The effect of the Coalition as formed was seen when recruiting in Ireland dropped from 6,000 in April-May to 3,000 in May-June. It stayed at the lower figure for several months, till it was raised again by efforts for which Redmond was chiefly responsible. I do not know whether Sir Edward Carson’s presence in the Attorney-General’s office, or his absence from the Opposition benches in debates, was worth ten thousand men; but that is a small measure of what was lost in Ireland by his inclusion.
The formation of the Coalition Government marks the first stage in the history of Redmond’s defeat and the victory of Sir Edward Carson and Sinn Fein.
Of what he felt upon this matter, Redmond at the time said not a word in public. Six months later, on November 2, 1915, when a debate on the naval and military situation was opened, he broke silence—and his first words were an explanation of his silence. He had not intervened, he said, in any debate on the war since its inception. “We thought a loyal and as far as possible silent support to the Government of the day was the best service we could render.” This silence had been maintained “even after the formation of the Coalition”—when the Irish view had been roughly set aside, and when the personal tie to the Liberal Government with which he had been so long allied had been profoundly modified. He claimed the credit of this loyalty not merely for himself but for the whole of his country. “Since the war commenced the voice of party controversy has disappeared in Ireland.”
This was pushing generosity almost to a stretch of imagination, for the voice of party controversy had not been absent from the Belfast Press, nor had it spared him. But he was speaking then, and he desired that the House should feel that he spoke, as Ireland’s spokesman; he claimed credit for North and South alike in the absence of all labour troubles in war supply. “The spectacle of industrial unrest in Great Britain, the determined and unceasing attacks in certain sections of the Press upon individual members of the Government and in a special way upon the Prime Minister, have aroused the greatest concern and the deepest indignation in Ireland,” he said. “Mr. Asquith stands to-day, as before the war, high in the confidence of the Irish people.” The “persistent pessimism” had effected nothing except to help in some measure “that little fringe which exists in Ireland as in England, of men who would if they could interfere with the success of recruiting.”
No doubt there was an element of policy, of a fencer’s skill, in all this. Sir Edward Carson had not maintained silence and certainly had not spared the Prime Minister. But in essence Redmond was relying on the plain truth. He had pledged support and he gave it to the utmost of his power, even at his peril. Mr. Birrell in the posthumous “Appreciation” which has been already quoted has this passage: