Home Rule conference proposal rejected
Lord Loreburn's call for a conference has met with opposition from both nationalist and unionist leaders Photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London

Home Rule conference proposal rejected

Published: 13 September 1913

An appeal for the leaders of all political parties to hold a conference to attempt to settle the gathering dispute over the introduction of Home Rule for Ireland has been rejected by nationalists and unionists.

Lord Loreburn, the leading Liberal politician who served as Lord Chancellor between 1905 and 1912 made a public appeal to all sides in which he asked: ‘Is there... really nothing that can be done except to watch the play of irreconcilable forces in a spirit of indolent resignation?’ The only prospect he saw for a resolution of the fractious dispute was a conference at which all sides would be represented: ‘Even if there was little chance of arriving at a settlement by consent... still I should submit that the attempt ought to be made, rather than that we should drift into a lasting antagonism for want of an honest effort.’

He continued that there were things ‘which lead me to believe that if men in authority upon different sides were to meet with a real desire to settle the formidable question which is now so prominent, they would be able to succeed.’

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (left): 'All moderate and reasonable men must desire such a conference.' (Image: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA)
Captain James Craig MP: 'The very suggestion is repugnant to one's sense of decency.' (Image: Illustrated London News [London, England], 10 February 1912)

Lord Loreburn’s hopes were dashed almost immediately. Leading unionist, Captain James Craig MP, said in an interview with The Belfast Evening Telegraph: ‘The suggestion of a conference is simply another desperate expedient put forward to delay the fatal hour or to inveigle unionists into a false position.‘ He continued: ‘There are things upon which men of sense and honour may no more compromise than they would concerning the honour of their women folk. The very suggestion is repugnant to one’s sense of decency. Even if there could be found one man in any responsible position, which there could not, who would be prepared to confer with a view to compromise, he would stand absolutely alone and he would be repudiated by the people.’

Nationalist leaders were equally assertive of their position. William Redmond MP said: ‘I see no use in a conference unless the Unionists accept the principle of Home Rule and an Irish Parliament. I would approve a conference on details if Home Rule is accepted as a basis of the meeting. The Home Rule Bill must go through.’

Lord Loreburn’s suggested conference did receive support from other quarters, however. The novelist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote: ‘All moderate and reasonable men must desire such a conference.’

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