Irish Home Rule movement

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The Irish Home Rule movement was a political movement that sought to achieve home rule for Ireland and reduce the political control of the British state over the island. The movement emerged following the Acts of Union 1800, which abolished the Parliament of Ireland and moved control of Irish affairs to the Parliament of the United Kingdom in London. Over the course of its existence the movement incorporated different concepts of home rule, from a self-governing Ireland still within a larger British state, to a fully independent republic. The Irish Home Rule movement came to an end in most of Ireland with the granting of independence to the Irish Free State in 1922. Attempts to establish home rule in Northern Ireland were frustrated by The Troubles. Today the Republic of Ireland has sovereignty over approximately five-sixths of Ireland, while the Northern Ireland Assembly exercises numerous devolved powers in the remainder.

Historical background

Under the Act of Union 1800 the separate Kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain were merged on 1 January 1801, to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Throughout the 19th century Irish opposition to the Union was strong, occasionally erupting in violent insurrection. In the 1830s and 1840s attempts had been made under the leadership of Daniel O'Connell and his Repeal Association to repeal the Act of Union and restore the Kingdom of Ireland, without breaking the monarchical connection with Great Britain (i.e. personal union). These attempts to achieve what was simply called repeal failed.

Until the 1870s, most Irish voters elected as their members of parliament (MPs) Liberals and Conservatives who belonged to the main British political parties. The Conservatives, for example, won a majority in the 1859 general election in Ireland. Conservatives and (after 1886) Liberal Unionists fiercely resisted any dilution of the Act of Union, and in 1891 formed the Irish Unionist Alliance to oppose home rule.

Different concepts

The term "Home Rule", first used in the 1860s, meant an Irish legislature with responsibility for domestic affairs. It was variously interpreted, from the 1870s was seen to be part of a federal system for the United Kingdom: a domestic Parliament for Ireland while the Imperial Parliament at Westminster would continue to have responsibility for Imperial affairs. The Republican concept as represented by the Fenians and the Irish Republican Brotherhood, strove to achieve total separation from Great Britain, if necessary by physical force, and complete autonomy for Ireland. For a while they were prepared to co-operate with Home Rulers under the "New Departure". In 1875 John O'Connor Power told a New York audience that '[Ireland]has elected a body of representatives whose mission is simply – I almost said solely – but certainly whose mission is particularly to offer unrelenting hostility to every British Ministry while one link of the imperial chain remains to fetter the constitutional freedom of the Irish nation.'[1] Charles Stewart Parnell sought through the 'constitutional movement', as an interim measure a parliament in Dublin with limited legislative powers. For Unionists Home Rule meant a Dublin parliament dominated by the Catholic Church to the detriment of Ireland's economic progress, a threat to their cultural identity as both British and Irish and possible discrimination against them as a religious minority.[2][3][4] In England the Liberal Party under William Ewart Gladstone was fully committed to introducing Home Rule whereas the Conservatives tried to alleviate any need for it through 'constructive unionism', passing many acts of parliament beneficial to Ireland.

Struggle for Home Rule

Former Conservative barrister Isaac Butt was instrumental in fostering links between Constitutional and Revolutionary nationalism through his representation of members of the Fenian Society in court. In May 1870, he established a new moderate nationalist movement, the Irish Home Government Association. In November 1873, under the chairmanship of William Shaw, it reconstituted itself as the Home Rule League. The League's goal was limited self-government for Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. In the 1874 general election, League-affiliated candidates won 53 seats in Parliament.

Butt died in 1879. In 1880, a radical young Protestant landowner, Charles Stewart Parnell became chairman, and in the 1880 general election, the League won 63 seats. In 1882, Parnell turned the Home Rule League into the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), a formally organized party which became a major political force . The IPP came to dominate Irish politics, to the exclusion of the previous Liberal, Conservative, and Unionist parties that had existed there. In the 1885 general election, the IPP won 85 out of the 103 Irish seats; another Home Rule MP was elected for Liverpool Scotland.

Adversary Lords

Two attempts were made by Liberals under British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone to enact home rule bills. Gladstone, impressed by Parnell, had become personally committed to granting Irish home rule in 1885. With his famous three-hour Irish Home Rule speech Gladstone beseeched parliament to pass the Irish Government Bill 1886, and grant Home Rule to Ireland in honour rather than being compelled to do so one day in humiliation. His bill was defeated in the Commons by 30 votes.

The Bill resulted in serious riots in Belfast during the summer and autumn of 1886 in which many were killed, and caused the Liberal Unionist Association to split from the main Liberal party. They allied with the Lord Salisbury's Conservatives until 1914 on the issue of Home Rule.

