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Conscription is coming to Ireland
'Conscription': an illustration by Henry Glintencamp showing 'Youth', 'Labour' and 'Democracy' sacrificed to the war effort. Appeared in the American socialist anti-war magazine 'The Masses' in August 1917 Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Conscription is coming to Ireland

Accusations of despotism greet announcement

Westminster, 10 April 1918 - Conscription is coming to Ireland.

In a speech delivered to the House of Commons yesterday, the Prime Minister Lloyd George put an end to weeks of speculation on the subject. Conscription was introduced in Britain at the beginning of 1916, but Ireland was excluded after extensive lobbying by John Redmond and his Irish Party colleagues.

The so-called ‘Man-Power’ proposals include:
(1) Raising the military age to 50 – and to 55 in certain specified cases.
(2) Shortening of the period of call-up from 14 to 7 days.
(3) Inclusion of clergymen for non-combat services.
(4) Extension of the act to Ireland under the same conditions as in Great Britain.

In the course of his speech, the Prime Minister stated that it was no longer possible to justify Ireland’s exclusion. This change of policy comes down to numbers. The government urgently needs more men to help combat German advances on the western front.

The speech has inflamed nationalist opinion. Mr Lloyd George was interrupted several times by Irish Party MPs and was denounced by Mr William O’Brien.

In riposte, the Prime Minister referred to previous speeches in the Commons by the former and current leaders of the Irish Party. He said:

‘Ireland, through its representatives, assented to the war, voted for the war, supported the war. The Irish representatives, and Ireland, through its representatives, without a dissentient voice, committed the Empire to this war. They are fully as responsible for it as any part of the United Kingdom.’

Lloyd George continued by refuting the claims that the war was an English one and not Irish. This was, he said, ‘absolutely and definitely untrue’. ‘Ireland's highest national interests are at stake. The fact that America is in this war is the best proof of that. There are more Irishmen in the United States of America than there are in Ireland. They are all subject to conscription.’

The late Prof. Keith Jeffery, QUB, considers the causes and consequences of British efforts to introduce Conscription to Ireland in 1918.

Press reaction
The Irish Independent has editorialised that the Prime Minister has ‘committed himself to a policy of despotism, naked and unashamed'.

The Belfast Newsletter, on the other hand, defends the decision on the grounds that the arguments for treating Ireland in the same way as England and Scotland in such matters as national defence are ‘unanswerable’. The newspaper, echoing wider unionist sentiment, has questioned the reintroduction of the Home Rule issue, which the Prime Minister stated would be revisited on the back on the workings of the Convention. This is despite the fact that Lloyd George remarked that the questions of conscription and self-government for Ireland ‘will not hang together’ and that ‘each must be taken on its merits’.

In a letter to the Freeman’s Journal, writer Arthur Conan Doyle wrote from his Sussex home that while Britain was ‘sending her last man and her last pound to hold the murderer off from his victim’, Ireland was to be found ‘fat as butter, wrangling over her parish pump’. 

Conan Doyle asked as to the whereabout of Ireland’s sense of ‘decency and dignity’ and remarked that her ‘petty grievances’ were nothing against the ‘terrific world questions with which we are confronted’.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.