ing one-third of the members of the council â€“ will you not give to those calumni-
ators and enemies of the Parliamentary party the idea that they are not
calumniators and that their charges are sanctioned by a National Conference of
the Irish people? (Hear, hear, and applause) . . . I will never consent to occupy a
false position. I will bear no responsibility when I have no consultation. I will never
be a member of any body where everything can be done in spite of my judgement
and the judgement of my colleagues (hear, hear). Heaven knows it is a sufficiently
thankless task to stand up in the House of Commons, a member of a miserable
minority numerically, speaking in the face of some of the ablest orators in the
world, meeting the combined efforts of the Whig and Tory enmity to Ireland; but
bad as that task is . . . it is far less difficult than to be in the House of Commons,
compelled to bear silent approval when your heart bleeds for the follies that were
being committed (cries of â€˜ohâ€™ and hear, hear). You may enforce responsibility on
your Parliamentary representatives where you give them power, but you have no
right to give them responsibility without power. I say again, if you give them
responsibility, you ought to give them powers; and therefore, I call upon you to
vote for the resolution (applause).128
This emotional appeal worked wonders. Though Davitt forcefully
rejected the insinuation that he did not trust the parliamentary party, he
felt compelled to withdraw his amendment.
Though the outcome of the conference hardly strengthened the cause
of internal party democracy, the lively debate, in which so many voices
were represented, indicated the extent of the ambitions of the party
activists. Oâ€™Connorâ€™s claim that Davittâ€™s proposed structure would indi-
cate lack of trust in the party was questionable. However, there is no
doubt that Davittâ€™s purely democratic and extra-parliamentary council
would have provided a source of legitimacy and authority alternative to
those of the leader and the parliamentary group.129 With the support of
some ecclesiastical delegates, the parliamentary leaders were able to
manipulate the emotions and loyalties of the assembly and achieved a
constitutional settlement in which popular democracy was effectively
tamed. Under this constitution, the representatives of the parliamentary
party would need the support of only nine of the thirty-two popular
representatives in order to dominate the council.130 Even this was a
purely hypothetical prospect, because, as a matter of fact, the council
never met.131 Until 1891 all the important decisions continued to be
taken by Parnell and a few of his closest colleagues, whom he consulted
Ibid. 129 Callanan, Healy, 96.
Strauss, Irish nationalism and British democracy, 167. Callanan, Healy, 78.
Radicalism and the caucus in Britain and Ireland 195
as he pleased. The INL became â€˜an autocratically controlled body, ruled
by a committee which it had not elected, and whose powers were unde-
finedâ€™.132 Thus, having been born for the purpose of â€˜representing opin-
ionâ€™ and defining the party programme, the INL immediately evolved
towards a top-down structure whose purpose was winning elections.
Such an outcome was extraordinary, given the democratic zeal of many
among the rank and file. It had various different causes, linked to the
unique features of contemporary Irish politics. There was, first, the
notion that â€˜[t]he struggle for Home Rule was a form of warfare . . .
Indiscipline and insubordination in the face of the enemy â€“ that is to say
in the presence of English parties â€“ was a form of treason.â€™133 For this
purpose discussion was restricted to generalities â€˜to which no interest
group could take exceptionâ€™.134 Second, there was what in Gramscian
terms we could describe as the hegemony of Parnell and the elite of
upper-class and university-educated MPs, with a visible Protestant com-
ponent, over the provincial rural middle classes and clergy.135 Parnellâ€™s
personal prestige was partly owing to each of the previously mentioned
factors, and was compounded by his control over the â€˜Paris fundsâ€™ â€“ the
Irish equivalent of what the Lloyd George fund was to become to a later
generation of British radicals136 â€“ and by his effectively charismatic
Cruise Oâ€™Brien , Parnell and his Party, 128.
F. S. L Lyons, The Irish parliamentary party, 1890â€“1910 (n.d. [c. 1951]) 41.
M. Laffan, The resurrection of Ireland: the Sinn Fein party, 1916â€“1923 (1999), 5; Cruise
Oâ€™Brien, Parnell and his party, 47.
