The Report and After.
The Convention had scarcely resumed its sittings on March 6th when they were interrupted by the death on the same day of Mr. John Redmond, who for some little time had been prevented by ill-health from attending. At its meeting on the following day the Convention passed a resolution placing on record “our deep sense of sorrow at the unexpected death of Mr. John Redmond, our faithful and devoted colleague.” Mr. Redmond, the resolution declared, “was valued by all as a great Irishman, a brilliant Parliamentarian, an honourable opponent, a kindly friend, a genial and warm-hearted comrade. Throughout the proceedings of the Convention his wise counsel was an invaluable aid for our guidance. He looked upon the work of the Convention and its outcome as fraught with the most vital interests for the Irish people and the whole Empire.” Then out of respect for the memory of the parliamentary leader the Convention adjourned until after the funeral, which took place at Wexford on the following Saturday. Shortly afterwards occurred the death of Sir A. McDowell, the ablest of the Ulstermen, whom, unfortunately, illness had prevented from attending many of the sittings at Trinity College. The influence of Mr. Redmond had at one moment nearly secured agreement between the bulk of the Nationalists and the Southern Unionist and non-party delegates. If that influence was overborne while he remained leader of the Nationalist Party and a member of the Convention, it seemed unlikely that such a compromise of conflicting interests should be again afforded now that he was removed oy death, and the leadership of the Parliamentary Party had passed to Mr. Dillon, who had declined membership in the Convention.
Moreover, a more unaccommodating temper had began to disclose itself on the other side. On March 4th a body of twenty-two Southern Unionists had issued a “Call to Unionists,” in which they chose this moment for reaffirming their “conviction that in the maintenance of the Legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland, and in the firm, just, and impartial administration of the law, lies the only hope for the future of our country and the security of His Majesty’s Dominions.” The authors of this document proceeded to set up a Southern Unionist Committee and to enrol supporters. They disputed the validity of the claim of Lord Midletpn and the other representatives of the Irish Unionist Alliance to speak in the name of Southern Unionists in their attitude in the Convention. The Committee’s own policy for the solution of the Irish question was, in effect, conscription, tempered by the completion of land purchase. It refused to contemplate any departure from the Union beyond a devolution to Ireland of such local affairs as might equally be devolved upon other parts of the United Kingdom in a federal system.
The support which the Committee attracted was not so great that the formation of this Southern Unionist “cave” need be regarded as seriously compromising the Midleton policy if that policy had still promised to secure any approach to “substantial agreement” in the Convention. But in the existing circumstances it tended to weaken the position of the Southern Unionist delegates; still more, it tended inevitably, as it was perhaps chiefly intended, to confirm the Ulster Unionist delegates in their uncompromising attitude—if that were needed. An inconclusive result of the Convention was now certain. It reassembled on March 12th, and this week sat for four instead of three days, announcing that discussion on the Chairman’s statement on the results of the delegation to the Cabinet, and on the statement received from the Grand Committee, was being continued during these sittings. This formula was understood to cover the preparation of the Convention’s Report, which was expected to be largely of a historical character: its conclusions, as a newspaper gossiper said, “were expected to be a guide rather than a mandate to the Government.” Pending its appearance public attention was directed to the declaration of policy by Mr. Dillon, and to the two by-elections which were in progress in Waterford and East Tyrone in consequence of Captain Redmond’s resignation of the latter seat to contest his father’s old constituency against Sinn Fein.
Mr. Dillon went to Enniskillen, where he played what his enemies called “the old tune.” He taunted the Sinn Feiners with being divided in their counsels and vague in their aspirations, but did not disclose his own policy. He said that the Party could not decide upon its line of action until the Convention had issued its report. The Convention—here Mr. Dillon found himself in agreement with Sinn Fein—should not be regarded as a genuine instrument of self-determination; and if it failed to lead to Home Rule, Mr. Dillon promised to denounce England for being false to her profession in favour of small nations. Nevertheless the experiment of the Convention had been worth while making; the Party was justified in approving it; and, whatever might eventuate, Mr. Dillon (it was evident) would not associate himself with the Republican demand, or with threats of physical force, or with the policy of abstention from Westminster.
When this speech was being made it was already evident that the contest in Waterford would end in favour of the Irish Party’s candidate. On Saturday, March 23rd, the figures were announced. They were: Captain Redmond, 1,242; Dr. V. White, 764. Comment was largely silenced owing to the critical character which the war in France had suddenly assumed. The Sinn Feiners attributed their defeat, first, to the Unionist vote and, secondly, to the “family” feeling in favour of the Irish Party candidate.
“Captain Redmond’s election,” wrote The Independent, “caused no surprise. . . . It does not prove that the Nationalists are winning all along the line. Even two swallows do not make a summer. These results merely prove that the Party at present has succeeded in retaining some of its seats, though in the event of a general election the Party would lose considerably more than half its seats, and the result of recent contests in no way modifies this view.” An English newspaper pointed out that Captain Redmond had conducted his campaign in khaki, and that the Union Jack was his emblem; while Sinn Fein headquarters in Dublin announced the result as “Another British Victory.” After all allowances had been made Waterford must have induced a serious reflection among the Sinn Feiners. It was all very well for them to jeer at a Unionist and Redmondite collaboration under the Union JacK. The very fact that Unionists and Redmondites had collaborated under the Union Jack constituted an important criticism of what was the chief claim of Sinn Fein—that for the international status of the Irish question. On the same Saturday an important Note was issued from the Convention. The public was informed that “decisions had been arrived at on all material points,” and that the Chairman had been instructed to draw up a draft report which would be presented to the Convention after the Easter holidays. Subsequently Lord Midleton, the leader of the Southern Unionists at the Convention, conferred in Dublin with the Executive of the Irish Unionist Alliance (the political organisation of the Southern Unionists); no report of tne proceedings was issued to the Press, but it was stated unofficially that the Alliance had been informed of the course of events in Trinity College up to date, and that there had been expressions both of approval and disapproval. The comment of the Press became more optimistic, though it was noted that nothing had been said in the Note as to the unanimity of the “decisions” arrived at. It was also current that the Report of the Convention would be largely recapitulatory and that the onus of real decisions would be left to the Government.