The defeat of the bill caused Gladstone to temporarily lose power. Having returned to power after the 1892 general election Gladstone, undaunted, made a second attempt to introduce Irish Home Rule following Parnell's death with the Irish Government Bill 1893 which he controversially drafted in secret and thereby flawed. Eventually it was steered through the Commons by William O'Brien, with a majority of 30 votes, only to be defeated in the Conservative's pro-unionist majority controlled House of Lords.

On this defeat the new Liberal leader Lord Rosebery adopted the policy of promising Salisbury that the majority vote of English MPs would have a veto on any future Irish Home Rule Bills. The Nationalist movement divided in the 1890s. The Liberals lost the 1895 General Election and their Conservative opponents remained in power until 1905.

Home Rule bills

The four Irish Home Rule bills introduced in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were intended to grant self-government and national autonomy to the whole of Ireland within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and reverse parts of the Acts of Union 1800. Of the two that passed the Parliament of the United Kingdom the Third Bill, enacted as the Government of Ireland Act 1914 and then suspended, while the Fourth Bill, enacted as the Government of Ireland Act 1920 established two separate Home Rule territories in Ireland, of which the one was implemented by the Parliament of Northern Ireland, but the second Parliament of Southern Ireland was not implemented in the rest of Ireland. The bills were:

In 1920 the unionist peer Lord Monteagle of Brandon proposed his own Dominion of Ireland Bill in the House of Lords, at the same time as the Government bill was passing through the house.[5] This bill would have given a united Ireland extensive home rule over all domestic matters as a dominion within the empire, with foreign affairs and defence remaining the responsibility of the Westminster government. Lord Monteagle's bill was defeated at second reading.[6]

Home Rule in sight

Following the 1895 general election, the Conservatives were in power for ten years. The significant Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 (following the English Act of 1888) introduced for the first time the enfranchisement of local electors, bringing about a system of localised home rule in many areas. In the 1906 general election the Liberals were returned with an overall majority, but Irish Home Rule was not on their agenda until after the second 1910 general election when the nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party under its leader John Redmond held the balance of power in the House of Commons. Prime Minister H. H. Asquith came to an understanding with Redmond, that if he supported his move to break the power of the Lords to have the finance bill passed, Asquith would then in return introduce a new Home Rule Bill. The Parliament Act 1911 forced the Lords to agree to a curtailment of their powers. Now their unlimited veto was replaced with a delaying one lasting only two years.

The Third Home Rule Bill introduced in 1912 was as in 1886 and 1893 ferociously opposed by Ulster unionists, for whom Home Rule was synonymous with Rome Rule as well as being indicative of economic decline and a threat to their cultural identity. Edward Carson and James Craig, leaders of the unionists, were instrumental in organising the Ulster Covenant against the "coercion of Ulster", at which time Carson reviewed Orange and Unionist volunteers in various parts of Ulster. These were united into a single body known as the Ulster Volunteers in January 1913.[7] This was followed in the south by the formation of the Irish Volunteers to restrain Ulster. Both Nationalists and Republicans, except for the All-for-Ireland Party, brushed unionist concerns aside with "no concessions for Ulster", treating their threat as a bluff. The Act received Royal Assent and was placed on the statute books on 18 September 1914, but suspended for no longer than the duration of World War I which had broken out in August. The widely held assumption at the time was that the war would be short lived.

Changed realities

With the involvement of Ireland in World War I, the southern Irish Volunteers split into the larger National Volunteers and followed Redmond's call to support the Allied war effort to ensure the future implementation of Home Rule by voluntarily enlisting in Irish regiments of the 10th (Irish) Division or the 16th (Irish) Division of Kitchener's New Service Army. The men of the Ulster Volunteers joined the 36th (Ulster) Division. During 1914–18 Irish regiments suffered severe losses.

A core element of the remaining Irish Volunteers who opposed the nationalist constitutional movement towards independence and the Irish support for the war effort, staged the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Dublin. Initially widely condemned by Irish and British alike, the British government's mishandling of the aftermath of the Rising, including the rushed executions of its leaders by General Maxwell, led to a rise in popularity for an Irish republican movement named Sinn Féin, a small separatist party taken over by the rebellion's survivors. Britain made two futile attempts to implement Home Rule which both failed because of Ulster unionists' protest at the proposed implementation of Home Rule for the whole island of Ireland; first after the Rising and then at the end of the 1917–18 Irish Convention. With the collapse of the allied front during the German Spring Offensive and Operation Michael, Britain had a serious manpower shortage and the Cabinet agreed on 5 April to enact Home Rule immediately linked in a "dual policy" of extending conscription to Ireland. This signalled the end of a political era,[8] which resulted in a public swing towards Sinn Féin and physical force separatism. Interest in Home Rule began to fade as a result.

