August 15, 2015

Edward Carson and John Redmond respond to the Easter Rising (May 3 1916)

Cartoon of Carson and Redmond by Percy Fearon, 'Poy'. 
On May 3 1916 the House of Commons convening for a motion titled ‘Disturbances in Ireland, Resignation of Mr. Birrell’. John Redmond and Edward Carson both spoke in reaction to the Easter Rising that broke out on April 24 1916. The Ulster poet John Hewitt said: "I accepted Sir Edward Carson and his twin, John Redmond, as men from the same country as myself, who had diverging ideas about the governing of it." John Redmond said:
"It is unnecessary for me to say that the whole of this incident in Ireland has been to me a misery and a heart breaking. One of its immediate consequences has been the withdrawal of the right hon. Gentleman (Birrell)… He has taken blame this afternoon, and he has been widely blamed in this country already… Of course, I had no responsibility of the same kind as the right hon. Gentleman, but I do feel, and I think it is only just that I should say it, that I have incurred some share of the blame which be has laid at his own door, because I entirely agreed with his view that the danger of an outbreak of this kind was not a real one, and in my conversations with him I have expressed that view, and, for all I know, what I have said to him may have influenced him in his conduct and in his management of Irish affairs. Therefore, I think it is only just on my part that I should to that extent share the blame which he lays upon his own shoulders… Let me, in conclusion, say one sentence. This outbreak, happily, seems to be over. It has been dealt with with firmness, which was not only right, but it was the duty of the Government to so deal with it. As the rebellion, or the outbreak, call it what you like, has been put down with firmness, I do beg the Government, and I speak from the very bottom of my heart and with all my earnestness, not to show undue hardship or severity to the great masses of those who are implicated, on whose shoulders there lies a guilt far different from that which lies upon the instigators and promoters of the outbreak. Let them, in the name of God, not add this to the miserable, wretched memories of the Irish people, to be stored up perhaps for generations, but let them deal with it in such a spirit of leniency as was recently exhibited in South Africa by General Botha, and in that way pave the way to the possibility which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Birrell) hinted at, that out of the ashes of this miserable tragedy there may spring up something which will re-round to the future happiness of Ireland and the future complete and absolute unity of this Empire. I beg of the Government, having put down this outbreak with firmness, to take only such action as will leave the least rankling bitterness in the minds of the Irish people, both in Ireland and elsewhere throughout the world."
Edward Carson said in the May sitting:
"Throughout the last few days in these unfortunate and terrible occurrences which have happened in Ireland, I have endeavoured for the sake of our common country to associate myself as far as possible with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. Redmond), and therefore I may be allowed to say a few words… With reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Waterford, and what he has said about these unfortunate dupes in Ireland, let me say that, while I think that it is in the best interests of that country that this conspiracy of the Sinn Feiners, which has nothing to do with either of the political parties in Ireland, ought to be put down with courage and determination, and with an example which would prevent a revival, yet it would be a mistake to suppose that any true Irishman calls for vengeance. It will be a matter requiring the greatest wisdom and the greatest coolness, may I say, in dealing with these men, and all that I say to the Executive is, whatever is done, let it not be done in a moment of temporary excitement, but with due deliberation in regard both to the past and to the future."
Carson also said on the June 6 1916:
"I cannot find words to describe my own horror when I heard of it. For I am bound to admit to you that I was not thinking merely of Ulster; I was thinking of the war; I was thinking, as I am always thinking, of what will happen if we are beaten in the war. I was thinking of the sacrifice of human lives at the front, and in Gallipoli, and at Kut, when suddenly I heard that the whole thing was interrupted by, forsooth, an Irish rebellion—by what Mr. Dillon in the House of Commons called a clean fight! It is not Ulster or Ireland that is now at stake: it is the British Empire. We have therefore to consider not merely a local problem, but a great Imperial problem—how to win the war."
In 1919 Carson wrote abut ‘The Shame of Easter Week’, writing:
"It is said that the Ulster people are a very unreasonable lot. Let us try and see the encouragement we got in the course of the war to join hands with our friends, our fellow-citizens, our fellow-countrymen in the South and West. I have told you what we did. Let me be perfectly clear. There were many in the South and West who went out and fought for their country. And whether differ from us in politics or religion, we shake hands with these men as heroes who did their duty to their King and their country. But they were not the bulk of the Irish people. Was there ever great shame brought upon a country than there was upon Ireland in Easter week of 1916? Alliance with Germany because they thought Germany was going to win: shooting our soldiers in the streets of Dublin when those soldiers ought to have been fighting on the fields of Flanders and France. Cruel, horrible assassination, for it was nothing else. But it was not different from what happened in history at all times. When England was in difficulty, Ireland or a certain class of Irishmen thought they had their opportunity. Have I learned a lesson from the war? What is his lesson? His lesson forsooth is that we have advanced nearer to an arrangement - an agreement - between us in soul and spirit because forsooth in the darkest hour of our country’s history some of our fellow-countrymen thought they had an opportunity of striking a felon’s blow, not merely at England, but at the liberty of the world?"
In Hansard here. Read Augustine Birrell's resignation speech here. Read Carson and Redmond's response in the Commons here. John Dillon spoke shrilly on may 10 1916 about the executions, see here. More here by John Dillon on the executions. Unsurprisingly, relations improved dramatically between the two Irish factions in the London parliament. Redmond said:
"I am in complete sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman [Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith] in his references to the new and improved atmosphere which has surrounded this Irish question quite recently. One great good, at any rate, has come out of what has been happening during the last few weeks. That is that the relations between the Irish Nationalist party and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) and his friends have considerably improved. There is less bitterness than ever there was between us, and I, for my part, will be careful, both in this House and out of it, to do nothing and to say nothing in the direction of importing that bitterness in the future. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University recognises now frankly—he has done it in this House: he has done it in the public Press—that the Home Rule Act is on the Statute Book. In addition to that, I think that I am not doing the smallest injustice when I say that his desire, just as much as my desire, is to see in the future a united Ireland. The difference, however, in arriving at that goal which exists between us is largely one of method. But that difference is one which, in my opinion, is not only capable, but is certain one of these days of a peaceful settlement. I certainly, therefore, will lose no opportunity of strengthening the better feeling which has arisen."

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