The Final Surrender of the Six Counties

The madcap "Irish Provisional Government" scheme for "putting down those rebels for evermore" was not heard of again. Apparently without a day's delay, Mr. Lloyd George dropped it and fell back on the Buckingham Palace Partition project in an aggravated form. Having once opted for Partition he paid me the compliment of recognising that other and more accommodating counsellors would have to be called in. Here consequently stopped my own inner knowledge of his operations. We must await the confidences of the other parties to these transactions (if we are not destined to wait in vain) in order to be able fully to reconstruct the history of the next week, but it may be safely concluded that on the very day following his interview with Sir E. Carson and myself, Mr. Lloyd George summoned Mr. Redmond and Sir E. Carson to the Hotel Metropole to discuss a wholly different programme and it is certain that before the end of the week, Partition was the settled policy of the Government, of the Hibernian Party and of Sir E. Carson, with the Four Counties of the Buckingham Palace Conference advanced to Six, and the Six Counties established as a separate autonomous State.

Fortunately the dates enable us to fill up with tolerable accuracy the gaps in the strange and wonderful story of the famous "Headings of Agreement" arrived at between Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Redmond and Sir E. Carson.[36] Inasmuch as it is to that instrument is unquestionably to be traced the collapse of the Parliamentary Movement, and the recognition of Partition as the indispensable basis of all negotiations for the future, it becomes a matter of high historic importance that the circumstances in which it was negotiated and under which it was subsequently abandoned should be ascertained in some detail. On May 31st Mr. Lloyd George was in possession of my Memo. containing the suggestion (since "something must be done at once") of a solemn Parliamentary Guarantee of National Self-Government for a United Ireland on the initiative of the King, to be followed by a policy of all-round lenity in the administration. To that communication (invited, not volunteered), no reply was given. On June 10th, little more than a week later, Mr. Redmond was able to call his Party together in the Mansion House, Dublin, and to announce the "Headings of Agreement" between Mr. Lloyd George, Sir E. Carson and himself for the surrender of the Six Counties upon terms, open and covert, in the highest degree discreditable to the British Minister and to the Irish leader. On June 12th, two days afterwards, Sir E. Carson obtained the assent of his Ulster Unionist Council in Belfast. On June 13th, the next day, a special Convention of the Board of Erin Order of Hibernians (not, observe, of the public organisation, the United Irish League) was held in Dublin, so secretly that no news of the event leaked out until the following morning, and no official report was issued at all. It was discovered, however, that the object of the secret Convention was to secure the influence of the Order in extorting the consent of the Nationalists of the Six Counties to the terms under which they were to be surrendered to the Orange Free State, and this result Mr. Devlin, who, as National President of the Board of Erin, occupied the chair, succeeded in accomplishing after five hours' discussion. Within less than two weeks, therefore, the charm was wound up, and the bargain clandestinely concluded between the Covenanters and the Hibernians, without the slightest pretence of consulting the country in general, or even the open organisation of the United Irish League, whose Constitution once proclaimed it to be the sovereign National authority in Irish affairs, but which had by this time dwindled into the innocuous outward shell of the Hibernian Secret Society.

The double object of Mr. Lloyd George's latest coup was to keep America in play by exhibiting before her eyes the spectacle of a great Home Rule settlement actually accomplished by mutual consent, and to keep both the American and the Irish mind bewildered as to its terms until the American elections were over. It was not for many months afterwards that either America or Ireland began to find out that the new bargain was one to expunge from the Home Rule Act the Clause that was its saving salt—the establishment of a National Parliament—and to amputate from the mother country, six counties, illustrious as the scenes of her most heroic battles against English conquest, and containing all but a fourth of her population and wealth. The enormity could, of course, never have been perpetrated without the connivance of a Party of Irish "Nationalists" who would have been hooted into oblivion if they had given the faintest hint of such a programme to the constituencies by which they were elected.

The first deceit practised upon the country was that, while Mr. Redmond published through his Party on June 10th what purported to be a summary of the "Headings of Agreement," the full text was not published until seven weeks later (July 28th) after the bargain had collapsed, and was published then, not by Mr. Redmond or at his desire, but by the Government in their own defence. There was a more painful discovery still. It was found that the authentic text contradicted in its most vital particulars the version which Mr. Redmond had been induced to put before the country to calm their apprehensions and to manoeuvre them into consent. The two versions of the First Article of the Headings of Agreement have only to be printed side by side to illustrate the seriousness of the discrepancy.

Mr. Redmond's Summary.

1. To bring the Home Rule Act into immediate operation.

The Actual Text.

1. The Government of Ireland Act, 1914, to be brought into operation as soon as possible after the passing of the Bill, subject to the modifications necessitated by these instructions.

The First Article as published in Dublin was one well skilled to befool Irish opinion, for it seemed to promise the immediate realization of all the hopes embodied in "the Act on the Statute-Book." The true text of the bargain, containing the words "subject to the modifications necessitated by these instructions" put a very different complexion on the transaction, for one of " the necessary modifications " was to be the repeal of the First Clause of the Act of 1914, viz.: " 1. On and after the appointed day there shall be in Ireland an Irish Parliament, consisting of his Majesty the King and two Houses namely the Irish Senate and the Irish House of Commons."