Public opinion had, however, been still further diverted from the Convention by a revival of what was called the “Conscription menace.” In view of events in France the War Cabinet had decided on the necessity of an increase in British man-power. The Tory organs, the Morning Post and Globe, seized the opportunity to raise anew the question of the total exemption of Ireland from the Military Service Acts. The Morning Post and the Globe had always been urgent for Irish Conscription. But now for the first time the Harmsworth Press, both Times and Daily Mail, associated themselves, albeit cautiously, with the same demand. It was argued that the British public, called upon for further sacrifices, would no longer bear with the state of affairs which prevailed in Ireland. On April 1 the Freeman’s Journal hinted that a big struggle was going on in the Cabinet, and represented that both from the military and the political point of view differences of opinion on the question of Irish conscription existed. Mr. Duke, according to the rumour, intended to resign in the event of the adoption of the Irish proposals of the War Office. It was also believed that for one reason or another the Irish Unionists as a whole shared the cautious view of Mr. Duke. Certainly the attitude of the Irish Parliamentary Party was not in doubt, and Mr. Devlin renewed his pledges of opposition in the course of an electioneering speech in Tyrone.
The suggestion came forward inevitably that conscription should be introduced in Ireland as a result of a “deal” between the Home Rulers and the Government. Thus, if the Convention should come to a decision in favour of Home Rule the Government would undertake legislation as soon as the principle of Irish conscription had been asserted. Mr. Garvin in the Observer proposed that application of the measure should be left to “statesmanship” in the immediate future. The difficulties of mixing up the matter of political settlement—if there was a sincere desire for political settlement—-with a proposal of conscription were obvious. Mr. Lloyd George in pledging the Government to legislate in accordance with the recommendations of the Convention had made no condition save that of substantial agreement among Irishmen themselves. No sort of suggestion of a deal with Great Britain on the basis of conscription had been raised. From the point of view of the Freeman’s Journal or the Party, however, the aim of the agitators for conscription was not so much that of securing soldiers from Ireland as that of ruining the prospects of settlement. The Liberal Press, the Daily Chronicle, the Daily News and the Manchester Guardian, put forward counsels of moderation. “The suggestion,” said the Daily Chronicle, “that it would be a wise and bold thing for the Government to extend conscription to Ireland shows a lamentable ignorance of tne facts. Such a policy would aggravate the Irish problem and bring no appreciable help to the army.”
On Saturday, April 6, the Press unanimously announced that the Cabinet had come to a decision of bringing Ireland within the scope of the new Man Power Bill. According to the best informed journals the principle of Irish conscription was to be asserted. At tne same time the Report of the Convention came into the Government’s hands; it was laid upon the Table of the House of Commons on April 9th. The Press of that morning stated that the Government were of opinion that the Report sufficiently satisfied the condition of substantial agreement to justify it in presenting immediately to Parliament a “Bill for a Final Settlement of the Irish Question.” The supporters of the Government denied that either plan was conditional upon the other; a coincidence had occurred, a fortunate coincidence, and nothing more. In Ireland, however, even among Unionists, the value of the coincidence was disputed; the Irish Times declared that Ireland’s “obligation to herself and humanity” should have no sort of connection with her form of government, and the same newspaper suggested that in his “earnest desire for a settlement “—for a coincidence of events— the Premier had read into the report more than it contained. The Dublin Corporation called a meeting and warned the Government against ” the disastrous effect” of the “insane proposal” of conscription. One of the Redmondite members of the Council stated that Nationalist Ireland would not accept the proposal even if it were the outcome of the most satisfactory political settlement; and he moved an addendum to the resolution asking the Lord Mayor to invite Messrs. Dillon, De Valera, Devlin, A. Griffith, and representatives of the Trades Union Congress to meet him in conference for a united opposition to conscription, and to consider the establishment of an All-Ireland Covenant. As regards the actual nature of the Convention Report it was now known for certain that it amounted merely to a record of proceedings in chronological order, of proposals made, decisions taken, of voting, and of a statement of the views of the various bodies into which the Convention had divided.
On April 9th, when the Premier introduced his Man Power proposals to the House of Commons the prophets who had foretold that conscription would be contingent on Home Rule, or vice versa, proved to have been in error. He said that the remarkable Convention which had just been held in Ireland furnished the Government with another opportunity (here Mr. Byrne interjected, “Of breaking its word”) of approaching the vexed question of Irish autonomy with more hope of success. “But,” he added, “there must be no mis-apprehension. The questions (of conscription and Home Rule) do not stand together. Each must be taken on its merits.” The Premier justified compulsion in Ireland by quoting from speeches of Mr. Redmond and Mr. Dillon in support of the war. Had not Mr. Redmond said in 1916 that he opposed conscription on the grounds of expediency not of principle? Had not Mr. Dillon said that that he would not hesitate to support conscription, to-morrow if he thought it necessary to maintain liberty? Mr. Dillon took up the challenge in his replies. If Irish liberties were at stake (he said) he would still not hesitate to support Conscription. The inexpediency of the measure even from the Allied standpoint still held good; for “you take a decision which will plunge Ireland into bloodshed and open up a new war front.” He might have quoted from the significant statement of the Irish Roman Catholic Bishops which had been published on that very day in the Dublin Press:—”What between mismanagement and mischief making this country has already been deplorably upset, and it would be a fatal mistake, surpassing the worst blunders of the past, to furnish a telling plea now for desperate courses by the attempt to enforce Conscription.” The Irish Parliamentary leader also attacked the Premier’s proposal from the ground of principle, and he asked what justice there could be in the Government’s taking its decision without the consultation of one single Irish representative.
All turned theoretically on the question of status, and the Premier scored by pointing out (as Sinn Feiners had often done) that the Parliamentary Party by accepting the Home Rule Act of 1914 had acquiesced in the Imperial right to compel Irishmen to military service. On the other hand, in 1917, by the establishment of the Irish Convention—if the Convention were not a farce— the Government had admitted an Irish right of self-determination. Mr. Lloyd George’s references to the Convention in his speech of April 9th, were, to put it mildly, unfortunate. It transpired that he had not yet had time to read the Report. But, apparently, he had gathered vaguely that there had not been complete unanimity at the Convention. “I understand that it reported by a majority. I fear the majority is not such as to justify the Government in saying that it represents substantial agreement. . . .” Therefore the Government would take the responsibility of submitting to Parliament such proposals for the establishment of self-government in Ireland as they thought “just.” By these words, in effect, the Premier threw over the whole case for the Convention, that body having been set up in 1917 for the alleged reason that the Government could not say in what “justice” to Ireland consisted, and had determined to leave the matter to Irishmen themselves. Mr. Devlin disclosed the fact (of which the Premier professed ignorance) that a subcommittee of the Convention had reported on the application of conscription to Ireland, and declared it to be, assuming the establishment of an Irish Parliament, “impossible” without the consent and co-operation of that Parliament.
