle for the economic emancipation of the proletariat. Connolly did not die for Irish nationalism in the political sense; he died, in Mr. Robert Lynd’s apt phrase, as “Ireland’s first Socialist martyr.” But Sinn Fein in its later manifestation, implicated as it were almost by accident in what was essentially a revolt of the Dublin slums and acquiring afterwards the reflected glory of his martyrdom in the cause of Socialism, did not perpetuate his gospel. Sinn Fein developed as a Nationalist movement, pure and simple. Its economic theories were not necessarily, or even probably, those which claim the allegiance of the modern Labour movement. It had not seriously modified the concept of freedom as it was preached by the essentially political revolutionaries of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries* Its outlook and ideals were not manifestly less bourgeois than those of Young Ireland. Alone among the strictly Sinn Fein leaders—apart from representatives of the Labour wing who still acted with Sinn Fein like Madame Markievicz—Mr. Darrell Figgis devoted some attention to social problems. Mr. de Valera, in his references to the question in his speeches, sought rather to postpone the consideration of Labour’s claims until after the achievement of political freedom.
Though a measure of contact was still maintained, the Irish Labour movement had already taken steps to establish a strong and independent working-class political party in Ireland. At the Derry Trades’ Union Congress in August, 1917, a scheme was adopted for organising those active members of the trade unions who desired to promote the growth of a political Irish Labour Party. The industrial organisation of the Irish Labour movement, though still weak, had now reached a point which provided an adequate basis for political action. Within the past two years trade unionism in Ireland had undergone a very considerable development. The most powerful body of trade unionists, the Irish Branch of the National Union of Railwaymen, had increased its own membership many-fold, and, utilising to the full its unequalled opportunities for carrying propaganda into every part of the country, had given a great impetus to the trade union movement in general. A basis had been established for a “triple alliance” of Irish Labour composed of the railwaymen, the transport workers, and the agricultural labourers—which last almost entirely unorganised class had been made the special objective of the propaganda conducted by the railwaymen. Upon this foundation of expanding trade unionism was established the political Irish Labour Party. After the Derry Congress a circular letter was addressed by the National Executive of the Congress to the branches of affiliated unions urging them to adopt the scheme and secure as large a number of subscribing members as possible. The scheme proposed that, where trade unions did not join the party collectively, individuals who were bona fide members of trade unions should be eligible for membership. These provisions recognised, on the one hand, that “the affiliated unions contain a proportion of members who are in definite active sympathy with the Irish Labour Party, but having a large number who, while vaguely sympathetic, are not conscious of any personal association with the party;” and on the other hand that “there are societies or branches of societies which are as a whole opposed to the Irish Labour Party, but which contain a minority who desire to become actively associated with us”—this applying chiefly, of course, to North East Ulster. Before the end of 1917 more than a hundred thousand members had already subscribed; a very remarkable number if industrial conditions in Ireland are borne in mind. In this situation industrial, as apart from purely political, discontent tended more and more to group itself behind the Irish Labour Party rather than behind Sinn Fein.
Before resuming our narrative of events in Ireland during the sitting of the Convention we must make a further and larger digression, and devote some space to the Sinn Fein proposition that the case of Ireland would be considered at the Peace Conference. “By this they (the Sinn Feiners) mean,” wrote Mr. Bernard Shaw, “that when the quarrel between the Central and the Ottoman Empires on the one side, and the United States of America, the British Empire, the French Republic, Italy, Japan, &c., &c., on the other, comes to be settled the plenipotentiaries of these Powers, at the magic words, ‘Gentlemen, IRELAND!’ will rise reverently, sing ‘ God Save Ireland,’ and postpone all their business until they have redressed the wrongs of Rosaleen.’ It is easy, of course, to be funny at the expense of this aspect of the Sinn Fein programme, but the basis of the Sinn Fein claim for Irish representation at the Peace Conference is worth examining. When Mr. Asquith spoke in the first autumn of the war (in Dublin, curiously enough) of a settlement of Europe on national lines—”Room,” he said, “must be found, and kept, for the independent existence and free development of the smaller nationalities”—he was at once challenged by Mr. Arthur Griffith and other editors of Sinn Fein newspapers to apply that principle to Ireland. It was at that time, however, sufficient to say that Ireland, whatever her abstract and historical rights, as compared with those of Belgium, Serbia, Bohemia, might amount to, had, through Mr. John Redmond, given her consent to be regarded as a British and domestic, not as an international, problem. The situation changed when, as a sequel to the rising, the Sinn Fein Republicans, openly separatist, began to displace the Redmondites at bye-elections: when, in other words, it seemed possible that, were full consideration to be given to the local national desire, acting by way of a plebiscite, an Irish Republic would be the result. Thus Irishmen read in the newspapers that the peace of Europe would be a nationalist peace—a peace, that is, which would include not only the restoration of Belgium and Serbia, but also the creation of new national States and the cohesion of old ones, along the lines of the ascertained will of majorities. How would an Ireland, voting Sinn Fein, be left out of such a peace? If the Tcheko-Slovaks should have independence—vide the Allied terms of January, 1917 —why not the Irish? And as for the question of minorities, were not the Germans in Bohemia more numerous than the “British Garrison” in Ireland? It was argued that no comparison could be made beween the German rule of subject States and me British government of Ireland: that within the British Empire “room” could—nay, had—been found for the development, etc., of free nationalities; compromise and give and take were possible here as they were not in Central Europe. But if the Irish persistently held the contrary opinion, what then? Great Britain had, through authentic spokesmen, scrapped not only the Unionist case of the historical necessity of the absorption of small nations by large, but also had certainly weakened the Home Rule case, which laid stress on compromise and renunciations for the average good; the principle of self-determination, fully conceded, would permit Ireland to go to the devil in her own fashion. The question became a matter of Irish choice purely, not a matter of what might be wisest for Ireland, or best for the Empire as a whole, or for the world. Mr. Bernard Shaw, who did not believe in “small nationalities,” and had even thrown doubt on Belgian integrity, had the right of remaining unaffected by the logic of Sinn Fein; but what of Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Asquith, and even of Mr. Balfour?
We pass from the logic of the Sinn Fein proposal to its practical possibilities. Early in the war the Irish extremists of the Republican Brotherhood, relying on the policy of Casement, put their trust in German victory. Casement in his published statements did not attribute to Germany any peculiar devotion to the principle of nationality. He merely argued that the creation of an independent State which looked out upon the Atlantic would be to the interests of Germany. He assumed a peace dictated by Germany. In that case Germany would raise the questions of Ireland, Egypt, India and Poland; not for the love of the beaux yeux of these places but because it would pay her to adopt the principles of national self-determination where they affected the Entente countries. When it became evident that Germany would not dictate the peace the prophetic part of Casement’s writings had to be discarded. Even before the rising of 1916, the German aim was a negotiated peace, a peace from which Germany might, indeed, secure great advantages, but which certainly ruled out any attempt on her part to weaken Great Britain at the vital point of Ireland. There was still the chance of a complete Allied victory, and what had Sinn Fein tc expect from that? Not much on their own showing, so long as they represented the British professions in favour of small nations as merely hypocritical! In any evidence there might be as to the attitude of France, in most of the evidence as to the American attitude, lay little hope enough. America and the British Dominions would not go further than to urge Ireland’s right to Home Rule of the Redmondite pattern. We imagine that “Prussian Militarism is finally destroyed,” that Alsace-Lorraine, German Poland, Belgium, Serbia are restored, and Austria split up; simultaneously the Irish people by a clear majority claim a desire for independent statehood. Great Britain refuses (as, according to the Sinn Fein conception of her character, she must refuse) to accede to that desire. The net gain of the Sinn Feiners is the mere satisfaction of being able to say, “we told you so.” There remained the likelihood of a “drawn war,” a peace of bargain and barter, in which case Great Britain would surely speak with some moral Consistency when she negatived the separatist proposals of Sinn Fein. She might quote what Herr Kautsky, the German minority Socialist, said in reference to the suggestions of Count Reventlow for a division of the British Empire:—
“The falling apart of a great State into several small States is particularly alarming if it is a consequence of a falling off in its power, and a consequence of its increasing democratisation, while meanwhile a great neighbouring State still exists with unbroken power. The splitting up of the great democratic State into several smaller States, then, signifies nothing more than the weakening of its democratic power of defence against its neighbours’ weapon of power.”
