difference in the strength of parties, but Mr George Wyndham took Mr Gerald Balfour’s place as chief secretary, without a seat in the Cabinet. Both before and after the election the United Irish League steadily advanced, fresh branches continually springing up.
The visit of Mr Redmond and others to America in 1901 was not believed to have brought in much money, and the activity of the League was more or less restrained by want of funds. Boycotting, however, became Recent years. rife, especially in Sligo, and paid agents also promoted an agitation against grass farms in Tipperary, Clare and other southern counties. In Roscommon there was a strike against rent, especially on the property of Lord De Freyne. This was due to the action of the Congested Districts Board in buying the Dillon estate and reducing all the rents without consulting the effect upon others. It was argued that no one else’s tenants could be expected to pay more. Some prosecutions were undertaken, but the government was much criticized for not using the special provisions of the Crimes Act; and in April 1902 certain counties were “proclaimed” under it. In February 1902 Lord Rosebery definitely repudiated Home Rule, and steps to oppose his followers were at once taken among Irish voters in English constituencies.
Lord Cadogan resigned the viceroyalty in July 1902, and was succeeded by Lord Dudley. In November Sir Antony Macdonnell (b. 1844), a member of the Indian Council, became under-secretary to the lord-lieutenant. During a long and successful career in India (1865-1901) Sir Antony had never concealed his Nationalist proclivities, but his appointment, about the form of which there was nothing peculiar, was favoured by Lord Lansdowne and Lord George Hamilton, and ultimately sanctioned by Mr Balfour, who had been prime minister since Lord Salisbury’s resignation in July. About the same time a conference took place in Dublin between certain landlords and some members of the Nationalist party, of whom Mr W. O’Brien was the most conspicuous. Lord Dunraven presided, and it was agreed to recommend a great extension of the Land Purchase system with a view to give the vendor as good an income as before, while decreasing the tenants’ annual burden. This was attempted in Mr Wyndham’s Land Purchase Act of 1903, which gave the tenants a material reduction, a bonus of 12% on the purchase-money being granted to vendors from funds provided by parliament. A judicial decision made it doubtful whether this percentage became the private property of tenants for life on settled estates, but a further act passed in 1904 answered the question in the affirmative. After this the sale of estates proceeded rapidly. In March 1903 was published the report of the Royal Commission on Irish University Education appointed two years before with Lord Robertson as chairman, Trinity College, Dublin, being excluded from the inquiry. The report, which was not really unanimous, was of little value as a basis for legislation. It recommended an examining university with the Queen’s Colleges at Belfast, Cork and Galway, and with a new and well-endowed Roman Catholic college in Dublin.
In August was formed the Irish Reform Association out of the wreckage of the late Land Conference and under Lord Dunraven’s presidency, and it was seen that Sir A. Macdonnell took a great interest in the proceedings. The “Devolution” question. Besides transferring private bill legislation to Dublin on the Scottish plan, to which no one in Ireland objected, it was proposed to hand over the internal expenditure of Ireland to a financial council consisting half of nominated and half of elected members, and to give an Irish assembly the initiative in public Irish bills. This policy, which was called Devolution, found little support anywhere, and was ultimately repudiated both by Mr Wyndham and by Mr Balfour. But a difficult parliamentary crisis, caused by Irish Unionist suspicions on the subject, was only temporarily overcome by Mr Wyndham’s resignation in March 1905. Mr Walter Long succeeded him. One of the chief questions at issue was the position actually occupied by Sir Antony Macdonnell. The new chief secretary, while abstaining from displacing the under-secretary, whose encouragement of “devolution” had caused considerable commotion among Unionists, announced that he considered him as on the footing of an ordinary and subordinate civil servant, but Mr Wyndham had said that he was “invited by me rather as a colleague than as a mere under-secretary to register my will,” and Lord Lansdowne that he “could scarcely expect to be bound by the narrow rules of routine which are applicable to an ordinary member of the civil service.” While Mr Long remained in office no further complication arose, but in 1906 (Sir A. Macdonnell being retained in office by the Liberal government) his Nationalist leanings again became prominent, and the responsibility of the Unionist government in introducing him into the Irish administration became a matter of considerable heart-burning among the Unionist party.
Mr Balfour resigned in December 1905 and was succeeded by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Lord Aberdeen becoming lord-lieutenant for the second time, with Mr James Bryce as chief secretary. The general election at the beginning of 1906 was disastrous to the Unionist party, and the Liberal government secured an enormous majority. Mr Walter Long, unseated at Bristol, had made himself very popular among Irish Unionists, and a seat was found him in the constituency of South Dublin. Speaking in August 1906 he raised anew the Macdonnell question and demanded the production of all correspondence connected with the under-secretary’s appointment. Sir A. Macdonnell at once admitted through the newspapers that he had in his possession letters (rumoured to be “embarrassing” to the Unionist leaders) which he might publish at his own discretion; and the discussion as to how far his appointment by Mr Wyndham had prejudiced the Unionist cause was reopened in public with much bitterness, in view of the anticipation of further steps in the Home Rule direction by the Liberal ministry. In 1908 Sir Antony resigned and was created a peer as Baron Macdonnell. Soon after the change of government in 1906 a royal commission, with ex-Lord Justice Fry as chairman, was appointed to investigate the condition of Trinity College, Dublin, and another under Lord Dudley to inquire into the question of the congested districts.
Mr Bryce being appointed ambassador to Washington, Mr Birrell faced the session of 1907 as chief secretary. Before he left office Mr Bryce publicly sketched a scheme of his own for remodelling Irish University Education, but his scheme was quietly put on the shelf by his successor and received almost universal condemnation. Mr Birrell began by introducing a bill for the establishment of an Irish Council, which would have given the Home Rulers considerable leverage, but, to the surprise of the English Liberals, it was summarily rejected by a Nationalist convention in Dublin, and was forthwith abandoned. The extreme party of Sinn Fein (“ourselves alone”) were against it because of the power it gave to the government officials, and the Roman Catholic clergy because it involved local control of primary education, which would have imperilled their position as managers. An Evicted Tenants Bill was however passed at the end of the session, which gave the Estates Commissioners unprecedented powers to take land compulsorily. In the late summer and autumn, agitation in Ireland (led by Mr Ginnell, M.P.) took the form of driving cattle off large grass farms, as part of a campaign against what was known as “ranching.” This reckless and lawless practice extended to several counties, but was worst in Galway and Roscommon. The government was determined not to use the Crimes Act, and the result was that offenders nearly always went unpunished, benches of magistrates being often swamped by the chairmen of district councils who were ex officio justices under the act of 1898.
The general election of 1910 placed the Liberal and Unionist parties in a position of almost exact equality in the House of Commons, and it was at once evident that the Nationalists under Mr Redmond’s leadership would hold the balance of power and control the fortunes of Mr Asquith’s government.