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Chief Secretary Birrell blamed for Insurrection in Dublin
Augustine Birrell, Liberal MP and Chief Secretary for Ireland, faces heavy criticism for failing to act upon Castle intelligence pertaining to the rebels' activity in the weeks and months before the insurrection in Dublin. Photo: ©National Portrait Gallery London

Chief Secretary Birrell blamed for Insurrection in Dublin

Dublin, 4 July 1916 - The Report of the Royal Commission on the Insurrection in Ireland has laid the blame at the feet of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Augustine Birrell.

The Report concluded: ‘We are of the opinion that the Chief Secretary, as the administrative head of Your Majesty’s Government in Ireland, is primarily responsible for the situation that was allowed to arise and the outbreak that occurred.’

The Under-Secretary, Sir Matthew Nathan, is criticised for not impressing upon the Chief Secretary the necessity for action during the latter’s ‘prolonged absences’ from Dublin. The Lord Lieutenant – Lord Wimborne – is excused of all responsibility.

The Lower Yard of Dubin Castle. The Castle system has been described as anomalous and unworkable by some in the wake of the Commission's damning report of Mr Birrell and the inaction of the Government authorities. (Image: Manchester Guardian History of War Vol 17, 9 June 1916. Full collection available at the National Library of Ireland)

Government inaction
The widespread belief that nothing would be done to impede the actions of rebels ‘led to a rapid increase of preparations for insurrection and was the immediate cause of the recent outbreak.’

In particular, the Commissioners pointed to the steps that should have been taken to arrest and prosecute leaders and organisers for sedition in the months before the insurrection.

This ‘reluctance’ to repress ‘seditious utterances’ was compounded by with a failure to ‘suppress the drilling and manoeuvring of armed forces known to be under the control of men who were openly declaring their hostility to Your Majesty’s Government and their readiness to welcome and assist Your Majesty’s enemies.’

The report also criticised the manner in which the militarisation of Irish society was allowed to proceed unchecked:

‘We consider that the importation of large quantities of arms into Ireland and the toleration of drilling by large bodies of men, first in Ulster and then in other districts of Ireland, created conditions which rendered possible the recent troubles in Dublin.’

The report of the Rebellion Commission, also known as the Hardinge Report, which has revealed shortcomings in the Castle authorities' policy towards the 'seditious' and paramilitary activity that was allowed to go largely unchecked prior to the insurrection. Click the image to read to full text of the report. (Enhanced Parliamentary Papers om Ireland [EPPI])

Priest and teachers also to blame
The Report also claims that younger members of the Priesthood in certain districts joined the movement, as did schoolmasters who disseminated treason through the Irish language in their classrooms.

By contrast, there is ‘nothing but praise’ for the conduct, zeal and loyalty of the police, and the military are excused from all blame:

‘By the middle of 1915 it was obvious to the Military Authorities that their efforts in favour of recruiting were being frustrated by the hostile activities of Sinn Fein supporters, and they made representations to the government to that effect. The general danger of the situation was clearly pointed out to the Irish government by the military authorities, on their own initiative, in February last, but the warning fell on unheeding ears.’

[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.]


Century Ireland

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