ON the 25th of November, 1918, the Parliament elected in December 1910 was at last dissolved, a few days after the Armistice with Germany. The new House of Commons was very different from the old. Seventy-two Sinn Fein members were returned from Ireland, sweeping away all but half a dozen of the old Nationalist party; but, in accordance with their fixed policy, the Sinn Fein members never presented themselves at Westminster to take the oath and their seats. That quarter of the House of Commons which for thirty years had been packed with the most fierce and disciplined of the political parties was therefore now given over to mild supporters of the Coalition Government, the only remnant of so-called “constitutional Nationalism” being Mr. T.P. O’Connor, Mr. Devlin, Captain Redmond, and two or three less prominent companions, who survived like monuments of a bygone age.
Ulster Unionists, on the other hand, were greatly strengthened by the recent Redistribution Act. Sir Edward Carson was elected member for the great working-class constituency of the Duncairn Division of Belfast, instead of for Dublin University, which he had so long represented, and twenty-two ardent supporters accompanied him from Ulster to Westminster. In the reconstruction of the Government which followed the election, Carson was pressed to return to office, but declined. Colonel James Craig, whose war services in connection with the Ulster Division were rewarded by a baronetcy, became Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions, and the Marquis of Londonderry accepted office as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Air Ministry.
Although the termination of hostilities by the Armistice was not in the legal sense the “end of the war,” it brought it within sight. No one in January 1919 dreamt that the process of making peace and ratifying the necessary treaties would drag on for a seemingly interminable length of time, and it was realised, with grave misgiving in Ulster, that the Home Rule Act of 1914 would necessarily come into force as soon as peace was finally declared, while as yet nothing had been done to redeem the promise of an Amending Bill given by Mr. Asquith, and reiterated by Mr. Lloyd George. The compact between the latter and the Unionist Party, on which the Coalition had swept the country, had made it clear that fresh Irish legislation was to be expected, and the general lines on which it would be based were laid down; but there was also an intimation that a settlement must wait till the condition of Ireland should warrant it.
The state of Ireland was certainly not such as to make it appear probable that any sane Government would take the risk of handing over control of the country immediately to the Sinn Feiners, whom the recent elections had proved to be in an overwhelming majority in the three southern provinces. By the law, not of England alone, but of every civilised State, that party was tainted through and through with high treason.