It happened that on the very day when the Report of the Convention was laid on the table of the House of Commons, the Prime Minister made a statement of profound gravity, beginning with words such as the British Parliament can never before have been compelled to hear from the lips of the head of the Government. For the moment, said Mr. Lloyd George, there was a lull in the storm; but more attacks were to come, and—
The “fate of the
Empire, the fate of Europe, and the fate of
liberty throughout the world may depend on the success with which
the very last of these attacks is resisted and countered.”
Mr. Asquith struck the same note, urging the House—
“With all the earnestness and with all the solemnity of which I am capable, to realise that never before in the experience of any man within these walls, or of his fathers and his forefathers, has this country and all the great traditions and ideals which are embodied in our history—never has this, the most splendid inheritance ever bequeathed to a people, been in greater peril, or in more need of united safeguarding than at this present time.”
Not Demosthenes himself, in his most impassioned appeal to the Athenians, more fitly matched moving words to urgent occasion than these two statesmen in the simple, restrained sentences, in which they warned the Commons of the peril hanging over England.
But was eloquent persuasion really required at such a moment to still the voice of faction in the British House of Commons? Let those who would assume the negative study the official Parliamentary Report of the debate on the 9th of April, 1918. They will find a record which no loyal Irishman will ever be able to read without a tingling sense of shame. The whole body of members, with one exception, listened to the Prime Minister’s grave words in silence touched with awe, feeling that perhaps they were sitting there on the eve of the greatest tragedy in their country’s history. The single exception was the Nationalist Party. From those same benches whence arose nineteen years back the never-forgotten cheers that greeted the tale of British disaster in South Africa, now came a shower of snarling interruptions that broke persistently into the Prime Minister’s speech, and with angry menace impeded his unfolding of the Government’s proposals for meeting the supreme ordeal of the war.
What was the reason? It was because Ireland, the greater part of which had till now successfully shirked its share of privation and sacrifice, was at last to be asked to take up its corner of the burden. The need for men to replace casualties at the front was pressing, urgent, imperative. Many indeed blamed the Government for having delayed too long in filling the depleted ranks of our splendid armies in France; the moment had come when another day’s delay would have been criminal. As Mr. Lloyd George pointed out, the battle that was being waged