Let’s cut to the chase. When the powers that oversee and direct government set up a Royal Commission or Board of Enquiry, they do so under terms that normally come to the conclusion they seek. To ensure this, they place one or more of their trusted agents as chairman or prosecutor and then set the parameters within which the so-called enquiry must operate. That done, the findings will be exactly as they require. For example, they chose Viscount Bryce, the former (and popular) Ambassador to America, to chair the report on Alleged German Outrages [1] in December 1914, and set a remit which barred the members of the committee from interviewing witnesses. They had access only to the depositions taken by barristers and despite protests, second-hand accounts were as close as the committee members came to hard fact. [2] In like vein for the Enquiry into the sinking of the Lusitania, (issued July 1915) they chose Sir Edward Carson and his associate, F E Smith, both trusted agents of the Secret Elite, as the prosecutors of Commander William Turner in order to blacken his name and divert attention away from the lies the Admiralty had concocted to explain the sinking of the Titanic. [3] So it was with the Royal Commission on the Rebellion in Ireland.

Royal Commission on the Rebellion in Ireland, better known as the Easter RisingGiven the outrage expressed in Unionist quarters, Asquith had no option but to announce a Royal Commission [4] to ‘enquire into the causes’ of the ‘recent outbreak of rebellion in Ireland.’ There was a second part to the remit entrusted to the King’s chosen Commissioners, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, Sir Montague Shearman and Sir Mackenzie Chalmers. [5] These men were charged to examine the conduct and degree of responsibility of the civil and military executive for the events over Easter Weekend. In other words the focus was centred on the presumed failure of British officials to take action which would have stopped the uprising, rather than the causes of the rising itself.

Typical of a Secret Elite-led pre-determined investigation, these men represented the British Establishment with Hardinge, a career diplomat and close personal friend and advisor to King Edward VII. He had accompanied the king on all of his foreign tours and was very influential in the creation of the 1904 Entente Cordiale and the secret convention with Russia in 1907. [6] Be assured, Hardinge was a central figure in preparing the war against Germany. Later Hardinge was appointed Viceroy of India. Shearman was a King’s Bench judge who had long-standing interest in Amateur Athletics. He was also the ‘unofficial standing counsel to leading moneylender’s firms’ and according to his biographer, was ‘not a profound jurist’. [7] His colleague, Mackenzie Chalmers, was a legal civil servant with a life-long love of cricket. Both were former Oxford men with no previous experience of Ireland, and their appointments were uncontroversial. That was just was well since the terms of the Royal Commission limited their investigation to the acts of omission for which the Ulster Unionists, including their Secret Elite associates, blamed everyone except themselves.

Poor Birrell. Though he had resigned his position as Chief Secretary for Ireland on 1 May 1916, the knives had been drawn by his Unionist critics immediately word of the uprising reached London. Lord Midleton leaped into the fray on 26 April blaming the Chief Secretary and his administration for refusing to act quickly and decisively against the enemies of the Crown in Ireland. ‘Nothing has been left undone by interview or memoranda, or the giving of evidence so far as it was necessary, to induce the Irish Government to act.

The Workers Republic, one of the newspapers banned in 1916.

Yet they allowed parades of the Sinn Feiners to continue Sunday after Sunday; they allowed these [Republican] newspapers to circulate; they allowed posters of the most seditious character, especially directed against recruiting, to be broadcast in a number of districts in Ireland. As recently as last week all these matters were brought before the Irish Government, with an intimation that if they did not deal with them quickly the opportunity might come too late.’ [8] With only minor variations, these words could have been lifted from Hansard and inserted into Hardinge’s eventual Report. What transpired was an exercise in providing a pre-determined conclusion.

The Report duly followed Midleton’s litany of liberal blame, though it acknowledged that in Ireland, ’there is always a section of opinion bitterly opposed to the British connection’ and ‘in times of excitement this section can impose its sentiments on largely increased numbers of the people’ [9] Birrell himself commented on the ‘old hatred and distrust of the British connection, always noticeable in all classes, and in all places, varying in degree, and finding different ways of expression, but always there as the background of Irish politics and character.’ [10] No attempt was made to explain why this might be. The Report stated that the creation of a Citizen Army in 1913 during the industrial unrest in Dublin, and the criticism voiced by organisers like James Connolly should, like other examples of lawlessness and disorder, have been nipped in the bud

The inherent belief that the Irish were weaker in the mind, of a lower species than the English was never far from the surface.

