In these days of conflict Ireland occupies a unique position. For the first time in history an Irish leader has publicly pledged the support of the Irish nation to Great Britain in an armed struggle. But it would be a mistake to imagine that his act has indeed received the universal assent the newspapers claim. On the contrary, there is a very strong and influential body of opinion in the country which holds that the act of Mr. Redmond in proffering to the Government the armed cooperation of the Volunteers was an act sadly lacking in the first principles of statesmanship. It is felt and freely asserted by that section that Mr. Redmond gave too much and got too little in return; indeed, it is stated that he got nothing in return. His offer of co-operation with the Ulster Volunteers has been laughed at by that body, and the Government on its part had not promised to withdraw the Amending Bill, nor yet to modify it in any way favourable to the Nationalists.
Great Britain was about to engage in the greatest war in her history, in a war that must inevitably strain her every resource - military and commercial - and she found herself in this position at the very moment when Ireland possessed a large force of men drilled and organised on a military basis and partially armed. When, at the close of Sir Edward Grey's speech, and pronouncements of Mr. Bonar Law and Mr. Asquith the assembled Tories and Liberals in the House of Commons began to clamour for "Redmond, Redmond," it was a recognition of the fact that Ireland was in a strong tactical position. Had Mr. Redmond at that moment sat still and let them clamour away, had he refused to be drawn into speech at that juncture, it is felt that before the night was over he would have been able to dictate his terms to the Government. Or had he been desirous to avoid seeming haste, and called in Ireland a Convention of his followers, or preferably of the Volunteers, to consider what action should be taken in view of the war, it is certain that such concessions would have been made by the Government as would have been infinitely preferable even to the Home Rule Bill in its present form.
But the malign spirit that prompted Mr. Redmond to capture the Volunteers and make himself solely responsible for its activity now impelled him to rush into speech and commit the whole people of Ireland to aggressive warfare upon Germany, solely upon Mr. Redmond's own responsibility or the responsibility of his Party, and without being able even to indicate any gain as a quid pro quo for their action.
At first the country seemed quite swept off its feet by this action. All the kept newspapers of the United Irish League immediately constituted themselves recruiting agents for the British Army, and every effort was made to stampede the Volunteers into unconditional acceptance of Mr. Redmond's blatant offer. Many thousands of recruits were obtained for the British Army during the first week or fortnight of the jingo fever promoted by the Home Rule press and wirepullers, companies of Irish Volunteers marched in parade order to see reservists off by the train and ship, their bands, to the astonishment of everyone and the horror of most, played "God Save the King," and all sorts of erstwhile rack-renting landlords and anti-Irish aristocrats rushed in to officer these Irish Volunteers whom they had formerly despised. But gradually the nation is swinging back to sanity. The independent elements are everywhere asserting themselves, and there has already developed a fierce fight to prevent the Irish Volunteers being - as Mr. Redmond intended - handed over to the War Office.
Up to the time of writing, the Provisional Committee of the Irish Volunteers has stood firm. They have refused the offer of the War Office to supply officers to the Irish Volunteers, and insisted upon being officered by men of their own choosing under their own control, and they have stated that they prefer to buy and own their own arms rather than get them from Lord Kitchener and know that they are subject to his recall.
Along with this a strong propaganda is being carried on showing that Ireland has no quarrel with the German nation; that on the contrary, Irish culture and Irish literature owe very much indeed to German friendship and to German research
Upon the economic field a common ground has been found which is going far towards uniting all the unofficial parties and providing a common basis of action for all whose love of country is more than a political shibboleth, and for all whose conception of freedom is wider than is indicated by a mere change in administrative methods. This common ground is furnished by the question of the foodstuffs. It is realised that Ireland is able to sustain herself with her own food, but that the demand for food to feed the army and to provision Great Britain will lead to an enormous increase of prices and, perhaps to famine in the Irish towns.
The Irish farmer will sell gladly, but the prices he will obtain from the Government will send up the cost upon the poorly paid Irish workers in urban areas, and it is feared that should provisions not be available in Great Britain, should any of the trade routes be closed and grain and agricultural produce generally not be available in sufficient quantities, the British Government would commandeer the foodstuffs of Ireland as ruthlessly as it commandeered the railways during the dispatch of the Expeditionary Force of the past two weeks. It is determined on all hands that should this be done resistance will be offered, and the export of this food fought against even to the extent of armed resistance.