The Parliament of Ireland (Irish: Parlaimint na hÉireann) was a legislature that existed in Dublin from 1297 until 1800. In its early mediaeval period during the Lordship of Ireland it was sometimes bicameral, sometimes tricameral, consisted of either two or three chambers: the House of Commons, elected by a very restricted suffrage, the House of Lords in which the lords temporal of the peerage of Ireland and lords spiritual (higher clergy) were represented (subject to periodic exclusion of Catholic peers) and a third body, a House of Proctors, which consisted of representatives of the lower clergy, which sometimes seems to have sat as a separate house, on other times as part of the House of Commons.
The main purpose of parliament was to approve taxes that were then levied by and for the Lordship of Ireland. Those who would pay the bulk of taxation, the clergy, merchants and landowners, naturally comprised the members. In 1541 the parliament voted to create the Kingdom of Ireland.
Over the centuries, the Irish parliament met in a number of locations both inside and outside of Dublin - the first place of definitive date and place was Castledermot, County Kildare on 18 June 1264 some months earlier than the first English Parliament containing elected members. Among its most famous meeting places were Dublin Castle, the Bluecoat School, Chichester House and, its final permanent home, the Irish Parliament House in College Green.
The Irish Parliament was formally founded in 1297 by the Justiciar, Sir John de Wogan, to represent the Irish and Anglo-Norman population of the Lordship of Ireland. In 1292 a less formal assembly of unelected nobles and merchants had raised £10,000, known as the "lay subsidy". This tax was a fifteenth of the net worth of the chattels of wealthier citizens; the poor and the church were exempted.
The Parliament arose from and for citizens of the Lordship of Ireland, based on Norman laws and English practices. Magna Carta was extended in 1217 in the Great Charter of Ireland. Membership was based on fealty to the king, and the preservation of the king's peace, and so the fluctuating number of autonomous Irish Gaelic kings were outside of the system; they had their own local brehon law taxation arrangements. The 14th and 15th centuries saw shrinking numbers of those loyal to the crown, the growing power of landed families, and the increasing inability to carry out judicial rulings, that all reduced the crown's presence in Ireland. Alongside this reduced control grew a "Gaelic resurgence" that was political as well as cultural. In turn this resulted in considerable numbers of the Anglo-Irish Old English nobility joining the independent Gaelic nobles in asserting their feudal independence. Eventually the crown's power shrank to a small fortified enclave around Dublin known as the Pale. The Parliament thereafter became essentially the forum for the Pale community until the 16th century.
Unable to implement and exercise the authority of the Parliament or the Crown's rule outside of this environ, and increasingly under the attack of raids by the Gaelic Irish and independent Anglo-Irish nobles, the Palesmen themselves encouraged the Kings of England to take a more direct role in the affairs of Ireland. Geographic distance, the lack of attention by the Crown because of the Hundred Years' War and the Wars of the Roses, and the larger power of the Gaelic clans, all reduced the effectiveness of the Irish Parliament. Thus, increasingly worried that the Irish Parliament was essentially being overawed by powerful landed families in Ireland like the Earl of Kildare into passing laws that pursued the agendas of the different dynastic factions in the country, in 1494, the Parliament encouraged the passing of Poynings' Law which subordinated the Irish Parliament to the English one.
Kingdom of Ireland
The role of the Parliament changed after 1541, when Henry VIII declared the Kingdom of Ireland and embarked on the Tudor conquest of Ireland. Despite an era which featured royal concentration of power and decreasing feudal power throughout the rest of Europe, King Henry VIII overruled earlier court rulings putting families and lands under attainder and recognised the privileges of the Gaelic nobles thereby expanding the crown's de jure authority. In return for recognising the crown's authority under the new Kingdom of Ireland, the Gaelic-Anglo-Irish lords had their position legalised and were entitled to attend the Irish Parliament as equals under the policy of surrender and regrant.
The Reformation in Ireland introduced in stages by the Tudor monarchs did not take hold in most of the country, but did not affect the operation of parliament until after the papal bull Regnans in Excelsis of 1570. Initially in 1537, the Irish Parliament approved both the Act of Supremecy, acknowledging Henry VIII as head of the Church and the dissolution of the monasteries. In the parliaments of 1569 and 1585, the Old English Catholic representatives in the Irish Commons had several disputes with the crown's authorities over the introduction of penal legislation against Catholics and over-paying of "Cess" tax for the putting down of various Gaelic and Catholic rebellions.
For this reason, and the political fallout after the 1605 Gunpowder plot and the Plantation of Ulster in 1613-15, the constituencies for the Irish House of Commons were changed to give Protestants a majority. The Planation of Ulster allowed English and Scottish Protestant candidates in as representatives of the newly-formed boroughs in planted areas. Initially this gave Protestants a majority of 132-100 in the House of Commons. However, after vehement Catholic protests, including a brawl in the chamber on Parliament's first sitting, some of the new Parliamentary constituencies were eliminated, giving Protestants a slight majority (108-102) of members of the House of Commons thereafter.
