It became a habit of the Irish Party, in its more decadent days, to spout out long litanies of its achievements and to claim credit, as a sort of hereditament no doubt, for the reforms won under the leadership of Parnell. It was, when one comes to analyse it, a sorry method of appealing for public confidence - a sort of apology for present failures on the score of past successes. It was as if they said: "We may not be doing very well now, but think of what we did and trust us." And the time actually arrived when "Trust us" was the leading watchword of Mr Redmond and his Party. How little they deserved that trust in regard to some important concerns I will proceed to explain. I have shown how they dished Devolution and drove Mr Wyndham from office when he was feeling his way towards the concession of Home Rule - or equivalent proposals under another name; and how they thus destroyed in their generation the last hope of a settlement by Consent of the Irish Question - although a settlement along these lines was what Gladstone most desired. Writing to Mr Balfour, so long ago as 20th December 1885, he thus expressed himself:

"On reflection I think what I said to you in our conversation at Eaton may have amounted to the conveyance of a hope that the Government would take a strong and early decision on the Irish Question. This being so, I wish, under the very peculiar circumstances of the case, to go a step further and say that I think it will be a public calamity if this great subject should fall into the lines of Party conflict. I feel sure that the question can only be dealt with by a Government, and I desire especially on grounds of public policy that it should be dealt with by the present Government. If, therefore, they bring in a proposal after settling the whole question of the future government of Ireland my desire will be, reserving, of course, necessary freedom, to treat it in the same spirit in which I have endeavoured to proceed in respect to Afghanistan and with respect to the Balkan Peninsula."

To this statesmanlike offer Mr Balfour immediately replied:

"I have had as yet no opportunity of showing your letter to Lord Salisbury or of consulting him as to its contents, but I am sure he will receive without any surprise the statement of your earnest hope that the Irish Question should not fall into the lines of Party conflict. If the ingenuity of any Ministry is sufficient to devise some adequate and lasting remedy for the chronic ills of Ireland, I am certain it will be the wish of the leaders of the Opposition, to whatever side they may belong, to treat the question as a national and not as a Party one."

And not less clear or emphatic were the views of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, spoken on 23rd December 1885, as to the feasibility of settling the Irish problem by Consent:

"On one point I may state my views with tolerable clearness. In my opinion the best plan of dealing with the Irish Question would be for the leaders of the two great parties to confer together for the purpose of ascertaining whether some modus vivendi could not be arrived at by which the matter would be raised out of the area of party strife."

It will thus be seen that at a very early stage indeed of the discussions on Home Rule, distinguished statesmen were agreed that the ideal way of settling the Irish Question was by an arrangement or understanding between the two great British parties - otherwise by those methods of Conference, Conciliation and Consent which Mr William O'Brien and Lord Dunraven were so violently and irrationally assailed by Mr Dillon and his supporters for advocating. The great land pact was arranged by those methods of common agreement between all parties in Parliament - it could never have been reached otherwise. And, as these pages will conclusively show, the "factionism" of Mr O'Brien and those associated with him consisted in pressing a settlement by Conference methods consistently on the notice of the leaders of all parties. But Mr Wyndham was treated by the Dillonite section as "a prisoner in a condemned cell" - to use their own elegant metaphor - because he showed a disposition to secure a settlement of the Irish difficulty on a non-party basis. He was ruthlessly exiled from office by methods which confer no credit on their authors, and the Unionist Party retired at the close of the year 1905 with nothing accomplished on the Home Rule issue.

When the Liberals came back to power with an irresistible majority Ireland rang from end to end with glad promises of a great, a glorious and a golden future. The Liberals had the reins of government in their hands, and the tears were going to be wiped from the face of dark Rosaleen. Never again was she to know the bitterness of sorrow or that hope of freedom so long deferred which maketh the heart sick. Mr T.P. O'Connor wrote to his American news agency that Home Rule was coming at a "not far distant date." It was a fair hope, but the men who gambled on it did not take the House of Lords sufficiently into their calculations. And they forgot also that Home Rule was not a concrete and definite issue before the country at the General Election. The Liberal Party in 1906 had no Home Rule mandate. Its leaders were avowedly in favour of what was known as "the step-by-step" programme. This policy was less than Lord Dunraven's scheme of Devolution, but because it was the Liberal plan it came in for no stern denunciations from either Mr Dillon or Mr T.P. O'Connor. Even so staunch a Home Ruler as Mr John Morley insisted that Mr Redmond's Home Rule Amendment to the Address should contain this important addendum: "subject to the supreme authority of the Imperial Parliament." The men who shouted in Ireland: "No compromise," who were clamant in their demand that there" should be no hauling down of the flag," and who asked the country to go "back to the old methods" (though they made it clear they were not going to lead them if they did), showed no disinclination to have their own private negotiations with the Liberal leaders on a much narrower programme.