While the Man Power Bill was being hurried through the House of Commons amid protests from Ireland—protests that the Dublin Correspondent of The Times described as the most violent within the memory of man—the Blue Book containing the Report of the Proceedings of the Irish Convention was issued to the public. It contained Sir H. Plunkett’s Report of the Proceedings, a Report of the Ulster Unionist delegates, a Note by the Provost and the Archbishop of Armagh, a Report by twenty-two Nationalist members of the Convention, a Note by the majority of the Labour representatives, a Note by the Earl of Dunraven, and a Note by the Southern Unionists. It was found that all the Southern Unionists, a majority of Nationalists, and five out of the seven Labour representatives were agreed that the scheme of Irish, self-government set out in paragraph 42 of the Report of the Proceedings should be immediately passed into law. Paragraph 42 provided for an Irish Parliament (King, Senate and Commons), and at the same time, for the maintenace of the supreme power and authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The minority of eighteen which voted against this provision was composed wholly of Northern Unionists. Certain matters, such as Peace and War, the Coinage, Army and Navy, Harbours for naval and military purposes, were definitely excluded from the powers of the Irish Parliament. The Irish Police and Postal services were to be under unified control during the war, subject to Imperial exigencies, but the administration of these services would after the cessation of hostilities become automatically subject to the Irish Parliament. There were to be certain restrictions on the power of the Irish Parliament on matters within its competence, as in the Home Rule Act of 1914. All-important, however, were the sections in paragraph 42 relating to Finance and the Concessions to Unionists. The Nationalists of both sections proved to have been equally generous to the Irish Unionist and Protestant minority in their offer of safeguards. They were ready to accept the principle that 40 per cent, of the membership of the Irish Commons should be guaranteed to Unionists. They consented that for a period there should be summoned to the Commons 20 members nominated by the Lord Lieutenant, with a view to the due representation of interests not otherwise adequately represented in the provinces of Leinster, Munster and Connaught, and that 20 additional members should be elected by Ulster constituencies, to represent commercial, industrial, and agricultural interests (in the latter suggestion an idea had evidently been borrowed from Mr. George Russell’s celebrated pamphlet Thoughts for a Convention). The extra-representation of Ulster would not cease except on an adverse decision by a three-fourth’s majority of both Houses sitting together. This last sub-section was carried by 26 votes to 20, the delegates of the Ulster Unionist Council abstaining.
In regard to Finance, on the sub-section postponing the Control of Customs and Excise for further consideration until after the war, and providing that the question of such control should be considered and decided by the United Kingdom Parliament within seven years after the conclusion of peace, the voting was very close—38 to 34. The Ulster delegates voted in the minority together with a large number of leading Nationalists, notably, the Archbishop of Cashel, the Bishop of Down and Connor, Mr. Joseph Devlin and Mr. W. M. Murphy. The delegates of the Irish Party were themselves divided, Mr. Devlin being on one aide and Captain Stephen Gwynn on the other. On this issue there had been, according to the Chairman’s draft report, three clearly defined bodies of opinion in the Convention; the Ulster Unionists advocating the maintenance of fiscal unity within the United Kingdom; a section of Nationalists insisting on complete fiscal autonomy for Ireland; and the Southern Unionists, with the adherence of a majority of Nationalists and the majority of the labour members, agreeing to a compromise which left to Ireland the proceeds of all sources of revenue and the imposition of all taxes other than Customs.
On February 25,1918, the Premier, who had been informed of events, communicated to Sir Horace Plunkett a letter which contained, among other suggestions, certain proposals regarding Customs and Excise. Mr. Lloyd George opposed the demand for fiscal autonomy; for the transfer of Customs and Excise would be “impossible in the midst of a great war,” and might also be “incompatible with the federal reorganisation of the United Kingdom.” After that the Convention took up a resolution of Lord MacDonnell which embodied, with variation in detail, some of the suggestions contained in the Premier’s letter. But whereas the Premier had proposed that a Royal Commission should sit after the war and “re-examine” the financial relations of Ireland and England, Lord MacDonnell’s motion made it clear that a decision as regards the “imposition of Customs and Excise” should be arrived at by the Imperial Parliament within seven years after the cessation of hostilities. For the purposes of the decision a number of Irish representatives proportioned to the population of Ireland should be called to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Nationalists who consented to the compromise explained in a Note that, in their belief, the proposed Parliament would be an effective instrument in obtaining further powers by general consent; that the proposal to pay into an Irish Exchequer the full proceeds of Irish taxation, direct and indirect, subject only to an agreed contribution to Imperial expenditure, would give the Irish Government means for internal development; and that the claim of an Irish Parliament to be the sole taxing authority for Ireland must still hold. The Note was signed by 25 Nationalists and 3 Liberals (Lords Granard and MacDonnell and Sir Bertram Windle). The 22 Nationalists who drew up a Minority Report dwelt largely upon the subject. This Report, which had the support of three clerics (Dr. O’Donnell, Dr. Harty and Dr. MacRory), of Mr. Devlin, M.P., of Mr. Lundon, M.P., of Mr. Harbison, M.P., and Mr. W. M. Murphy proposed the recognition of Irish rights over Customs and Excise, but agreed to a suspension of such rights until after the war, to a guarantee for a reasonable period of Free Trade between Ireland and England “in articles which were the produce or manufacture of either country,” and to a fixed statutory contribution to Imperial Expenses.”
In dealing with the question of Irish representation at Westminster the Nationalists of the minority stated that they would have preferred that all representation at Westminster should ceaee for the time being. The report of the proceedings does not indicate that the Nationalist members of the Convention showed at any time a very strong feeling on this point. In a scheme of Colonial Home Rule drawn up by the Bishop of Raphoe during the autumn, for submission to a sub-committee of the Grand Committee, it had been proposed that “representation in the Parliament of the United Kingdom should cease until there was a Federal Parliament.” The Unionists, however, both of the North and South, intimated that representation at Westminster was for them a sine qua non. On the Nationalist’s side it was stated that, while they did not favour the continuance of representation in the Imperial Parliament, they did not look upon its cessation as a sine qua non. Doubts were expressed as to whether Irish representatives at Westminster should be directly elected or delegated by the Irish Parliament. In the final voting (paragraph 42) it was decided that forty-two Irish members should be elected to the Imperial Parliament on the panel system.
We may here give the “letter of transmission” of the 8th of April, 1918, in which Sir Horace Plunkett, addressing the British Prime Minister, summed up results.:—”I have the honour to transmit herewith the Report of the Proceedings of the Irish Convention. For the immediate object of the Government the Report tells all that needs to be told: it shows that in the Convention, whilst it was not found possible to overcome the objections of the Ulster Unionists, a majority of Nationalists, all the Southern Unionists, and five out of the seven Labour representatives were agreed that the scheme of Irish self-government set out in paragraph 42 of the Report should be immediately passed into law. A minority of Nationalists propose a scheme which differs in only one important particular from that of the majority. The Convention has, therefore, laid a foundation of Irish agreement unprecedented in history. I recognise that action in Parliament upon the result of our deliberations must largely depend upon public opinion. Without a knowledge of the circumstances which, at the termination of our proceedings, compelled us to adopt an unusual method of presenting the results of our deliberations, the public might be misled as to what has actually been achieved. It is, therefore, necessary to explain our procedure.