In the House of Lords the Catholic majority continued until the 1689 "Patriot Parliament", with the exception of the Commonwealth period (1649-60). Following the general uprising of the Catholic Irish in the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and the self-established Catholic assembly in 1642-49, Roman Catholics were barred from voting or attending the Parliament altogether in the Cromwellian Act of Settlement 1652, which was reversed by the Restoration in 1660.
1660 to 1800:
Following the death of Cromwell and the end of the Protectorate, the Stuarts returned to the throne thereby ending the sectarian divisions relating to parliament. Then, during the reign of James II of England, who had converted to Roman Catholicism, Irish Catholics briefly recovered their pre-eminent position as the crown now favoured their community. When James was overthrown in England, he turned to his Roman Catholic supporters in the Irish Parliament for support. In return for its support during the Williamite war in Ireland (1688-91), a Roman Catholic majority Patriot Parliament of 1689 persuaded James to pass legislation granting it autonomy to and to restore lands confiscated from Catholics in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. The Jacobite defeat in this war meant that under William III of England, Protestants were returned to a favoured position in Irish society while substantial numbers of Catholic nobles and leaders could no longer sit in parliament unless they took a loyalty oath as agreed under the Treaty of Limerick. Having proven their support for Catholic absolutism by their loyal support for James during the war, and because the Papacy supported the Jacobites after 1693, Irish Catholics increasingly faced discriminatory legislation in the Penal Laws that were passed by the predominantly loyalist and Protestant Parliament from 1695.
Nonetheless, the franchise was still available to wealthier Catholics. Until 1728, Catholics voted in House of Commons elections and held seats in the Lords. For no particular reason (beyond a general pressure for Catholics to conform), they were barred from voting in the election for the first parliament in the reign of George II. Privileges were also mostly limited to supporters of the Church of Ireland. Protestants who did not recognise the state-supported Church were also discriminated against in law. Non-conformists such as Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Quakers, also had a subservient status in Parliament; after 1707 they could hold seats, but not hold public office. Thus, the new system favoured a new Anglican establishment in Church and State.
By 1728, the remaining nobility was either firmly Protestant or loyal Catholic. The upper classes had dropped most of its Gaelic traditions and adopted the Anglo-French aristocratic values then dominant throughout most of Europe. Much of the old feudal domains of the earlier Anglo-Irish and Gaelic-Irish magnates had been broken up and given to Irish loyalists soldiers, and English and Scottish Protestant colonial settlers. Long under the control of de jure power of magnates, the far larger peasant population had nonetheless under the relatively anarchic and sectarian conditions established a relative independence. Now, the nobility and newly established loyalist gentry could exercise their rights and privileges with more vigour. Much like England, Wales, and Scotland, the franchise was always limited to the property owning classes which favoured the landed gentry .
The Irish Parliament was left incapable of protecting Irish economic and trade interests from being subordinated to English ones, at a time of English commercial expansion. This in turn severely weakened the economic potential of the whole of Ireland and placed the new and largely Protestant middle-class at a disadvantage. The result was a slow but continual exodus of Anglo-Irish, Scots-Irish, and Protestant Irish families and communities to the colonies, principally in North America. Ironically, the very efforts to establish Anglicans as the primacy in Ireland, slowly subverted the general cause of the Protestant Irish which had been the objective of successive Irish and British Parliaments.
The Anglo-Irish Parliament did assert its independence from London several times however. In the early 18th century it successfully lobbied for Parliament to be called every two years (as opposed to the start of each new reign) and shortly thereafter, it declared itself to be in session permanently, mirroring developments in the English Parliament. As the effects on the general prosperity of the Kingdom by submitting the Irish Parliament to review of the British Parliament became apparent, the Irish Parliament slowly asserted itself, and from the 1770s the Irish Patriot Party began agitating for greater powers relative to the English Parliament. Additionally, later ministries moved to change the Navigation Acts that had limited Irish merchants' terms of trade with Britain and its empire.
After 1707, Ireland was, to varying degrees, subordinate to the Kingdom of Great Britain. The Parliament of Ireland only had control over legislation, while the executive branch of government, under the Lord Lieutenant, answered to the British government in London. Furthermore, the Penal Laws meant that Catholics, who constituted the majority of Irish people, were not permitted to sit in, or participate in, elections to the parliament. Meanwhile, building upon the precedent of Poyning's Law which made the Irish legislature subordinate to the Parliament of Great Britain, the Dependency of Ireland on Great Britain Act 1719 forbade the Irish parliament from discussing any bill without the British legislature's prior approval.