Mr T.P. O'Connor, in his Life of Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, M.P., tells us exactly what happened, in the following words: -

"The Irish Nationalists had already become restive, for, while not openly repudiating Home Rule as an ultimate solution, several of the friends and adherents of Lord Rosebery among the leaders of the Liberal Party had proclaimed that they would not only not support, but would resist any attempt to introduce a Home Rule measure in a Parliament that was about to be elected. It was under these circumstances that I had an interview of any length with Campbell-Bannerman for the last time. He invited a friend and me to breakfast with him.... This exchange of views was brief, for there was complete agreement as to both policy and tactics.... It was shortly after this that he made his historic speech in Stirling. That was the speech in which he laid down the policy that while Ireland might not expect to get at once a measure of complete Home Rule, any measure brought in should be consistent with and leading up to a larger policy. Such a declaration was all that the Irish Nationalist Party could have expected at that moment and it enabled them to give their full support at the elections to the Liberal Party."

This is a very notable statement, because it shows that the Nationalists, who poured out their vials of vituperation upon Lord Dunraven and the Irish Reform Association, were now eager to accept an infinitely lesser instalment of Home Rule from their own Liberal friends. And it also demonstrates that for a very meagre modicum of the Irish birth-right they were willing to sacrifice the position of Parliamentary independence, which was one of the greatest assets of the Party, and to enter into a formal alliance with the Liberals on a mere contingent declaration that "any measure brought in" should be "consistent with and leading up to a larger policy." Note, there was no guarantee, no positive statement, that a measure would be brought in, yet Mr T.P. O'Connor tells us that this declaration was "all that the Irish Nationalist Party could have expected," and that it enabled them "to give their full support at the elections to the Liberal Party." I wonder what Parnell, had he been alive, would have thought of this offer of the Liberals and whether he would in return for it make such an easy surrender of a nation's claims. And I wonder also whether a paltrier bargain was ever made in the whole history of political alliances. It does not require any special gift of vision to divine who was "the friend" who went with Mr O'Connor to Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman's breakfast-party and who was in "complete agreement as to both policy and tactics." They were good Liberals both of them, and for my own part I would find no fault with them for this, if only they had been better Nationalists.

Mr Redmond publicly ratified the new policy - or rather, treaty, as it now practically was - of Home Rule by instalments in a speech at Motherwell, in which he announced his readiness to accept any concession "which would shorten and smoothen the road to Home Rule." But it is significant that although Mr Dillon was in complete agreement with the Liberals "as to both policy and tactics," yet he devoted, with a rather supercilious levity, his speeches in Ireland to a demand for "Boer Home Rule as a minimum." This was the way in which the country was scandalously hoodwinked as to the real relations which existed between the Liberals and Nationalists.

Mr O'Brien had at this time gone abroad and left the stage completely to Mr Dillon and his friends, having, however, made it clear that he was in favour of the Council Bill and suggested certain improvements, which the Government agreed to. His temporary withdrawal from the scene was dictated solely by the desire to give the utmost freedom of action to the Irish Party, seeing that they were acting in conformity with the best national interests in the special circumstances of the moment. He was also aware that Mr Birrell, who had now accepted office as Chief Secretary, was particularly acceptable to the Nationalist leaders and that they were in constant communication with him on details of the Bill, the safety of which seemed to be assured. Indeed, when it was introduced into Parliament, Mr Redmond spoke in appreciation of it, reserved in statement, no doubt, as befitting a leader who had yet to see the measure in print, but there is not a shadow of doubt that Messrs Redmond, Dillon and O'Connor were practically pledged to the support of the principle of the Bill before ever it was submitted to Parliament.