In a sense, however, Ireland has already “gone to the Peace Conference.” The terms upon which the war should be concluded have been publicly debated among the Governments and parties of the belligerent Powers; in these debates the name of Ireland has been mentioned more than once; and it was undoubtedly owing to the growth of Sinn Fein that the settlement of the Irish problem took on the character of a “war necessity” for the British Government. The German Government, the Russian Bolsheviks and a section at least of American opinion all asked “What of Ireland?” as a test of Great Britain’s sincerity in proposing to redraw the map of Europe. It was an awkward question, to say the least of it, for British statesmanship. Although neither President Wilson in his various messages, nor the Pope in any of his peace appeals, alluded to Ireland, the general principles which they had enunciated could be interpreted in the Sinn Fein sense of a plebiscite. Certainly the right of Ireland to a liberal measure of Home Rule might be deduced from the President’s pronouncements. As regards other peace proposals, those of the German majority Socialists mentioned Ireland by name; and here the solution of self-government within the Empire was openly suggested. The German Socialists rejected the solution of independence for subject nationalities of both Allied and enemy Powers. From Italy and France no utterance on the subject of Ireland has been reported. The British Labour Party supported the Georgian proposals of a Convention. On the other hand, the left wing of English Radicalism, the pacificist, intellectuals, revolutionists, had no objection in theory to the complete independence for Ireland. But, as their attitude on the question of the Slav nationalities in Austria-Hungary showed, they objected to a further deluge of blood for such ends. The Russian position was somewhat similar. Trotsky and Lenin proposed a peace of renunciation, and were themselves ready to renounce portions of historical Russia in the name of the principle of self-determination. But they hardly expected the Central and Entente Powers to follow their example to the full. “You are too logical,” an English newspaper correspondent told Trotsky. “No,” Trotsky replied, “if we were logical we would declare war against England on Ireland’s account.”
In January, 1918, both the British Premier and the American President made important statements on war aims, in the course of which it appeared that the idea of breaking up the Austro-Hungarian Empire into independent fragments had been abandoned. Here again the Home Rule solution appeared. It is at the time of writing a far cry to that disintegration of Empires, that “Russian” peace of mutual renunciations, which alone will bring the establishment of an Irish Republic within the sphere of practical politics. Sinn Fein, it is conceded, has caused discomfort to British statesmen, and perhaps the Rebellion has even reacted upon a foreign audience. But if Ireland were truly an acute international problem she would be, with Alsace-Lorraine and Poland, one of the obstacles to peace—and this, of course, she is not.
After the Sinn Fein Convention and the scare at the beginning of November the public activity of the Party appeared to be somewhat diminished for the remainder of the year. Mr. de Valera and other leaders addressed one or two meetings, but for the most part the remainder of the year was devoted quietly to organisation work. In the course of November Sinn Fein extended its influence in a new direction. A circular was addressed to the clergy of various denominations throughout Ireland setting forth that “the grave danger of food shortage during the coming winter and until next harvest, owing to excessive exportation of Irish food products, the consumption by the large garrison now stationed in Ireland, and the submarine obstacle to importation, imposes a common duty upon us all, and has led the Sinn Fein Executive to found a Food Committee to organise and co-ordinate local effort, to avert a repetition of the calamity of 1847, by retaining in Ireland sufficient food for the entire population, and making arrangements to have it available in time and measure necessary for distribution in Dublin and other cities, in County Donegal, and wherever else famine is to be dreaded.” The circular proceeded to invite information as to local stocks and kindred matters “for our guidance in constructing a scheme embracing the whole country.” The Food Committee continued the activity thus begun, and its intervention in the question of food shortage, which was exciting some public concern, assisted materially in promoting the popularity of Sinn Fein.
Towards the end of 1917 the Irish Unionist newspapers began once more to write gravely about “the state of Ireland.” They were moved to protests by a new manifestation of “unrest” which had made its appearance in those districts in the south and west where the Sinn Fein influence was predominant. About the beginning of December bands of masked and armed men began to raid country houses and farms by night in search of arms, which they seized. In the course of December and January a number of raids of this nature took place, sometimes having as their objective the rifles of soldiers home on leave. In the majority of cases no violence was offered, but in one such affair in Tipperary an old man was killed in endeavouring to resist the seizure of his son’s rifle. In January an attack was made on a police post near Ennis in County Clare. Two more remarkable incidents occurred—in Donegal and Cork when bands of masked and armed men forcibly rescued deserters from the custody of military escorts.
At the beginning of 1918 a new opportunity offered for Sinn Fein to try its strength against the Parliamentary Party, this time in Ulster. A vacancy occurred in the representation of South Armagh, a Nationalist seat in one of the “six counties,” with a strong Unionist minority. Sinn Fein had now won seats in all the three southern provinces, and, after some slight hesitation, it decided to put to the test the effect of its propaganda, which had been actively conducted throughout the northern province, upon the Nationalists of Ulster. The Parliamentary Party’s candidate was Mr. Patrick Donnelly, a Newry solicitor of much local popularity. Sinn Fein selected as its candidate Dr. Patrick McCartan, who was at the time under detention at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he had been stopped while endeavouring to make his way back to Ireland. Dr. McCartan had gone to America in the capacity of “Ambassador of the Irish Republic to the United States”; and here we may conveniently glance for a moment at the relations of Sinn Fein with that country.
