The Conscription Crisis of 1918 stemmed from a move by the British Government to impose conscription (military draft) in Ireland during the First World War. Vigorous opposition was led by the trade unions, nationalist parties and Roman Catholic bishops and priests. A conscription law was passed but was never put in effect; no-one in Ireland was successfully drafted into the army. The proposal and backlash galvanised support for an independent Ireland.
On 18 April 1918, acting on a resolution of Dublin Corporation, the Lord Mayor of Dublin (Laurence O’Neill) held a conference at the Mansion House, Dublin. The Irish Anti-Conscription Committee was convened to devise plans to resist conscription, and represented different sections of nationalist opinion: John Dillon and Joseph Devlin for the Irish Parliamentary Party, Éamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith for Sinn Féin, William O’Brien and Timothy Michael Healy for the All-for-Ireland Party and Michael Egan, Thomas Johnson and W X O’Brien representing Labour and the trade unions.
On the evening of the same day, the Roman Catholic bishops were holding their annual meeting and declared the conscription decree an oppressive and unjust law, calling on the Church’s adherents to resist “by the most effective means at our disposal” (if “consonant with the law of God”).
The Anti-Conscription Committee and bishops proposed an anti-conscription pledge that was to be taken at the church door of every Roman Catholic parish the next Sunday, 21 April, which read:
Denying the right of the British government to enforce compulsory service in this country, we pledge ourselves solemnly to one another to resist conscription by the most effective means at our disposal.
Photo: The nine Anti-Conscription Committee