“We had every reason to believe that the Government contemplated immediate legislation upon the results of our labours. The work of an Irish settlement, suspended at the outbreak of the war, is now felt to admit of no further postponement. In the Dominions and in the United States, as well as in other allied countries, the unsettled Irish Question is a disturbing factor, both in regard to war effort and peace aims. Nevertheless, urgent as our task was, we could not complete it unni every possibility of agreement had been explored. The moment this point was reached—and you will not be surprised that it took us eight months to reach it—we decided to issue our Report with the least possible delay. To do this we had to avoid further controversy and protracted debate. I was, therefore, on March 22nd, instructed to draft a Report which should be a mere narrative of the Convention’s proceedings, with a statement, for the information of the Government, of the conclusions adopted, whether unanimously or by majorities. It was hoped that this Report might be unanimously signed, and it was understood that any groups or individuals would be free to append to it such statements as they deemed necessary to give expression to their views. The Draft Report was circulated on March 30th, and discussed and amended on April 4th and 5th. The accuracy of the narrative was not challenged, though there was considerable difference of opinion as to the relative prominence which should be given to some parts of the proceedings. As time pressed it was decided not to have any discussion upon a Majority Report, nor upon any Minority Reports or other statements which might be submitted. The Draft Report was adopted by a majority, and the Chairman and Secretary were ordered to sign it, and forward it to the Government. A limit of twenty-four hours was, by agreement, put upon the reception of any other reports or statements, and in the afternoon of April 5th the Convention adjourned sine die.
“The public is thus provided with no Majority Report, in the sense of a reasoned statement in favour of the conclusions upon which the majority are agreed, but is left to gather from the narrative of proceedings what the contents of such a report would have been. On the other hand, both the Ulster Unionists and a minority of the Nationalists have presented Minority Reports covering the whole field of the Convention’s enquiry. The result of this procedure is to minimise the agreement reached, and to emphasise the disagreement. In these circumstances, I conceive it to be my duty as Chairman to submit such explanatory observations as are required to enable the reader of the Report and the accompanying documents to gain a clear idea of the real effect and significance of the Convention’s achievement. I may assume a knowledge of the broad facts of the Irish Question. It will be agreed that, of recent years, the greatest obstacle to its settlement has been the Ulster difficulty. There seemed to be two possible issues to our deliberations. If a scheme of Irish self-government could be framed to which the Ulster Unionists would give their adherence, then the Convention might produce a unanimous Report. Failing such a consummation, we might secure agreement, either complete or substantial, between the Nationalist, the Southern Unionist and the labour representatives. Many entertained the hope that the effect of such a striking and wholly new development would be to induce Ulster to reconsider its position.
“Perhaps unanimity was too much to expect. Be this as it may, neither time nor effort was spared in striving for that goal, and there were moments when its attainment seemed possible. There was, however, a portion of Ulster where a majority claimed that, if Ireland had the right to separate herself from the rest of the United Kingdom, they had the same right to separation from the rest of Ireland. But the time had gone by when any other section of the Irish people would accept the partition of their country even as a temporary expedient. Hence, the Ulster Unionist members in the Convention remained there only in the hope that some form of Home Rule would be proposed which might modify the determination of those they represented to have neither part nor lot in an Irish Parliament. The Nationalists strove to win them by concessions; but they found themselves unable to accept any of the schemes discussed and the only scheme of Irish government they presented to the Convention was confined to the exclusion of their entire Province. Long before the hope of complete unanimity had passed, the majority of the Convention were considering the possibilities of agreement between the Nationalists and the Southern Unionists Lord Midleton was the first to make a concrete proposal to this end. The Report shows that in November he outlined to the Grand Committee, and in December brought before the Convention, what looked like a workable compromise. It accepted self-government for Ireland. In return for special minority representation in the Irish Parliament, already conceded by the Nationalists, it offered to that Parliament complete power over internal legislation and administration and, in matters of finance, over direct taxation and Excise. But, although they agreed that the Customs revenue should be paid into the Irish Exchequer, the Southern Unionists insisted upon the permanent reservation to the Imperial Parliament of the power to fix the rates of Customs duties. By far the greater part of our time and attention was occupied by this one question, whether the imposition of Custom duties should or should not be under the control of the Irish Parliament. The difficulties of the Irish Convention may be summed up in two words—Ulster and Customs.
“The Ulster difficulty the whole world knows; but how the Customs question came to be one of vital principle, upon the decision of which depended the amount of agreement that could be reached in the Convention, needs to be told. The tendency of recent political thought among constitutional Nationalists has been towards a form of government resembling as closely as possible that of the Dominions, and, since the geographical position of Ireland imposes obvious restrictions in respect of naval and military affairs, the claim for Dominion Home Rule was concentrated upon a demand for unrestricted fiscal powers. Without separate Customs and Excise Ireland would, according to this view, fail to attain a national status like that enjoyed by the Dominions. Upon this issue the Nationalists made a strong case, and were able to prove that a considerable number of leading commercial men had come to favour fiscal autonomy as part of an Irish settlement. In the p-esent state of public opinion in Ireland, it was feared that without Customs no scheme the Convention recommended would receive sufficient measure of support to secure legislation. To obviate any serious disturbance of the trade of the United Kingdom, the Nationalists were prepared to agree to a free trade arrangement between the two countries. But this did not overcome the difficulties of the Southern Unionists, who on this point agreed with the Ulster Unionists. They were apprehensive that a separate system of Customs control, however guarded, might impair the authority of the United Kingdom over its external trade policy. Neither could they consent to any settlement which was, in their judgment, incompatible with Ireland’s full participation in a scheme of United Kingdom federation, should that come to pass.
