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Home Rule Act 1914
The Government of Ireland Act 1914, more generally known as the Third Home Rule Act (or Bill) or the (Irish) Home Rule Act 1914, was an Act of Parliament passed by the British House of Commons in May 1914 which sought to give Ireland internal self-government within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Though it received the Royal Assent in September 1914 its implementation was postponed until after the First World War (at that stage expected to last only a matter of months). However the outbreak of the Easter Rising in 1916 and the unopposed electoral success of Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election prevented any enactment of the Act. It was never implemented and was eventually replaced by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, granting in the first place, Home Rule to Northern Ireland.
The Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain had merged on 1 January 1801 to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Throughout the 19th century opposition to Irish membership of the United Kingdom had been strong. In the 1830s and 1840s attempts had been made under the leadership of Daniel O'Connell to repeal the Act of Union 1800 and restore the Kingdom of Ireland. The attempts to achieve what was simply called repeal failed, however.
The battle for Home Rule
In the 1870s the Home Rule League under Issac Butt sought to achieve a more modest form of self-government, known as Home Rule. Under it, Ireland would still remain part of the United Kingdom but would have its own local self-government under a British-appointment Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Two attempts were made by Liberal ministries under British Prime Minister William E. Gladstone to enact home rule bills. The first, the Irish Government Bill 1886, was defeated in the Commons, while the second, the Irish Government Bill 1893, was defeated in the Lords. With its pro-unionist majority, and ability to block any bill from becoming law, few expected a Home Rule bill to make it to the statute books.
The Parliament Act
In 1909, a crisis erupted between the House of Lords and the Commons, each of which accused the other of breaking historic conventions — the Commons accused the Lords of breaking the convention of not rejecting a budget (it has just rejected the budget of Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George) while the Lords accused the Commons of including in the budget measures and taxes that the Commons had traditionally agreed never to include as part of the bargain for the Lords not rejecting a budget, forcing it to veto that year's budget.
Two general elections took place in the same year to decide the issue. The Liberals held on to government, and with the agreement both of the late king, Edward VII and the new king, George V threatened to swamp the Lords with sufficient new Liberal peers to give the Government a majority. The peers backed down, and the relationship between the Lords and Commons was changed fundamentally, with the passing of the Parliament Act 1911 which allowed the House of Commons to overrule the Lords in set circumstances.
The two general elections had left the nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party with the balance of power in the House of Commons. Prime Minister HH Asquith made a deal with IPP leader John Redmond in which, if he supported his move to break the power of the Lords, then Asquith would introduce a Home Rule Bill. The Parliament Act was passed in which the Lords agreed to a curtailment of their powers. Now they had no powers over finance bills and their unlimited veto was replaced with one lasting only two years, if the House of Commons passed a bill in the third year and was then rejected by the Lords it would still become law.
The Third Home Rule Bill
In April 1912, the Prime Minister offered Ireland the third Home Rule Bill. Although it provided marginally less autonomy than its two predecessors, the bill provided for:
- A bicameral Irish Parliament to be set up in Dublin (a 40-member Senate and a 164-member House of Commons) with powers to deal with most domestic affairs;
- A number of Irish MPs would continue to sit in the Imperial Parliament in Westminster (42 MPs, rather than 103).
The Bill was passed by the Commons by a majority of 10 votes but the House of Lords rejected it 326 votes to 69. In 1913 it was re-introduced and again passed the Commons but was again rejected by the Lords by 302 votes to 64. In 1914, the Bill passed the Commons on 25 May by a majority of 77 and this time, due to the Parliament Act, it did not need the Lords' consent. However in June the Protestant Irish Unionist Party (overwhelmingly representing Ulster MPs) forced through an amending Partition of Northern Ireland Bill . The Act eventually received Royal Assent in September 1914 as World War I was breaking out, but was suspended for the duration of what was expected to be a very short war.
Ulster, where Protestants were in a slight numerical majority, was fiercely resistant to being governed from Dublin and losing their local supremacy — historically Protestants having been the political élite in Ireland. Catholics had only been allowed to vote in 1791 and been excluded from sitting in parliament until Catholic Emancipation in 1829. Since the Act of Settlement, no Catholic had ever been appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the head of the British government in a country that was 75% Catholic.
Represented mainly by the Conservative and Unionist Party and Sir Edward Carson and backed up by an Ulster Volunteer Force and the Orange Order, they threatened locally to usurp the power of a restored Irish Parliament by force of arms and one of the main issues of contention at the time was the "coercion of Ulster" and whether or not some counties of Ulster should be excluded from the provisions of Home Rule. Nationalists, led by Redmond were adamant that Partition was not an acceptable option and raised a volunteer force of their own, the Irish Volunteers; Unionists, led by Carson, were lobbying for all nine counties of Ulster to be excluded from Home Rule.
The compromise proposed by Asquith was straightforward. North-eastern Ireland, where there was a Protestant majority, was to be excluded temporarily from the territory of the new Irish parliament and government and to continue to be governed as before from Westminster and Whitehall. How temporary the exclusion would be, and whether north-east Ireland would eventually be governed by the Irish parliament and government, remained an issue of some controversy.
Overtaken by events — the death of the Act
Both mainstream nationalists and unionists, keen to win the support of the British government to influence the issue of how temporary was partition to be, rallied in support of Britain in what was expected to be a short Great War (World War I). However a fringe element of nationalism opposed Irish support for the war and the fact that many Irishmen joined the British Army to fight in Belgium. In Easter 1916 a relatively poorly organised rebellion, the Easter Rising, took place in Dublin. Initially widely condemned (the main nationalist newspaper, the Irish Independent, demanded the execution of the rebels) the British government's mishandling of the aftermath, led to the rise of an Irish republican movement in Sinn Féin, a small previously monarchist party taken over by the rebellion's survivors, after it had been wrongly blamed for the rebellion by the British.
By 1918 Sinn Féin secured a clear majority of Irish seats in the general election. Its MPs assembled in Dublin and proclaimed themselves as an independent parliament of an Irish Republic, the First Dáil. A ministry (Áireacht) was formed under Éamon de Valera. Between 1919 and 1921, the Irish War of Independence was fought.
New British prime minister David Lloyd George responded by replacing the never-implemented Home Rule Act 1914 by a new (and final) law, the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which partitioned Ireland into Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, each with a bicameral legislature and an executive presided over by a shared royal representative, the Lord Lieutenant.
While Northern Ireland did come into existence, Southern Ireland remained a theoretical entity, as a Unilateral Declaration of Independence shortly afterwards re-established the Irish Republic (Saorstát Éireann), with the overwhelming majority of MPs for Southern Ireland refusing to recognise the House of Commons of Southern Ireland and instead sitting as TDs of the Second Dáil. Only three MPs and four senators turned up for the state opening of the parliament of Southern Ireland. That parliament only functioned as a parliament once, when in accordance with the provisions of the Anglo–Irish Treaty of 1921, the House of Commons of Southern Ireland assembled in Dublin in January 1922 to ratify the treaty. It was then dissolved. There followed the Irish Civil War.
- Sir Edward Carson
- John Redmond
- Parliament of Southern Ireland
- Parliament of Northern Ireland
- Solemn League and Covenant (Ulster)
- Unionists (Ireland)
- Curragh incident
- Easter Rising
- Irish Government Bill 1886
- Irish Government Bill 1893
- Parliament Act 1911
- Government of Ireland Act 1920
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