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The Pledge Against Conscription

The Hay Plan & Conscription In Ireland During WW1

4. The Pledge Against Conscription
On 13 April, the issue of conscription finally came to a head: Ireland would have Home Rule but first it had to accept the policy of conscription. Chief Secretary Duke, however, felt that before conscription was to be enforced, there were two options to meet the 'imminent crisis',

One is an immediate and rigorous course of coercion with wide-spread and preventive arrests. The other is to secure a Home Rule settlement on the terms of Ireland's cooperation in the war. One conclusive reason for the latter course, to my mind, is that the former seems to me impossible as a practical policy. [23]

Although bishop Hallinan wrote a strong condemnation against conscription, the Catholic Bishop of Cork, Doctor Cohalan, went further. He also wrote a letter, which was read at all masses on Sunday 14 April. The following day, he addressed a demonstration [24] in which he asked those present to support the conference that had been called by Dublin's Lord Mayor, Laurence O'Neill, to be held in Dublin's Mansion House the following Thursday with this call:

..wait until the joint leaders determine the policy to be adopted. And out of evil, good may emanate: the divided sections of Nationalism may combine again into a united body which nothing can resist. [25]

On 18 April, the conference began. The Cork Examiner editorial for that Thursday summed up all the hopes of all Irish people with these words:

To-day is a momentous one for Ireland, and everyone who loves his country and desires her welfare will fervently pray that Divine Providence may guide in wisdom the deliberations of the political leaders who are assembling in Dublin to devise a scheme of organised resistance to the tyranny that the British Government seeks to impose on the Irish people. [26]

Under the banner of United Nationalism was Eamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith representing Sinn Fein, Dillon and Devlin representing the Irish Parliamentary Party, Healy and O'Brien representing the All for Ireland League, and Tom Johnson, William O' Brien and M.J. Egan representing Labour and the Trade Unions. [27] In spite of the plea by most of the Irish bishops to support non - violence, de Valera took a completely different view. He argued that 'passive resistance' would not be the best policy to adopt. As if to add more fire to his cause, de Valera also stated that 'the Volunteers were determined to resist any case'. [28] Following the meeting at the Mansion House, the bishops released a statement protesting against government policy but also reminding people 'that there is a higher Power which controls the affairs of men'. [29]

De Valera was not the only leader of the volunteers to strike out against the policy of passive resistance. In a memorandum from Eoin MacNeill, who had been leader of the Irish Volunteers until Easter 1916, the following measures were proposed as a way of helping those who resisted conscription:

Direct active resistance or militant resistance i.e. when the persons liable to be taken, and others assisting them oppose force according to their ability.
Indirect resistance, when persons liable be taken avoid arrest, and are assisted in this by others. [30]

MacNeill did not end here. The third and last point called on everyone to support the Anti-Conscription Pledge. The pledge stated that everyone should do their best to protect those who were liable for active service from being arrested when refusing to enlist, and offering them shelter and food 'according to their ability'. He suggested that if any man were to be arrested, he should claim conscientious objector status, and to deny the 'validity of the conscription law as applied to Ireland'. [31]
On 19 April, the Cork Examiner again attacked government policy, but in this instance utilized the war cry of 1914 - which was 'to assert the principles that military might is not necessarily right'. [32] Three days later, the call by Eoin MacNeill for the All-Ireland Pledge against Conscription gathered speed.

The Cork Examiner declared its support for the pledge:

Whatever may be thought of Mr. Lloyd George's pledges, or of the promises of the Government which he is such a distinguished and typical figure, this may be said for Irishmen, that they will remain to God and Ireland true. [33]

On 16 April, Chief Secretary Duke asked to be replaced. He told Lloyd George that 'conscription will produce a disaster'. The timing of his resignation may appear to be a matter of principle: in fact, it had been expected for months. [34] Lord Wimbourne was also advised of his replacement but raised no objections. [35] The Cork Examiner suggested that Duke's legal mind was the deciding factor, agreeing with Duke when he declared that the shooting of Orangemen who resisted the law was murder, in parallel to what the government proposed. [36]

Author: Dave Hennessy

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