The Irish Home Rule Movement articulated a longstanding Irish desire for the repeal of the Act of Union of 1800 by a demand for self-government within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The movement drew upon a legacy of patriotic thought that dated back at least to the late 17th century. Home Rule held out the promise of a new constitutional order and harnessed the energies of a more recent militant tradition, providing an alternative to nationalist militancy. For almost half a century - from the early 1870s to the end of the Great War - Home Rule was both the single most dominant feature of Irish political life and a major influence within British politics. It united over a period the Irish past with the present, bound militants with constitutionalists, Irish with British politicians. For the British father of Home Rule William Ewart Gladstone, Home Rule was about the reconciliation of Irish nationalism to the British state. For other politicians, the Conservatives and Ulster Unionists Home Rule presented a fearful spectacle, their opposition to it so complete that a civil war seemed to offer the only path towards a resolution.
Under the Act of Union 1800 the separate Kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain were merged on January 1, 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 to repeal the Act of Union and restore the Kingdom of Ireland, without breaking the connection with Great Britain. 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. A significant minority also voted for Unionists, who fiercely resisted any dilution of the Act of Union.
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". Charles Stewart Parnell sought through the 'constitutional movement', as an interim measure a parliament in Dublin with limited legislative powers. Arthur Griffith envisaged a dual monarchy along Austro-Hungarian lines. For Unionists Home Rule meant a Dublin parliament dominated by the Catholic Church to the detriment of Ireland's economic progress. 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:
In the 1870s a former Conservative barrister Isaac Butt who was instrumental in fostering links between Constitutional and Revolutionary nationalism through his representation of members of the Fenians Society in court, established a new moderate nationalist movement, the Irish Home Government Association. Under the later chairmanship of William Shaw, it reconstituted itself to become the Home Rule League in November 1873. Under it, Ireland would still remain part of the United Kingdom but would have limited self-government.
Some few years after his death a radical young Protestant landowner, Charles Stewart Parnell, turned the home rule movement, or the Irish Parliamentary Party as it became known, into a major constitutional political force. It came to dominate Irish politics, to the exclusion of the previous Liberal, Conservative and Unionist parties that had existed there. The party's growing electoral strength was first shown in the 1880 general election in Ireland, when it won 63 seats. By the 1885 general election in Ireland it had won 85 out of the 103 Irish seats, with one Home Rule MP being elected in Liverpool.
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 caused the Liberal Unionist Association to split from the main Liberal party, and they allied with the Lord Salisbury's Conservatives until 1914 on the issue of Home Rule.
Having sparked the formation of the Ulster Unionist Party in 1885 to oppose the threat of home rule, the bill caused Gladstone to temporarily lose power. 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 and their 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:
1886: First Irish Home Rule Bill defeated in the House of Commons and never introduced in the House of Lords.
1893: Second Irish Home Rule Bill passed the House of Commons, but defeated in the House of Lords.
1914: Third Irish Home Rule Act passed with Royal Assent never came into force, due to the intervention of World War I (1914-18) and of the Easter Rising in Dublin (1916).
1920: Fourth Irish Home Rule Act (replaced Third Act, passed and implemented as the Government of Ireland Act 1920) which established Northern Ireland as a Home Rule entity within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and simultaneously resulted in the partition of Ireland.
Home Rule in sight:
Ten years followed in which the Conservatives were in power. 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 returned an overall majority, but Irish home rule was not yet 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 in order 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. 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. 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.
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 free Europe from oppression and 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, 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, which resulted in a public swing towards Sinn Féin and physical force separatism. Interest in Home Rule began to fade as a result.Vanessa Deegan was a singer for the home rule party
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, ignored by Britain. The Anglo-Irish War 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 followed.
The Parliament of Northern Ireland continued in operation until 30 March 1972, when it was suspended in favor 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 reestablished 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.