“It was clear that by means of mutual concessions agreement between the Nationalists and the Southern Unionists could be reached on all other points. On this important point, however, a section of the Nationalists, who have embodied their views in a separate Report, held that no compromise was possible. On the other hand, a majority of the Nationalists and the whole body of Southern Unionists felt that nothing effective could result from their work in the Convention unless some understanding was reached upon Customs which would render an agreement on a complete scheme attainable. Neither side was willing to surrender the principle; but both sides were willing, in order that a Parliament should be at once established, to postpone a legislative decision upon the ultimate control of Customs and Excise. At the same time each party has put on record, in separate notes subjoined to the Report, its claim respecting the final settlement of this question. A decision having been reached upon the cardinal issue, the majority of the Convention carried a series of resolutions which, together, form a complete scheme of self-government. This scheme provides for the establishment of a Parliament for the whole of Ireland with an Executive responsible to it, and with full powers over all internal legislation, administration and direct taxation. Pending a decision of the fiscal question, it is provided that the imposition of duties of Customs and Excise shall remain with the Imperial Parliament, but that the whole of the proceeds of these taxes shall be paid into the Irish Exchequer. A joint Exchequer Board is to be set up to determine the Irish true revenue, and Ireland is to be represented upon the Board of Customs and Excise of the United Kingdom The principle of representation in the Imperial Parliament was insisted upon from the first by the Southern Unionists, and the Nationalists conceded it. It was felt, however, that there were strong reasons for providing that the Irish representatives at Westminster should be elected by the Irish Parliament rather than directly by the constituencies, and this was the arrangement adopted. It was accepted in principle that there should be an Irish contribution to the cost of Imperial services, but, owing to lack of data, it was not found possible in the Convention to fix any definite sum.
“It was agreed that the Irish Parliament should consist of two Houses—a Senate of 64 members and a House of Commons of 200. The principle underlying the composition of the Senate is the representation of interests. This is affected by giving representation to commerce, industry and labour, the County Councils, the Churches, learned institutions and the Peerage. In constituting the House of Commons the Nationalists offered to guarantee forty per cent, of its membership to the Unionists. It was agreed that, in the South, adequate representation for Unionists could only be secured by nomination; but, as the Ulster representatives had informed the Convention that those for whom they spoke could not accept the principle of nomination, provision was made in the scheme for an extra representation of .Ulster by direct election. The majority of the Labour representatives associated themselves with the .Nationalists and Southern Unionists in building up the Constitution, with the provisions of which they found themselves in general agreement. They frankly objected, however, to the principle of nomination and to what they regarded as the inadequate representation of Labour in the Upper House. Throughout our proceedings they helped in every way towards the attainment of agreement. Nor did they press their own special claims in such a manner as to make more difficult the work already difficult enough, of agreeing upon a constitution.
“I trust I have said enough to enable the reader of this Report and the accompanying documents to form an accurate judgment upon the nature and difficulties of the task before the Convention and upon its actual achievement. While, technically, it was our function to draft a Constitution for our country, it would be more correct to say that we had to find a way out of the most complex and anomalous political situation to be found in history—I might almost say in fiction. We are living under a system of Government which survives only because the Act abolishing it cannot, consistently with Ministerial pledges, be put into operation without further legislation no less difficult and controversial than that which it has to amend. While the responsibility for a solution to our problem rests primarily with the Government, the Convention found itself in full accord with your insistence that the most hopeful path to a settlement was to be found in Irish agreement. In seeking this—in attempting to find a compromise which Ireland might accept and Parliament pass into law—it has been recognised that the full programme of no party could be adopted. The Convention was also bound to give due weight to your opinion that to press for a settlement at Westminster, during the war, of the question which, as I have shown, had been a formidable obstacle to agreement would be to imperil the prospect of the early establishment of self-government in Ireland. Notwithstanding the difficulties with which we were surrounded, a larger measure of agreement has been reached upon the principle and details of Irish self-government than has ever yet been attained. Is it too much to hope that the scheme embodying this agreement will forthwith be brought to fruition by those to whose call the Irish Convention has now responded?”
Before we proceed to record the Government’s action upon the Report, however, it will be desirable, since space has been found in the Appendix only for paragraph 42 of the Draft Report of the proceedings, to give here a resume of the earlier pages. Some of the events recorded by Sir Horace Plunkett have already been noted in the other parts of this book. In paragraph 10 of the Narrative we learn that the Bishop of Raphoe was in October delegated to present the Heads of a Scheme for the consideration of a sub-committee (Mr. Barrie, Mr. Devlin, Lord Londonderry, Sir A. McDowell, Lord Midleton, Mr. W. M. Murphy, the Bishop of Raphoe, Mr. Redmond and Mr. Russell). The Bishop’s scheme turned out, in effect, to be a proposal of “Dominion” Home Rule, although the Ulster Unionists in their Minority Report subsequently credited the Bishop with having proposed co-equal Parliaments for Ireland and England. The Bishop gave the Irish Parliament power to maintain a Defence Force, power in respect of commercial treaties, complete authority over Finance, Police and Post Office. But he excluded the Army and Navy from Irish interference, he agreed to an Irish contribution to the Imperial Exchequer, and he suggested restriction on the powers of the Irish Parliament in respect of religious legislation. The sub-committee in considering the Scheme arrived at certain provisional conclusions on most of the Heads (though not on the more important ones), but these provisional understandings were all contingent on full agreement on the general scheme being reached. Lord Southborough subsequently submitted new proposals on the question of finance, but these proposals failed to gain the unanimous assent of the Sub-Committee. The Chairman then intervened and submitted certain questions to the Nationalists and Ulster representatives. He received replies which showed that there could be no basis of agreement, the Ulstermen declaring their opinion that for Ireland and for Great Britain a common system of Finance, with one Exchequer, was a fundamental essential. The Grand Committee again took up the task of discussion. Then on the 2nd of January Lord Midleton, before the whole Convention, introduced his compromise, which, in the first instance, took the form of the following Resolution:—
“That, in the event of the establishment of an Irish Parliament, there be reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom full authority for Imperial services, including the levying of Custom Duties, but subject to the above limitation, the Irish Parliament shall control all purely Irish services, including Judicature and Police, with internal taxation and administration. The differences between Nationalists on the Midleton compromise led, as has been already stated, to the Premier’s intervention (letters of February and 21st January). During the sessions of February 26th, 27th and 28th the Convention considered the views of the Cabinet. On March 5th the resolution of Lord MacDonnell on the Fiscal question was taken up, and on March 12th was carried by a majority of 4, whereupon the Convention resumed the consideration of the statement of provisional conclusions reached in the Grand Committee. Mr. Barrie, M.P., presently moved his amendment excluding all Ulster from the power of the Irish Parliament. It was defeated by 52 votes to 19. On the 22nd of March the Convention adopted unanimously the final report of the Sub-Committee on Land Purchase, which contained detailed recommendations for a complete settlement of the agrarian question, under a scheme for recasting the framework of the government of Ireland. It did the same with the Report of the Committee appointed to consider the Question of Housing in Urban Areas in Ireland. Finally, on the 5th of April, 1918, the Chairman and Secretary were, by 42 votes to 35, empowered to submit the Report of Proceedings to His Majesty’s Government. There voted in the minority of 35 the 18 representatives of Ulster Unionism, one of the Labour delegates from Belfast and, among the Nationalists, the Archbishop of Cashel, the Lord Mayor of Cork, Mr. T. Lundon, M.P., Mr. J. Devlin, M.P., the Bishop of Raphoe, the Bishop of Down and Connor, and Mr. W. M. Murphy.
