The Life and Times of Michael Staines’

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4.5 Political life

Staines and the other Prisoners arrived back in Dublin on Christmas Eve, 1916, to a great welcome. Although the Rising had been a military failure, the executions had made them national heroes. On his arrival home Staines took up employment with the prisoner support group, the Irish National Aid Association and Volunteer dependants Fund, of which Collins was general secretary. Staines used this job as a front to resume activity on behalf of the IRB and to begin reviving the Irish Volunteer’s. He was on the executive of the reorganised Volunteers and was director of supplies. He also filled the important organisational role during Sinn Fein’s by election victories in Roscommon North, Longford and Clare. [Don15]

When the vacancy in the representation of North Roscommon in the British Parliament arose I went down to Roscommon at the suggestion of the O'Dohertys and P.T. Keohane to organise the constituency for Count Plunkett.”.[Sta55]

One important event that took place on the 20th January 1917, which did not seem important at the time, was the expulsion of Count Plunkett from the membership of the Royal Dublin Society. Count Plunkett was the father of Joseph Plunkett who had been executed as one of the leaders of the Easter Rising, his other two sons were serving jail sentences for taking part in the rising; and this was the only reason for his expulsion. The Royal Dublin Society was seen as a British institution dominated by Loyalists and its action was seen as an insult to the Plunkett family. [Sta55]

Soon however an opportunity came to test public opinion. The parliamentary seat of North Roscommon fell vacant when the sitting MP James Joseph O’Kelly, the Irish Parliamentary representative died and Count Plunkett was nominated in opposition to Mr. Devine, of the Irish Parliamentary Party[Col15]

All the nationalist movement’s supported Plunkett. The constituency was flooded with election literature and young Plunkett supporters. Collins is credited with writing the following piece of election propaganda. …

Because he would not associate with the Irishmen who cheered when his son was shot against a wall for loving Ireland, will you insult him in North Roscommon, as the Royal Dublin Society did and tell the British Government that he is not the man you want? No. There are Irishmen in North Roscommon yet”….[Col15].

In his Military archive interview Staines says;

The word "Sinn Féin" was not mentioned in any of the speeches. The party was practicality non-existent at this time, and the terms "Sinn Féiners" were first used by the 'British to describe the Volunteers and the Rising. No one at this time could give any reasonable estimate as to the number of the electors who sympathised with the Volunteers who took part in the Rising. The appeal was made to vote for Count Plunkett, the father of three sons who had taken part in the Rising and one of whom had been executed”[Sta55].

The election result was a mortal blow to the Irish Parliamentary Party. Count Plunkett secured 3,022 votes against Mr. Devine’s 1,708. Immediately after the election Count Plunkett announced that he would not be attending the British Parliament. At the same time Arthur Griffith announced that Sinn Fein would adopt the same policy [Col15].

Count Plunket’s victory was proof that Sinn Fein was now a major political force, and had the potential to replicate this result all over the country. In reality Plunkett was a political maverick even within Sinn Fein. The Freemans Journal described him as “remains a mystery”. He reluctantly decided to abstain from Parliament and this was the start of the abstention policy. His only political credibility came from being the father of three sons, one of whom was executed for his part in the 1916 rebellion [Tow05].

Staines says “The first time I saw Michael Co11ins during the election was in Frenchpark on the actual day of the election. He had charge of one of the booths and I had charge of the other, there were only two in the town. Count Plunkett, if elected. Was quite prepared to do anything we wanted him to do and he told us so. I was not present at the declaration of the poll and I did not hear the Count's speech declaring his future. I remember being present at the Mansion House, Dublin, on 19th April 1917 when a number of delegates from organisations met under the Presidency of Count Plunkett to discuss future policy. I distinctly remember Griffith stating that any future organisation should be based on "Sinn Fein". A committee, which included Michael Collins, was set up to compose the differences of views expressed [Sta55].

Figure 5 Plunkett Election Badge [Placeholder1]

The Longford by election of the 10th May 1917, came about due to the death of the  MP John Philips,  Collins proposed to put up Joe McGuiness, who was still in Lewes Jail. De Valera the leader of the prisoners was not keen on the idea, or was McGuinness himself. Tomas Ashe, president of the IRB supreme council with the support of Collins argued that the new conditions of standing for parliament was not recognising the British Government, but giving the people an opportunity to support Irish freedom. This showed a new kind of adaptability, and the slogan “put him in to get him out” became the main slogan and mantra of the new Sinn Fein election strategy. And though McGuinness’s narrow victory did not secure his release it rocked the Irish party after the shock of North Roscommon where the party underestimated Plunket as a joke candidate. Dillon took charge of the Longford campaign and reported back to Redmond. “We have the Bishop, the great majority of the priests and the mob, and four fifths of the traders of Longford. “If we are beaten", I do not see how you can hope to keep the party in existence.[Tow05].

Staines played an important part in organising the McGuinness campaign in Longford, he says in his interview;

Before the Longford Election in May 1917 I was sent down to Longford to interview Frank McGuinness, brother of Joe. There was a fear that Frank being a supporter of the Parliamentary Party might oppose his brother. I obtained Frank's consent to the nomination of his brother as a candidate. The, election was fought on the "Sinn Féin” ticket. I still have the banner used during the election with the words: "Put him in to get him out". We had a. good deal of opposition in Longford town as it was a military station. McGuinness won the election by thirty seven votes. His opponent was first declared elected, but on a recount it was discovered that a bundle of fifty votes had been credited to McGuinness's opponent. On the day of the polling I was in charge of the Volunteers in Longford town and District Inspector Walsh, who later became Assistant Commissioner of the Gárda Siochána, was in charge of the R.I.C. and we worked well together and kept order in the town”.

Figure 6 Election Posters from Longford 1917


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