Split in Volunteers deepens
Battle for control of the Irish Volunteers between Redmond and MacNeill
The split in the Irish Volunteer movement has deepened with branches across the country declaring their support for rival leadership groups.
The majority of the branches are moving to align themselves with the leadership of John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, with a smaller number loyal to the leadership of Prof. Eoin MacNeill.
Prof. MacNeill and his supporters within the Volunteer movement have announced that they will hold a national convention in Dublin on 25 October.
Referring to the moves by Eoin MacNeill and others to re-assert control over the Volunteers after his plea for the Volunteers to join the British army, Mr. Redmond said in Kilkenny yesterday that they were were ‘cranks and mischief-makers, lurking in dark corners, to endeavour to stab us and trip us up in our work’.
He continued by describing them as: ‘A little body of men who, if you look back on the last 20 or 30 years, have done absolutely nothing to gain our free Constitution, whose names you can’t find in the nationalist movement for the last twenty years.’
Mr. Redmond repeated his plea for Irishmen to join the British army: ‘To say that we will only defend Ireland by remaining at home at ease is, I say plainly here, a contemptible policy. We should bear our share, our fair share, of the obligations of the position we have won.’
Redmond said that he was glad to be able to say that Irishmen had thus far more than fulfilled their duties: ‘Thousands, and tens of thousands of reservists, drawn mostly from the ranks of the National Volunteers, had been summoned to the colours, and had gone willingly to the front – in many cases escorted by their fellow countrymen with bands and banners in procession to the railway stations.’
Mr. Redmond then referred to rumours that the British government intends to introduce conscription for Ireland which have swept Dublin, with the old Militia Ballot Act said to be the proposed means by which men will be drafted into the army.
He said that newspaper stories that the British government intends to enforce the Militia Ballot Act in Ireland are ‘absolute lies’ and ‘ridiculous falsehoods’.
Redmond’s claims have been rejected by the Irish Independent, however, which is standing over its story. Amongst the evidence to support its claim that the government was seriously considering enforcing the Act, the paper points to the fact that the necessary forms and proclamations have been printed to allow for it to be enforced.
The Independent asks: ‘Does Mr. Redmond suggest that the printers took this work upon themselves as a piece of pastime?’
In his contribution to the debate, Prof. Eoin MacNeill said any attempt to enforce the Militia Ballot Act would be unconstitutional and unlawful.
He said that reviving the act ‘would be a piece of lawless military despotism. The Act belongs to a bygone age of landlord ascendancy, when the governing classes thought they could do as they pleased with common people’.