We have dealt above at some length, in its proper place in the historical sequence of events, with the Convention’s Report. The issue of the Report, however, was made to an Irish public profoundly uninterested in it. The mind of the whole people was fixed on conscription, to the complete exclusion of any other question. Nor was the gathering storm of determined opposition to the proposal to conscript Ireland in any way checked by a certain change in the Government’s attitude which was disclosed during the hurried passage of the Military Service Bill through the House of Commons under the “guillotine.” The Irish clause of the Bill—Clause II.—gave the Government power to extend the operation of the Act to Ireland by Order in Council. In his speech on the first reading of the Bill on April 9th the Prime Minister announced the Government’s intention to use this power immediately upon the completion of the necessary preliminary arrangements. So far as the question of Home Rule—which he insisted was an entirely separate question—was concerned, he merely offered a sort of ex post facto justification of the conscription in Ireland in the remark that “when the young men of Ireland had been brought in large numbers into the fighting line, it is important that they should feel that they are not fighting for the purpose of establishing a principle abroad which is denied to them at home.”
From these declarations it appeared that the enforcement of conscription in Ireland was an almost immediate certainty, while the production, and still more, the passage of ” such proposals for the establishment of self-government for Ireland as in themselves are just and can be carried without violent controversy” was an uncertain possibility relegated to the vague future. During the passage of the Bill, however, the Government’s attitude underwent an important change. The Bill, of course, was opposed at every stage by the Nationalist members to the utmost limits that the operation of the “guillotine” permitted. They were joined in this opposition, up to a point, by Liberal and Labour members, as well as by some Unionists. Mr. Asquith, as leader of the_Opposition, expressed the gravest doubts of the wisdom of the Government’s policy; but in face of Mr. Bonar Law’s declaration that the Government would stand or fall by the Irish clause, the Liberal leader refused to take the responsibility of defeating it. It was known, however, that the Labour Ministers were putting the strongest, pressure on the War Cabinet to modify its attitude.
In the speeches of Mr. Barnes and of the Prime Minister on the third reading of the Bill on April 16th the result of this pressure became apparent. It was now clear that, despite Mr. Lloyd George’s earlier emphatic assertions to the contrary, Home Rule and conscription for Ireland were, in fact, inter-dependent. These speeches showed that the Government now proposed to bring in a Home Rule Bill immediately, and to stand or fall by it as it had decided to stand or fall by the Irish Clause of the Military Service Bill. Mr. Barnes said that he believed that the Home Rule Bill might be put on the Statute Book before this clause was operative. The Prime Minister explained his position with some clearness, and made it plain in his speech that what concerned him most was not the Irish attitude towards the conscription of Ireland, but the English attitude. “If there is to be trouble in Ireland,” he said, “in resisting a measure of this kind”—and he added that he did not doubt for a moment that there would be trouble—”before any measure of a stern character is taken by this country it is essential that the conscience of this country should be perfectly clear. If there is a refusal to legislate after that remarkable Convention, if the only answer that is given to the Convention is conscription and nothing else, let there be no mistake—if there is resistance in Ireland under those conditions there will be an amount of sympathy with the resistance in this country which would paralyze any effort to enforce it. . . . you can face the difficulties in Ireland with a united country behind you, and you can only get unity when every section of the community feels that full justice has been done to Ireland in procuring for her that measure of self-government which we are ostensibly fighting for for other countries.” The Prime Minister went on to say that nothing would help more to secure the full measure of America’s assistance, which was vital at this juncture, than the “determination of the British Parliament to tender to Ireland a measure of self-government which would satisfy reasonable American opinion.” In these circumstances, he declared, the Government had come to the conclusion that Irish self-government after the Convention had reported was an essential war measure. The conclusion which Sir Edward Carson drew from these speeches was that “it was now clear that no recruits in Ireland were to be conscripted until a Home Rule Bill was passed by the Government.” “That,” he added, “was handing over Ulster as the price to be paid for conscripting them.”
After the passage of the Military Service Bill on April 16th—the Irish clause being carried by 296 votes to 123—the Nationalist Parliamentary Party immediately left Westminster and returned to Ireland. A passive resistance movement was already afoot. On April 13th the Rev. Joseph W. Brady, Adminstrator of the Cathedral Parish of Armagh, published in the Nationalist Press a letter in the following terms:—”Following the eminent example set us a few years ago by Sir Edward Carson, the priests and people of the Cathedral Parish of Armagh will hold a series of meetings on next Sunday for the purpose of founding a Solemn League and Covenant against conscription. The methods employed, however, will not be those sanctioned by Sir Edward Carson, viz.:—arms, drilling, &c. The constitutional weapon of passive resistance, employed so successfully by thousands of conscientious objectors in England, Scotland and Wales for years recently, will be quite sufficient, and we have the highest theological authority for its use.” At the meeting on the following Sunday a message was read from Cardinal Logue, who wrote:—”I am heart and soul with the meeting at Armagh. Forcible conscription is an outrage on the clergy and people of Ireland. There is nothing for it but passive resistance to it in every shape and form.” Cardinal Logue added that he had convened a meeting of the Irish Bishops on April 18th.
On the same day there assembled at the Dublin Mansion House the conference to arrange for united opposition to conscription, which had earlier been proposed in a resolution by the Dublin Corporation. The Government’s proposal, it was now clear, had achieved the miracle of Irish unity. Invitations to the conference, over which the Lord Mayor of Dublin presided, were accepted by Mr. Dillon and Mr. Devlin, representing the Nationalist Parliamentary Party; Mr. de Valera and Mr. Arthur Griffith, representing Sinn Fein; Mr. William O’Brien and Mr. T. M. Healy, representing the All-for-Ireland League; and Messrs. William O’Brien (Dublin), Thomas Johnson (Belfast), and W. J. Egan (Cork), representing the Irish Trades’ Union Congress. During this period, though feeling ran high throughout the country, and public meetings were held and resolutions of protest passed by public bodies daily, there was no disorder—except in Belfast, where a great protest meeting was violently broken up by a body of young Orange shipyard workers, who were, of course, “protected” by their occupation from conscription. The Mansion House conference at once undertook the task of organising the movement of opposition on lines of passive resistance in close co-operation with the Roman Catholic Hierarchy. At its first meeting, the entrance of members into which was witnessed by an enormous and enthusiastic crowd, the Conference appointed a deputation, consisting of Messrs, de Valera, Dillon, Healy and O’Brien (Trades Union Congress) to wait upon the Hierarchy in session at Maynooth.
