Dissatisfaction with the financial clauses of the Bill was expressed at once by the General Council of County Councils in Ireland, a purely Nationalist body; but on the 23rd of April a Nationalist Convention in Dublin, under the influence of Mr. Redmond’s oratory, accepted the whole of the Government’s proposals with enthusiasm. The first and second readings of the Bill were duly carried by the normal Government majority of about a hundred Liberal, Labour, and Irish Nationalist votes, and the committee stage opened on the 11th of June. On that day an amendment was down for debate which required the most careful consideration by the representatives of Ulster, since their attitude now might have an important bearing on their future policy, and a false step at this stage might easily prove embarrassing later on. The author of this amendment was Mr. Agar-Robartes, a Cornish Liberal Member, whose proposal was to exclude the four counties of Antrim, Derry, Down, and Armagh from the jurisdiction of the proposed Irish Parliament, a gratifying proof that Craigavon and Balmoral were bearing fruit.
A conference of Ulster Members and Peers, and some English Members closely identified with Irish affairs, of whom Mr. Walter Long was one, met at Londonderry House before the sitting of the House on the 11th of June to decide what course to take on this proposal.
It was not surprising to find that there were sharp differences of opinion among those present, for there were obvious objections to supporting the amendment and equally obvious objections to voting against it. The opposition of Ulster for more than a quarter of a century had been directed against Home Rule for any part of Ireland and in any shape or form. No suggestion had ever been made by any of her spokesmen that the Protestant North, or any part of it, should be dealt with separately from the rest of the island, although Carson and others had pointed out that all the arguments in support of Home Rule were equally valid for treating Ulster as a unit. There were both economic and administrative difficulties in such a scheme which were sufficiently obvious, though by no means insuperable; but what weighed far more heavily in the minds of the Ulster members was the anticipation that their acceptance of the proposal would probably be represented by enemies as a desertion of all the Irish Loyalists outside the four counties named in the amendment, with whom there was in every part of Ulster the most powerful sentiment of solidarity. The idea of taking any action apart from these friends and associates, and of adopting a policy that might seem to imply the abandonment of their opposition to the main principle of the Bill, was one that could not be entertained except under the most compelling necessity.