CHAPTER XV. SOME FURTHER SALVAGE FROM THE WRECKAGE

When Mr O'Brien retired in 1903 the majority of the members of the Party scarcely knew what to make of it, and I have to confess myself among those who were lost in wonder and amazement at the suddenness of the event and the reasons that caused it. This knowledge came later, but until I got to a comprehension of the entire facts I refused to mix myself up with either side. When, however, Mr O'Brien returned to public life in 1904, I saw my way clear to associate myself with his policy and to give it such humble and independent support as I could. It will be remembered that one of Mr O'Brien's proposals for testing the Purchase Act was to select suitable estates, parish by parish, where for one reason or another the landlords could be induced to agree to a reasonable number of years' purchase and thus to set up a standard which, with the strength of the National organisation to back it up, could be enforced all over the country. The "determined campaigners" defeated this plan but failed to provide any machinery of their own to protect the tenant purchasers or to assist them in their negotiations. On Mr O'Brien's re-election he took immediate steps to form an Advisory Committee composed of delegates from the eight divisional executives of the city and county of Cork. This Committee adopted as its watchword, "Conciliation plus Business," and as its honorary secretary I can vouch for it that when the methods of Conciliation failed we were not slow about putting into operation the business side of our programme. Thus the landlord who could not be induced to listen to reason around a table was compelled to come to terms by an agitation which was none the less forceful and effective because it was directed and controlled by men of conciliatory temper whom circumstances obliged to resort to extreme action.

The fruits of the work of the Advisory Committee, ranging over a number of years, are blazoned in the official statistics. They make it clear that if only a similar policy had been working elsewhere the tenant purchasers all over Ireland would have got infinitely better terms than they did. The bare fact is that in County Cork, where we had proportionately the largest number of tenant purchasers (in Mid-Cork, I am glad to say, there was scarcely a tenant who did not purchase, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred through my intervention), the prices are, roughly, two years' purchase lower than the average all over the rest of Ireland.

In Cork, where Mr O'Brien's policy prevailed, we had, outside the Congested Districts, from 1st November 1903 to 31st March 1909, a total of 16,159 tenant purchasers, and the amount of the purchase money was L7,994,591; whilst in Mayo, one of whose divisions Mr Dillon represented in Parliament, and where his doctrines held sway, the number of tenant purchasers in the same period was 774, and the amount of the purchase money only L181,256. And be it noted what these unfortunate and misguided Mayo men have to be grateful for: that they have remained for all these years, since the Act of 1903 was placed on the Statute Book, under the old inexorable rent-paying conditions, whilst down in Cork the tenants are almost to a man the proprietors of their own holdings, owning their own improvements, knowing that every year that passes brings the time nearer when their land will be free of annuities, and having all that sweet content and satisfaction that flow from personal ownership. Up in Mayo, in a famous speech delivered at Swinford, 12th September 1906, three years after the Land Purchase Act was passed, Mr Dillon declared:

"Attempts have been made to throw the blame on Michael Davitt, The Freeman's Journal and myself, and it has been said that we have delayed the reinstatement of the evicted tenants and obstructed the smooth working of the Act more than we have done. It has worked too smoothly - far too smoothly, to my mind. Some men have complained within the past year that the Land Act was not working smooth enough. For my part I look upon it as working a great deal too fast. Its pace has been ruinous to the people."

There, in a nutshell and sufficiently stated, are the two policies. Mr O'Brien wanted to expedite land purchase by every means in his power, but he wished that the tenants should have proper advisers and should act under the skilled guidance of their own organisation, so that they may make no bad bargains. Mr Dillon, on his part, sought to kill land purchase outright, but why he should have had this mad infatuation against the most beneficent Act that was passed for Ireland in our generation, I am at a loss to know, if it is not that he allowed his personal feeling against Mr O'Brien to cloud the operations of his intellect. It is a curious commentary, however, on the good faith of the Party leaders, that whilst Mr Dillon was making the speech I have quoted to his constituents at Swinford, his bosom friend and confidant, Mr T.P. O'Connor, who was seeking the shekels in New York, was telling his audience that "the Irish landlords were on the run, and, if they continued to yield, in fifteen years the very name of landlordism would be unknown. I say to the British power: - after seven centuries we have beaten you; the land belongs now to the Irish; the land is going back to the old race."

What is one to say of the manhood or honour of the men who spent their days denouncing the policy of Conciliation in Ireland, but who, when they went across the Atlantic, and wanted to coax the money out of the exiles' pockets, spoke the sort of stuff that Mr O'Connor so soothingly "slithered" out at New York?