<<

. 39
( 80 .)



>>

What is it to them whom Mr Parnell nominates for county or town, so long as the
work they want done is performed? The interests of the people and its leader being
one, and the purposes the same, so long as he gives them results, so long will they
give him the means which he declares necessary to obtain them. It is not merely
Mr Parnell the Irish people are following, but their own proper interests, the
gratification of their national pride, the humiliation of their oppressors, the
achievement of the full measure of their rights.159

But the test for the leader™s actual power came in 1890“1. The divorce
crisis has often been examined in terms of a clash between Parnell™s
autocratic, aristocratic outlook and the hard realities of both clerical
influence in Ireland and the ˜Nonconformist conscience™ in Britain.
However, it contains important constitutional aspects, which had wide-
ranging implications for Irish nationalism and party democracy. When
the party split, the issue at stake was ultimately the question of where
authority resided: whether in the leader, as had been de facto the case for
the past few years, or in the parliamentary party.160 In constitutional
terms, the debate was about the meaning of the party pledge. As Sexton
put it for the anti-Parnellites,
they heard a great deal about a pledge to follow their leader. They never pledged
themselves to follow an imaginary leader. (Hear.) The leader was selected every
year; he was the sessional chairman, and what was the meaning of suggesting that
they were bound to a certain leader when they had to elect him at the beginning of
every session, and when they might supersede him at any time? (Hear.) But there
was a pledge “ a pledge that was intended to guard the union of the Home Rule
party “ a pledge without which the Parliamentary cause of Ireland would be in
danger of destruction “ the pledge that bound every member of the party to
submit to the vote of the majority, and they had not broken that pledge.161
More than ever before, during the crisis Parnell seemed to behave like a
˜dictator™,162 abusing his powers as party chairman at the meeting in


158
Ibid., 147. 159 T. M. Healy, ˜The causes of Mr Parnell™s power™, FJ, 29 Dec. 1883, 3.
160
This dimension has been mentioned, but not fully explored, by Cruise O™Brien, Parnell
and his party, 241“2.
161
T. Sexton, The Irish Times, 11 Mar. 1891, 7; on the pledge cf. Lyons, Irish parliamentary
party, 142“3.
162
Cruise O™Brien, Parnell and his party, 354“5.
200 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

Committee Room 15 (when he secured his own re-election despite the
looming disaster of his divorce), and then following a line which was
sanctioned neither by the party nor by the electors. In the early 1880s
his style had elicited loyalty and admiration, as it was felt that ˜dictatorial™
powers were necessary to resist the might of the British ˜coercionist™
government. However, from 1886 Gladstone™s adoption of Home Rule
and the ensuing Liberal alliance created a less partisan atmosphere within
Nationalist circles. In this context both the parliamentary party and the
rank and file felt freer to assess the relative merits of Parnell and his critics.
Ironically, in view of his imminent loss of power and subsequent death,
Parnell began now to be denounced as ˜the Dictator™. His rule “ it was
argued “ could only be conducive to ˜Tyranny™.163
Because the INL remained loyal to Parnell, the anti-Parnellites claimed
that it had ˜ceased to be the league of the people and become the instru-
ment and the agent of personal rule™.164 In March 1891 they set up a new
organization, the Irish National Federation (INF). Its policy aims were
defined by the constitution, and the means to be used were those typical
of any party ˜machine™.165 The INF™s provisional executive committee
was completely dominated by parliamentarians: it consisted of fourteen
MPs plus Michael Davitt, ˜with power to add to their number™. The final
constitution and relative rules for the new executive were adopted only
eighteen months after the foundation, in November 1892. Firm safe-
guards were in place to allow for the control of the popular organization
by the parliamentary party. The INF council consisted of forty-five
elected delegates (thirty-two county and thirteen civic delegates, elected
by the municipal corporations) and ˜[t]he members for the time being of
the Irish Parliamentary party™.166 The last group, consisting of seventy to
eighty MPs, was obviously in a position to dominate the council. This was
crucial, for the INF executive (consisting of ˜not more than™ twenty-five
members of the council) was to be elected by the council itself. To make
things more easily manageable (in both senses of the word) the quorum
for the council was only fifteen, and the quorum of the executive was to be
fixed by the council.167 One delegate pointed out that no provision was