After the return of this deputation, and its report on the result of the interview with the Hierarchy, the Conference adopted and issued the following declaration:—”Taking our stand on Ireland’s separate and distinct nationhood, and affirming the principle of liberty, that the Governments of nations derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, we deny the right of the British Government or any external authority to impose compulsory military service in Ireland against the clearly expressed will of the Irish people. The passing of the Conscription Bill by the British House of Commons must be regarded as a declaration of war on the Irish nation. The alternative to accepting it as such is to surrender our liberties and to acknowledge ourselves slaves. It is in direct violation of the rights of small nationalities to self-determination, which even the Prime Minister of England—now preparing to employ naked militarism and force his Act upon Ireland—himself officially announced as an essential condition for peace at the Peace Congress. The attempt to enforce it will be an unwarrantable aggression, which we call upon all Irishmen to resist by the most effective means at their disposal.” After drafting this declaration the Conference proceeded to discuss the methods to be employed for giving effect to it. It was announced that detailed instructions as to the most effective plans to be pursued would be communicated in due course, and that all the decisions so far reached had been unanimous.
Simultaneously with the issue of this declaration of the Mansion House Conference the Roman Catholic Hierarchy published an important statement in the following terms:—”An attempt is being made to force conscription on Ireland against the will of the Irish nation and in defiance of the protests of its leaders. In view especially of the historic relations between the two countries from the very beginning up to this moment, we consider that conscription forced in this way upon Ireland is an oppressive and inhuman law, which the Irish people have a right to resist by every means that are consonant with the law of God. We wish to remind our people that there is a higher Power which controls the affairs of men. They have in their hands the means of conciliating that Power by strict adherence to the Divine law, by more earnest attention to their religious duties, and by fervent and persevering prayer. In order to secure the aid of the Holy Mother of God, who shielded our people in the days of their greatest trials, we have already sanctioned a National Novena in Honour of our Lady of Lourdes, commencing on the 3rd May, to secure general and domestic peace. We also exhort the heads of families to have the Rosary recited every evening with the intention of protecting the spiritual and temporal welfare of our beloved country, and bringing us safe through this crisis of unparalleled gravity.”
The Hierarchy directed the clergy to celebrate a public Mass of intercession on the following Sunday “to avert the scourge of conscription with which Ireland is now threatened.” They further directed that an announcement be made at every public Mass of a public meeting to be held on that day at an hour and place to be specified in the announcement for the purpose of administering the following pledge against compulsory conscription in Ireland:—”Denying the right of the British Government to enforce compulsory service in this country, we pledge ourselves solemnly to one another to resist conscription by the most effective means at our disposal.” The clergy were also directed by the Bishops to announce that a collection would be held at an early suitable date outside the church gates for the purpose of supplying means to resist the imposition of compulsory military service.
On the following Sunday—April 21st—the pledge to resist conscription was solemnly administered at public meetings after Mass in every parish throughout Ireland. Centres were then opened for the registering of names. A few days later a Protestant protest against conscription was also circulated through the country. This protest was organised unofficially. The Protestant Archbishops contented themselves with issuing an appeal for recruits, significantly refusing to express an opinion on the application of conscription to Ireland. In the meantime three important events had occurred. In the first place the Mansion House Conference, at its second meeting on April 17th, decided that a detailed statement of Ireland’s case with respect to the attempt of the English Government to impose conscription upon the Irish people be prepared for presentation to the world, and the Lord Mayor of Dublin was deputed to arrange to proceed to Washington and present in person a statement to the President of the United States. At the meeting it was also decided that the money collected in each parish for the Irish National Defence Fund should remain in the hands of the priests or other persons locally selected to act as treasurers; that Archbishop Walsh and the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and a third to be named subsequently by them should act as Trustees, and that representative Local Committees of Defence selected by and from those who signed the National Pledge against conscription should be formed immediately in every parish. The Conference further advised the public to refuse to assist in any proceedings to facilitate the enforcement of the Act, and added the comment that “the question of the local conservation of food supplies was under consideration in view of possible developments.”
In the next place, on April 21st, the Nationalist Parliamentary Party held a meeting in Dublin at which it passed a series of resolutions which, after denouncing the Government’s proposal, pledged the party to use all its influence and power to defeat any attempt to enforce conscription, and to carry out the decisions of the Mansion House Conference, and set on record the party’s opinion that “in the present crisis, the highest and most immediate duty of the members of this party is to remain in Ireland and actively co-operate with their constituents in opposing the enforcement of compulsorily military service in Ireland.” Finally, on the same day an All-Ireland Conference, consisting of some fifteen hundred delegates, was held in Dublin under the auspices of the Irish Trades Union Congress “to consider and advise on the best course to adopt to safeguard the position of Labour in view of the introduction of conscription.” Mr. William O’Brien presided at this Conference, and in the course of his speech declared that “they were opposed to conscription as Irish labour men because it was sought to be forced on them by a foreign people, and they would be equally opposed to it if it were tried to be forced by an Irish Parliament.”
The Conference unanimously adopted the following resolution:—”That this convention of the Irish Labour movement representing all sections and provinces of Ireland pledge ourselves and those whom we represent that we will not have conscription; that we shall resist it in every way that to us seems feasible; that we claim the right of liberty to decide as units for ourselves and as a nation for itself; that we place before our brothers in the Labour movement all the world over our claims for independent status as a nation in the international movement, and the right of self-determination as a nation as to what action or actions our people should take on questions of political or economic issues. That in view of the great claims on the resources of the National Executive of the Irish Trades Union Congress and Labour Party we hereby call upon the bodies represented here to forward subscriptions for the purpose of enabling them to carry out their campaign against conscription, and pledge ourselves to make it a success. That this Convention calls upon the workers of Ireland to abstain from work on Tuesday next, April 23rd (1st) as a demonstration of fealty to the cause of Labour and Ireland; (2nd) as a sign of their resolve to resist the application of the Conscription Act; and (3rd) for the purpose of enabling every man and woman to sign the pledge of resistance against conscription. Believing that our success in resisting the imposition of conscription will be a signal to the workers of all countries, we call upon all lovers of liberty everywhere to give assistance in this impending struggle.”
