As soon as this communication reached the War Office orders were sent that the arms and ammunition at Omagh and Armagh, for the safety of which from evil-disposed persons Seely had been so apprehensive, were not to be removed, although they had already been packed for transport. This order was sent on the 18th of March, and on the same day Sir Arthur Paget arrived in London from Ireland and had a consultation with the Ulster sub-committee of the Cabinet, and with Sir John French and other members of the Army Council at the War Office.
News of this meeting reached the ears of Sir Edward Carson, who was also aware that a false report was being spread of attempts by Unionists to influence the Army, and in his speech on the vote of censure on the 19th he said: “I have never suggested that the Army should not be sent to Ulster. I have never suggested that it should not do its duty when sent there. I hope and expect it will.” At the same time reports were circulating in Dublin—did they come from Downing Street?—that the Government were preparing to take strong measures against the Ulster Unionist Council, and to arrest the leaders. In allusion to these reports the Dublin Correspondent of The Times telegraphed on the 18th of March: “Any man or Government that increases the danger by blundering or hasty action will accept a terrible responsibility.”
What passed at the interviews which Sir Arthur Paget had with Ministers on the 18th and 19th has never been disclosed. But it is clear, from the events which followed, either that an entirely new plan on a much larger scale was now inaugurated, or that a development now took place which Churchill and Seely, and perhaps other Ministers also, had contemplated from the beginning and had concealed behind the pretended insignificance of precautions to guard depots. It is noteworthy, at all events, that the measures contemplated happened to be the stationing of troops in considerable strength in important strategical positions round Ulster, simultaneously with the despatch of a powerful fleet to within a few hours of Belfast.
The orders issued by the War Office, at any rate, indicated something on a far bigger scale than the original pretext could justify. Paget’s fear of precipitating a crisis was brushed aside, and General Friend, who was acting for him in Dublin during his absence, was instructed by telegram to send to the four Ulster towns more than double the number of men that Paget had deemed would be sufficient to protect the Government stores. But still more significant was another order given to Friend on the 18th. The Dorset Regiment, quartered in the Victoria Barracks in Belfast, were to be moved four miles out to Holywood, taking with them their stores and ammunition, amounting to some thirty tons; and such was the anxiety of the Government to get the troops out of the city that they were told to leave their rifles behind, if necessary, after rendering them useless by removing