CHAPTER IX. THE LAND QUESTION AND ITS SETTLEMENT
The General Election of 1900 witnessed a wonderful revival of national interest in Ireland. Doubtless if the constituencies had been left to their own devices they would have returned members responsive to the magnificent resolves of the people. But the Parliamentarians were astute manipulators of the political machine: they had for the most part wormed themselves into the good graces of the local leaders, and arranged for their own re-election when the time came. But there was nevertheless a considerable leavening of new members - young, enthusiastic and uncontaminated by the feuds and paltry personalities of an older generation. They brought, as it were, a whiff of the free, democratic air of the country to Parliament with them, and gave an example of fine unselfishness and devotion to duty which did not fail to have their influence on their elder and more cynical brethren. The feud between the Dillonites and Healyites had not, however, been ended with the general treaty of peace. Mr Redmond did not want Mr Healy fought, but in the interests of internal peace Mr Dillon, Mr Davitt and Mr O'Brien appear to have come to the conclusion that they could not have Mr Healy in the new Party. Accordingly, Mr Healy and his friends were fought wherever they allowed themselves to be nominated, and Mr Healy himself was the only one to survive after a desperate contest full of exciting incidents in North Louth.
I made my first bid for Parliamentary honours in the 1900 election, when I had my name put forward as Labour candidate at the South Cork convention. I was not very strongly supported then, but the following May, on the death of Dr Tanner, I was nominated again as Labour candidate for Mid-Cork, and after a memorable tussle at the Divisional Convention I headed the poll by a substantial majority. Hence I write from now onward with what I may claim to be an intimate inside knowledge of affairs.
The first few years after the 1900 election saw us a solidly united opposition in Parliament for the first time for ten years. Question time was a positive joy to us younger members, who developed almost diabolical capacity for heckling Ministers on every conceivable topic under the sun. Our hostility to the Boer War also brought us into perennial conflict with the Government. The Irish members in a very literal sense once more occupied "the floor of the House," and there were some fierce passages-at-arms, resulting on one occasion in the forcible ejection of a large body of Nationalists by the police - an incident which had no relish for those who were jealous of the prestige and fair fame of the Mother of Parliaments. In Ireland the fight for constitutional reform went on with unabated energy. All the old engines of oppression and repression were at work, and the people proved that they had lost none of their wit or resource in the struggle with the forces of the Crown. Mr George Wyndham, whom I like to look back upon as one of the most courtly and graceful figures in the public life of the past generation, was installed in Dublin Castle as Chief Secretary. I can imagine that nothing could have been more distasteful to his generous spirit than to be obliged to use the hackneyed weapons of brute force in the pursuance of British policy. As an answer to the agitation for compulsory land purchase and a settlement of the western problem Mr Wyndham introduced in 1902 a Land Purchase Bill which fell deplorably short of the necessities of the situation. It would have deprived the tenants of all free will in the matter of the price they would be obliged to sell at, and left them wholly at the mercy of two landlord nominees on the Estates Commissioners, whilst it did not even pretend to find any remedy for the two most crying national scandals of the western "congests" and the homeless evicted tenants. No doubt there were many good and well-meaning men in the Party, and out of it, who thought this Bill should have been accepted as "an instalment of justice." But there are times when to be moderate is to be criminally weak, and this was one of them. It is as certain as anything in life or politics can be that if the Bill of 1902 had been accepted, the Irish tenants would be still going gaily on under the old rent-paying conditions. The United Irish League was still in the first blush of its pristine vigour, and when the delegates of the National Directory came up from the country to Dublin they soon showed the mettle they were made of. They wanted no paltry compromises, and it was then and there decided to enter upon a virile campaign against rack-renters, grazing monopolists and land-grabbers such as would convince the Government in a single winter how grossly they had under-estimated the requirements of the country.