The Plan, conceived by Timothy Healy was devised and organised by Timothy Harrington secretary of the Irish National League, William O'Brien and John Dillon. It was outlined in an article headed Plan of Campaign by Harrington which was published on 23 October 1886 in the League's newspaper, the United Irishman of which O’Brien was editor. The purpose of the Plan was to secure a reduction of rent where tenants considered themselves overburdened in consequence of a poor harvest:- if a landlord refused to accept a reduced rent, the tenants were to pay no rent at all. The rents were then collected by campaigners who banked them in the name of a National League committee of trustees and were to be used to assist evicted tenants who had risked eviction in the hope of rapid fair-rent reinstatement.
A Land Commission had been established under the Land Law (Ireland) Act of 1881 to review and reduce rents where they were clearly unpayable, securing an average reduction of 25%. The Campaign sought to reduce the amounts further by concerted action and ideally by negotiation.
The measures were to be put into operation on 203 estates mainly located in the South and West of the country and some scattered Ulster estates. Initially sixty landlords accepted the reduced rents, twenty-four holding out but then agreeing the tenant conditions. Tenants gave in on fifteen estates. The chief trouble occurred on the remaining large estates. The organisers of the Plan decided to test a number of these expecting the remainder would then give in. Widespread attention was focused on it being implemented by Dillon and O’Brien on the estate of the Marquess of Clanricarde at Portumna, co. Galway (19 November 1886), where the landlord was an absentee ascendancy landlord. The estate comprising 52,000 acres (210 km2), or 21,000 hectare, yielded 25,000 sterling yearly in rents paid by 1,900 tenants. The hard-pressed tenants looked for a reduction of twenty-five percent. The landlord refused to give any abatement. The tenant’s reduced rents were then placed into an estate fund, and the landlord informed he would only receive the monies when he agreed to the reduction. Tenants on other estate then followed the example of the Clanricarde tenants, the Plan on each estate led by a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party Campaign activists including Pat O'Brien, Alexander Blane or members of its constituency organisation, the National League. Some 20,000 tenants were involved.
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