Home Rule enacted

After the end of the war in November 1918 Sinn Féin secured a majority of 73 Irish seats in the general election, twenty five of these seats taken uncontested. In January 1919 twenty-seven Sinn Féin MPs assembled in Dublin and proclaimed themselves unilaterally as an independent parliament of an Irish Republic. This was ignored by Britain. The Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) ensued.

Britain went ahead with its commitment to implement Home Rule by passing a new Fourth Home Rule Bill, the Government of Ireland Act 1920, largely shaped by the Walter Long Committee which followed findings contained in the report of the Irish Convention. Long, a firm unionist, felt free to shape Home Rule in Ulster's favour, and formalised dividing Ireland into Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. The latter never functioned, but was replaced under the Anglo-Irish Treaty by the Irish Free State which later became the Republic of Ireland.

The Home Rule Parliament of Northern Ireland came into being in June 1921. At its inauguration, in Belfast City Hall, King George V made a famous appeal drafted by Prime Minister Lloyd George for Anglo-Irish and north–south reconciliation. The Anglo-Irish Treaty had provided for Northern Ireland's Parliament to opt out of the new Free State, which was a foregone conclusion. The Irish Civil War (1922–1923) followed.

The Parliament of Northern Ireland continued in operation until 30 March 1972, when it was suspended in favour of direct rule by the Northern Ireland Office during The Troubles. It was subsequently abolished under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. Various versions of the Northern Ireland Assembly re-established home rule in 1973–74, 1982–86, intermittently from 1998–2002, and from 2007 onward. The Assembly attempts to balance the interests of the unionist and republican factions through a "power sharing" agreement.

See also


  1. 'The Condition of Ireland, Social, Political and Industrial', John O'Connor Power, lecture, as reported in The Irish Canadian, 20 October 1875.
  2. The Ulster Crisis; Resistance to Home Rule-ATQ Stewart
  3. The Green Flag Volume 2; Robert Kee, Penguin Books, London
  4. 'Carson; a biography' by Geoffrey Lewis
  5. Hansard (House of Lords, 1 July 1920, vol 40 cc1113-62)
  6. Hansard (House of Lords, 1 July 1920, vol 40 cc1113-62)
  7. Stewart, A.T.Q., The Ulster Crisis, Resistance to Home Rule, 1912–14, p.70, Faber and Faber (1967) ISBN 0-571-08066-9
  8. Jackson, Alvin: Ch.9, pp.212–213

Further reading

  • Irish Government Bill 1893, available from the House of Lords Record Office
  • Government of Ireland Act 1914, available from the House of Lords Record Office
  • O'Connor Power, John, The Anglo-Irish Quarrel: A Plea for Peace, a reprint of recent articles in the Manchester Guardian, revised by the author (London, 1886)
  • O'Donnell, F. Hugh, 'A History of the Irish Parliamentary Party', 2 vols (London, 1910)
  • MacDonagh, Michael: The Home Rule Movement, Talbot Press, Dublin (1920)
  • Rodner, W. S.: "Leaguers, Covenanters, Moderates: British Support for Ulster, 1913–14" pages 68–85 from Éire-Ireland, Volume 17, Issue #3, 1982.
  • Loughlin, James Gladstone, Home Rule and the Ulster Question, 1882–1893, Dublin: (1986)
  • Smith, Jeremy: "Bluff, Bluster and Brinkmanship: Andrew Bonar Law and the Third Home Rule Bill" pages 161–174 from Historical Journal, Volume 36, Issue #1, (1993)
  • Hennessey, Thomas: Dividing Ireland, World War 1 and Partition, (1998), ISBN 0-415-17420-1
  • Kee, Robert: The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism,(2000 edition, first published 1972), ISBN 0-14-029165-2
  • Jackson, Alvin: Home Rule, an Irish History 1800–2000, Phoenix Press (2003), ISBN 0-7538-1767-5
  • Lewis, Geoffrey: Carson, the Man who divided Ireland (2005),ISBN 1-85285-454-5
  • Stanford, Jane, "That Irishman: The Life and Times of John O'Connor Power", History Press Ireland, 2011, ISBN 978-1-84588-698-1

External links