How the Plot Miscarried

It might well seem there was no further obstacle to be apprehended from Ireland. On the day (June 23) when the Belfast Convention was being coerced by the leaders' threats of resignation, the only public protest against Partition attempted in the South—a meeting called by my colleague Mr. Maurice Healy and myself in the Cork City Hall—was frustrated by the ludicrous misunderstanding already related. The Lord Mayor of Dublin refused the Mansion House to Nationalists who proposed to make the indignation of the Irish capital heard. But as week followed week and the consequences of the bargain began to make themselves understood, no machinery of suppression, however perfect, could altogether stifle the disquiet which was beginning to stir in the heart of the bewildered country. On July 20th, the indignation of the Nationalists of the North blazed out at a meeting in Derry which struck the stoutest of the Partitionists with dismay. The speeches sounded like the first volleys of an insurrection. They were prefaced by the reading of a letter from the Bishop of Derry (Dr. McHugh) inveighing against "Mr. Lloyd George's nefarious scheme" and adding:

"But what seems the worst feature of all this wretched bargaining that has been going on is that Irishmen calling themselves representatives of the people are prepared to sell their brother Irishmen into slavery to secure a nominal freedom for a section of the people. . . . Was coercion of a more objectionable and despicable type ever resorted to by England in its dealings with Ireland than that now sanctioned by the men whom we elected to win for us freedom?"

The Derry meeting came to a series of resolutions condemning "the proposed partition of Ireland whether temporary or permanent" pledging the Nationalists of the North "to oppose by every means any attempt to set up a separate Government for the Ulster counties," and "to resist the authority of such a Government if set up," and summoned the Hibernian members for Fermanagh and Tyrone "to oppose exclusion or resign their seats." The example of Derry was contagious. The Nationalists of Dublin, barred out from the Mansion House, ran the risk of holding a public meeting in the Phoenix Park—the first attempted since the proclamation of Martial Law in Easter Week—adopted the Derry resolutions, hooted the name of Mr. Lloyd George, and cheered to the echo the declaration of their Chairman (Alderman Richard Jones, a man of moderate opinions, who had been a steady supporter of Mr. Redmond) that the idea of the Cabinet appeared to be to bribe a whole Party, and that "if their Parliamentary representatives did not respect their wishes, they must insist on their resignation." The rising feeling of the nation was mirrored in a letter of the Bishop of Limerick (Dr. O'Dwyer) to a Committee belatedly formed in Belfast to resist the Lloyd George proposals:

"I can well understand your anxiety and indignation at the proposals of your own political leaders to cut you off from your own country. I have very little pity for you or yours. You have acquiesced in a kind of political servitude in which your function was to shout the shibboleths of what they call 'the Party.' You have ceased to be men; your leaders consequently think they can sell you like chattels. Our poor country is made a thing of truck and barter in the Liberal Clubs."

It was this unforeseen outbreak of National anger which frightened "the Party" into running away from its bargain and consigning the "Headings of Agreement" to the waste-paper basket. The nominal excuse for the rupture—a speech of Lord Lansdowne, alleging that the separation of the Six Counties was not to be a temporary one—was, as will be seen in a moment, a wholly untenable one.[38] The history of the breakdown is a deeply instructive one. On July 10th the Prime Minister (Mr. Asquith) openly avowed that the negotiations had proceeded "on the basis of immediate Home Rule, with six Ulster counties excluded." All his colleagues, he declared, were willing to share the responsibility of bringing in a Bill to legalise these proposals. It was then, also, he for the first time divulged the amazing news that "the Irish House of Commons was to consist of the persons who were for the time being members returned by the same constituencies in Ireland to serve in the Imperial Parliament." The Bill was to be a provisional measure, but he added: "A united Ireland could only be brought about with the assent of the excluded area." This was a sufficiently clear repudiation of the assurances lavished in Ireland during the previous month that Partition was to be "a purely temporary arrangement," but Sir E. Carson took care to put an end to the last shadow of doubt on the subject. Fastening upon the Prime Minister's allusion to the arrangement as provisional, he asked if "the six Ulster Counties would be definitively struck out of the Act of 1914?" Mr. Asquith assented and added that "they could not be included hereafter without a new Bill."

