The First World War:
Free Citizens of a Free Empire?
THE SUSPENSION of the Home Rule Bill in September 1914notwithstanding, the 'Nat-Lab' leaders of the INP were unquestioning in support of the war effort, a stance T.P. O'Connor justified to critical compatriots in America: 'The Irish Party, when they realised that on this occasion England was in the right, did not allow their historical wrongs to prejudice them.'1 As perceived by Harford and the INP councillors, whole-hearted participation in the war would not only underwrite and guarantee the Home Rule settlement for Ireland; it would also enhance the profile (and improve the lot) of the Liverpool-Irish. Hence their support extended beyond military recruitment to special war-time labour schemes in armaments factories and on the docks, hoping thereby to enhance the future employment prospects of constituents previously doomed to 'blind-alley' occupations and casualism. Throughout the war, politicians and priests vied with each other in patriotic rhetoric, seeking to secure full citizenship rights for Catholics and Irish within the 'free' imperial framework.
A master of the 'sound-bite' ahead of his time, T.P. O'Connor led the way in a famous speech on 'Our Empire' at a recruiting rally at Tournament Hall in September 1914, recalled with glowing approval by dissident Tories in the 1930s:
Our Empire, founded on freedom, on free institutions, on the respect for
nationality. We ask no man to abandon his language. We ask no man to
1LCH 10 Aug. 1918.