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Irish divisions laid bare in Convention report
'Hopeful of their task' - the Irish Convention at the first sitting outside Dublin, in Belfast. Sir Horace Plunkett is the chair. Photo: Illustrated London News [London, England] 15 September 1917

Irish divisions laid bare in Convention report

Dublin, 13 April 1918 - The report has now been published of the Irish Convention, which concluded its business at Trinity College last week.

It recommends that an Irish scheme of self-government be immediately brought into being.

However, less than half the Convention – 44 members out of 89 – supported this recommendation, while a minority report signed by 22 nationalists (among them 3 bishops, Joseph Devlin, William Martin Murphy and the Lord Mayors of Cork and Dublin) asks for full Dominion Home Rule, with full powers over taxation. The number who voted for self-government of one form or another was 66.

According to the chairman of the Convention, Sir Horace Plunkett, the principal bones of contention related to Ulster and customs. Interestingly, the Convention also voted by 54 to 17 that conscription could not be applied to Ireland without the consent and cooperation of an Irish parliament.

The report of the Irish Convention. Click image to view report as a PDF courtesy of the Internet Archive

The recommendations of the main report provide, firstly, for the creation of an ‘Irish Parliament for an undivided Ireland’, with a Senate to comprise 64 members and a Commons of 160 members. Unionists are to be guaranteed 40% of Commons membership, while Ireland was to retain 42 representatives at Westminster. Secondly, the report recommended that ‘consideration of Irish control of Customs and Excise...be postponed till after the war, and decided by the UK Parliament’; and thirdly, that the Irish parliament was to have no power affecting the Crown, peace and war, the armed forces, treaties, coinage etc.’

However, in its conclusions, the Irish Convention exposes the very constitutional fault-lines that had given rise to its establishment in the first place. Ulster unionists in their own report, protested the ‘implication in the main report that a measure of agreement regarding Irish self-government had been attained’ and they contested the idea that compulsory service could not be imposed on Ireland unless it had the consent of the Irish parliament.

‘Perhaps’, Sir Horace Plunkett observed in a letter to the Prime Minister, ‘unanimity was too much to expect. Be that as it may, neither time nor effort was spared in striving for that goal, and there were moments when its attainment seemed possible. There was, however, a portion of Ulster where a majority claimed that if Ireland had the right to separate herself from the rest of the United Kingdom, they had the same right to separation from the rest of Ireland.’

Sir Horace Plunkett's diary entry for 5 April 1918 reads: 'The final sitting & the Convention was at its worst. The Ulstermen may be neglected, they were bound to act stupidly. But the fight between the Bishops with the extreme Nationalists & the Moderate Nationalists which led to the former voting (even against the adoption of the Narrative Report) together was confusing and humiliating...In the afteroon minority reports and notes began to come in. The Bishop of Rahpoe & his friends put in a document obviously written by Childers of great ability and moderation. I was dead tired and very near a breakdown.' Click to enlarge. (Image: National Library of Ireland, MS 42,222/38)

[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.