British Cabinet Conference on Irish Situation

Among those present were Lloyd George (PM); Andrew Bonar Law (Conservative Leader and Lord Privy Seal); Austen Chamberlain (Chancellor of the Exchequer); Winston Churchill (Secretary of State for War); Arthur Balfour (Lord President of the Council); Sir Hamar Greenwood (Chief Secretary for Ireland); Walter Hume Long (First Lord of the Admiralty);  Field Marshall Viscount French (Lord Lieutenant of Ireland),  Lord Birkenhead (Lord Chancellor); George Curzon (Foreign Secretary); Sir James Graig (in what capacity?), Sir Nevil Macready (GOC British Army in Ireland); Major General Hugh Tudor (see May 15th);  John Anderson (see May 22nd); James McMahon (see May 22nd); Andy Cope (see May 22nd); William Evelyn Wylie (Legal Advisor to Dublin Castle).  (Was Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, not there?)

Wylie presented two papers with the options of coercion or negotiations with Sinn Féin.   Coercion would entail “Martial Law of the most stringent kind”.  His opinion was that this was not a solution because “once lifted, the feeling of bitterness and hatred among the Irish towards Britain would intensify and conditions would return to the present strife”.    He argues for negotiations with Sinn Féin.  He said that they should drop the Government of Ireland Act in favour of Dominion Home Rule i.e. autonomy for Ireland within the Empire.  He is backed by Anderson. 

Tudor acknowledges that “as a police force the RIC could not last much longer” but he said that “they might have a great effect as a military body” and goes on to announce that he is recruiting 500 ex-officers and a number of ex-soldiers to make up for the resignations from the RIC [See July 10th and July 27th]. He argues for coercion and says that, with proper support, it would be possible to crush the “present campaign of outrage”. 

Two camps emerging.  On conciliation side were Macready, Greenwood, McMahon, Anderson, Cope, Wylie, Curzon and Chamberlain.  On the coercion side were Tudor, Long, Birkenhead, Churchill, Law, Balfour and Craig.  Lloyd George remained neutral.  Lloyd George asked Tudor, if the “inconveniences” he suggested would create the desired atmosphere whereby a settlement could be reached with Sinn Féin -  Tudor assured him that it would. 

While no conclusions were recorded, it would seem that a policy of coercion was agreed upon with their intention (hope?) of weakening the extremists in Sinn Féin and setting the conditions for negotiations in which dominion status would be offered to southern Ireland. If this interference as to the outcome of this meeting is correct, many people in Ireland were to suffer as a result.

[On another issue, during this meeting Churchill asked “What ... would happen if the Protestants in the six counties were given weapons and ... charged with maintaining law and order and policing the country”.  Craig says this action would prevent “mob rule” and “prevent the Protestants running amok”. Wylie said it would lead to civil war and Anderson said that it might lead to the massacre of Protestants in the south and west of Ireland.  See July 29th, September 2nd and October 22nd. Anderson was incorrect, when the ‘Specials’ were formed, it did not lead to a massacre of Protestants on the south and west of Ireland but the ‘Specials’ did engage in the killing of many Catholics within the six counties which were to become Northern Ireland.]