2017 05 – Parliament And World War One

Parliament And World War One

by Dick Barry


11 June 1917

Mr. ASQUITH I beg to ask the Prime Minister if he can make any statement on the subject of the Irish Convention?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George) Now that each of the leading political parties in Ireland has had an opportunity of considering our proposal to summon an Irish Convention, I am glad to be able to state that they have given their assent to the invitation. I propose to give, therefore, in greater detail than has hitherto been possible, the proposals of the Government as to the constitution of the intended Convention.

We have been pressed from a good many quarters to make the Convention a small one, but we found it, with regard to the present condition of Irish politics, difficult and almost impracticable to have a small body in which all interests should be represented, and because it is necessary not merely that the Convention should come to an agreement, but that it should be a Convention whose agreement would be likely to secure the adhesion of all interests. Bearing that in mind, before the House adjourned for Whitsuntide, the Government, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has stated, had completed their proposals as to the composition of the Convention. They are the proposals which will be carried into effect in the invitations now about to be issued, the character of which I will briefly state.

Firstly, we have sought to secure representatives of the every day life of the country, and for that purpose we shall invite each county council and each county borough to send its chairman These gentleman are chosen annually for their offices.

Mr. GINNELL They are not.

The PRIME MINISTER And the chairmen of county councils are, I believe, being chosen in the course of the next two or three weeks. A considerable part of the urban population of Ireland is found in the small towns and urban districts, and we propose to invite the chairmen of these areas in each of the four provinces to select two Members to sit in the Convention. The Government thought that the Churches ought to be invited, and we expect the presence of four representatives from among the Roman Catholic Bishops, together with the Primate, Dr. Crozier, and the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Bernard, as representing the Protestant Church of Ireland, and Dr. John Irwin, the Moderator of the Irish Presbyterian Assembly. We shall invite as spokesmen of Commerce the chairmen of the Chambers of Commerce of Dublin, Belfast and Cork. As spokesmen of Labour we shall invite representatives of the Trade Councils in Dublin and Cork and representatives of  Trade Unions in Belfast—in all, five representatives of Labour.

I come lastly to the direct representation of organised political opinion. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. John Redmond) made it clear, when the subject was before the House, that he did not seek that nominees from among his friends should outnumber the nominees of the Ulster Party. We propose to invite the hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Lonsdale) to give us each the names of five members. We shall also ask the hon. Member (Mr. W. O’Brien) to suggest two names. We intend, further, to invite the Irish representative peers to name two of their number and the Irish Unionist Alliance, who speak for the Unionists of Southern Ireland, to name five. There remains the question of representation of Sinn Fein. Certain spokesmen of associations which profess Separatist doctrines have warned us that they will not enter the Convention. We hope that some recognised spokesmen of opinions not voiced by the Irish Parties present in this House will be heard in the Convention, and for this purpose we shall reserve five places.

A Convention of selected gentlemen who are put forward to speak for parties and interests would not necessarily comprise all interests or secure the presence of all the Irishmen who their countrymen generally would desire should be heard. The Government will nominate, therefore, from among leading Irishmen of all sections, fifteen members of the Convention, and will endeavour to exercise this power of nomination so as to promote the object which all sober and loyal Irishmen have in view. The total number of the Convention will be 101. We shall proceed to make our nominations when we have seen the names of the representatives chosen by the various interests. With regard to the Chairman, we should infinitely prefer that Irishmen should choose their own chairman, but if they still prefer that we should adhere to the original idea which I set out when I first announced the Convention, we are prepared, on behalf of the Government, to nominate a chairman, and to submit his name to the King for approval.

Before I sit down, I think it would be appropriate, especially having regard to the statement which I have made with regard to the Irish Convention, if I were to give expression in the best way I can to the deep sense of loss which pervades this House at the death of one of its best known, one of its oldest, and certainly one of its best-loved Members. I have known Major Redmond for over twenty-seven years. He was one of my best friends, and there never was a more loyal or more steadfast friend. I feel I cannot adequately express the sorrow which we must all feel at the fall of this lovable and chivalrous figure.