Under date “Washington, 23rd July, 1917,” the New York World announced that “President Wilson received to-day two communications from the Sinn Fein organisation setting forth plans for American aid to obtain complete independence and the establishment of a Republic for Ireland. The same two communications were also delivered to Congress.” The World’s message added that one communication was signed by Dr. McCartan “on behalf of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic”; the other by twenty-six officers, headed by Mr. de Valera—”of the forces formed independently in Ireland to secure the complete liberation of the Irish nation.” Dr. McCartan’s letter reminded the President and Congress of the part which Irishmen had played in the development of the United States and their defence in time of war, and recounted that Ireland had maintained a struggle for independence for seven hundred and fifty years. It questioned England’s good faith at any time in granting genuine Home Rule, and asserted that Irish Unionists “were encouraged by the Royal Family and aristocracy of England to threaten civil war rather than submit to a Home Rule Government.” It declared that recent elections in Ireland had demonstrated anew the established fact that the Republicans represented the vast majority of the people of Ireland, and concluded:—”We have no doubt about the good-will of the American Government and people, and, while prepared when the opportunity arises to assert our independence by the one force that commands universal respect, and to accept aid from any quarter to that end, we hope Americans will see their way to aid in doing for Ireland what they did for Cuba. We feel that they will assist in repaying to Ireland the sacrifices and contributions made by her sons in the cause of America.”
The next public news of Dr. McCartan came on October 24th, when a Reuter message from New York announced the arrest there by the Secret Police of Baron von Recklinghausen, a German agent who was declared to have intimate associations with Sinn Fein, and of William Mellowes, who led the rising in Galway in Easter Week, 1916, and, after hiding in a remote part of Connemara, ultimately succeeded in making his escape to America by a South of Ireland port. It was simultaneously announced that the Canadian authorities had arrested Dr. McCartan at Halifax on an outward bound ship in the port. The New York message declared that all three men were implicated in a plot to bring about another rebellion in Ireland, and that the American authorities, learning of Mellowes’s association with Dr. McCartan, whom he proposed to follow to Ireland, advised the Canadian authorities, who then effected the arrest at Halifax. These arrests, the New York Times asserted, frustrated a rebellion planned for Easter, 1918.
Dr. McCartan, before this adventure, had been a dispensary doctor in County Tyrone, and had been identified with the Nationalist Volunteers from their inception. He lent his motor-car for the Larne gun-running exploit of 1914, when the Ulster Volunteers imported quantities of arms and ammunition, justifying his action on that occasion on the ground that he was ready to assist any effort to secure arms for Irishmen of any section. After the Easter rising of 1916 he disappeared for some time. Returning to Tyrone at the end of 1916, in the following February he was among those deported to England, whence he returned to take part in the Longford election, afterwards working his passage to America as “Ambassador of the Irish Republic,” as an ordinary seaman. During the South Armagh election Sinn Fein speakers contrasted this incident with Mr. T. P. O’Connor’s mission to the United States in a British cruiser. Entering the field in the election somewhat late Sinn Fein conducted a whirlwind campaign in the constituency, under the personal direction of Mr. de Valera. Large numbers of Irish Volunteers were drafted into the district. Sinn Fein suffered from the fact that, in an election held in the precincts of the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, and under the immediate shadow of Cardinal Logue’s warning issued a month earlier, Dr. McCartan’s candidature received little or no open support from the priesthood, who, however, were not conspicuously active on the side of the Parliamentary Party. The Nationalists also brought the full force of the party machine to bear in the election under the guidance of Mr. Dillon and Mr. Devlin. The Unionist vote, numbering more than a thousand on a register of about six thousand, was recognised as capable of playing a decisive part in the election. Officially no action was taken by the Ulster Unionist Council, but an unofficial Unionist and temperance candidate was put forward—it was suggested with the Machiavellian object of indirectly assisting Dr. McCartan’s candidature and, in the event of his success, providing the Ulster Unionists with a new argument against Home Rule. Under pressure of the general Unionist opinion, however, this candidature was withdrawn before the polling day. The majority of Unionists in the constituency abstained from voting; those who did vote voted for the Parliamentary Party’s candidate. After an exciting contest, which produced no new arguments, the result of the poll was declared on February 2nd. It showed that Sinn Fein had suffered its first electoral defeat.
Mr. Donnelly, the Parliamentary Party’s candidate, headed the poll with a majority of more than a thousand—a majority which exceeded all expectations, and could not be ascribed to the Unionist vote. The South Armagh election result, declared twelve months almost to a day since Sinn Fein’s first victory in South Roscommon, came at a time when the deliberations of the Irish Convention had reached an acutely critical stage and the Government had decided upon intervention.