It was clear, too, that a Home Rule Bill would provoke a direct conflict with the House of Lords and would raise that great struggle on not the most favourable issue. Statesmen like Sir Edward Grey and Mr. Asquith probably believed that a partial measure, an instalment of self-government, to which some influential sections of the Tory party would not be unfriendly, might have strong hopes of passing into law.
So it came to pass that in the election of 1906 the Liberal Party came into power with a majority of unexampled magnitude, but with a Government pledged, negatively, not to introduce a Home Rule Bill in that Parliament, but, positively, to attempt an Irish settlement by the policy of instalments.
In all this lay the seeds of trouble for the Irish leader. Liberals have never understood that Ireland will not take from them what it would take from the Tories. It will accept, as a palliative, from the party opposed to Home Rule what it will not accept from those who have admitted the justice of the national demand.
“For myself,” said Redmond in his speech to the Irish Convention in May 1907, “I have always expressed in public and in private my opinion that no half-way house on this question is possible; but at the same time I am, or at any rate I try to be, a practical politician. In the lodgment this idea of instalments had got in the minds of English statesmen I recognized the fact—and after all in politics the first essential is to recognize facts—I recognized the fact that in this Parliament we were not going to get a pure Home Rule Bill offered, and I consented, and I was absolutely right in consenting, that whatever scheme short of that was put forward would be considered calmly on its merits.”
This meant that during the whole of the year 1906 and a part of 1907 the proposal of the new Irish Bill was under discussion with the Irish leaders. The course of these deliberations was undoubtedly a disappointment. Mr. Bryce was replaced by Mr. Birrell as Chief Secretary, but the scheme still fell short of what Redmond had hoped to attain. Unfortunately, and it was a characteristic error, his sanguine temperament had led him to encourage in Ireland hopes as high as his own. The production of the Irish Council Bill and its reception in Ireland was the first real shock to his power.
Mr. Birrell in introducing the measure spoke with his eye on the Tories and the House of Lords. He represented it as only the most trifling concession; he emphasized not the powers which it conveyed but the limitations to them. Redmond in following him was in a difficult position. He stressed the point that to accept a scheme which by reason of its partial nature would break down in its working would be ruinous, because failure would be attributed to natural incapacity in the Irish people. Acceptance, therefore, he said, could not be unconditional and undoubtedly to his mind it was conditioned by his hope of securing certain important amendments, which he outlined. None the less, the tone of his speech was one of acceptance, and he concluded: