CHAPTER XIV. LAND AND LABOUR
"It was all over again the dog-in-the-manger policy which had already kept the evicted tenants for years out in the cold. They would neither stand on a non-contentious platform with myself nor organise a single Labourers' demonstration of their own. It has been repeatedly stated by members who were constant attendants at the meetings of the Irish Party that the subject of the Labourers' grievances was never once discussed at any meeting of the party until the agitation in Ireland had first compelled the introduction of Mr Bryce's Bill. Then, indeed, when the battle was won, and there was only question of the booty, Mr Redmond made the public boast that he and Mr Dillon "were in almost daily communications with Mr Bryce upon the subject." The excuse was as unavailing as his plea that the finally revised terms of sale of his Wexford estate left him without a penny of profit. What concerned the country was the first announcement of 24-1/2 years' purchase authorised under his own hand which had 'given a headline' to every landlord in the country. In the same way, whatever obsequious attendance he might dance on Mr Bryce, when the die was cast and the Bill safe, the ineffaceable facts remain that neither he nor anybody in his party whom he could influence had stood on a Labour platform, or touched upon the subject at the party meeting, while the intentions of the Government were, as we shall see in a moment, undecided in the extreme, but on the contrary were (it may be hoped unconscious but none the less indispensable) parties to an organised effort to split the Labourers' Association asunder while their fate was trembling in the balance.
"Their war upon the Land and Labour Association was all the more wanton, because Mr Dillon's persuasion, which gave rise to it that the Association had been brigaded into my secret service for some nefarious purpose of my own, was as absurdly astray as all the rest of his troubled dreams of my Machiavellian ambitions. To avoid giving any pretext for such a suspicion, I declined to accept any office or honour or even to become a member of the Land and Labour Association, attended no meeting to which Mr Redmond and Mr Dillon were not invited as well as I; and beyond my speeches at those meetings, never in the remotest degree interfered in the business or counsels of the Association. A number of men on the governing council of the Association were to my knowledge, and continued to be, sympathisers with my critics. Beyond the fact that their president, Mr Sheehan, M.P., happened to be the most successful practiser of my Land Purchase plans in the county of Cork, as well as by far the ablest advocate the Labourers' agitation had called into action, I know of no shadow of excuse for the extraordinary folly which led responsible Irishmen, with the cry of 'Unity' on their lips, not only to decline to meet me on a common platform, but to make tens of thousands of absolutely unoffending labourers the victims of their differences with me.
"Despite their aloofness and their attempts to divide the Labourers' body, the agitation swept throughout the south of Ireland with an intensity which nothing could withstand. Demonstrations of amazing extent and still more remarkable resoluteness of spirit were addressed by my friends and myself in Charleville and Macroom, County Cork; Kilfinane and Drumcolliher, County Limerick; Tralee and Castle Island, County Kerry; Scariff, County Clare; Goolds Cross, County Tipperary; and Ballycullane, County Wexford; and by the time they were over, the field was fought and won. One last difficulty remained; but it was a formidable difficulty. So far from Mr Redmond's 'almost daily communications with Mr Bryce' reaching back to the critical days of the problem, we were already in the first days of summer in the session of 1906 when a communication was made to me from a high official quarter that the Irish Government were so deeply immersed in the Irish Council Bill of the following year that they shrank from the labour and the financial difficulties of a Labourers' Bill in the current session, and an appeal was diplomatically hinted as to whether there was any possibility of slowing down the Labourers' agitation so as to make a postponement to the following session practicable. My reply was undiplomatically clear: - that, if the Government wanted to deprive the Irish Council Bill of all chance of a hearing, they could not take a better means of making the country too hot for themselves than by proposing to fob off the labourers for another year, and that not only would I not, if I could, but could not if I would, moderate their insistence upon immediate redress.