CHAPTER XXVI. THE IRISH CONVENTION AND THE CONSCRIPTION OF IRELAND
The time had now come when the Irish Party had to taste all the bitterness of actual and anticipated defeat. Several Irish newspapers had gone over to Sinn Fein. The Irish Independent had been previously a fearless critic of the Party, and the defeat of the Partition proposals was largely due to the manner in which they had denounced them and exposed their real character.
A bye-election took place in North Roscommon. There was a straight fight between the Parliamentary Party and Sinn Fein and the former were defeated by an overwhelming majority. Another trial of strength came soon afterwards, and the Party again bit the dust. The Coalitionists had now turned a cold shoulder to the Party. They could get along very well without them. They had got all they could out of them for war purposes. They foresaw their approaching defeat, and they did not, therefore, count on their scheme of things as a force to be conciliated or to be afraid of. And as if to ensure the complete downfall and overthrow of the Party the Government continued their arrests and deportations.
The Party had to "demonstrate" in some way and they hit upon the device of withdrawing from Parliament and sending a Manifesto to the United States and the self-governing dominions. But whilst they paidSinn Fein the compliment of adopting their policy of Parliamentary abstention, they neither honestly kept away nor openly remained - asking questions and sending ambassadors from time to time. Sinn Feinwas not inactive either. It summoned a Convention to meet in Dublin to assert the independence of Ireland, its status as a nation and its right to representation at the Peace Conference.
The Government was still faced with a reluctant and undecided America, and it became essential for "propaganda purposes" to do something of fair seeming on the Irish Question. The Prime Minister accordingly revived the old Partition proposals, but these were now dead and damned by all parties, the Roscommon, Longford and East Clare victories of Sinn Fein having brought the Irish Party to disown their twice-repeated bargain for Partition. He then proposed as an alternative that an Irish Convention, composed of representative Irishmen, should assemble to deliberate upon the best means of governing their own country.
The All-for-Ireland Party were asked to nominate representatives to this Convention, as were also Sinn Fein. In reply Mr O'Brien stated four essential conditions of success: (1) a Conference of ten or a dozen persons known to intend peace; (2) a prompt agreement, making every conceivable concession to Ulster, with the one reservation that partition in any shape or form was inadmissible and unthinkable; (3) the immediate submission of the agreement to a Referendum of the Irish people (never before consulted upon a definite proposal); (4) if any considerable minority of irreconcilables still uttered threats of an Ulster rebellion a bold appeal of the Government to the British electorate at a General Election to declare once and for all between the claims of reason and justice and the incorrigibility of Ulster.
One panel of names which Mr O'Brien submitted to the Cabinet at their request was: The Lord Mayor of Dublin, the Protestant Primate, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, the Marquess of Londonderry, the Marquess of Ormonde, General Sir Hubert Gough, Major "Willie" Redmond, M.P., the Earl of Shaftesbury, the Earl of Dunraven, Viscount Northcliffe, Mr William Martin Murphy, Mr Hugh Barrie, M.P., and two representatives of Sinn Fein. Mr O'Brien was in a position to guarantee that at a Conference thus constituted Sinn Fein would not be unrepresented. Instead of setting up a Conference of this character, which it is now clear would not have separated without coming to an agreement, the proposal was set aside - whether by Mr Lloyd George or by Mr Redmond's advisers has yet to be revealed - and an Irish Convention composed of nominated representatives was constituted, which had no possibility of agreement except an agreement on the lines of Partition and which was doubtless planned and conceived for the purpose of fooling Ireland and America and keeping the Convention "talking" for nine months until America was wiled into the war.
The Convention could by no possibility succeed, and my belief is it was never intended to succeed. It was numerically unwieldy. Nine-tenths of its representation was drawn from the Ulster Party's and the Irish Party's supporters, both of whom were pledged in advance to the Partition settlement, and as far as the Irish Party representation was concerned the last thing that could be said of it was that it was representative. Of the seventy-five Redmondites who composed three-fourths of the Convention only one escaped rejection by his constituents as soon as the electors had their say! The Convention laboured under the still further disadvantage of being at the mercy of an Orange veto, which makes one wonder how it was that Mr Redmond or his party ever submitted to it. The Ulster delegates to the Convention were under the control of an outside body - the Ulster Orange Council. They could decide nothing without reference to this body, and hence the Convention was in the perfectly humiliating position of carrying on its proceedings subject to an outside Orange veto.