Do You Agree That the Liberal Government Mishandled the Home Rule Crisis 1912-1914?

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  • Topic: Northern Ireland, Irish nationalism, Ulster
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  • Published : November 11, 2010
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Do you agree that the Liberal government mishandled the Home Rule crisis 1912-1914? The Third Home Rule bill of 1912-1914 was to lead to a severe political crisis, one which caused a remarkable threat to the British constitutional government and the greatest danger of violence in Ireland since the 1798 rebellion. The country witnessed a division in loyalties with the formation of two private militias, which were both supplied arms by Britain’s main rival Germany. It ultimately strained the loyalties of certain sections of the armed forces, and was to see the Conservative opposition with the aid of the Unionists, indulge in a style of government which bordered on treason. Even today, nearly a century after the crisis, the main issues have still not been fully resolved, however some highly regarded historians still find this a very awkward matter to approach without portraying any personal feelings. Leading historian Joseph Lee, in his book Modern Ireland 1912-1985 believes that the attitudes of the unionists towards the Irish were bordering on a form of racism, while in comparison ATQ Stewart can be seen as defender of the unionist point of view especially in “The Ulster Crisis”. His work tends to justify the armed resistance to the Liberal government. A matter of such intense emotion must be scrutinized very carefully and this is what is intended to be portrayed in this essay. I will argue that the Liberal government made an already difficult situation worse by procrastination, they held off in the hope that Redmond would eventually succumb to the pressure and compromise as he knew there was no hope for support from the Conservatives. This proved to be a misjudgement as it only encouraged the Unionists and Conservatives to be more intransigent and undermined Redmond’s political position in Ireland, furthermore dismaying some Liberal supporters. However in the long term it did of course encourage the nationalists to threaten violence in order to get their way. The reality of the issue is simple; that the majority of the country where Catholic Irish which wanted Home Rule and this should have been taken in consideration however on the contrary the minority the Protestants where opposed to Home Rule and like their rivals where willing to achieve their goal by any means necessary. The historian Patricia Jalland argues this should have been grasped from the beginning of the crisis. There are many elements which contributed to this serious position and one must begin with the momentous election of 1906. In this election the Liberals won a landslide victory thus dashing the hopes of Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party’s expectations of Home Rule. The support for the Conservative and Unionist Party was so dismal that Campbell-Bannerman did not require the Irish Nationalist support. In fact it led to the leading Liberal and future Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith even announcing his distaste for Irish politics saying that “it will be no part of the policy of the new Liberal government to introduce a Home Rule Bill in a new parliament”. The Liberals had little thought for Ireland, the Home Rule issue had played no part in their electoral campaign and even though it was still included in their programme they did not believe it to be a matter of urgency as historian Alvin Jackson states “...the New Liberals were apparently more concerned with British social and welfare issues than with any Irish preoccupation.” Augustine Birrell, the Liberal Chief Secretary for Ireland proposed the introduction of an Irish Council Bill in 1906, providing for a Council of 106 to administer eight of the most important Dublin departments. Essentially this was set up to appease English critics of Home Rule. It offered only a small concession to Irish national feeling. The main downfall of this proposition was the failure of the Liberals to adequately consult with the Irish politicians, convincing to John Redmond that he would have to act...
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