When, however, they summoned a National Convention to consider the Bill, to which they were committed by every principle of honour which could bind self-respecting men, to the amazement of everybody not behind the scenes, the very men who had crossed over from Westminster to recommend the acceptance of the measure were the first to move its rejection. A more unworthy and degrading performance it is not possible to imagine. It was an arrant piece of cowardice on the part of "the leaders," who failed to lead and who shamefully broke faith with Mr Birrell and their Liberal allies. True, the Irish Council Bill was not a very great or strikingly generous measure. It had serious defects, but these might be remedied in Committee, and it had this merit, at least, that it did carry out the Liberal promise of being "consistent with and leading up to a larger policy." Its purpose, broadly stated, was to consolidate Irish administration under the control of an Irish Council, which would be elected on the popular franchise. It contained no provision for a Statutory Legislative body. It was to confine itself to the purely administrative side of Government. The various Irish administrative departments were to be regrouped, with a Minister (to be called Chairman) at the head of each, who would be responsible to the elected representatives of the people. The Council was to be provided with the full Imperial costs (the dearest in the world) of the departments they were to administer, and they were to receive in addition an additional yearly subsidy of L600,000 to spend, with any savings they might effect on the administrative side on the development of Irish resources. Finally, this limited incursion into the field of administrative self-government was to last only for five years. Appeals to ignorant prejudice were long made by misquoting the title of the Irish Council Bill as "The Irish Councils Bill" - quite falsely, for one of its main recommendations was that the Bill created one national assembly for all Ireland, including the Six Counties which the Party subsequently ceded to Carson. Do not these proposals justify the comment of Mr O'Brien on them? - "If the experiment had been proved to work with the harmony of classes and the broad-mindedness of patriotism, of which the Land Conference had set the example, the end of the quinquennial period would have found all Ireland and all England ready with a heart and a half for 'the larger policy.' There would even have been advantages which no thoughtful Irish Nationalist will ignore, in accustoming our people to habits of self-government by a probationary period of smaller powers and of substantial premiums upon self-restraint."

Unfortunately, in addition to having no legislative functions, Mr Birrell's Bill contained one other proposal which damned it from the outset with a very powerful body of Irish thought and influence - it proposed to transfer the control of education to a Committee preponderatingly composed of laymen. When dropping the Bill later Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman declared: "We took what steps we could to ascertain Irish feelings and we had good reason to believe that the Bill would receive the most favourable reception." One would like to know how far the leaders of the Irish Party who were taken into the confidence of the Government regarding the provisions of the Bill concurred in this clause. To anyone acquainted with clerical feeling in Ireland, whether Catholic or Protestant, it should be known that such a proposal would be utterly inadmissible. But apparently the Government were not warned, although it is a matter of history that the Irish Party entertained Mr Birrell to a banquet in London the night before they went over to Ireland for the National Convention, and it is equally well known, on the admissions of Mr Redmond, Mr O'Connor and others, that they crossed with the express determination to support the Irish Council Bill and in the full expectation that they would carry it.

But they had not reckoned on Mr Devlin and on the younger priests, who had now begun to assert themselves vigorously in politics. Mr Devlin, in addition to being Secretary of the United Irish League, had also obtained a position of dominating control in the Ancient Order of Hibernians (Board of Erin section), a secret and sectarian organisation of which I will have much to say anon. For some inscrutable reason Mr Devlin set himself at the head of his delegates to intrigue with the young and ardent priesthood against the Bill. Mr Redmond, Mr T.P. O'Connor and their friends got to hear of the tempest that was brewing when they reached Dublin. Mr Dillon, unfortunately, was suffering from a grievous domestic bereavement at the time, and was naturally unable to attend the Convention. The others, instead of standing to their guns like men and courageously facing the opposition which unexpectedly confronted them, and which was largely founded on misunderstandings, basely ran away from all their honourable obligations - from what they owed in good faith to the Liberal Party, as a duty to their country, and as a matter of self-respect to their own good name - and instead of standing by the Bill, defending it and explaining whatever was not quite clear in its proposals, forestalled all criticism by putting up Mr Redmond to move its rejection. A more humiliating attitude, a more callous betrayal, a more sorry performance the whole history of political baseness and political ineptitude cannot produce. The feeling that swept through Ireland on the morrow of this Convention was one of disgust and shame, yet the people were so firmly shackled in the bonds of the Party that they still sullenly submitted to their chains. And the worst of this bitter business is that the shameful thing need never have occurred. If Mr Redmond had boldly advocated the adoption of the measure instead of moving its rejection in a state of cowardly panic, there is incontestable evidence he would have carried the overwhelming majority of the Convention with him.

The truth is that the members of his Party had no love for the Bill. Sensible of their own imperfections, as many of them were, and well aware that, whilst considered good enough by their constituents for service at Westminster, it was quite possible they would not come up to the standard which national duty at home would set up, they were naturally not very enthusiastic about any measure which would threaten their vested interests. It may appear an extraordinary statement to make to those who do not know their Ireland very well that the members of the Party were not the best that could be got, the best that would be got, under other conditions to serve in a representative capacity. But it is nevertheless true that the conditions of service at Westminster were not such as to tempt or induce the best men to leave their professions or their interests for seven or eight months of the year, whereas it was and is to be hoped that when the time comes the cream of Irish intellect, ability and character will seek the honourable duty of building up Irish destinies in Ireland. In justice to those who did serve at Westminster let it be, however, said that it invariably entailed loss and sacrifice even to the very least of them, and to very many, indeed, it meant ruined careers and broken lives.

This apart. The Irish Council Bill was lost because of bad leadership and bad faith, and the Irish Party continued to travel stumblingly along its pathway of disaster and disgrace.