It was the old story. Inherent racism and disparagement of the Irish was never far from the English pen. They accepted the view that ‘Irish people are easily led’ [11] and argued that the government’s failure to take prompt action meant that ‘strong repressive measures became necessary, and much hardship is imposed on the misled, but perhaps comparatively inoffensive people’. These words could have been mouthed by a nineteenth-century slave-owner. Note the implied difference between the King’s subjects in different parts of Great Britain and Ireland. Irish people were easily led. Not quite up to the mark of the stout Englishman or the trusty Scot.

While the landing of arms and ammunition at Howth in July 1914 was examined in a twenty-line paragraph, the only reference to gun-running in Ulster was reduced to a ten-word aside. [12] Great attention was given to the alliance between the Irish Volunteers and the Citizen Army and their practice of drilling and ‘seditious’ practices. Without any concrete evidence it was asserted that ‘a considerable number of the younger members of the priesthood in certain districts joined in the movement and schoolmasters who were followers of the Sinn Fein movement disseminated treason amongst younger people through the medium of the Irish language’. And there you have it; the fault could be traced to young educated catholics, teachers, clergymen and Gaels.

Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party was also blamed for its negative attitude towards suppression and the deportation of agitators. [13] Examine, please, the following statement: ‘Irishmen no doubt appreciate the maintenance of order, but they appear to have an inveterate prejudice against punishment of disorder’. Was the Scotsman, the Welshman or the Englishman, for that matter, any different? Apparently so.

The Commission was given sight of letters confiscated by the Censor, confidential reports from the Inspector-General of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and notes on speeches recorded by police spies at the first Annual Convention of the Irish Volunteers in October 1914. These had been duly submitted to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Augustine Birrell, ‘but he wrote no comment on their content and no proceedings were taken.’ Here lay the principal accusation filed against Asquith’s representative in Ireland.

Roger Casement with John Devoy of Clan Na Gael in America.

His enemies unearthed evidence of reports from Tyrone, from County Wexford, letters from Clan-na-Gael in America [14] and more indicating ‘disloyal and anti-British’ sedition in various parts of the country… and in their eyes, he did nothing. It was as if Birrell’s chief fault was that he tried to retain a balance in his approach to both sides in Ireland, a heinous crime to those of unionist persuasion.

Lord Midleton had attended an interview with Chief Secretary Birrell in November 1915 in which he strongly urged the disarming of the Irish Volunteers (but not the remaining Ulster Volunteers) and the prosecution of those responsible for seditious talk. Just how that would have been achieved or the impact it would have had on the Irishmen who had enlisted in their thousands, is not considered. However, ‘his warnings were entirely neglected.’ Indeed Lord Midleton, active at the very heart of the Secret Elite, sent regular warnings of dire consequences if the prime minister and his cabinet continued to adopt a cautious approach to dissent in Ireland.

Every Unionist prejudice was aired. The government was accused of knowing that various parts of the country were lawless; that the Irish volunteers had stolen arms and high explosives; that trial by jury was a failure and magistrates could not be entrusted to enforce the law. The Army Intelligence Department sought to close down and impound newspapers and suppress ‘seditious’ books but the civil authorities would not listen. [15] Sir Matthew Nathan submitted a list of ‘seditious newspapers’ in circulation in February 1916 to the Royal Commission, The aggregate circulation was at best around 24,000 copies (averaging 2,400 copies per paper) and these were not all daily publications. [16]

Volunteers parade on St Patrick's Day 1916 in Dublin

Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March 1916 was watched very carefully by the intelligence services and the consequent report from the Inspector-General of the RIC stated that; ‘there can be no doubt that the Irish Volunteer leaders are a pack of rebels who would declare their independence in the event of any favourable opportunity, but with their present resources and without substantial reinforcements it is difficult to imagine that they will make even a brief stand against a small body of troops.’ [17] On the morning of 24 April 1916, the authorities in Dublin Castle, concerned that some action needed to be taken, proposed to intern and deport to England all known ‘hostile leaders’, but, before any further steps could be taken, the ‘insurrection’ broke out. [18]

Had they been in possession of the secret information divulged by Roger Casement to his interrogators in London [See Ireland 1916, Blog 7] even as late as Easter Sunday, everything would have been different. But it clearly did not suit the hidden powers to stop the planned insurrection. Their’s was a different agenda.