Both Houses of Parliament have made a noble contribution to the sacrifices imposed upon the people of these islands by this terrible War. I think eight or nine Members of this House—[Mr. Gulland: Eleven.]—have given their lives for the cause of freedom and international right which the nations that constitute this Empire have undertaken to champion in this War. That is not the sum total of the personal loss sustained by Members of this House. Of these Members—if the number be eleven—at least ten of them were young and full of promise. From their gifts the country was entitled to expect great service in the future, but great as the service was which they could have rendered, we feel that the example that they have set in the hour of their country’s fate is a greater service than even they could have rendered by their lives here, for it has set its seal upon equality of sacrifice. It was the country’s need in that critical hour.

Among those noble examples of heroism, the heroic sacrifices of Major Redmond stands quite apart. He had arrived at an age when, by the common consent of all belligerent lands, men could not be expected to endure the hardships of war and to face the dangers of war. Of his own free will he stood dangers, perils and privations, and he did it all with that cheerful courage which always radiated from his personality. I have seen officers who served with him in France, and as Irishmen they spoke with pride of his gallantry. He was a fine soldier. We shall miss him very much in this House.

On the rare occasions when he came back here on leave, men of all sections and parties were delighted to see him, to greet him, and to hear him. We shall never forget his last appearance amongst us in this House. He had gone through some of the bloodiest battles of this sanguinary conflict. He looked worn and aged with privations that his years unfitted him to bear. He, at any rate, could have claimed, and no one could have challenged him, that he had done his share. There were political tasks awaiting him at home in which his genial presence, his great personal popularity, and his moving powers of speech would have been useful. He elected instead to face death on the battle-field, and he did it. I think I know why he did it—in fact he said so. There was no man who was more convinced of the justice of the Allied cause. There was no man who was moved to deeper indignation at the wrongs of the small nations which have been trampled by a cruel despotism. But he was above all an Irish patriot, and he felt that this was Ireland’s greatest opportunity of winning liberty for herself by fighting side by side with Britain in the great world-struggle for freedom. It is for Ireland that he gave his gallant life.

We all remember his last appeal to us here, and I think that now this Convention is being launched on its career, I cannot do better than read his words: Why must it be that, when British soldiers and Irish soldiers are suffering and dying side by side, this eternal old quarrel should go on?…In the name of God, we here, who are about to die, perhaps, ask you to do that which largely induced us to leave our homes: to do that which our fathers and mothers taught us to long for; to do that which is all we desire—make our country happy and contented, and enable us when we meet Canadians, Australians or New Zealanders side by side, to say ‘Our country, just as yours, has self-government within the Empire.'”—[OFFICIALREPORT, 6th March, 1917, cols. 442 and 445, Vol. XCI.] He was carried tenderly and reverently from the battlefield by Ulster soldiers on an Ulster ambulance. The solemn appeal which I have read comes to us now from an honoured grave on the frontier of the land he gave his life to liberate.

Mr. ASQUITH I desire to associate myself, and I think I may say the whole House, with the tribute which my right hon. Friend has paid to Major Redmond. He had already been three years a Member of this House when I first took my seat here thirty-one years ago, and for more than the lifetime of a generation his service in Parliament had been unbroken. I have many delightful recollections of the days when as young Members of Parliament he and I used to find ourselves side by side on English and Scottish platforms pleading for Irish self-government. Few men that I have known who have lived well on into middle life remained from first to last so entirely unchanged in temperament, in character, in ideals. He never swerved by a hair’s-breadth from the mission to which he had devoted himself from his earliest youth. He was a convinced and an ardent Nationalist, but he had a certain genius of imagination and of sympathy which enabled him always to understand the scruples and difficulties of honest opponents, whether in Ireland or in Great Britain.

His passionate love of liberty—for such it was—was not limited in its range to his own country or his own race, and when he perceived—as he did, and as my right hon. Friend has reminded us—at the very beginning of the War, with quick and penetrating insight, that the principles in which he believed were being translated into universal terms and put in issue on a world-wide theatre, he threw himself heart and soul, with all the energy and contagious enthusiasm of his nature, into the struggle. We have never had in our ranks a more brave or more devoted comrade, and we here who were for so long his colleagues, I think, have a special title, now that he has died a hero’s death, to a share of our own in the pride and gratitude and mourning of the Empire. The incorporation of all Ireland in that Empire, not formally, but by ties and chains of confidence, of real affection, and of lasting loyalty, will be the best and most enduring tribute and monument that we can raise to his memory.

Mr. DEVLIN I desire, on behalf of all my colleagues, to express the profound gratitude which we feel to the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend who has just sat down for the touching and eloquent references which they have made to the death of our beloved colleague, Major Redmond. If the splendid and noble death of our brave and gallant comrade has called forth such eulogies from the English Benches on both sides of the House, Members will understand how deep and heartfelt must be the grief of his bereaved colleagues who sit around us. It would be impossible for me, as one of his closest personal friends, to do justice at this moment to his ‘memory, but I do feel that one of the bravest and noblest hearts in Ireland has ceased to beat. He was loved by his colleagues for his personal loyalty—his boundless, personal loyalty. He was loved for his good faith, for his noble chivalry, for the intensity of his purpose, for his sublime courage, and, above all, for his high sense of public duty.

For over thirty years in this House, and in Ireland, he laboured with unceasing zeal, and he fought with sublime courage for what he conceived to be the liberty of his nation and his people. He fought for their liberty in Parliament; for it he suffered in prison; for liberty he fought in France; but he always fought for those high ideals which had been the animating and inspiring purpose of his life, and finally he went out to fight for the freedom of the world, and he fought for the freedom of the world that his own nation might share that universal emancipation, and his death was his last contribution to the cause of human liberty. His memory to us on these benches will ever be a deep and precious asset, and all Irishmen will say of him: That he is freedom’s now and fame’s, One of the few immortal names that were not born to die.

I should be glad, after offering that personal tribute and expressing that feeling on behalf of my colleague, that I might be allowed to resume my seat. But I trust that the House will not think it bad taste on my part if I just make one passing reference to the preliminary observations which were made by the Prime Minister when he was announcing the character of the constitution of the Convention. This House at this moment is deeply moved, and we are suffering from the shadow of a great sorrow, and in that melting mood may I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to make an immediate announcement to the House of Commons, as a preliminary to the Convention which we all hope in the providence of God will bring peace and liberty and union to Ireland, that the right hon. Gentleman will now boldly and frankly announce that the Sinn Fein prisoners will be released? If he desires the Convention to be a success—and I profoundly believe he does, and that that is one of the great purposes of his life—surely no end can be served by holding these men in prison and embittering still further that ill-feeling that exists in many parts of Ireland. I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman in the interests of Ireland, in the interests of the Empire, in the interests of the success of the Convention, and in response to the generous and sympathetic instincts of all liberty-loving people in every part of the world, will declare that these men shall be released.

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Sir E. Carson) Perhaps the House will allow me to add my small contribution of tribute to the memory of my much lamented, esteemed and lifelong opponent, Major Redmond. I have known him for more years than I can calculate—from the day he was called to the Irish Bar. I have disagreed with him on every subject in politics which has ever arisen in this House and elsewhere, and we were always on opposite sides; but I feel glad to think that I never had in the course of those long and many years one bitter word with him either in public or in private life. I always respected him. I always knew his sincerity, and there was no man, however he might disagree with him, who could not but believe in the earnestness with which he prosecuted the cause in which he believed.

