The action of the Provisional Committee of the Irish Volunteers in repudiating the nominees of Mr. John Redmond, and proceeding to re-take that control which they ought never to have abandoned sent a thrill of joy through the heart of every true man and woman in the country. It was felt that the ground was at last being cleared for action, and that the insidious attempt to betray the Volunteers into the clutch of the Empire had received a staggering blow at the very outset of the campaign.
Never was the peril of Irish Nationality greater, never were the forces of national and social freedom more in danger of death from moral asphyxiation than at the outset of this Redmond-Asquith conspiracy. Every force capable of influencing and confusing the people had been corrupted successfully beforehand; the recruiters came with a carefully doctored scheme of political liberty in the one hand and an enlistment form in the other, and to all and sundry it was suggested that the realisation of Ireland's hopes of political freedom depended upon her response to the call to enlist in England's army. All through the country the innumerable agencies, subject to manipulation at the hands of the Home Rule wirepullers, were busy preparing the ground by whispers and artfully-framed suggestions. It was freely alleged in the North that Sir Edward Carson was in league with the Kaiser and that, therefore, it was the duty of every Nationalist capable of bearing arms to enlist for service against the Germans. To a people who have lived for generations under the domination of Orangism as the Nationalists of North-East Ulster have done, that was an almost irresistible appeal. And when it was coupled with a declaration that "Home Rule was now upon the Statute Book" the poor workers of Belfast and district were momentarily swept off their feet. No mention was made of the fact that Mr. Asquith had definitely promised that the Amending Bill would go into operation as soon as the Home Rule Bill, nor yet that he had pledged his word that the coercion of the Carsonites was to him and his colleagues absolutely unthinkable; or, as it was excellently put by the Provisional Committee, that they would not dream of coercing the Unionists of Ulster, but that they were quite ready to coerce the Nationalists of Ulster.
Not perhaps till the Great Day of Reckoning will we discover how many thousands of brave young Irishmen have been betrayed to their deaths on Continental battlefields by those treacherous tactics of Redmond and Devlin and their local wirepullers. But long ere that many thousands of Irish mothers, wives and children will fervently curse the dastard leaders and newspapers whose lying words induced their breadwinners to desert home and family to fight the battles of the enemies of their class and country.
In the remainder of Ireland the point depended upon most was the traditional alliance with France, and the careful exploitation of the supposed German atrocities upon Catholic churches in Belgium and France. The word having been given as to the lines upon which the campaign of slander was to be conducted, the Home Rule and Unionist Press vied with each other in artful appeals to the sympathies of the Irish people. Never in the history of warfare did any nation sink to such a dishonourable campaign against the character of an enemy as Great Britain has sunk in this war. I believe that the poster headed "Remember Belgium," and embellished by a supposed representation of a German soldier standing upon the body of a prostrate woman, is the most infamous public appeal to which any government lent its name.
All this campaign was designed to find its crown and apex in the recruiting meeting in the Mansion House. Observe the steps in the campaign. First the Volunteers were threatened with a rival force, then their Provisional Committee was packed by Mr. Redmond with men who were prepared to sell Ireland to the Empire, then all the forces at their command were employed in order to corrupt the public mind and to stampede into the pro-British ranks as many as possible. Then, from pledging the help of the Volunteers to defend Ireland for the Empire, Mr. Redmond proceeded to offer the Volunteers for service abroad, and finally it was hoped by the Mansion House meeting to stampede the Provisional Committee and bully seduce or confuse the Volunteers into an en masse enrolment as soldiers of the British army. It was all well planned - the most gigantic, deep-laid and loathsome attempt in history to betray the soul of a people.
The unconquerable spirit of the Dublin Nationalists, the acute political insight of the Dublin workers and the Napoleon-like stroke of the old Provisional Committee in resuming control at the psychological moment saved the situation for the country at large, as the magnificently defiant demonstration at the head of Grafton and Dawson streets by the Citizen Army, saved the situation for Dublin itself.
We may now confidently expect the Redmondites to make the fight of their lives to resume control of the Volunteer movement. For that end they will flood the country with agents, for that end they will spend money like water - and as it is in the cause of England they will have money enough to spend - and for that end they will leave no stone unturned, no slander unused, no man or woman's character unassailed. It is a fight to a finish.
For some of us the finish may be on the scaffold, for some in the prison cell, for others more fortunate upon the battlefields of m Ireland in arms for a real republican liberty. We bespeak for the Provisional Committee the support of all ready to face whatever that fight may entail, in the determination that we shall show the world that, though Redmond may sell Ireland he cannot deliver the goods!