In another respect, too, the Convention had an indirect influence on the position in Ulster. When it appeared likely, in January 1918, that a deadlock would be reached in the Convention, the Prime Minister himself intervened. A letter to the Chairman was drafted and discussed in the Cabinet; but the policy which appeared to commend itself to his colleagues was one that Sir Edward Carson was unable to support, and he accordingly resigned office on the 21st, and was accompanied into retirement by Colonel Craig, the other Ulster member of the Ministry. Sir John Lonsdale, who for many years had been the very efficient Honorary Secretary and “Whip” of the Ulster Parliamentary Party, and its leader while Carson was in office, had been raised to the peerage at the New Year, with the title of Lord Armaghdale, so that the Ulster leadership was vacant for Carson to resume when he left the Government, and he was formally re-elected to the position on the 28th of January. It was fortunate for Ulster that the old helmsman was again free to take his place at the wheel, for there was still some rough weather ahead.
The official Report of the Convention which was issued on the 10th of April was one of the most extraordinary documents ever published in a Government Blue Book. It consisted for the most part of a confused bundle of separate Notes and Reports by a number of different groups and individuals, and numerous appendices comprising a mass of miscellaneous memoranda bristling with cross-references. The Chairman was restricted to providing a bald narrative of the proceedings without any of the usual critical estimate of the general results attained; but he made up for this by setting forth his personal opinions in a letter to the Prime Minister, which, without the sanction of the Convention, he prefixed to the Report. As it was no easy matter to gain any clear idea from the Report as to what the Convention had done, its proceedings while in session having been screened from publicity by drastic censorship of the Press, many people contented themselves with reading Sir Horace Plunkett’s unauthorised letter to Mr. Lloyd George; and, as it was in some important respects gravely misleading, it is not surprising that the truth in regard to the Convention was never properly understood, and the Ulster Unionist Council had solid justification for its resolution censuring the Chairman’s conduct as “unprecedented and unconstitutional.”
In this personal letter, as was to be expected of a partisan of the Nationalists, Sir Horace Plunkett laid stress on the fact that Lord Midleton had “accepted self-government for Ireland “—by which was meant, of course, not self-government such as Ireland always enjoyed through her representation, and indeed over-representation, in the Imperial Parliament, but through separate institutions. But if it had not been for this support of separate institutions by the Southern Unionists there would not have been even a colourable pretext for the assertion of Sir Horace Plunkett that “a larger measure of agreement has been reached upon the principles and details of Irish self-government than has ever yet been attained.” The really surprising thing was how little agreement was displayed even among the Nationalists themselves, who on several important issues were nearly equally divided.