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.

Neither the All-for-Ireland Party nor Sinn Fein was represented at the Convention, although Mr Lloyd George made a second appeal to Mr O'Brien to assist in its deliberations. It says something for the wisdom of Mr O'Brien's proposal for a small Conference that after debating the matter for months the Convention decided to transmit their powers to a Committee of Nine to draw up terms of agreement. This Committee did actually reach agreement, only to have it squelched instantly by the veto of the Ulster Council when the Ulster nominees reported the terms of it to them. Lord MacDonnell, in a letter to The Times, dated 2nd November 1919, makes the following disclosure regarding Mr Redmond's view of this matter: -

"In regard to this episode I well remember the late Mr Redmond saying in conversation that if he had foreseen the possibility of a proposal made there being submitted for judgment to men who had not participated in the Convention's proceedings, and were removed from its pervading atmosphere of good will, he would never have consented to enter it."

Mr O'Brien, however, saw this danger in advance and drew public attention to it. In a speech in the House of Commons he also foretold what the failure of the Convention meant: the destruction of the constitutional movement and the setting up of "the right of rebellion, whether from the Covenanters or Sinn Feiners as the only arbiter left in Irish affairs. You will justly make Parliamentary methods more despised and detested than they are at the present moment by the young men of Ireland."

The Convention failed to reach unanimity. It presented various reports, and the Government, glad of so easy a way out, simply did nothing. The Convention served the Ministerial purpose, and there was an end of it. The proceedings were, however, notable for one tragic incident. Mr Redmond sought to rally the majority of the Convention in support of a compromise which, whilst falling short of Dominion Home Rule, avoided partition and would have been acceptable to Southern Unionist opinion. Mr Devlin and the Catholic Bishops opposed Mr Redmond's motion and the Irish leader, feeling himself deserted at the most critical moment, did not move, and withdrew from the Convention to his death, adding another to the long list of tragic figures in Irish history.

The only practical outcome of the Convention was the acceptance of Dominion Home Rule by a minority, which included Mr Devlin. As if to make matters as impracticable as possible for the Parliamentarians, Mr Lloyd George introduced a Bill to conscript Ireland at the very time the Convention proposals were before Parliament. A more callous indifference to Irish psychology could scarcely be imagined. A series of Sinn Fein victories at the polls had decided the fate of Partition once and for all. But the war exigencies of the Government were so great, the military situation on the Continent was so hazardous, they seemed determined to risk even civil war in their resolve to get Irishmen to serve. They must have fighting men at any cost. The menace was very real, and the whole of Nationalist Ireland came together as one man to resist it. The representatives of the Irish Party, of Labour, of Sinn Fein and of the All-for-Irelanders met in Conference at the Mansion House, Dublin, to concert measures of Irish defence. The Mansion House Conference, at its first meeting, on 18th April, issued the following declaration: -

"Taking our stand on Ireland's separate and distinct nationhood, and affirming the principle of liberty, that the Governments of nations derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, we deny the right of the British Government or any external authority to impose compulsory military service in Ireland against the clearly expressed will of the Irish people. The passing of the Conscription Bill by the British House of Commons must be regarded as a declaration of war on the Irish nation. The alternative to accepting it as such is to surrender our liberties and to acknowledge ourselves slaves. It is in direct violation of the rights of small nationalities to self-determination, which even the Prime Minister of England - now preparing to employ naked militarism and force his Act upon Ireland - himself announced as an essential condition for peace at the Peace Congress. The attempt to enforce it is an unwarrantable aggression, which we call upon all Irishmen to resist by the most effective means at their disposal."

The Irish Catholic Bishops on the same day received a deputation from the Mansion House Conference, and, having heard them, issued a manifesto, in the course of which they said:

"In view especially of the historic relations between the two countries from the very beginning up to this moment, we consider that Conscription forced in this way upon Ireland is an oppressive and inhuman law, which the Irish people have a right to resist by every means that are consonant with the law of God."

The Irish Labour Party called a one-day strike on 23rd April as "a demonstration of fealty to the cause of labour and Ireland."

The Government went on with its preparations for enforcing Conscription. The Lord-Lieutenant, who was known to be opposed to the policy of the Ministry, was recalled, and Field-Marshal Lord French was put in his place. A "German plot," which the late Viceroy declared had no existence in fact, was supposed to be discovered, and in connection with it Messrs de Valera and A. Griffith, the two Sinn Fein members of the Mansion House Conference, were arrested and deported. The Sinn Fein, the Gaelic League and allied organisations were declared to be "dangerous associations." Concerts, hurling matches, etc., were prohibited, and Ireland was frankly treated as an occupied territory. A bye-election occurred in East Cavan and Mr Griffith - England's prisoner - was returned, defeating a nominee of the Irish Party. This gave the death-blow to Conscription, though Ireland still stood sternly on guard.

The Mansion House Conference during its existence held a position of unique authority in the country. During its sittings a proposal was made to initiate negotiations with a view to combined action between Sinn Fein, the two sections of Parliamentary Nationalists and the Irish Labour bodies, on the basis of the concession of Dominion Home Rule, while the war was still proceeding with the alternative, if the concession were refused, of combined action to enforce the claims of Ireland at the Peace Conference. There was reason to believe Sinn Fein would agree to this proposal, and that the Cabinet would have invited the Dominion Premiers' Conference to intervene in favour of an Irish settlement, limited only by the formula: "within the Empire."

Mr Dillon blocked the way with the technical objection that the Conference was called to discuss Conscription alone and that no other topic must be permitted to go further. Could stupid malignancy or blind perversity go further?

This fair chance was lost, with so many others. The war came to an end and a few weeks afterwards the Irish Parliamentary Party, which had so long played shuttlecock with the national destinies of Ireland, went to crashing doom and disaster at the polls. The country had found them out for what they were, and it cast them into that outer darkness from which, for them, there is no returning.