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The Hay Plan

The Hay Plan & Conscription In Ireland During WW1

6. The Hay Plan
On 30 May, Lord Milner, the Secretary for War informed the War Cabinet that Clemenceau, the French leader, had suggested that Irish labourers might volunteer to bring in the expected bumper harvest. For the next three months, this idea was in the air. A French priest named Pere Flynn was sent to London and another French delegation had been sent to Ireland, yet this plan had come to nothing. [55] This plan had later become confused with a second French plan to recruit Irish volunteers to work as labourers with the French army. [56] By now, some Irishmen had made inquires at the French Embassy in London about joining the French army. Finally, on 9 June, the War Cabinet announced that it had no objections to Irishmen volunteering for the French army, although there was to be no active French recruitment in Britain. [57] Two days later, on 11 June, Dublin's Lord Mayor, Laurence O'Neill, called on the American President Mr. Wilson to support the anti-conscription policy of Ireland in the following statement:

In the fourth year of a war ostensibly begun for the defence of small nations, a law conscribing the manhood of Ireland has been passed, in defiance of the wishes of our people. The British Parliament, which enacted it, had long outrun its course, being in the eighth year of an existence constitutionally limited to five. To warrant the coercive statue, no recourse was had to the electorate of Britain, much less to that in Ireland. Yet the measure was forced through within a week, despite the votes of Irish representatives and under a system of closure never applied to the debates, which established conscription for Great Britain on a milder basis. [58]

Later that month, the French cabinet sent a Colonel Roure to London to find out why Britain did not use the considerable reserves of men in Ireland, considering the fact that a major German offensive was underway, and the need for more men was understandable. [59]

Several weeks later, on 20 July, Stuart Hay, a British Captain working under Lord Northcliffe, an English press baron, attached to the Ministry of Information in the 'Enemy Propaganda' section, received an order from William Sunderland, to establish a plan that would persuade Irish Nationalists to join the French army initially as labourers in specialised battalions. [60] Sunderland was one of Lloyd George's secretaries entrusted with very sensitive operations. Two days later, Sunderland met Hay to formulate a plan that they would operate to persuade the French Primate to request of his Irish counterparts the dropping of their opposition to conscription. [61]Hay's plan included another motive in that it wanted to remove Sinn Féin from the political landscape, considering Sinn Féin's 'radical and revolutionary' [62] nature. This it was hoped would separate the church and Sinn Féin or as Hay, himself stated:

if the church were definitely or even in a large measure converted and the support it has given to disloyal elements be not taken away but thrown on to the other side in the controversy [the conscription crisis], much would be done for the future of the peace in Ireland. [63]

The following day, 23 July, Hay met Shortt who accepted the plan, but what is striking is Shortt's change of heart. [64] Prior to the dual policy of conscription with Home Rule in early 1918, Shortt opposed any form of Irish conscription. [65] Shortt, as well as Lloyd George and Lord French, also believed the plan was workable. As such, all that was required was the submission of the plan to the war office, using Sir Frederick Shaw as an intermediary. Over the next few days, Hay met Shaw, General Macready and Samuel Watt to develop the plan. Shaw, a Unionist who fought in France until 1916 had often worked with Lord French. Watt came from Ulster and was a member of the Belfast Unionist club. It was hardly surprising therefore that when he was appointed to the Irish Local Government Board, Nationalists were outraged, calling him 'too orange'. [66]

By 27 July, Hay had drafted a letter which Monsignor Amette, the French Primate was asked to send to the Irish bishops. Again, Lloyd George, French and Shortt accepted the draft. [67] Four days later, the plan ran into the first of many impediments. On hearing the plan from Clemenceau, the British ambassador to France, Lord Derby, who had a distinct concern for protocol, angrily complained that the government had gone behind his back in allowing the French to recruit in Ireland. [68] After further behind-the-scene talks, a letter was finally sent to the Irish Cardinal Logue. The Archbishop of Paris worded the letter on 2 August 1918. In spite of this, Lord Derby wrote, 'To employ the Roman Catholic Hierarchy to get Irishmen to show their loyalty to England by fighting under a French flag seems to me to be the height of folly and one which will be bitterly resented by a great number of people in England'. [69]

One week later, on 9 August, Shortt finally told Hay that he would have to deliver the letter to Cardinal Logue himself. The following day, Hay arrived in Dublin and immediately sent a telegram to Logue's secretary informing him of his intention to meet the cardinal. The following day, Saturday, both men met in the cardinal's country cottage at Carlingford. [70] As the hours passed, Hay explained the principal reasons why the French required Irish help, but during these discussions, Logue gave no intention of what he was thinking. [71] The next day, 11 August, Logue told Hay of his support for the French cause. Logue's first intention was to publish Cardinal Amette's letter 'in a circular letter both to the press and the Irish Bishops'.  [72] Fearing that the reason Britain was using the French bishops was to get Irish conscription by another way Logue changed his mind. Cardinal Logue decided to wait until the French Government received official permission from London, in order to allow Irish volunteer labourers to go France without hindrance. Later that night, 11 August, Cardinal Logue gave the letter for Cardinal Amette to Hay. The letter evoked traditional Franco-Irish friendship and support, and guaranteed Ireland's hope that France would win the war. [73] Moreover, the cardinal believed that the French government would solve any logistical problems. In spite of this, Logue had his own agenda. This was to get Ireland at the peace conference. This is best understood in Logue's own words, as attributed by Hay:

[Logue] expressed the view that this scheme was the salvation of Ireland, as it brought that country into line with the Allies and would get rid of the disloyal element. He pointed out that it solved ultimately the home rule problem, which could now be settled at the peace conference with the help of France and America. [74]

Five days later, on 16 August, Logue's letter had been sent to the French leader George Clemenceau. [75] Hay had by now guaranteed Logue that within the week, he would have the assurances that Logue wanted from the French and British governments. However, events in London had by now overtaken any plans that Captain Hay had in using the Irish Bishops and their French counterparts. [76] On 13 August, as Hay entered 10 Downing Street, he was met by J.T. Davis, Lloyd George's private secretary, and Sunderland, who stated that he was not at all happy with the way the plan had been executed. Along with Sunderland, others that were disillusioned included Lord Derby, and General Sir Henry Wilson. Hay wrote in his report:

Lord Derby was angry that the matter had not been passed through him, and 'that he objected to me personally'; that General Sir Henry Wilson C.I.G.S., was much annoyed and had threatened to have me arrested while carrying out the mission 'and was out for my blood'. That the policy was anti-Ulster and that I was a disgrace and must return to Paris with my letter, but that I must get it over by other means. [77]

Author: Dave Hennessy

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