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Why Was Irish Homerule Not Introduced By 1914 ? Essay, Research Paper

“You may reject this Bill, but its record will remain. The history of England and Ireland can never be as if this offer had never been made. You may kill it now, but its ghost will ever haunt your festivals of coercion.” So spoke Sir William Harcourt, in the House of Commons during June of 1886 and in many ways he was right; the Irish problem returned to haunt both the Liberal and Conservative Parties and continues to trouble politicians up until the present day. If the problems in Ireland had been easily soluble then no doubt Home Rule would have been introduced before 1914, however the challenge they present is very hard to solve today and presented great problems to the politicians back at the turn of the century. `The first Home Rule Bill of 1886 was indeed rejected, due mainly to reasons which were to be used time and time again by those against Home Rule. One of the chief arguments employed, mainly by the landed classes, was that Home Rule would lead to the loss of land that they owned in Ireland. Many British aristocrats owned land in Ireland and had done so since the Battle of Boyne in 1690 and before, and were obviously concerned as to what would become of this land if an Irish Parliament was to be set up. Another important case for the dismissal of Home Rule used by Unionists was that Irish Home Rule might well have led to full independence from Britain and this may well have given encouragement to other nations of the British Empire to seek independence from Britain. In other words, they claimed that Home Rule would be the thin edge of the wedge and that ultimately the entire British Empire’s existence may fall into . A further reason which opponents to Home Rule offered was that the Irish were unfit to govern `themselves; this view arose from the fact that the high number of Irishmen living and working in Britain did not give people a very good impression of the Irish. Many of the immigrants tended to drink and gamble excessively and so the general public as well as the politicians did not have a particularly high opinion of the Irish people. Many opponents to Home Rule also pointed out that the idea was impractical due to the high proportion of unionists in Ulster on whom it would be unfair to force a catholic Irish parliament. Although at this stage, resistance to Home Rule in Ulster was not particularly well organised, by 1900, organisations such as the Ulster Unionist Council and the Ulster Volunteer Force were in operation and determined to resist Home Rule at all costs. These arguments were used consistently by anti-Home Rule campaigners from 1886 onwards and are important in understanding why Home Rule was not introduced before 1914. `On the occasion of the first Home Rule Bill, however, there is another reason as to why the Bill was rejected, even by members of the Liberal Party, the party introducing the Bill. Gladstone, the Liberal Party leader, badly mismanaged the whole issue, resulting in a vital loss of support from many of his party members, who switched alliances to join up with the anti-Home Rule Conservatives, to form the Conservative and Unionist Party. This split in the party was caused to some extent by many Liberals’ belief that Home Rule was fundamentally wrong, but also because they were annoyed by the fact that Gladstone had just thought a victorious election campaign without mentioning to anyone that he intended to introduce Home Rule during his next term of office. When this fact was leaked, many Liberals and indeed many members of the public were understandably disgruntled. `Even if the first Irish Home Rule Bill had passed the House of Commons, it would not have stood a chance of becoming law, for the reasons stated above, the House of Lords would undoubtedly have rejected the Bill. The deeply Conservative House of Lords did `infact get the chance to reject a Home Rule Bill in 1893, when the Liberal Party attempted to pass a second Home Rule Bill, this time including an Irish representation in Westminster. This time the Bill passed the House of Commons, but unsurprisingly was rejected by the Lords; the chances of a Home Rule Bill becoming law were going to be extremely remote until the powers of the Lords were weakened. `The second Home Rule Bill, was introduced by the Liberals during a short break in the Conservative’s ministry, aside from the years between 1892 and 1894, the Conservatives held power for almost twenty years, between 1886 and 1905. During this time there was slim hope of Home Rule for the Irish as it was against both Conservative philosophy and policy. Instead, the Conservatives followed a policy of constructive unionism by which they hoped to “kill Home Rule by kindness.” Not all of the measures introduced during this time could be described as “kind” however, as the strict handling of those involved in the Plan of Campaign proves. The Crimes Act of 1887 was harsh but effective and the Mitchelstone Massacre of the same year could hardly be described as an act of benevolence on the part of the Conservatives. That is not to say that the Conservatives took no conciliatory measures towards the Irish: land acts were carried out in 1887, 1891, 1896 and 1903, and gradually returned land back to the Irish peasants. These land acts culminated in the Wyndham Act of 1903, which bought out the landlords at a good price and sold it back to the peasants allowing a substantial amount of time for any loans to be repaid; this satisfied both the tenants and the landlords. The Congested Districts Board was set up in 1891 and aimed to improve the standard of life for those in the poorer Southern and Western Counties, by improving local agriculture and industry. The long term benefits of this act were substantial, as were those `of the Agriculture and Technical Instruction Act of 1899, which encouraged the introduction of co-operative farming to help the peasants. Although both these Acts reaped long term benefits, the Conservatives were mistaken in their belief that they could halt the cries for Home Rule from the Irish with these measures. `Some political concessions were made however, in 1898, a Local Government Act was brought into operation to provide local councils and poor law guardians on the same lines as the English model. `Surprisingly, during this time of Conservative government, one scheme was discussed for some amount of devolution. In 1904, the Irish secretary Wyndham, talked with Lord Dunraven, a southern landowner, and Sir Anthoney MacDonnell, a Catholic Irishman, concerning the introduction of a limited form