In accordance with this resolution, April 23rd—the anniversary of the eve of the Rebellion two years before—witnessed a general strike throughout the whole of Ireland with the exception of North-East Ulster and the Great Northern Railway line between Belfast and Dublin. This one-day strike—the first general strike in any country in Western Europe—was completely successful in paralysing the whole of tne normal life of Ireland. It was marked by no “incident,” but its very restraint was an additional demonstration of the strength, solidarity, and determination of organised Labour in Ireland. After this demonstration the work of perfecting the resistance movement was carried on throughout the country under the general direction of the Mansion House Conference, which met from time to time. The East Cavan seat, held by the Parliamentary Party, fell vacant, and efforts were made to avoid a contest, on the ground that a contested election would impair the national unity. Sinn Fein, however, refused to agree to a compromise, and put forward as its candidate Mr. Arthur Griffith.
On May 5th Mr. Dillon and Mr. de Valera appeared on a common platform at a monster anticonscription meeting at Ballaghadereen, the chief town of Mr. Dillon’s constituency, and at this meeting Mr. de Valera justified the Sinn Fein attitude in East Cavan in these terms:—”We have the right unity, the unity of co-operation. The unity of amalgamation would be no unity, and that we cannot have.” A few days earlier, in a speech in East Cavan, Mr. Dillon had defended the Parliamentary Party against the-Sinn Fein policy’ of abstention. He said that there were three great lines of defence standing between the Irish people and the brutal military application of the Conscription Act. “First, and by no means least, the Parliamentary situation created by the fight of the Irish Party in the House of Commons—a fight which had already borne fruit in the following results: first, all the Radical Press in England, without exception, has declared against the Government’s policy, and even the Northcliffe Press is wavering. Secondly, that had it not been from extreme pressure of the Government Whips, and the threat of the Government to resign, the House of Commons would undoubtedly have defeated the proposal. Thirdly, that we have secured by that debate the opposition of organised Labour to the conscription proposal, and without the support of organised Labour the present Government cannot continue in existence. The second line of defence is the national union which was achieved by the Mansion House Conference, and which, in my judgment, it would be criminal to break up. The third line is the whole-hearted support of our Prelates, given with a courage and a generosity which will earn the undying gratitude of the Irish people, which has exposed them already to a whirlwind of abuse and vituperation, and has made the resistance of the Irish people absolutely impregnable.”
It quickly became apparent that the organisation of resistance to conscription in Ireland was to be used by the opponents of Home Rule to kill the Government’s promised Bill, which was in the hands of a drafting committee presided over by Mr. Walter Long. The Times, while urging the Government to persevere with both parts of its Irish policy, opened a “No Popery” campaign. Sir Edward Carson, after notifying the Secretary of the Ulster Unionist Council that “it will be necessary to reorganise all the machinery throughout the province which has been in abeyance since the war broke out,” in a series of letters to the Press vehemently denounced the proposal to establish Home Rule. “It is evident,” he said in one of these letters, “that the situation is so changed (by the Irish opposition to conscription) that the vast body of Irish Southern Unionists no longer support the action of Lord Midleton and the Southern Unionist delegates at the Convention.” A general meeting of the Irish Unionist Alliance had, in fact, been invited to express its emphatic disapproval of those delegates’ action, but finally broke up after a heated discussion without reaching any decision. At the close of a letter publishea on May 8th Sir Edward Carson appealed to Unionist members of the Government and to the Unionist Party “to compel a reconsideration of this matter before we have a fratricidal conflict at a time when our whole energies should be devoted to the prosecution of the war.” With this strong pressure being put on the Unionist members of the Government the drafting of the Home Rule Bill made the slowest progress. “Federalism” re-appeared as the solution, and it was evident that the labours of the Irish Convention were in process of being committed to the waste-paper basket. On May 6th it was announced that Viscount French had been appointed Lord Lieutenant in succession to Lord Wimborne. This appointment revived in the Nationalist Press memories of ’98 and Cornwallis, and was interpreted as the prelude to military governorship for the enforcement of conscription. Coupled with this appointment, however, was that as Chief Secretary of Mr. Edward Shortt, the Radical member for Newcastle-on-Tyne, who had voted against the Irish Clause of the Military Service Act. A few days later the resignation was announced of Sir Bryan Mahon, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Ireland.
On the same day on which the appointment of Lord French and Mr. Shortt was announced Sir Horace Plunkett addressed a final appeal to the Government in a letter to the Press. The late Chairman of the Convention wrote:—”At the gravest crisis with which the British Empire has ever been faced the Government have staked their existence upon a two-fold Irish policy, conscription and Home Rule. They cannot achieve both. At the cost of much present bloodshed and lasting hate they might achieve the first, thereby making the second impossible. In my opinion, for what it is worth, they would fail in the attempt, and have to go leaving both undone. Their successors wuld then have to find a way out of the worst Irish situation in my memory, which goes back to the Fenian days of fifty years ago, and has had burned into it every agrarian and political agitation since.
“I would not write this did I not believe that even now, at the eleventh hour, it is not beyond the resouices of statesmanship to achieve the double purpose the vast majority of both peoples have in view. I believe the Government could not only satisfy the reasonable aspirations of the Irish people at home, but also get them to follow voluntarily the immemorial instincts of a chivalrous race and the example of their kinsmen and sympathisers thioughout the United States and the British Dominions. There is one, and only one, alternative to the disastrous policy upon which the Cabinet has embarked, and that is to set up at once responsible government in Ireland. The report of the Convention has shown that they could do this with the support of a large body of Irish Nationalist and Unionist opinion. They should pass through Parliament without delay the necessary legislation as a war measure.
“The present chaos, with its growing bitterness, its utter demoralisation of our public life, and its discredit to British statesmanship, need not be continued while we are waiting for a Parliament. The moment the Bill is passed an Irish Executive, broadly represented and composed of responsible men who would not shirk the burden of their brief authority, should be appointed and given the task of setting up the Parliament as quickly as possible, of promoting voluntary recruiting, and generally carrying on. The Irish people, given their own instrument of government, would quickly show the world what is their real attitude to this war. It may then dawn upon Englishmen that we have in Ireland no pro-Germans except those they have made, not of malice prepense but through incapacity to understand us.”
We began this book with Sir Horace Plunkett’s definition of the Irish situation as it existed after the Rebellion of 1916. We close it with his definition of that situation as it existed two years later. We ended our “History of the Rebellion” with a question mark. We are fated to end this book, it seems, in the same manner. If it be objected that a record of Irish politics should be brought to a close at such a point, it may be replied that, from the historian’s point of view, the introduction of the Government’s proposal of Irish conscription, coinciding with the presentation of the Irish Convention’s Report, ends finally and very definitely a chapter in the history of Ireland.