No one can overstate the effect of this episode. Redmond’s personal ascendancy in the Convention had become very great. I am certain there was not a man there but would have said, “If there is to be an Irish Parliament, Redmond must be Prime Minister, and his personality will give that Parliament its best possible chance.” The Ulstermen had more than once expressed their view that if Home Rule were sure to mean Redmond’s rule, their objections to it would be materially lessened. Now, they saw Redmond thrown over, and by a combination in which the clerical influence, so much distrusted by them, was paramount.
A new stage in the history of the Convention now opens. In the interval between the meeting which began by Redmond’s withdrawal of his amendment and that of the following week, Sir Horace Plunkett went to London and laid the situation before the Prime Minister. Redmond had also written to Mr. Lloyd George stating that no progress could be made unless Government would declare its intentions as to legislation. The Chairman came back with the following letter in his pocket:
10 DOWNING STREET,
WHITEHALL, S.W. 1,
January 21, 1918.
DEAR SIR HORACE PLUNKETT,
In our conversation on Saturday you told me that the situation in the Convention has now reached a very critical stage. The issues are so grave that I feel the Convention should not come to a definite break without the Government having an opportunity of full consultation with the leaders of the different sections. If, and when, therefore, a point is reached at which the Convention finds that it can make no further progress towards an agreed settlement, I would ask that representatives should be sent to confer with the Cabinet. The Government are agreed and determined that a solution must be found. But they are firmly convinced that the best hope of a settlement lies within the Convention, and they are prepared to do anything in their power to assist the Convention finally to reach a basis of agreement which would enable a new Irish Constitution to come into operation with the consent of all parties.
D. LLOYD GEORGE.
Before acting on this, Sir Horace Plunkett allowed the debate to continue during two days. Since no movement towards agreement manifested itself, but only evidence of widespread and various divergence, he laid the Prime Minister’s invitation before the Convention. There was considerable difference of opinion before a decision was reached for acceptance. Groups separated to select their representatives on the delegation.
It was agreed in private conference that only one view should be presented from the Nationalist side, and that the view of what was at this point clearly the majority. Redmond, in agreeing to act as a delegate, agreed to set aside his own judgment and to press the claim for full fiscal responsibility—which, like other Nationalists, he regarded as in the abstract Ireland’s right. But illness prevented him from attending when at last the delegates were received by the Prime Minister on February 13th.