Evelyn Waugh’s view of the Restoration of Order in Ireland Bill

houses of parliament photoOn 5 August 1920, Evelyn Waugh, then a schoolboy aged 16, went to visit the Houses of Parliament on the invitation of John Molson MP, father of one of his schoolfriends. He managed to get in to witness part of the debate on the Restoration of Order in Ireland Bill, which gave the government special powers in its fight against the IRA. He recorded the episode in his diary:

[The bill] was being fiercely attacked. When we arrived it was dinner hour, and a prolix Irishman was engaged on the thankless job of keeping the floor. He managed, however, to do it with some semblance of vehemence. Soon the debate warmed up. Almost everyone attacked the government, but I am afraid that the dumb majority will carry the bill. Clynes made a very good speech; Lord Hugh Cecil was brilliant; and then Devlin lost his temper and in a broad Irish brogue delivered a tremendous attack. ‘It’s easy enough,’ said he, ‘to laugh at the Labour Party’ — here there were shouts of ‘hear hear’ and ‘yes’ — ‘but you don’t laugh at the by-elections.’ Here someone called out, ‘Sir, I defeated a Labour candidate.’ ‘Yes sir, but surely you are the epitome of all that is most noble in the Unionist Party?’ Eventually I staggered home at about 12 having had rather a full day.1

(Curiously, the online version of Hansard, the official account of parliamentary proceedings, at http://hansard.millbanksystems.com has no record of this exchange, or indeed of any sitting in the House of Commons on this day. Waugh can hardly have got the date wrong, though, as his diary has entries for the days on either side of it.)

There’s only one other reference to the events in Ireland before this in the diary and while it’s clear that Waugh (who was head of his school debating society for a while) did take an interest in politics, it’s impossible to say what attitude he had (if any) to the momentous events happening in Ireland at that time. Judging by this entry, he seems opposed to the bill. (Much later in life Waugh contemplated moving to Ireland — mostly for tax reasons.)

According to Wikipedia, Molson (who was the Unionist, i.e. Conservative, member for Gainsborough in Lincolnshire) and Devlin had a run in later the same year in the Commons:

On 22 November 1920 Irish Nationalist MP Joseph Devlin raised the Croke Park massacre2 the previous day, causing uproar. Devlin continued to try to put his question and was assaulted by Molson who pulled him over the bench. The Speaker suspended the sitting for 15 minutes; when it resumed, Molson apologised and Devlin was able to ask his questions and to get an answer.3

Hansard quaintly summarises this whole episode as “Grave disorder having arisen”.4

  1. The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (1976), pp. 93-4 ↩
  2. Black and Tans, and Auxiliaries (both groups were temporary recruits, usually ex-forces to the Royal Irish Constabulary) had opened fire on the crowd at a Gaelic football match, killing fourteen civilians. ↩
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Elsdale_Molson ↩
  4. HC Deb 22 November 1920 vol 135 cc38-43, online at http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1920/nov/22/murder-conspiracy ↩

Photo by derekskey

Evelyn Waugh's view of the Restoration of Order in Ireland Bill by