163
A voice from the crowd at the inaugural meeting of the INF, in The Irish Times, 11 Mar.
1891, 7.
164
T. Sexton, The Irish Times, 11 Mar. 1891, 7.
165
˜The establishment and extension of branches; the cultivation of public opinion; the
organization of the elective franchise; the rerun to Parliament of members bound by the
pledge of the Irish party . . .™ (The Irish Times, 11 Mar. 1891, 7).
166
The constitution was published in the report of the meeting of ˜The National
Convention™, FJ, 16 Nov. 1892, 5.
167
Ibid.
Radicalism and the caucus in Britain and Ireland 201

made in the constitution for an annual convention “ the equivalent of the
NLF assembly, which embodied the sovereignty of the rank and file. To
this question the chairman (Justin McCarthy, who was also chairman of
the parliamentary party) responded that ˜[i]t has not appeared that an
annual convention may be necessary.™168 Despite such a heavy-handed
approach, the debate at this convention was lively, with many questions
and comments from the floor.
As it had been for the INL, the popular basis of the INF was the system
of the county conventions, the gatherings of clergy and elected delegates
from local branches. Candidates continued to be selected by these con-
ventions, first in secret sessions chaired by MPs (a post-Parnellite inno-
vation to fend off the danger of convention-led party democracy),169 and
then ratified in open meetings. However, while under Parnell the actual
choice had been made by the leader in consultation with a few colleagues,
in 1892 it was arranged by an election committee consisting mainly “ but
not exclusively “ of MPs. This committee had wide-ranging powers,170
but it paid more attention to local wishes than had been usual in the past:
this reflected both the weakened legitimacy of the party after the split, and
the need to compete for popular support against the Parnellites.171
Tension about internal party democracy was restrained by the dele-
gates™ awareness of the double pressure (from both Unionists and
Parnellites) under which the party now operated. However, the rank-
and-file demand for a greater say was soon to cause further troubles and
splits. The INF constitutional settlement “ not being legitimized by either
charismatic leadership or a democratic system “ really depended on, and
would ultimately be justified only by, political success. When the latter
became less and less likely, troubles began. In the first place there was a
sharp decline in membership “ a decline which affected also the old INL:
by 1894 both associations combined had only 765 branches,172 down
from 1,286 in 1886. Furthermore the leadership effectively lost control
over the nominations, while the party became more decentralized.173 Any
parliamentary ˜dictatorship™ over the constituencies would now be intol-
erable: as a consequence, as William O™Brien put it, ˜[o]ne man™s power
was replaced by eighty men™s powerlessness.™174 The turning point had

168
Ibid. 169 Lyons, Irish parliamentary party, 145.
170
Including ˜arranging the dates at which the conventions were to be held, choosing the
chairmen to preside over them and considering the claims of the various candidates for
selection™. (F. S. L. Lyons, ˜The machinery of the Irish parliamentary party in the
general election of 1895™, Irish Historical Studies, 8 (1952“3), 117.)
171
Ibid., 117“18; Lyons, Irish parliamentary party, 146.
172
Garvin, Evolution of Irish nationalist politics, 87. 173 Ibid., 90.
174
Lyons, Irish parliamentary party, 40.
202 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

taken place already in 1893, after the defeat of the second Home Rule
Bill, when in the name of ˜freedom of the constituencies™, T. M. Healy
and his faction began ˜to break the long established control of the party
over the selection of the candidates™.175 As the Healyite Irish Catholic put
it on 5 August 1893,
What we denounce is the monstrous and intolerable theory that because the
committee of the Irish party, consisting only of eight members, and deciding
upon their action by a paltry majority, think fit to sanction the candidature of a
particular gentleman, he is to be forced upon the constituency whether its electors
wish to receive him or not . . . What we stand by today is the broad constitutional
principle that the people of West Mayo, and they alone, have the right to say who
shall be, and who shall not be, their member.176

The Healyites were apparently standing “ at least in this case “ within a
broadly defined liberal tradition. Healy™s ˜liberalism™ was, however, unwel-
come to the majority of the party, led by John Dillon (on most issues, himself
a better ˜liberal™ than Healy), who managed to impose a London-based
candidate over the local man. Dillon believed that the only way forward
consisted in the restoration of parliamentary centralism. Accordingly, in
1895 it was decided that the management of the electoral campaign would
be entrusted to the party chairman and the parliamentary committee (elec-
ted annually at the beginning of the parliamentary session), rather than to an
especially elected committee. This decision, which was taken at a meeting
attended by only forty-five of the seventy anti-Parnellite MPs, was strongly
resisted by T. M. Healy, who effectively split the party again.
Despite Healy™s rhetoric, the new split was not primarily about ˜party
democracy™, and had more to do with the Liberal alliance, which Healy was
now questioning, while Dillon and William O™Brien continued to support
it. Whatever his ulterior motives, Healy™s attack on the legitimacy of the
way parliamentary candidates were selected was widely echoed among the
party rank and file. The Dublin branches of the INF demanded ˜perfect
freedom of election and selection of representatives™,177 and the summon-
ing of a national convention. The latter was important because a national
convention could claim an authority and a legitimacy to which county
conventions could not aspire. It would also provide an appropriate institu-
tional setting for the definition of policy aims, in the way the Newcastle
Convention of the NLF had done in 1891. Hence the importance of party
˜democracy™ for those who were dissatisfied with the policies of the official
leaders. These demands were rejected, as the leaders refused to counte-
nance any decrease of their powers. Indeed, in response to Healyite

