The English government could never really figure out how to deal with Sinn Fein or its increasing popularity after the Easter Rising of 1916. They blamed the insurrection on the “Shinners” even though the burgeoning political party had little to do with the battle and they were surprised when much of the Irish population flocked to the organization after the government executed all the leaders of the Rising. They tried to downplay Sinn Fein’s popularity and remove its influence on many occasions, but most of the time whatever they tried had the opposite result. The same was true when the government decided to arrest nearly every leading ‘Shinner’ in Ireland ninety-eight years ago today.
These arrests were an English attempt to connect the opposition party’s leaders to Germany in order to deflate their campaign against conscription and to diminish their growing influence. The ‘German Plot’ was a widespread conspiracy which claimed Sinn Fein was planning another rebellion in order to distract English forces and to directly aid Germany during World War One. It served as an excuse to arrest nearly every leading member of Sinn Fein on May 17th, 1918. Many of the leaders had advance notice of their upcoming arrests thanks to the impressive intelligence ring that Michael Collins ran, but they allowed themselves to be taken anyway because it gave the party the ultimate victim card to play. The leaders knew they could benefit from the arrests and in the end they were right.
The fake conspiracy backfired on the English government in a big way, much like many of their other operations of the last hundred years or so. Conscription was never enforced and Sinn Fein’s lagging numbers rebounded. Its international fame and influence grew as well and support continued to flow in from America and beyond.
This is not to say that there wasn’t a bit of communication between some Republicans, some Sinn Fein members, and the German government. Germany promised to recognize Ireland as an independent nation if it won the war and some surely believed the old adage; “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” However, 150 people were arrested and most had no connection to Germany whatsoever. Their arrests infuriated the population and boosted Sinn Fein even higher.