Mr. Redmond made no attempt to question the Prime Minister's falsification of his own and Mr. Dillon's repeated assurances in Ireland, but the Hibernian Party, silent in presence of Mr. Asquith's official announcement, pounced upon a similar announcement by Lord Lansdowne in the House of Lords on the following day (July 11th) to lay hold of that unfortunate nobleman as their scapegoat. Lord Lansdowne, in the course of a speech explaining the policy which the Government intended to pursue during the transition from military rule to the projected self-government of the future, mentioned that the Amending Bill to give effect to the "Headings of Agreement," "will make structural alterations in the Act of 1914 already on the Statute Book, and therefore will be permanent and enduring in its character, but will contain at other points temporary provisions, such, for example, as those dealing with the House of Commons which it is proposed to set up in the near future." The Hibernian Party did not see fit to arraign Lord Lansdowne's announcement in the House of Commons which there was nothing to prevent them from doing by a Vote of Censure, but upon the day after the speech (July 12th) Mr. Redmond issued a statement to the newspapers furiously denouncing it "as a gross insult and a declaration of war on the Irish people," and declaring that "if this speech were to be taken as representing the attitude and the spirit of the Government towards Ireland there would be an end to all hope of settlement." Lord Lansdowne's reference to the "permanent and enduring character of certain structural alterations in the Act of 1914" was "a gross breach of faith" and "any departure in the direction indicated in Lord Lansdowne's suggestion would, so far as we are concerned, bring the negotiations absolutely to an end." "Valiant words, my masters!" Lord Lansdowne replied the next day (July 13th): "In making my statement as to the permanent character of certain provisions of the Amending Bill I did not intend to go, and I do not consider that I did go, beyond the declaration made by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on the 10th instant that the union of the Six Counties with the rest of Ireland could only be brought about with, and can never be brought about without, the free will and assent of the excluded area."

That, of course, was the undeniable truth; but instead of straightly taking the Home Rule Prime Minister to task and calling for the publication of the text of the "Headings of Agreement" which must have decided the question of "a gross breach of faith" one way or the other, the leader of the Hibernian Party confined himself to an extra Parliamentary dispute in the newspapers with a Tory nobleman who had no friends. An unofficial attempt on the same day (July 13th) to elicit in the House of Commons the real nature of the bargain was, as always happens in such cases, ineffectual:

"Mr. William O'Brien—When may we expect the Irish Amending Bill? Is the Right Hon. Gentleman aware that the Irish people are in a state of utter bewilderment as to what the proposals are? Will he put an end to the suspense by producing the Bill at the earliest possible date?"

Mr. Bonar Law (acting as Leader of the House)—I am sorry that at present I cannot give any date for the introduction of the Bill.

Mr. O'Brien—Can the Right Hon. Gentleman give no indication when we are to have the Bill if ever? Or if we cannot have the Bill is there any objection to publishing as a White Paper the precise terms submitted to Sir E. Carson and Mr. Redmond? Surely there cannot be two different versions?

Mr. Bonar Law—There may be a difference of opinion as to the advisability of adopting that course, but I can assure the Hon. Gentleman that it is the intention of the Government to produce the Bill as soon as possible."

The Bill was never produced, and the text of the "Headings of Agreement" was never disclosed until after the rupture. Mr. Redmond's rejoinder to Lord Lansdowne (July 14th) was again made through the newspapers, not in his place in the House of Commons. He repeated that there was a distinct violation of the agreement "which was reduced to writing," and the matter "could only be cleared up beyond dispute by the production of the Bill." One might suggest that he himself possessed an equally effective way of "clearing the matter up beyond dispute" by publishing the full terms of the agreement "which was reduced to writing," of which he cannot fail to have secured a copy, and of which he had himself made public a painfully fallacious version in Ireland. A few days later there was not a cough of protest from the Hibernian benches when Mr. Asquith having again dodged a question of Mr. Ian Malcolm calling for the production of the Bill, the present writer interposed with the unceremonious inquiry: "Is not the Prime Minister yet aware that he would have the thanks of every human being in Ireland except the place-hunters if he put this hateful Bill into the fire?"

