Redmond’s role in story of State should be recognised
A hundred years ago today, John Redmond led a delegation to a conference that hoped to find a resolution to the Home Rule crisis
Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party John Redmond (1856 - 1918, left) with Irish nationalist politician John Dillon (1851 - 1927), circa 1910. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
John Bruton’s recent reassertion that he was a “Redmondite” drew a speedy response in this newspaper’s letters page. Gerry Adams recently referred to Fine Gael as a party of “Redmondites” – it was not meant as a complimentary remark.
Redmond can still polarise opinion. But one fact is clear. He is the third giant in a constitutional triumvirate that includes O’Connell and Parnell, and that dominated Irish politics for a century. The title of the recently published second part of Dermot Meleady’s two volume biography of Redmond is The National Leader. Both friend and foe of the time would have recognised that to be the case.
Nonetheless the modern debate surrounding Redmond’s place in the Irish national story is unsurprising.
It is not difficult to understand why a man who called on Irish nationalists not only to defend the island of Ireland during the first World War but to volunteer for the British army has been written out of a national narrative based on Easter 1916.
It is not difficult to see either how a man whose Irishness was matched by an affinity to the British Empire was forgotten in independent Ireland.
And it is not difficult to see how a man hostile to women’s suffrage (unlike his brother) would be disregarded by at least half our population.
But none of these things should detract from the contribution made by him and his party to Irish independence.
At times, those like John Bruton who have argued for Redmond’s rehabilitation in the national story sought to do so at the expense of the Republican generation that followed. While sincerely held, this view has mitigated against a re-examination of Redmond’s record.
Perhaps it would be more helpful to look at the issue another way.
Ultimately, it is difficult to see how the independence whose centenary we will celebrate in 2021 could have been possible without the Home Rule movement.
Army mutiny Without the Home Rule Act, the 1916 Rising has no context. By 1916 Britain had made a concession and failed to deliver. The Conservatives had flouted the laws of British democracy. The army had mutinied. The Irish people, not just a vanguard of Republicans, had been brought to a place and collectively let down.
Speaking in Wexford in 1956 at an event to mark the centenary of Redmond’s birth, one of his colleagues, Sir John Esmonde, described Ireland as having been “cheated and betrayed” in 1914.
Having played by the rules of parliamentary politics for 30 years, the rules had been changed just as victory seemed imminent. Redmond and his acolytes did not recognise it at the time, but at that stage their goose was cooked. It would fall to a generation of militarists to match the Orange Card and exhaust Britain’s will to stay in Ireland.
But 1916, without the parliamentary achievement of 1914, could very well have had as little success as 1798, 1848 or 1867.
The Home Rule Act of 1914 was a monumental achievement. In it the United Kingdom conceded to the democratically expressed wishes of the Irish people to govern themselves.