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Irish Home Rule


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From the formation of the Home Government Association, led by Isaac Butt, in 1870, Home Rule became the ill‐defined term representing the demands of the constitutional nationalists. Its origins lay in Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Movement of the 1840s: like O'Connell, Home Rulers between 1870 and 1918 never made clear precisely what form amendment of the Act of Union 1800–1 should take. There was agreement that the movement's tactics should be based on winning concessions from the British Parliament by influencing British MPs and by building up effective Irish representation in the Commons. Butt's embryonic party and his leadership, however, proved ineffective during the 1870s. From 1881 the movement entered upon its most successful period under the charismatic and autocratic leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell. Through his leadership of the Irish Land League, Parnell was able to provide mass popular backing for Irish MPs. Parnell took advantage of Gladstone's dependence on the Irish Party for the survival of his government to influence him to introduce the first Home Rule Bill 1886. The bill allowed for only limited devolution: the British government was to retain control over security, foreign policy, and financial institutions. Though the bill failed to pass the Commons, it represented a triumph for Irish nationalism and an acknowledgement that Ireland could govern itself. From 1886 and with the advent of a new Conservative government, Parnell's party lost much influence and unity collapsed over Parnell's involvement in the O'shea divorce case in 1890. In 1893 Gladstone introduced a second Home Rule Bill, which was soundly defeated in the House of Lords. Between 1893 and 1910 more limited forms of self‐government were considered by Tory and Liberal governments and the growth of cultural nationalism in Ireland challenged the hegemony of the parliamentary party. A constitutional crisis, caused by reform of the House of Lords 1910–11, resulted again in a minority Liberal government, dependent on the Irish Parliamentary Party, and led to the introduction of a third Home Rule Bill. The years 1912–14 produced a great test for the Home Rule cause in British politics, with fierce Ulster resistance, backed up by the Tory Party. By 1914 and the final stages of the bill, civil war threatened with the option of partition, temporary or permanent, as the only alternative. When the First World War intervened, the Home Rule Bill was on the statute book, but was suspended for the duration of the war. Following the Easter Rising, Lloyd George made another attempt to achieve a settlement, which again foundered on the partition question. By the end of 1918 the situation was transformed by the collapse of the Irish Parliamentary Party and Sinn Fein's demand for a settlement considerably in advance of Home Rule. The Government of Ireland Act 1920–1 attempted a Home Rule settlement, with separate north‐east and southern parliaments: ironically it was the loyalist Northerners who accepted the offer. The consequences of Home Rule's failure are still felt on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Subjects: British History.


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