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 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.’
[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.]