of Home Rule for Ireland. A devolution scheme was drawn up which made provision for a central Irish council which would have control over Irish finances. The act went much too far for most Conservatives who demanded Wyndham’s resignation. The Ulster Protestants were also concerned by the affair and set up the Ulster Unionist Council in order that they would be better prepared to deal with such a scheme if it ever came into being. `Apart from the Conservative policies and philosophies towards Ireland, another reason why Home Rule was not introduced before 1914 was that the Irish Nationalists were in a weak bargaining position for much of this time. The Irish Nationalists, who believed in constitutional demonstration, as opposed to the rejection of parliamentary methods which Sinn Fein followed in favour of subversion and physical force, had been led by Parnell for many years, when his affair with Kitty O’Shea ruined his career. This left the Irish Nationalists weak and divided, with some party members keeping their support with Parnell, while others recognised Redmond as the Party leader. These internal problems did not leave the Nationalists in a very good condition to press for Home Rule until Redmond was eventually recognised by all the Nationalists as Party leader. So, in 1905, morale in the pro-Home Rule camp was not particularly high: the Conservatives were still in power, and showing no signs of changing their policies towards Ireland, as demonstrated by their resounding rejection of the devolution scheme. The Irish Nationalists had still not fully recovered their political sway since the disastrous O’Shea affair and more militant groups like Sinn Fein were beginning to win some support. Even if the Liberals did come into power it would still be almost impossible to get Home Rule introduced, as the House of Lords still retained the power to reject any Bill they desired. `In 1906, the Liberals won one of the most convincing election victories of all time and for the first time in over ten years the Nationalists could press for a Home Rule Bill with some hope of actually achieving it. Their position was however severely weakened by the fact that the Liberals had such an overwhelming majority that they were not dependent on the support of the Irish Nationalists. This meant that the difficult topic of Home Rule was not top of the agenda for the Liberals immediately after the 1906 election, but that is not to say that they totally ignored the pleas of the Irish Nationalists. `The Irish Council Bill of 1907 would have given Ireland control over local government, district government, agriculture, education, public works and limited control over finances, it would have greatly enlarged Irish control of local affairs but stopped short of Home Rule. However, the Bill was not supported by the Unionists or the Nationalists, who feared that it might work too well and that people would be satisfied and no longer want Home Rule. This episode taught the Liberals an important lesson and one perhaps that Asquith should have taken more notice of later on- that there was no middle ground that the Liberals could support, they either had to go all the way with Home Rule or not bother doing anything. `1910 must have been a pleasing year for the Nationalists, as they first saw the Liberals majority drop to such an extent that they now needed their support and then saw the powers of the Lords weakened so that it was now only possible for them to block Bills for two years and not completely veto a Bill. So, Home Rule was now a distinct possibility and it wasn’t just the Nationalists who realised this: the Ulster Unionists and the Conservatives both made it clear that they would not accept Home Rule. `Things came to a head in 1912, when the Third Home Rule Bill was introduced. This time the Bill had every chance of being passed, with a enough people in favour of the Bill in the Commons, and the Lords with only the power to delay it for two years. The Bill made provision for a two chamber Irish Parliament with control over Ireland in all but foreign affairs and finances; however, the Bill was only provisional so the Irish could alter it to give themselves more power. The Bill was totally unsatisfactory for the Ulster Unionists, as it made no provisions for them and as a result, steps were taken to arm and resist the imposition of the Bill. The Ulster Volunteer Force received weapons from various sources and the Irish Volunteers were also arming themselves and preparing for battle. There was slim chance of a compromise as the two sides were totally unwilling to back down, so it was up to Asquith and his Liberal government to sort out the problems and prevent a civil war. Admittedly this was a difficult task, but Asquiths “wait and see” tactics did not help the situation, his only chance of solving the matter was to either stick to his original plan of granting the whole of Ireland Home Rule or to bring into operation the Agar-Roberts Plan, thereby separating some of the Ulster states from the rest of Ireland. In order to carry out the former of these choices successfully, he would have had to ban organisations like the Ulster Volunteer Force and mobilise the British army in order to coerce Ulster into accepting Home Rule if the need arose. Alternatively he could have separated the counties with a Protestant majority and kept these as part of the British Isles, this would have meant taking a harder line with Redmond and the Irish Nationalists by depriving them of one of the industrial heartland’s of the country. Asquith’s weak leadership almost resulted in civil war and this disastrous event was probably only avoided due to even more worrying happenings on the continent. `Home Rule for Ireland was not achieved by 1914 because of a number of factors then: for much of this time the Conservatives were in power and Home Rule was against their policy and philosophy, until 1910 the Lords had the power to block Bills and so Home Rule was an impossibility. When the chance finally did arrive for Home Rule to take place, the combination of weak leadership and the bitter determination of the Ulster Unionists and to some extent the Conservative government that Home Rule should not cover the whole of Ireland meant that it never did and that it was only achieved for southern Ireland a few years later. ` `BIBLIOGRAPHY: `The Last Years of Liberal England 1900-1914 K.W.W. Aiken `Democracy and Empire Feuchtwanger `The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain K. Morgan `Home Rule and the Irish Question G. Morton `The Crisis of Imperialism 1865-1915 R. Shannon


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