In other words, the repeal and annulment of the solemn recognition of the unity of Ireland as a Nation. Nor was the public mind much clarified by Mr. Redmond's presentation of the Second Article.

Mr. Redmond's

2. To introduce at once an Amending Bill, as a strictly War Emergency Act, to cover only the period of the War and a short specified interval after it.

The Actual Text.

2. The said Act not to apply to the Excluded Area, which is to consist of the six counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, L'derry, and Tyrone, including the Parliamentary Boroughs of Belfast, Londonderry and Newry.

Nothing could be less candid or more hazy than the published version; nothing clearer than the actual wording, which was not published until all was over. To the average plain man, the Amending Bill referred to in Mr. Redmond's version might well seem to be some innocent detail to cease with the war. He got no hint that the genuine Second Article was a proviso that the Home Rule Act was "not to apply to the Excluded Area," without qualification or termination, and the "Excluded Area" was expressly defined and earmarked to be six counties and three corporate boroughs, containing nearly one-fourth of the population of Ireland. Some mention had to be made of the fate of the Six Counties; but with how much candour may be judged by reading side-by-side Mr. Redmond's Article 4 which was Article 3 of the Actual Text.

Mr. Redmond's

4. During this war emergency period, six Ulster Counties to be left as at present under the Imperial Government.

The Actual Text.

3. As regards the excluded area the executive power of His Majesty to be administered by a Secretary of State through such Offices and Departments as may be directed by order of His Majesty in Council, those offices and departments not to be in any way responsible to the new Irish Government.

The Six Counties, instead of being "left as at present," were in fact to be erected into a separate State, ruled by a separate Secretary of State and an elaborate series of separate Departments, wholly independent of the Home Rule Government in Dublin. So far from the arrangement only lasting, as the Irish people were jauntily assured "during this war emergency," the text contained no hint of such a limitation, and the very nature of the complicated and expensive machinery of government proposed to be set up in the Six Counties forbade any assumption of a mere stopgap contrivance to be cast aside after the few months in which the war might be concluded. Not to the country, nor to the Hibernian Convention in Belfast—nor it may be surmised to the rank and file of "the Party" itself, was there any disclosure of this carefully-elaborated apparatus of Partition vouchsafed, until the authorised text of the "Headings of Agreement" was published by Mr. Lloyd George after the breakdown of the bargain.

There was another and not less reprehensible concealment of the truth. The Third Article in Mr. Redmond's summary was: "During that period, the Irish members to remain at Westminster in their full numbers." At first sight it might well read as a concession of the first magnitude. It was, in reality, for the politicians, the price of their surrender and it was the subsequent partial repudiation of this Article by the Government on which the Partition bargain was broken off. For what would have been the practical effect of the proviso? It would have established the existing members of the Hibernian Party for the rest of a Parliament which was not to be dissolved as long as the war endured, in the double capacity of members of the Imperial Parliament at Westminster, with the accompanying Treasury stipend of £400 a year, and in addition as the ipso facto majority of the mutilated Parliament in Dublin, without re-election, and without responsibility to the electors who were already hungering for the opportunity of dismissing them from their service. They would thus have obtained the control of an annual patronage of from £2,000,000 to £3,000,000 without the smallest danger of being brought to account by their constituents for a period of at least three years. In the meantime, all the spoils of Dublin Castle, of the Four Courts and of the fifty Castle Boards, of the University, and of the Intermediate and Primary School Staffs, and in addition all the offices of profit of the local governing bodies of three provinces from a Co. Secretaryship or a Town Clerkship to the humblest Workhouse portership, would have been available for distribution among the partisans of the ruling politicians in the Dublin Parliament and an army of officials and office-hunters might thus be enrolled to garrison the three provinces in preparation for the inevitable if far distant day, when the Hibernian Bosses would have to seek a renewal of their powers. True, the volcano which was presently to burst was known to be already deeply burning. But the subterranean fires which the corrupt bargaining or incompetence of the Parliamentarians was doing more than Sir John Maxwell's firing-parties to accumulate, might still be held in check a little while longer. It was with this knowledge the tying the hands and gagging the voice of the constituencies while these tremendous changes were being plotted was deliberately organized, in order that honest opinion should have no chance of showing itself, until the country should be confronted with the fait accompli, and the Board of Erin Partitionists installed in sovereign power.

All this the only version of the "Headings of Agreement" placed before the country carefully concealed. It was a scheme of political profligacy more widespread in its sweep, more impudent in its defiance of all constitutional right or privilege in the people, than that by which Lord Castlereagh purchased the life of the Irish Parliament and which Gladstone thought he was not extravagantly describing as a system of "blackguardism and baseness." It is not to be believed that the mass of the Hibernian Party—plain, blunder-headed men—realized much better than the bewildered people themselves the turpitude of the transaction; the record stands, however, to the shame of their intelligence, if not of their political morals, that of the 57 members who attended the Party meeting at which the project was disclosed all but two accepted the terms which were to be the price of their assent to the Partition of their country.[37]

Mr. Dillon's subsequent complaint against the Government was that "they did not rush" the Headings of Agreement "hot-foot" as a War Emergency measure through the House of Commons as soon as the nominal assent of Ireland had been extorted. He and his confederates were not certainly open to any imputation that they did not for their own part "rush them hot-foot" through Ireland with a haste as indecent and unconstitutional as the proposals themselves. Under the constitution of the United Irish League, a National Convention was the sovereign authority in all matters of National policy. No National Convention was summoned. It was, of course, because no National Convention, however sophisticated, could have been trusted to examine the text of the "Headings of Agreement" without rejecting them with horror. The leaders refused to hold consultation in any form with the people of the three southern provinces, as though the projected mutilation of their nation was no business of theirs. The secret organization of the Board of Erin alone was called into counsel, while the public organization was ignored. The Party meeting was held on June 10th. We have seen already on June 13th, a special Convention of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (B.O.E.) was held in Dublin so secretly that the news did not become known until the small hours of the next morning and at this gathering the influence of the Order was pledged in support of the Lloyd George proposals. But even within the ambit of the secret Order, a Convention was only to be risked in the six surrendered counties, where the ascendancy of the Board of Erin was complete.

The upshot of the secret proceedings of June 13th in Dublin was the summoning of a secret Convention of the Six Counties on June 23 in Belfast. Although this Assembly was ruthlessly policed by the Hibernian Order, and the admissions so manipulated as to exclude any but a derisory minority belonging to other organizations, it taxed the most desperate resources of Messrs. Redmond, Dillon and Devlin to conquer the instinctive repugnance of these Ulster Nationalists to respond to the appeal to stand passively by while their country was being cut up on the dissecting table under their eyes and by their sanction. Mr. Redmond, who presided, found it necessary not so much to offer reasons for the surrender as to threaten the collective resignations of Mr. Dillon, Mr. Devlin and himself, if it were not tamely submitted to. So unnatural was the sacrifice demanded that, even amongst the most fanatical of the Hibernian faithful, the murmurs rose high, until nothing short of the menaces and the tears of the leaders could have prevented them from breaking bounds altogether. Mr. Redmond, whose only sedative for his angry listeners was the pitiful assurance that the Partition was to be only of a temporary character, found his only real argument in the solemn threat with which he concluded:

"It is the duty of a leader to lead, but if my own people refuse to follow my lead, I must decline absolutely to accept responsibility for a course of action that is against my conscience. I regard the acceptance of these proposals, in the conditions I have stated, as vital to the Irish cause. As leader I point the way. It is for you to say whether you will follow me or not. If, then, this is the last time that I ever can appeal to the people of Ireland, I will have done so in obedience to the dictates of my heart and conscience."

It will be observed that his appeal was not "to the people of Ireland," but to a secret society in one corner of Ireland, and at a secret meeting of which the country would have heard nothing, had not a patriotic reporter, at the risk of a fractured head, jotted down his words. That the lead was not Mr. Redmond's lead, the Convention by a sure instinct divined, for it was Mr. Dillon whose speech was half-drowned with taunts and interruptions identifying him as the true author of the unhappy tactics of which Partition was the miserable culmination. Mr. Dillon, however, continued to protest that "these proposals were a necessary measure to safeguard the National Cause" and promised to "execute himself," like his trusted leader, if the Hibernians thought differently. Even Mr. Devlin—and in Belfast he was in a small way Coriolanus in Corioli—found the accustomed paean of "Up the Mollies!" changed for an underswell of doubt and wrath from Hibernian throats. He, too, discovered that the threat of resignation offered the only chance of turning the tide and concluded with the heroic resolve that "if Mr. Redmond went down, he, too, would go down with him." Even faced with such an avalanche of leaderless chaos, the most reliable Hibernian Assembly that the Hibernian headquarters could furnish could only be induced to do the unnatural deed and approve the "Headings of Agreement" by a majority of 475 votes against 265. It was actually on the strength of the sulky majority of 210 Belfast Hibernians—the only body of Irish opinion anywhere that was not sternly denied consultation in any shape—that the Parliamentary Party hastened to demand that the separation from Ireland of the Six Counties should be "hurried hot-foot through the House of Commons as a war emergency measure."

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The Irish Revolution

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William O'Brien was a County Cork M.P. who participated in the negotiations for Home Rule in Ireland. In this account, first published in 1923, he provides an insight into the politics and politicians of the time - John Redmond, John Dillon, Arthur Griffith, Sir Edward Carson, Bonar Law, Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, etc. - and gives his analysis of the origins of the Easter Rising of 1916 and the subsequent Irish Civil War. From his own perspective, O'Brien was very much anti-Partition, and was evidently frustrated at the failure to give adequate reassurance to the Northern Unionists.

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