CHAPTER IX. THE LAND QUESTION AND ITS SETTLEMENT
The just and reasonable demand for a day to debate the administration was unaccountably avoided by the Government, whose reply was that a day would be granted if the demand came from the official Liberal Opposition. The Nationalists could not submit to this degradation of their independent position in Parliament, and when they attempted to secure their end by a motion for the adjournment of the House they found that two Irish Unionists had "blocked" them by placing on the Order Paper certain omnibus resolutions on the state of Ireland. Since the days of Parnellite obstruction such scenes were not witnessed as those that followed. The Party defied all rules of law and order, worried the Government by all sort of lawless interruptions and irrelevant questions, flagrantly flouted the authority of the chair and, finally, after a week of Parliamentary anarchy, it was determined that even more extreme courses would be adopted unless the constitutional right of Ireland to be heard in the Chamber was conceded. Hint of this was conveyed to Mr Speaker Gully, who, regardful of the honour of the House, used his good offices with the Government to such effect that the blocking motions were incontinently withdrawn and the discussion in due course took place.
Whilst these developments were taking place Mr O'Brien had taken every possible precaution to guard himself against any charge of autocracy in the direction of the movement, whether in Parliament or in the country. At the request of his colleagues on the Land Conference he had drafted a Memorandum containing the basis of settlement which would be acceptable to Nationalist opinion. This was submitted to Messrs Redmond, Davitt and Sexton, with an urgent entreaty for their freest criticism or any supplementary suggestions of their own. None of these could, therefore, complain that Mr O'Brien was attempting to do anything over their heads. And impartial judgment will declare that if either Mr Sexton, Mr Dillon or Mr Davitt had views of their own, or had any vital disagreements with Mr O'Brien's suggestions, now was the time to declare them. Far from committing himself to any dissent, when Mr O'Brien, after a fortnight, wrote to Mr Sexton for the return of his Memorandum, Mr Sexton wrote:
"I have read the Memo. carefully two or three times and now return it to you as you want to use it and have no other copy. It will take some time to look into your proposals with anything like sufficient care. You will hear from me as soon as I think I can say anything that may possibly be of use."
Be it here noted that Mr Sexton never did communicate, even when he had looked into Mr O'Brien's proposals "with sufficient care." Later he waged implacable war on the Land Conference Report and the Land Act from his commanding position as Managing Director of The Freeman's Journal (the official National organ). He did so in violation of the promise on which the Party had entrusted him with that position, that he would never interfere in its political direction.
Other informal meetings between Sir Antony MacDonnell and the Irish leaders followed, the purpose of Sir Antony being, before he accepted office in the Irish Government, to gather the views of leading Irishmen, especially as to the possibility of a genuine land settlement, which he regarded as the foundation of all else. Subsequently it transpired that Mr Sexton had engaged in some negotiations on his own account with Sir Antony MacDonnell, and it is not improbable that part at least of his quarrel with the Land Conference was that the settlement propounded by it superseded and supplanted his own scheme. Neither Mr O'Brien nor his friends were made aware of these private pourparlers, entered into without any vestige of authority from the Party or its leader, and they only learnt of them casually afterwards. The incident is instructive of how the path of the peacemaker is ever beset with difficulties, even from among his own household.
After surmounting a whole host of obstacles the Land Conference at long last assembled in the Mansion House, Dublin, on 20th December 1902. Mr Redmond submitted the final selection of the tenants' representatives to a vote of the Irish Party and, with the exception of one member who declined to vote, the choice fell unanimously upon those named in Captain Shawe-Taylor's letter. Although their findings were subsequently subjected to much embittered attack, no one had any right to impugn their authority, capacity, judgment or intimate knowledge of the tenants' case.