J

ohn Dillon (1851-1927) was born in Dublin, the son of the nationalist John Blake Dillon. After qualifying as a surgeon, he switched his attention to politics and became a strong Parnell supporter in the Land League. He was elected as MP for Tipperary in 1880, and five years later moved to represent East Mayo - a seat he held for over thirty years until his defeat by de Valera in 1918. He led the anti-Parnellite faction in the Irish Parliamentary Party after the O'Shea divorce case but was instrumental in ensuring Redmond's accession to the leadership of 'the reunited party in 1900.  

 

    During the 1916 Rising, Dillon, at home in his house in North Great Georges Street, was the only leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in Dublin. After the surrender he came quickly to the view that there should be no executions. Despite his lobbying, of the civilian and military authorities in Dublin, of Redmond and the Prime Minister, Asquith, the executions continued. When Dillon finally reached London he spoke in Parliament on May 11 with a passion and a bitterness that was to shock the House and to set him apart for evermore from many of his colleagues in the Irish Parliamentary Party. Dillon's motion on the adjournment of the House was an attempt to stop the execution, and a warning to the government of what its response to the Rising, had unleashed.

HOUSE OF COMMONS MAY 11, 1916

    …I go on to say a word as to the condition of Dublin itself, and of Ireland, from the point of view of military law. But before I do so I just want to say that the primary object of my Motion is to put an absolute and final stop to these executions. You are letting loose a river of blood, and, make no mistake about it, between two races who, after three hundred years of hatred and of strife, we had nearly succeeded in bringing together . . .

    It is the first rebellion that ever took place in Ireland where you had a majority on your side. It is the fruit of our life work. We have risked our lives a hundred times to bring about this result. We are held up to odium as traitors by those men who made this rebellion, and our lives have been in danger a hundred times during the last thirty years because we have endeavoured to reconcile the two things, and now you are washing out our whole life work in a sea of blood. In my opinion, at present the government of Ireland is largely in the hands of the Dublin clubs. The Prime Minister, when I asked him a question yesterday about the government of Ireland, told me that it was in the hands of the military officers, subject to the authority of British Cabinet. In my opinion, and I think I really am speaking on a matter that I know, the British Cabinet has much less power in Ireland today than the Kildare Street Club and certain other institutions. It is they who are influencing the policy of the military authorities. What is the use of telling me, as the Prime Minister told me yesterday, that the military authorities acted in close consultation with the civil executive officers of the Irish Government? That was the answer I got to my question. Who are the civil executive officers of the Irish Government? There are none; they have all disappeared. There is no Government in Ireland except Sir John Maxwell and the Dublin clubs, and I defy the Prime Minister to tell us who are the civil officers of the Irish Government with whom the military authorities are acting in consultation. Are we to be informed that Sir Robert Chalmers is the civil officer with whom the military generals are taking careful counsel, and is he so versed in Irish affairs that he can untie the tangle that has defied every British statesman for a hundred years? Everybody in Dublin knows that before the civil officers took to flight out of Dublin the military authorities treated them with undisguised contempt, and from the day martial law was proclaimed civil government came to an absolute end . . .

     The worst of the situation is that there are many men in Dublin, I know of my own knowledge, who are going about the streets today openly glorying in the revolt - I mean of the old ascendancy party. What is the talk in the clubs and certain districts in Dublin? It is that this is the best thing that has ever happened in Ireland, because they say it has brought us martial law, and real government into the country, and it will put an end for ever to this rotten Nationalist party . . .

     This may horrify you, but I declare most solemnly, and I am not ashamed to say it in the House of Commons, that I am proud of these men. They were foolish; they were misled . . . I say I am proud of their courage, and, if you were not so dense and so stupid, as some of you English people are, you could have had these men fighting for you, and they are men worth having. [Hon. Members: “You stopped them.”] That is an infamous falsehood. I and the men who sit around me have been doing our best to bring these men into the ranks of the Army. I say that we have been doing our best to bring these men into the ranks of the Army, and it is the blundering manner in which our country has been ruled which has deprived you of their services. These men require no Compulsory Service Bill to make them fight. Ours is a fighting race, and as I told you when I was speaking before on the Military Service Bill, “It is not a Military Service Bill that you want in Ireland.” If you had passed a Military Service Bill for Ireland, it would have taken 150,000 men and three months' hard fighting to have dealt with it. It is not a Military Service Bill that you want in Ireland: it is to find a way to the hearts of the Irish people, and when you do that you will find that you have got a supply of the best troops in the whole world. How can we, in the face of these facts, accept the statement of the Prime Minister that according to the best of his knowledge no men are being secretly shot in Ireland? The fact of the matter is that what is poisoning the mind of Ireland, and rapidly poisoning it, is the secrecy of these trials and the continuance of these executions.

     Compare the conduct of the Government in dealing with this rebellion with the conduct of General Botha.  I say deliberately that in the whole of modern history, taking all the circumstances into account, there has been no rebellion or insurrection put down with so much blood and so much savagery as the recent insurrection in Ireland . . .

     As I say, there were some very bad actions, but as regards the main body of the insurgents, their conduct was beyond reproach as fighting men. I admit they were wrong; I know they were wrong; but they fought a clean fight, and they fought with superb bravery and skill, and no act of savagery or act against the usual customs of war that I know of has been brought home to any leader or any organised body of insurgents. I have not heard of a single act, I may he wrong, but that is my impression…

     What is happening is that thousands of people in Dublin, who ten days ago were bitterly opposed to the whole of the Sinn Fein movement and to the rebellion, are now becoming infuriated against the Government on account of these executions, and, as I am informed by letters received this morning, that feeling is spreading throughout the country in a most dangerous degree…

     We, I think, have a right, we who speak for the vast majority of the Irish people, and we do; we who have risked a great deal to win the people to your side in this great crisis of your Empire’s history: we who have endeavoured, and successfully endeavoured, to secure that the Irish in America shall not go into alliance with the Germans in that country - we, I think, were entitled to be consulted before this bloody course of executions were entered upon in Ireland. God knows the result of flouting our advice, as it has been flouted in the conduct of Irish affairs ever since the Coalition Government was formed, has not been a brilliant one. I think that in this matter we were entitled to he consulted…But it is not murderers who are being executed; it is insurgents who have fought a clean fight, however misguided, and it would be a damned good thing for you if your soldiers were able to put up as good a fight as did these men in Dublin - three thousand men against twenty thousand with machine guns and artillery. [An Hon. Member: “Evidently you wish they had succeeded.”] That is an infamous falsehood. Who is it said that? It is an abominable falsehood. I say that these men, misguided as they were, have been our bitterest enemies. They have held us up to public odium as traitors to our country because we have supported you at this moment and stood by you in this great War, and the least we are entitled to is this, that in this great effort which we have made at considerable risk - an effort such as the Hon. Members who interrupted me could never have attempted - to bring the masses of the Irish people into harmony with you, in this great effort at reconciliation - I say, we were entitled to every assistance from the Members of this House and from the Government.

From Great Irish Speeches of the Twentieth Century, 1996, Poolbeg Press Ltd., Dublin.  ISBN 1 85371 613 8 © Michael McLoughlin 1996

 

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