CHAPTER XVI. REUNION AND TREACHERY

It may be said that whilst all these things were going on in Ireland and the Party marching with steady purpose to its irretrievable doom, the British people were in the most profound state of ignorance as to what was actually happening. And the same may be said of the Irish in America, Australia, and all the other distant lands to which the missionary Celts have betaken themselves. They were all fed with the same newspaper pap. The various London Correspondents took their cue from Mr T.P. O'Connor and the Freeman. These and the Whips kept them supplied with the tit-bits that were in due course served up to their several readers. And thus it never got to be known that it was Mr William O'Brien and his friends who were the true repositories of Party loyalty and discipline, the only men who were faithful to the pledge, who had never departed from the policy of Conference, Conciliation and Consent, upon which the great Land Act of 1903 was based and to which the Party, the United Irish League, and Nationalist opinion stood committed in the most solemn manner.

When the General Election of 1906 took place those of us in County Cork and elsewhere who had taken our stand by Mr O'Brien were marked out for opposition by the Party chiefs. But a truce was arranged through the intervention of Mr George Crosbie, editor of The Cork Examiner, who generously sought to avert a fight between brother Nationalists, which, whatever its effects at home, would be bound to have grave results abroad, where the only thing that would be strikingly apparent was that brother Nationalists were at one another's throats. So we all came back, if not exactly a happy family at least outwardly in a certain state of grace.

This state of things was not, however, to last. Without rhyme or reason, without cause stated or charge alleged, with no intimation of any sort or kind that I was acting contrary to any of the Party tenets, I was, so to speak, quietly dropped overboard from the Party ship in November 1906. I did not get any official intimation that I was dismissed the Party or that I had in any way violated my pledge to sit, act and vote with it. I was simply cut off from the Party Whips and the Parliamentary allowance and, without a word spoken or written, thus politely, as it were, told to go about my business. The matter seemed inconceivable and I wrote a firm letter of remonstrance to Mr Redmond. It drew from him merely a formal acknowledgment - an adding of insult to injury. To test the matter I immediately resigned my seat for Mid-Cork, placed the whole facts before my constituents, published my letter and Mr Redmond's acknowledgment and challenged the Party to fight me on the issue they had themselves deliberately raised - namely, as to whether in supporting the policy of Conciliation I was in any way faithless to my pledge. Wise in their generation, the men who were courageous enough to expel me from the Party, to which I belonged by as good a title as they, were not brave enough to meet me in the open in a fair fight and, where there could be no shirking a plain issue, and accordingly I had a bloodless victory. It was satisfactory to know I had the practically unanimous support and confidence of the electors of Mid-Cork. It would have been more satisfactory still if we had the policy of Conciliation affirmed, as we undoubtedly would have, by an overwhelming vote in a genuine trial of strength. There were at this time outside of the Party, besides myself, Mr William O'Brien, Mr T. M. Healy, M.P. for North Louth (who had not been readmitted after 1900), Sir Thomas Esmonde, M.P. for North Wexford, Mr John O'Donnell, M.P. for South Mayo, Mr Charles Dolan, M.P. for South Leitrim, and Mr Augustine Roche (Mr O'Brien's colleague in the representation of Cork).

The Party were now in a rather parlous state. The country was disgusted with their mismanagement of the Irish Council Bill. Branches of the United Irish League had ceased to subscribe to the Party funds and it was evident that a temper distinctly hostile to the Party managers was widely springing up. Furthermore, an irresistible movement of popular opinion set in, demanding that there should be a reunion of all the Nationalist forces and "Unity" demonstrations of huge dimensions were held in Kerry, Limerick, Cork, Clare and Wexford. There was no denying the intensity of the demand that there should be an end of those differences which divided brother Nationalists and dissipated their strength. Finally, at Ballycullane, in Mr Redmond's native constituency, Mr O'Brien formulated proposals for reunion, the first of which is so notable as a declaration of Nationalist principle that I quote it fully:

"No man or party has authority to circumscribe the inalienable right of Ireland to the largest measure of national self-government it may be in her power to obtain."