I have just come back from Belfast, where I had to preside at a conference of five hundred delegates from Ulster, and where I advised them strongly to enter this Convention. And I am glad to say that they took my advice. You cannot in your own mind disconnect an incident such as the calling of this Convention, after many years of bitter domestic strife, with the incidents which are taking place, and of which the death of Major Redmond is one. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has stated that he fell fighting beside the Ulstermen, and that he was taken away and cared for in an Ulster ambulance by Ulstermen. I cannot help recalling the fact that the first Member of this House who made the supreme sacrifice was an Ulsterman. Let us put these facts together. It is not necessary to dwell upon them. They are eloquent.

And after all, if in the trenches we can fight side by side all for the common cause of liberty, certainly so far as I am concerned, and as I said in Belfast on Friday, I trust that I shall in my time see some solution of that long-continued Irish question that would meet the ideal of liberty of all parties in Ireland. In the grave crisis which confronts us, in the loss of Members of this House to whom we looked across from day to day, there is indeed a great deal of food for reflection. We cannot but think of what shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue.

Mr. WARDLE I feel that if I were to remain silent some misunderstanding might arise as to the position of myself and the party to which I belong, and though I do not desire to intervene in this Debate at any great length, I feel that I must say one or two words upon this occasion. I cannot boast of the long, acquaintance with Major Redmond which has been referred to by the Prime Minister, the late Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, but I have now been in the House for eleven years. I have come into close and personal contact with the late Major Redmond, and I should like to add my tribute to the personal qualities, which he always displayed, to his geniality, his lovability, his courage, and his passionate desire to see the settlement of that long trouble in his own country, and I should like on behalf of the party to which I belong to say that we deplore his loss as greatly and as sincerely as any other party in this House, and we desire to associate ourselves fully to the greatest extent to the tributes which are laid upon his honoured grave. I remember his appeal in this House on the last occasion when he addressed it. He has paid the price of liberty, and I hope that the appeal which he then made and which is still fresh in the minds of Members will result, as the last speech to which we have listened gives us some ground for hoping it may result, in the complete settlement of a difficulty which has baffled us for generations, but which, were it settled, would make the British Empire in my opinion the most complete exponent of liberty that the world has ever seen.

Mr. GINNELL I desire to say a few words. The gallant Gentleman, whose loss the whole House without exception deplores, has laid down his life according to his own judgment for a cause which his country has never adopted, and which it never will adopt. He died not far away indeed from the field of Landen, on which Marshal Patrick Sarsfield shed his blood, and Sarsfield, on putting his hand to his breast and finding that his life blood was flowing regretted with his dying breath that that blood had not flowed for Ireland. Unfortunately, precisely the same thing occurred on the present occasion. [HON. MEMBERS: “NO. NO!”] Men sacrificed their lives for Ireland, while men, who risked their lives for Ireland, after having laid down their arms, have been prisoners of war in your hands—that is, those who entered through accident were either led to execution or are to-day in chains, while this House professes to desire the fruition of the cause for which they are enchained. Will the death of a Member of this House facilitate the day when that relation between the two countries will have ceased to exist? I say it will not. The Prime Minister professes to summon what he calls an Irish Convention, an assembly of one hundred, most of them being persons who could not get themselves elected by any body of the people in Ireland to-day.

Mr. RONALD McNEILL On a point of Order, Sir. I would like to ask what is the Question before the House?

Mr. SPEAKER There is no Question before the House. I understood the hon. Member was going to pay a tribute to the memory of the late Major Redmond.

Mr. GINNELL I have precisely the same purpose for which the Prime Minister and the speakers who followed him rose—to deal with the Convention.

Mr. SPEAKER The hon. Member will be out of order if he deals with the Convention.

Mr. GINNELL On the point of Order, Sir, have not other hon. Members been allowed to deal with the Convention?

Mr. SPEAKER There is no question before the House. There have been passing references by one or two speakers to that subject, but it would be quite out of order to discuss it.