By mid-March 1916 many senior figures in the Irish Volunteers movement were IRB. Those that weren’t, if deemed suitable, were approached and asked to join. They were told to take their orders from the IRB and not MacNeill.
While the Supreme Council had agreed in January to have a Rising it did so under strict conditions. By this stage, however, MacNeill and Hobson were suspicious of Clarke, MacDiarmada and Pearse – all members of the secret Military Council. But each time they were challenged they simply denied they were planning anything.
On St. Patrick’s Day 1916, a meeting took place in Dublin Castle. Present was Major Price, British Chief of Intelligence, Major General Friend, GOC Head of British Forces in Ireland, Attorney General W. O’Connell, Head of RIC Intelligence, and Under Secretary Sir Matthew Nathan.
The purpose of this high-level gathering was to assess the danger posed by the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army and of course the IRB. Internment was ruled out as there was no proof of hostile association. They discussed deportation of ‘persons of interest’, like Tom Clarke, Sean Mac Dairmada and others. A report on Tom Clarke stated ‘he is an ex-Fenian and convict whose shop is now a meeting place for the more violent revolutionaries’.
They pondered as to whether to revoke his ‘ticket of leave’ and put him back in Gaol. It was agreed to see if any new Offence could be proven. They couldn’t move on the Volunteer Movement and be seen to ignore the UVF. For the first time, the inner-leadership of those planning an armed insurrection in Ireland had not been penetrated.