As a matter of fact all this belabouring of Lord Lansdowne as a whipping-boy in the place of their own Home Rule Prime Minister was in the nature of theatricals, devised to supply a sensational finish before the curtain had to be dropped. What really struck death to their souls was that the storm in Ireland was every day growing angrier. The end came after various alarums and excursions when Mr. Redmond moved the adjournment of the House with the object of tearing up the "Headings of Agreement" and the resulting Bill. He made a fine show of repudiating Mr. Asquith's renewed allegation that even the Home

Rulers in the Cabinet only agreed that the Home Rule Act should be brought into immediate operation on condition that the Six Counties "should not be brought in except by their own consent and by the authority of an Act of Parliament." He repeated that after Lord Lansdowne's speech: "I had only one resource left open to me and I called for the immediate production of the Bill." (He omitted to mention the other resource left open to him, which was to call for the immediate production of the "Headings of Agreement" or to produce them himself). What Mr. Redmond described as "the sorry story" of his last humiliating dealings with the Cabinet on the subject deserves to be reproduced in his own words, as a warning to all Irish negotiators who may be tempted to part with their power of bringing slippery English Ministers to their senses:

"I ask the House to mark what I am now going to say. On July 20th I received a most extraordinary message from the Cabinet to the effect that the consideration of this draft Bill had been postponed and that a number of new proposals had been brought forward. When I asked what the nature of these proposals was, I was informed that the Cabinet did not desire to consult me about them at all, and that they would not communicate with me in the matter until they had again met and had agreed upon what new proposals they would approve of. ... I asked was any new proposal submitted on the question of the provisional character of the Bill? I was told it was quite impossible to answer my question. The next communication I received was on Saturday last when the Minister for War (Mr. Lloyd George) and the Home Secretary (Mr. Herbert Samuel) requested me to call and see them at the War Office. They then informed me that another Cabinet Council had been held and that it had been decided—mark you, decided—to insert in the Bill two entirely new pro-visions, one providing for the permanent exclusion of the Six Ulster Counties and another cutting out of the draft Bill the provision for the representation of the Irish members in full force at Westminster during the transitory period, and I was given to understand in so many words that this decision was not put before me for the purpose of discussion or consultation, that the decision was absolute and final and the Right Hon. Gentlemen described themselves to me as messengers without any power or authority to discuss these questions in any way whatever with me, and they informed me that it was the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill containing these provisions, practically whether we liked it or not."

It was a somewhat heartless return for Mr. Redmond's services to his Liberal allies and (it may be unfeignedly added) to the Empire, and might well deserve an even more heated protest. Unfortunately in substance the same decision as to the permanence of Partition had been publicly announced by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons in his hearing more than a month before without a word of protest, heated or otherwise. Allowance may be freely made for the simple-heartedness with which the Hibernian leaders allowed themselves to be overreached by Mr. Lloyd George, and also for the fact that they had by this time parted with their power to eject from office a Coalition Government which could not have been formed without their unconditional consent. It was, however, not an altogether unfitting punishment of their own want of candour towards their trusting Irish countrymen.

Upon the point that the heads of settlement had all along agreed that the Six Counties should not be automatically included without the authority of a fresh Act of Parliament, Mr. Lloyd George stood firm. "The only thing that the Government said now and said all along was that this should be made clear on the face of the Amending Bill. The rest was a dispute about words." He admitted that the heads of the settlement had been departed from to the extent that the Irish members were not to remain in full strength in Westminster beyond the term of the existing Parliament, but this was in deference to the Unionist members of the Coalition Cabinet who declared it would be impossible to get a single member of their Party to consent to maintain them in the Imperial Parliament after a General Election and after a Home Rule Government had been set up in Ireland. But until the General Election they would remain, both at Westminster and in the Dublin Parliament. What he understood from the member for Waterford was that he would not merely resist this modification but would resist the whole Bill. (Hibernian cheers).

