But in our talk that day, when we discussed the possibility of our having some special influence, he said this: “Don’t imagine that what you and I have done is going to make us popular with our people. On the contrary, we shall both be sent to the right about at the first General Election.” I think he was wrong, at least to this extent, that any man who served would not have lessened his chance by doing so. When the tide flowed strongest against us, in three provinces one Nationalist only kept his seat—John Redmond’s son, Major William Archer Redmond.
Already the tide had begun to turn in Ireland. On May 11th Mr. Dillon—who had been in Dublin during the rebellion—moved the adjournment of the House to demand that Government should state whether they intended to have more executions upon the finding of secret tribunals, and to continue the searches and wholesale arrests which were going on through the country. The list of executions had now reached fourteen, and no word of evidence had been published. Also the Prime Minister stated that he heard for the first time of the shooting of Mr. Sheehy-Skeffington and others by Captain Bowen Colthurst. Unquestionably, discussion was urgently needed, and Mr. Dillon was fully justified in emphasizing the mischief done in Ireland by alienating men’s minds. But Mr. Dillon spoke as one who felt to the uttermost the passion of resentment which he depicted, and in his indignation against charges which had been brought against the insurgents, he was led to praise their conduct almost to the disparagement of soldiers in the field. Even in print the speech seethes with growing passion; and its delivery, I am told, accentuated its bitterness and its anti-English tone.
It would be futile to deny that this utterance had a great effect in Ireland and in England, or to conceal Redmond’s view that the effect was most lamentable. But it had one notable result. Mr. Asquith, in replying, announced his intention to visit Ireland and look into the situation for himself. Within a fortnight—on May 25th—he reported to the House his impressions.
“The first was the breakdown of the existing machinery of the Irish Government; and the next was the strength and depth, and I might almost say, I think without exaggeration, the universality of the feeling in Ireland that we have now a unique opportunity for a new departure for the settlement of outstanding problems, and for a joint and combined effort to obtain agreement as to the way in which the Government of Ireland is for the future to be carried on.”