The report’s conclusion was exactly as Lord Midleton had pronounced. It determined that the main cause of the Uprising was the ‘lawlessness’ which was allowed to grow unchecked in a country which had been administered for the past several years ‘on the principle that it was safer and more expedient to leave law in abeyance if collision with any faction of the Irish people could thereby be avoided.’ [19] No mention was made of injustices; of one law for the south and another in the north. It was the fault of the Irish Government (by that they specifically meant Augustine Birrell) in not suppressing and prosecuting those flagrantly breaking the law … though no reference was made in any part of the report to activities like drilling and bearing arms in public in Ulster. ‘We are of the opinion that the Chief Secretary as the administrative head of Your Majesty’s Government in Ireland is primarily responsible for the situation that was allowed to arise and the outbreak that occurred. [20] Just as Midleton had pronounced in Parliament in April 1916.

But there was more. It was, they also determined, the fault of the Irish Home Rule Party which was accused of promoting the belief that the government would take no action against sedition. According to the report, ‘this led to a rapid increase of preparations for insurrection and was the immediate cause of the recent outbreak.’

What? The Home Rule Party was to blame for the uprising? What balanced examination of evidence elicited that conclusion? Not one member of the Home Rule Party had been invited to contribute to the Royal Commission. Such arrogant, politically motivated invention was completely out of order. But there it stood in black and white. Tellingly, the Report was not debated in parliament, but an outraged John Dillon condemned its findings in a later speech on Irish matters: ‘It is in my opinion a scandalous Report; it is one-sided, full of misrepresentations, but our main objection is as regards the personal character of its evidence and the method of its procedure, … what sense of justice or fair play is there in a body of men who hold up myself and the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond) as responsible for the government of Ireland and never give us an opportunity of appearing before the Commission?’ [21]

Poor Dillon; all of his hopes and expectations for Ireland crumbled before his eyes. Asquith’s promises, the very will of parliament itself, took a different shape after the introduction of the Coalition Government in 1915. Ulster’s men were in the ascendency once more. The Home Rule Party was undermined at every turn and as the months progressed, the Irish people felt increasingly betrayed by those who had promised, and apparently guaranteed, a Dublin government. The Royal Commission on the Rebellion in Ireland was part of the charade in which Ireland’s future had become embroiled.

[1] Report of the Committee on Alleged German Outrages, published, 12 May, 1915, https://archive.org/details/reportofcommitte00grea
[2] See our blog of 10 September 2014, The Bryce Report, Whatever Happened to the Evidence?
[3 See our blog, Lusitania 6: Lord Mersey’s Whitewash.
[4] Although announced beforehand by the prime minister, the formal notice of the Royal Commission on the Rebellion in Ireland was issued on 10 May, 1916.
[5] Royal Commission on the Rebellion in Ireland, p. 2. see http://www.garda.ie/Documents/User/Royal%20Commission%20on%20the%20Rebellion%20in%20Ireland%201916.pdf
[6] Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment, pp. 24-5.
[7] Theobald Mathew, revised by G R Rubin, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry for Lord Hardinge.
[8] Hansard, House of Lords Debate 26 April 1916 vol 21 cc819-22.
[9] Royal Commission on the Rebellion in Ireland, p.5.
[10] Ibid., Causes of the Outbreak.
[11] Ibid., evidence of Sir David Harrel, p.5.
[12] Ibid., p. 6.
[13] Ibid., p. 7.
[14] Set up by Irish emigrants in America, Clan na Gael supported an independent Ireland. The Clan was prepared to enter into alliances with any nation ranged against the British which meant Germany on the outbreak of war. It was the largest single financier for the Easter Rising.
[15] Specific mention was made of the series of pamphlets, ‘Tracts for Our Times’, produced by Irish Volunteer Supporters, Royal Commission on the Rebellion in Ireland, p. 10.
16] These included the Irish Volunteer, Nationality, The Irishman, The Hibernian, The Spark, The Gael, New Ireland and The Worker’s Republic, – Sir Matthew Nathan’s list of newspaper circulation, Royal Commission Report, Minutes of Evidence, p. 118.
[17] Royal Commission on the Rebellion in Ireland, p. 10-11.
[18] Ibid., p. 12.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid., p. 13.
[21] Hansard, House of Commons Debate, 31 July 1916 vol 84 cc2127.