"If that is the view of the Irish members," Mr. Lloyd George concluded, "of course, it would be idle for the Government to bring in a Bill for bringing Home Rule into immediate operation under any conditions. I deeply regret it. ... I still believe that the Bill, even with these variations, would be a beginning of self-government and liberty for Ireland, and from the bottom of my heart I regret that my friends from Ireland cannot see their way to accept it. They, however, know their own country, its difficulties and conditions, and it is for them to decide. The Government ought not, and will not, force this proposal upon them."

Sir E. Carson's triumph was complete. Were they not playing with words, he asked, in talking about "permanence" in connection with the exclusion of the Six Counties? All the permanence that he could get or had demanded was that the Six Counties should be struck out by this Parliament. If any subsequent Parliament (he added with grim irony) desired to put them in, it would be open to them to do so. But there was one thing more, he proceeded to say: "Without going into the terms of the Memorandum, I made it perfectly clear that Departments would have to be set up in Ulster under the Home Office, or some Secretary of State here—Departments in every branch of government, from the judiciary down to the Post Office, and the different Departments which govern Ireland, and I made it quite clear upon the face of the document which is relied upon by the member for Waterford (the "Headings of Agreement") that all these separate Departments were to be set up and that no officer or no Department which had anything to do with the new Irish Parliament was to have any jurisdiction whatsoever of an executive character in the Six Counties. Does any body suppose that that was set out on the face of the Memorandum as a matter that was merely to continue for a few months and that then these Six Counties were automatically to come in? The thing would be ludicrous. You actually set up a whole system of new government at enormous expense in relation to the Six Counties, and then say that those Six Counties at the end of the war or at any time automatically were to come in. What would become of your Departments and your officers? . . . Therefore the talk of this as provisional, if you mean by provisional that it was to stop and that the Six Counties were automatically to stop, and that the Six Counties were automatically to go back into the rest of Ireland, seems to me, on the face of the document, absolutely absurd."

The Prime Minister, he triumphantly concluded, had said that the Six Counties could not be included without a new Bill and he stood by that agreement. Mr. William O'Brien, who followed Sir E. Carson, said it was plain that if Mr. Lloyd George had to some extent run away from the phraseology of the Memorandum, the member for Waterford and his friends had, under pressure from Ireland, run away from its substance, which was the agreement for Partition. He made every allowance for the difficulties of the member for Waterford, but it did seem lamentable that it should have taken all but a second Rising in Ireland to convince him how dangerously the tide of indignation in Ireland was running against this proposal. He had apparently found no resource except to pick a quarrel upon any pretext with his own agreement, in the hope of extricating his friends and himself from their mess by pitiful hair-splitting about mere verbal distinctions between the original Memorandum and the Government's position to-night. "It was too late for the hon. and learned Gentleman either to recede or to advance. The one fact connected with this Memorandum to which the Irish people would attach the smallest importance was the fact confessed in the whole course of this debate, that a majority of their own representatives agreed to a separation from Ireland of six of her richest and most historic counties and of a fourth of the whole population of Ireland under conditions which nobody except a quibbler or a fool could represent as temporary or provisional."