In 1880â€“5 the allegedly â€˜lower-classâ€™ nature of the party was a matter of contemporary
perception. Although the replacement of about ten landlords by new MPs who had
brains but no land seemed â€˜cataclysmicâ€™ to some Nationalists, the party remained
79 per cent upper class: Cruise Oâ€™Brien, Parnell and his party, 18â€“21, 27.
Thanks to their American friends, the Parnellites fared better than any other political
organization in the whole of the UK. Between November 1879 and October 1882 (when
the INL was founded), the Land League received Â£250,000 from benefactors in the
USA. Following the constitutional turn in Parnellâ€™s politics, the American contribution
dwindled, but when the Land League was dissolved the balance was not passed on to the
INL, but to a special bank account in France â€“ the â€˜Paris fundsâ€™ â€“ under the direct
control of Parnell and two other party leaders. It amounted to Â£30,000 (Cruise Oâ€™Brien,
Parnell and his party, 133â€“5). The second apex in subscription was reached in 1886, as a
result of Gladstoneâ€™s â€˜conversionâ€™ to Home Rule. At the beginning of that year, after
fighting the 1885 election, the balance was Â£3,000. By the end of 1886 receipts had
reached Â£100,000 (though they decreased again afterwards). Of this money, Â£48,000
was spent on salaries of MPs, Â£11,500 on registration expenses and Â£13,000 on
propaganda in Britain (ibid., 267). The latter went mainly to print literature which
would then be distributed by the Home Rule Union, a Liberal organization to which
more than sixty local Liberal associations were affiliated in 1888 (ibid., 266; cf. Journal of
the Home Rule Union, 1, March 1888).
196 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
leadership.137 Indeed, in the aftermath of the National Conference,
enthusiasm for Parnell was enormous. When he visited Cork in
December, he â€˜was welcomed . . . by a demonstration of gigantic propor-
tions . . . An enormous concourse of people, accompanied by several
bands, awaited his arrival at the railway station, and his reception on
alighting from the train was of the most enthusiastic description.â€™138 His
appeal to popular emotions was comparable to the one Gladstone gen-
erated among his popular supporters in Britain, though, unlike the GOM,
Parnell was not a great platform speaker. But, as Sexton put it, he was
believed to have achieved â€˜[t]he most that a leader can doâ€™, that is, â€˜to
discipline and organise the public mind; to teach the people how to use
the power they haveâ€™.139
The INL achieved a considerable success, and, according to police
reports, by 1 July 1886 1,285 local branches had affiliated to it.140 These
were established at popular meetings all over the country in the aftermath
of the 1882 conference,141 or derived from the affiliation of already
existing national organizations to the INL.142 At a local level, branch
meetings were frequently reported for the first year, then became less
prominent in the pages of the Freemanâ€™s Journal (from the spring of 1883).
County conventions operated effectively in preparation for local
by-elections and the general elections of 1885 and 1886. Parnell â€“
whose words were spin-doctored by the press â€“ professed great respect
for local branch opinion, but on the rare occasions when his views about
the selection of a candidate were rejected â€“ as happened in Tipperary in
early January 1885 â€“ he summoned again the county convention, in this
case on the grounds that forty branches were unrepresented at the first
meeting. The second convention duly selected the party man.143
Thus, county conventions were far from giving â€˜freeâ€™ expression to local
political views. As Strauss put it, Parnell â€˜distrusted the popular element
in the League constitution to such an extent that . . . [b]y a small scale coup
R. V. Comerford, â€˜The Parnell era, 1883â€“91â€™, in W. E. Vaughan (ed.), A new history of
Ireland, vol. VI (1996), 80; P. Bew, Charles Stewart Parnell (1991), 22, 66â€“8, 75.
â€˜Mr Parnell, MP, in Corkâ€™, FJ, 18 Dec. 1882, 6.