The effects of this subordination of Irish Parliamentary power soon became evident, as Ireland slowly stagnated economically and the Protestant population shrank in relative size. Additionally, the growing relative wealth of the American colonies, whose local authorities were surprisingly independent of the British Parliament, provided additional ammunition for those who wished to increase Irish Parliamentary power. When the British governments started centralising trade, taxation and judicial review throughout the Empire, the Irish Parliament saw a surprising ally in the American colonies, who were growing increasingly resistant to the British government's objectives. When open rebellion broke out in the American colonies in 1775, the Irish Parliament passed several initiatives which showed support for the American grievances.
Fearing another split by Ireland, as rebellion spread through the American colonies and various European powers joined in a global assault on British interests, the British Parliament became more acquiescent to Irish demands. In 1782, following agitation by major parliamentary figures, most notably Henry Grattan, supported by the Patriot movement, the Irish parliament's authority was greatly increased. Under what became known as the Constitution of 1782 the restrictions imposed by Poyning's Law were removed by the Repeal of Act for Securing Dependence of Ireland Act 1782. Grattan also wanted Catholic involvement in Irish politics; in 1793 the parliament copied the British Roman Catholic Relief Act 1791, and Catholics were given back the right to cast votes in elections to the parliament, although they were still debarred from membership and state offices.
The House of Lords was presided over by the Lord Chancellor, who sat on the woolsack, a large seat stuffed with wool from each of the three lands of England, Ireland and Scotland. In the Commons, business was presided over by the Speaker who, in the absence of a government chosen from and answerable to the Commons, was the dominant political figure in the parliament. Speaker Conolly remains today one of the most widely known figures produced by the Irish parliament.
Much of the public ceremonial in the Irish parliament mirrored that of the British Parliament. Sessions were formally opened by the Speech from the Throne by the Lord Lieutenant, who, it was written "used to sit, surrounded by more splendour than His Majesty on the throne of England". The Lord Lieutenant, when he sat on the throne, sat beneath a canopy of crimson velvet. At the state opening, MPs were summoned to the House of Lords from the House of Commons chamber by Black Rod, a royal official who would "command the members on behalf of His Excellency to attend him in the chamber of peers".
Sessions of Parliament drew many of the wealthiest of Ireland's Anglo-Irish elite to Dublin, particularly as sessions often coincided with the social season, (January to 17 March) when the Lord Lieutenant presided in state over state balls and drawing rooms in the Viceregal Apartments in Dublin Castle. Leading peers in particular flocked to Dublin, where they lived in enormous and richly decorated mansions initially on the northside of Dublin, later in new Georgian residences around Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square. Their presence in Dublin, along with large numbers of servants, provided a regular boost to the city economy.
The Parliament's records were published from the 1750s and provide a huge wealth of commentary and statistics on the reality of running Ireland at the time. In particular, minute details on Ireland's increasing overseas trade and reports from various specialist committees are recorded. By the 1780s they were published by two rival businesses, King & Bradley and Grierson.
In 1801, the Parliament of Ireland was abolished entirely, when the Act of Union created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and merged the British and Irish legislatures into a single Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The union arose from a number of strains in Anglo-Irish relationships. In 1798, British rule in Ireland was shaken by the failed United Irishmen rebellion. The crisis over the 'madness' of King George III produced tension, as both of the King's parliaments in each of his two kingdoms possessed the theoretical right to nominate a regent, without the requirement that they choose the same person. Nonetheless, the situation was resolved when both chose the Prince of Wales.
The result of these tensions was a British government decision that the entire relationship between Britain and Ireland should be fundamentally changed. Constitutionally, it was necessary for the Act of Union to be passed by both the British and Irish parliaments before it could become law. The Irish parliament was therefore effectively asked to vote for its own abolition, strongly opposed by Henry Grattan who campaigned for legislative freedom for the Irish Parliament.
After one failed attempt, the passage of the act in the Irish parliament was finally achieved, albeit with the mass bribery of members of both houses, who were awarded British and United Kingdom peerages and other 'encouragements'. After convening for the final time on 15 January 1800, on 1 January 1801 the Kingdom of Ireland and its parliament ceased to exist. It was the last legislature in Irish history, apart from the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, to have power to legislate for the whole island.
Part of the deal involved the concession of Catholic emancipation, which meant the removal of all remaining discriminatory laws against Catholics and faiths, other than the established Church of Ireland. This had long been resisted by the Irish Parliament. However, following the Union, King George III blocked emancipation, arguing that it conflicted with his coronation oath to uphold the Protestant faith. The Emancipation bill was finally passed in 1829 under the Premiership of the Irish soldier politician and statesman the Duke of Wellington. Daniel O' Connell M.P. was the first elected Irish Catholic member
In the 1830s and 1840s, nationalist leader Daniel O'Connell led an unsuccessful campaign for the repeal of the Act of Union and the restoration of 'Grattan's Parliament'. Those advocating repeal insisted that Catholics be granted the right to sit in any restored parliament.