In view of the forecast it contained of the course of events in Ireland during the following years and of the unscrupulous misrepresentation of the speaker's efforts from the start to avert a consent to Partition which proved to be fatal, some lengthier extracts from this speech may be forgiven, the more especially as it was suppressed or garbled by the Irish newspapers in their usual fashion:

"Proposals of a very different kind have been made to the Government which would have appealed to the imagination of Ireland and of the United States. These proposals—I make bold to say in his presence—would have gone nearer to the heart of the member for Trinity College, and they would have left Ireland an indestructible entity in a Federalist arrangement. It is too late to go back upon all that. The work, I am afraid, will now have to be left to other men, if not in other times. The real cause of the recent rebellion in Ireland was not Germanism or German gold. It was that you have driven all the best and most unselfish of the young men of Ireland to despair of the constitutional movement by your bungling, by your ignorance, by your double-dealing in this House and with the Irish members in reference to the Home Rule Act on the Statute Book, and finally by the savage methods by which you have for the last six months had your vengeance for the Rising. You have only succeeded in filling the hearts of multitudes of the best men of our race with a loathing for Parliamentarianism, British and Irish, and by an inevitable reaction from your subservience to one sectarian secret society you have raised up another and a more formidable secret society whose ideals, at all events, are pure and unselfish, and who have proved their courage to fight and die like men for these ideals. If the mutilated Dublin Parliament you would have set up under this agreement could have succeeded in anything it could only have been in re-establishing the evil ascendancy of that sectarian secret society which has been your undoing as well as ours. You would have had against you all the men who are teaching the young generation by their pens or in their schools and all those (and they are to be counted by hundreds of thousands) who are ready for any sacrifice of liberty or life for the old ideals of Irish Nationality and a United Ireland. Luckily for yourselves you have broken down in this plot for Partition. If you had proceeded, you could not have averted another rebellion and you would have lost perhaps for ever the key to the heart of National Ireland. You would have handed over the future of Irish politics to the Irish Republicans and you would have brought us back to the days when the quarrel between Ireland and England was regarded as incurable and everlasting. Fortunately for England as well as Ireland, this particular Partition plot at all events is dead and damned to-night and millions of the Irish race will rejoice with all their hearts to-morrow at its failure."

Mr. Dillon, who spoke next, went out of his way, for some curious reason, to obtrude himself as the principal figure in the negotiations, which he admitted that "nobody in Ireland liked or pretended to like," and professed himself still willing to stand "by every word of the written document which we have;" he added in strange forgetfulness that if they "had the written document" in their possession, they had never up to this moment published the true terms of it to their own countrymen. For the rest, although he complained that "assurances were given to Sir E. Carson behind our backs which were never given to us," he omitted to attack the real culprits, who were the Home Rule Prime Minister and the Home Rule Secretary for War, and fell back on his old tiresome thesis that it was all the fault of the wicked Tory Lord Lansdowne. With a not too obvious logic, he complained that the Government had neglected to give the agreement "the only chance it had, which was to put it through Parliament hot-foot as a war-emergency measure after the Irish Party had obtained the consent of the Belfast Convention." In other words, that the English Government did not rush into law in 1916 the Partition Act of 1921, before the Irish people could have the smallest possibility of protesting, or even understanding!

Mr. Asquith, who wound up the debate, could only administer to Mr. Dillon the cold comfort of categorically repeating that Lord Lansdowne only repeated his (the Prime Minister's) own statement "in the clearest terms in this House that there must be no coercion of Ulster and that the six excluded Counties should not be put back by any automatic process but only by an express Act of Parliament. There was no demur at that," he added, with a significant gesture towards the Hibernian benches "and I felt entitled to assume that there was general agreement."

At eleven o'clock the motion was suffered to be "talked out" without even the melancholy heroism of challenging a division. With the bargain for the Partition of Ireland, defeated though it was for the moment, perished the Home Rule movement of Parnell. The "Headings of Agreement," endorsed by 75 of the 83 Nationalist representatives of Ireland, became the indisputable Magna Charta of Sir E. Carson's Six Counties, and to that unhappy instrument must be traced the responsibility for all the years of disappointment, bloodshed and devastation that were to follow.

Read "The Irish Revolution" at your leisure

The Irish Revolution

Read The Irish Revolution at your leisure and help support this free Irish library.

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.

The ebook is available in .mobi (for Kindle), .epub (for iBooks, etc.), and .pdf formats, and a sample PDF can be downloaded. For more information on the book see details ».