Ibid. 140 Cruise Oâ€™Brien, Parnell and his party, 133.
E.g. â€˜Meeting in Kilrushâ€™, FJ, 18 Dec. 1882, 7.
E.g. â€˜The Irish Labour and Industrial Unionâ€™, FJ, 18 Dec. 1882, 3.
â€˜The course that is being taken is in no sense a derogation of the authority of the body
which selected Mr Oâ€™Ryan; but Mr Parnell acts with his usual wisdom in asking the
delegates to afford him an opportunity of laying his views before them, so that it cannot
be charged that so important an office as that of Member of Parliament has been filled up
through some momentary impulse or parochial pique. The delegates, we are sure, will
rejoice at being able to learn the views of the Irish leader, and after hearing them will be
in a much better position to arrive at a fitting conclusion.â€™ (L.a., FJ, 5 Jan. 1885, 4. Cf.
Cruise Oâ€™Brien, Parnell and his party, 132 and n. 2.)
Radicalism and the caucus in Britain and Ireland 197
dâ€™etat . . . [he] â€˜â€˜packedâ€™â€™ the League conventions from top to bottom by
appointing all priests ex officio delegatesâ€™.144 Such clerical delegates were
not provided for in the Leagueâ€™s constitution, but became a regular
feature of INL activities from the Wicklow convention of 1885. County
conventions consisted of about 150 laymen and 50 priests,145 the latter
providing also the chairman, when he was not an MP. Through the active
support of its priests, the Catholic clergy became for Parnell an equivalent
of the trade union â€˜block voteâ€™ in Lib-lab and, later, Labour politics:
namely, the pillar of the leaderâ€™s authority. Archbishop Walsh had laid
down clear principles for clerical participation, which amounted to a
careful sifting of the candidates in order both to ascertain that they
had â€˜satisfactory antecedentsâ€™, and to avoid â€˜surpriseâ€™ candidates.146
Convention chairmen had clear instructions from Dublin as to the nomi-
nations, which were decided by Parnell in consultation with some of his
colleagues. Thus, the selection of parliamentary candidates, which before
1882 had been in the hands of constituency meetings and local clubs, was
now centrally controlled and locally ratified by county conventions,
sometimes in contexts which attested to what â€“ in Weberian terms â€“
could be described as Parnellâ€™s â€˜Caesaristâ€™ ascendancy.147 Party democ-
racy was affirmed, but was reduced to a mere facade.148
On the whole, the INL became â€˜Parnellâ€™s way of reasserting his grip
both inside Westminster and beyondâ€™,149 and helped local notables and
ecclesiastics to recover their ascendancy in democratic politics.150
Despite the protests of anti-clerical MPs such as L. Finigan, the clerical
delegates were accepted and even welcomed by their lay colleagues â€“
Strauss, Irish nationalism and British democracy, 167.
Cruise Oâ€™Brien, Parnell and his party, 128â€“31. For an example see â€˜County Meath
conventionâ€™, FJ, 9 Oct. 1885, 5 At this particular convention there were 105 lay
delegates and 60 priests. At the Wicklow convention, there were â€˜40 of the clergy of
the county, and 80 elected delegatesâ€™: â€˜The Wicklow conventionâ€™, FJ, 6 Oct. 1885, 5. It
was on the latter occasion that the â€˜rules for the guidance of conventionsâ€™ were pub-
lished. For the operation of the â€˜block voteâ€™ in Lib-lab elections see Biagini, Liberty,
chapter 7, 328â€“68.
Davitt, Fall of feudalism, 469; Cruise Oâ€™Brien , Parnell and his party, 129.
For one example see the address of the Clonmel Branch of the INL to Parnell, in â€˜The
Tipperary election: unopposed return of Mr John Oâ€™Connorâ€™, FJ, 10 Jan. 1885, 6: â€˜We
congratulate you on the loyalty to you of magnificent Tipperary, which, in deference to
your wish and to that of your powerful and faithful ally, the great Archbishop of Cashel
(cheers), has given to you the man of your choice as a parliamentary auxiliary. We
believe that he will be true to you, and we know that only on the condition of being true
to you can he retain the confidence of Tipperary (cheers).â€™
Lyons, Irish parliamentary party, 142.
