Those, however, who had not the same ground for exasperation as Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Churchill thought Lord Loreburn’s letter very sound sense. He pointed out that if the Bill were to become law in 1914, as it stood in September 1913, there would be, if not civil war, at any rate very serious rioting in the North of Ireland, and when the riots had been quelled by the Government the spirit that prompted them would remain. Everybody concerned would suffer from fighting it out to a finish. The Ex-Chancellor felt bound to assume that “up to the last, Ministers, who assuredly have not taken leave of their senses, would be willing to consider proposals for accommodation,” and he therefore suggested that a Conference should be held behind closed doors with a view to a settlement by consent. If Lord Loreburn had perceived at the time the draft Bill was before the Cabinet that it was not the Ministers who proposed separate treatment for Ulster who had “taken leave of their senses,” but those, including himself, who had resisted that proposal, his wisdom would have been more timely; but it was better late than never, and his unexpected intervention had a decided influence on opinion in the country.
The comment of The Times was very much to the point:
“On the eve of a great political crisis, it may be of national disaster, a distinguished Liberal statesman makes public confession of his belief that, as a permanent solution, the Irish policy of the Government is indefensible.”
This letter of the ex-Lord Chancellor gave rise to prolonged discussion in the Press and on the platform. At Durham, on the 13th of September, Carson declared that he would welcome a Conference if the question was how to provide a genuine expansion of self-government, but that, if Ulster was to be not only expelled from the Union but placed under a Parliament in Dublin, then “they were going to make Home Rule impossible by steady and persistent opposition.” The Government seemed unable to agree whether a conciliatory or a defiant attitude was their wiser policy, though