175 176 177
Ibid., 47. Cited in ibid. FJ, 28 June 1895, 5.
Radicalism and the caucus in Britain and Ireland 203

resolutions passed by the executive of the INF in 1895, Justin McCarthy
declared that the executive ˜was elected for the internal management of the
Federation, and the Irish party cannot recognise any right in such a body to
control or overrule the work of the party™.178
That the rank and file were not prepared to accept this line without a
fight was shown by the county conventions: open hostility was frequently
voiced, several conventions asserted their independence by choosing their
own chairman, and others demanded the convocation of a national con-
vention. This struggle culminated in the ˜Omagh scandal™ at the Tyrone
convention of 8 July 1895, when Healy revealed that the party leaders had
˜made over™ to the Liberal party four Irish seats in Ulster, for £200 each.179
Although the claim was not quite correct,180 and caused a storm of indig-
nation in the party and the press,181 there was some truth in it, particularly
in so far as it revealed a severe shortage of party funds and the close alliance
between the National party and the post-Gladstonian Liberal party. The
real problem behind the incident was again a constitutional one: while
Dillon and McCarthy maintained the right of the parliamentary committee
to direct electoral campaigns, Healy claimed that this system was unrep-
resentative and deprived the constituencies of the freedom to select candi-
dates.182 In electoral terms, the ˜scandal™ was very embarrassing and
shattered public trust in a less than transparent party machinery.
This and other mishaps did not prevent Dillon from remodelling the
constitution along lines which would allow even fuller control of the INF
by the parliamentary party.183 The latter was now a self-perpetuating
body with effective powers to co-opt new members. Yet, it was a pyrrhic
victory. After the disastrous results of the 1895 election, the machinery
and the methods of the Nationalist party were discredited, and their
embarrassment was compounded by the fact that the INF “ unlike the
NLF “ was dominated by the MPs,184 who were thus fully responsible for
policies and political outcomes. ˜Freedom for the constituencies™ was


178
Cited in Lyons, ˜The machinery of the Irish parliamentary party™, 123“4.
179
Ibid., 131.
180
F. S. L. Lyons, ˜The Irish parliamentary party and the Liberals in mid-Ulster, 1894™,
Irish Historical Studies, 8, 27 (1951), 191“5.
181
˜Mr Healy™s campaign against his colleagues: his extraordinary conduct at Omagh™, FJ,
11 July 1895, 11.
182
Lyons, ˜Irish parliamentary party and the Liberals™, 191.
183
Lyons, Irish parliamentary party, 66; cf. E. F. V. Knox™s letter in FJ, 26 Jan. 1897, 4.
184
It consisted of thirty-two county delegates, thirteen civic delegates and all the Irish MPs.
Furthermore, ˜the real controlling authority™ within the INF was its executive commit-
tee, consisting of twelve delegates, thirteen MPs and five ex-officio members (secretaries
and treasurers), with a quorum of only five: Lyons, ˜The machinery of the Irish parlia-
mentary party™, 122, n. 17.
204 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

now a battle cry whose appeal reached well beyond Healy and his fol-
lowers. Such groundswell of opinion found an outlet in the foundation of
the UIL.
The internal party diplomacy and the conventions which led to reuni-
fication under the chairmanship of the Parnellite John Redmond have
been fully discussed by Lyons and Bull.185 Here it is important to point
out that unity was achieved despite the hostility of many party leaders,
rather than thanks to their joint efforts.186 The explanation of this appa-
rent paradox is to be found in the ongoing struggle between the parlia-
mentary party and the rank-and-file organizations, which had
representative ambitions and claims. The decisive factor was the electors™
response to the UIL, which spread like wildfire in both counties and
boroughs, and gained substantial victories in the local elections of 1898
and 1899. These and later successes confirmed that the UIL was in tune
with the demands of the electorate, who were tired of divisions and the
personal feuds of the parliamentarians, and demanded reunion.
However, the latter came so suddenly after these developments, that
UIL leaders saw it as a ˜desperate intrigue™ for the purpose of stemming
the League™s further growth. Indeed, the question “ as both Healy and
Redmond now saw it “ was quite clear. Either the parliamentarians seized
the initiative and reunited the party, or the UIL and the supporters of
internal party democracy (such as O™Brien)187 might do so, and in the
process ensure a power shift away from Parliament towards the conven-
tions and the ˜mass organization™. Most Nationalist MPs feared this
prospect as much as their Liberal colleagues feared a revival of the
NLF™s claims after 1895. The game was further complicated by the

<<

. 39
( 80 .)



>>