The Irish Times, along with other conservative news media, has made some valiant attempts in recent months to defend the political legacy of the Irish Parliamentary Party leader, John Redmond, principally by ignoring his greatest contribution to the story of this island nation; namely his acquiescence to unionist and British demands for its partition in the first two decades of the 20th century. Unfortunately for the neo-Redmondites of the right-wing press we have the contemporary records and accounts of history to parse their revisionist nonsense against. As far back as 1914 an illustrator with the satirical Puck magazine in the United States aptly summed up the politics of Ireland in the years before the Easter Rising of 1916. What Redmond and his fellow preachers of appeasement had agreed to in the UK’s Government of Ireland Act 1914, the so-called Third Home Rule Bill, was a country divided between two rival regional assemblies: one administrating twenty-four or twenty-six counties of “Southern Ireland” (essentially the provinces of Leinster, Munster and Connacht) and one administrating nine or six counties of “Northern Ireland” (possibly all of the province of Ulster). In effect, two glorified Stormonts, one in Dublin and one in Belfast, each in direct opposition to the other.
All real power would have remained with the Imperial Parliament and government in London and the existing colonial authorities of Lord Lieutenants, Secretaries of State, Under-Secretaries and Privy Councillors at the Viceregal Lodge and Dublin Castle. The “parliaments” would have been talking shops, with no say over taxes, the economy, education, health, policing, the judiciary, defence, foreign relations and so on. In other words, all the things that matter. What John Redmond and the IPP (and Carson and the Ulster unionists) claimed as victory in 1914, and what their apologists continue to claim, was nothing more than hollow shells, institutions with less authority than a county council. The modern nation state of Ireland was born in the crucible of 1916, not in the St. James’ Street clubs and Westminster lounges of 1914 and the years that proceeded it.