D. M. MacRaild, Irish migrants in modern Britain, 1750â€“1922 (1996), 144; cf. Cruise
Oâ€™Brien, Parnell and his party, 128.
Comerford, â€˜Parnell eraâ€™, 54. Cf. Paseta, Before the revolution.
198 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
more or less as the representatives of the Durham Minersâ€™ Union were
welcomed by the local Liberal party associations151 â€“ and the nationalist
press was ecstatic about the results. Commenting on the Meath conven-
tion, the Freemanâ€™s Journal praised â€˜the perfect harmony of its deliber-
ations, and the absolute unanimity of its decisionsâ€™: â€˜[a]t no previous
epoch in our annals has anything approaching the same combination of
the whole priesthood and the whole people, of their undivided unity in
political action, and their capacity for the practical work of calm deliber-
ative consultation, been witnessedâ€™.152 More prosaically and accurately,
Strauss has described the change as the INL achieving the â€˜domination of
the movement by the Irish middle-classâ€™.153
These developments strengthened a trend towards centralization
which had been noticeable from as early as 1880. In December 1880, at
a meeting in the City Hall, Dublin, Parnell proposed a resolution, which
was passed, to the effect that â€˜the parliamentary committee, acting as a
cabinet of the party, shall have the power to shape and direct the policy of
the party in any emergency or in any particular measure or proposal in
reference to which the party has not already met and decided and to
arrange the details for carrying out the general policy decided upon by the
partyâ€™.154 As Cruise Oâ€™Brien has pointed out, â€˜[t]he importance of this
resolution was not so much the powers conferred, which are not very
precisely defined, as the claim that a committee originally set up as an
organisational convenience was now â€˜â€˜acting as a cabinetâ€™â€™â€™.155 However,
the committee never really worked like a â€˜cabinetâ€™: â€˜emergencyâ€™ decisions
were taken by Parnell himself (as in the case of the Kilmainham Treaty)
after consulting only with those colleagues whom he chose to consult.156
As Parnell said years later, his system was based on the following princi-
ple: â€˜Get the advice . . . of everybody whose advice is worth having â€“ they
are very few â€“ and then do what you think best yourself.â€™157 It was these
â€˜very fewâ€™ people whose advice mattered, rather than the parliamentary
committee, who acted as the â€˜cabinetâ€™ of the party. If it was a cabinet, â€˜it
was a â€˜â€˜cabinetâ€™â€™ in the American rather than the British sense; its
Cf. Biagini, Liberty, 364â€“5. 152 L.a., FJ, 9 Oct. 1885, 4.
Strauss, Irish nationalism and British democarcy, 167.
Cited in Cruise Oâ€™Brien, Parnell and his party, 144 (my italics). The parliamentary
Committee â€“ which consisted of sixteen members, including the chairman, the treasurer
and two whips â€“ â€˜was elected for the session, and empowered to convene party meetings,
summon members to attend the House, and collect subscriptionsâ€™.
Ibid. 156 Ibid., 145; Lyons, Irish parliamentary party, 142.
Cited in Cruise Oâ€™ Brien, Parnell and his party, 145, n. 1. The group of those â€˜whose
advice was worth havingâ€™ consisted of T. M. Healy, T. Sexton and J. J. Oâ€™Kelly, and was
later expanded to include also J. E. Kenny, T. Harrington and W. Oâ€™Brien.
Radicalism and the caucus in Britain and Ireland 199
members derived their powers from a leader who did not share his
responsibility with themâ€™.158
Until 1891â€“5 the Nationalist party was comparatively free from the soul-
searching and constitutional dilemmas faced by the NLF, despite the dis-
crepancy between the participatory ideals of the rank and file and the reality
of Parnellâ€™s domination of the party. For, as Tim Healy put it in 1883,