The agreement extends the terms of the Second Land Act of 1881, with which Gladstone intends to make broad concessions to Irish tenant farmers. But the Act has many weaknesses and fails to satisfy Parnell and the Irish Land League because it does not provide a regulation for rent-arrears or rent-adjustments in the case of poor harvests or deteriorated economic conditions.
After the Second Land Act becomes law on August 22, 1881, Parnell, in a series of speeches in September and October, launches violent attacks on Chief Secretary for Ireland William Forster and even on Gladstone. Gladstone warns him not to frustrate the Act, but Parnell repeats his contempt for the Prime Minister. On October 12, the Cabinet, fully convinced that Parnell is bent on ruining the Act, takes action to have him arrested in Dublin the next day.
Parnell is conveyed to Kilmainham Gaol, where he joins several other prominent members of the Land League who have also protested against the Act and been jailed. There, together with William O’Brien, he enacts the No Rent Manifesto campaign. He is well aware that some in the Liberal Cabinet, in particular Joseph Chamberlain, are opposed to the mass internment of suspects then taking place across Ireland under the Protection of Person and Property Act 1881. The repressions do not have the desired effect, with the result that Forster becomes isolated within the Cabinet, and coercion becomes increasingly unpopular with the Liberal Party.
In gaol Parnell begins to turn over in his mind the possibility of coming to an arrangement with the Government. He has been corresponding with Katharine O’Shea who engages her husband, Captain William O’Shea, in April 1882 to act as a go-between for negotiations on behalf of Parnell. O’Shea contacts Gladstone on May 5 having been informed by Parnell that should the Government settle the rent-arrears problem on the terms he proposes, he is confident that he can curtail outrages. He further urges for the quick release of the League’s organizers in the West who will then work for pacification. This shocks Forster but impresses Gladstone.
Accordingly on May 2, Gladstone informs the House of Commons of the release of Parnell and the resignation of Forster. Gladstone always denies there has been a “Kilmainham Treaty,” merely accepting that he “had received informations.” He keeps his side of the arrangement by subsequently having the Arrears of Rent Act 1882 enacted. The government pays the landlords £800,000 in back rent owed by 130,000 tenant farmers.
Calling the agreement a “treaty” shows how Parnell manages to place a spin on the agreement in a way that strengthens Irish nationalism, since he manages to force concessions from the British while in gaol. Since real treaties are usually signed between two states, it leads to the idea that Ireland could become independent from Britain. After the “treaty” is agreed, those imprisoned with Parnell are released from gaol. This transforms Parnell from a respected leader to a national hero.
The Phoenix Park Murders, in which two top British officials in Ireland are assassinated, take place four days later and undo much of the goodwill generated by it in Britain. Though strongly condemned by Parnell, the murders show that he cannot control nationalist “outrages” as he has undertaken to do.