CHAPTER V. THE WRECK AND RUIN OF A PARTY
The blight that had come upon Irish politics did not abate with the death of Parnell. Neither side seemed to spare enough charity from its childish disputations to make an honest and sincere effort at settlement. There was no softening of the asperities of public life on the part of the Parnellites - they claimed that their leader had been hounded to his death, and they were not going to join hands in a blessed forgiveness of the bitter years that had passed with those who had lost to Ireland her greatest champion. On the other hand, the Anti-Parnellites showed no better disposition. It had been one of their main contentions that Parnell was not an indispensable leader and that he could be very well done without. They were to prove by their own conduct and incapacity what a hollow mockery this was and how feeble was even the best of them without the guidance of the master mind. They cut a pitiful figure in Parliament, where their internal bickerings and miserable squabbles reduced them to positive impotence. For years the "Antis," as they were termed, were divided into two almost equal sections, one upholding the claims of John Dillon and the other faithful to the flag of T.M. Healy. Meanwhile Justin McCarthy, a man of excellent intention but of feeble grasp, occupied the chair of the Party, but did nothing to direct its policy. He was a decent figurehead, but not much else. William O'Brien lent all the support of his powerful personality to Mr Dillon in the hope that, by establishing his leadership and keeping the door open for reconciliation with the Parnellite minority, he could restore the Party to some of its former efficiency and make it once again the spear-head of the constitutional fight for Ireland's liberties. Mr Healy, whose boldness of attack upon Parnell had won him the enthusiastic regard of the clergy as well as the title of "The Man in the Gap," was also well supported within the Party - in fact, there were times when he carried a majority of the Party with him. After Parnell's overthrow a committee was elected by the Anti-Parnellites to debate and decide policy, but it was in truth left to decide very little, for the agile intellect of Mr Healy invariably transferred the fight from it to the Party, which had now become a veritable hell of incompatibilities and disagreements.
At this time also indications came from outside that all was not well within the Liberal ranks. Some of the most prominent members of this Party began to think that the G.O.M. was getting too old for active leadership and should be sent to the House of Lords. Justin McCarthy also reported an interview he had with Gladstone, in which the G.O.M. plainly hinted that, so far as Home Rule was concerned, he could no longer hope to be in at the finish, and that there was a strong feeling among his own friends that Irish legislation should be shelved for a few years so that place might be yielded to British affairs. The General Election of 1892 had taken place not, as may be imagined, under the best set of circumstances for the Liberals. The Nationalist members were still faithful to their alliance, which had cost Ireland so much, and which was to cost her yet more, and this enabled the Liberals to remain in office with a shifting and insecure majority of about 42 when all their hosts were reckoned up.
It is claimed for the Home Rule Bill of 1893 that it satisfied all Mr Parnell's stipulations. However this may be, Mr Redmond and his friends seemed to think otherwise, for they raised many points and pressed several amendments to a division on one occasion, reducing the Government majority to 14 on the question of the Irish representation at Westminster, which the Parnellites insisted should remain at 103. How the mind of Nationalist Ireland has changed since then!
Mr Thomas Sexton was one of the brilliant intellects of the Party at this period, a consummate orator, a reputed master of all the intricacies of international finance, and in every sense of the word a first-rate House of Commons man. But he had in some way or other aroused the implacable ire of Mr T.M. Healy, whose sardonic invective he could not stand. A politician has no right to possess a sensitive skin, but somehow Mr Sexton did, with the result that he allowed himself to be driven from public life rather than endure the continual stabs of a tongue that could be very terrible at times - though I would say myself of its owner that he possesses a heart as warm as ever beat in Irish breast.
The fate of the Home Rule Bill of 1893 was already assured long before it left the House of Commons. Like the Bill of 1886 it came to grief on the fear of the English Unionists for the unity of the Empire. Home Rule was conquered by Imperialism, and the Ulster opposition was merely used as a powerful and effective argument in the campaign.