In considering the process of change in the relationship between Ireland and Great Britain between 1801 and 1921, how far can the 1886 Home Rule Bill be seen as a key turning point?
In 1815 Ireland was part of the union though by 1921 it was partitioned. The years in between saw group and individual efforts in trying to change the relationship between Ireland and Great Britain. Parnell’s campaign for Home Rule is seen as a key turning point that potentially was the most important kick starting change within the union.
1886 was undoubtedly a turning point as it gave hope for ‘both a just and feasible solution to the problem of the Irish government’. In 1886 the Liberal Party Prime Minister of the UK, William Gladstone, decided that in order to end the problems in Ireland, some action would have to be taken. Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party were also in a great position at this point as they had 86 seats in the House of Commons which was the exact amount between the Liberals and Conservatives. This meant Parnell could truly push for Home Rule. Gladstone felt that giving Ireland back their local parliament, which was removed in the Act f Union of 1800, would solve the problem. So in 1886, Gladstone introduced the first Home Rule bill. However, it was defeated in the House of Commons because others, especially the Conservative Party, were against Home Rule which they thought would weaken the union.
Although it failed, the first Home Rule bill could be seen as a significant turning point for Irish Nationalism. It appeared to have brought Ireland ‘within sight of the promise land’ as it was the first time Home Rule had seriously been discussed and the Prime Minister, ‘the greatest politician of his day’ had heavily backed it which meant that it was on the political agenda. It could also be said that the Home Rule bill was insignificant and even counterproductive due to the fact it failed to create any change between Great Britain and Ireland. Also despite the fact that ‘the commitment to Irish Home Rule remained a part of the [liberals] party programme’ the failure of the bill consequently brought in a Conservative Government, therefore meaning Home Rule, and a lot of constitutionalist movements, were off the agenda for the next twenty years. Moreover, the Ulster Unionists, who heavily opposed Home Rule, began to mobilise in preparation for any discussion of Home Rule in the future and it would be this group that would ultimately prevent Home Rule. However, it also seemed to spark an interest in Irish cultural identity e.g. the Irish language. The significance of this could be that later it became linked with Sinn Fein and extreme nationalist movements. So, 1886 did not change the relationship in two key developments for the future. The following second and third Home Rule bills could possibly be seen as significant as they had much more support that the one in 1886. The significance of 1886 can be seen in the fact that Home Rule did resurface again in 1893 when it was defeated in the Lords and again in 1912 when thanks to the removal of the Lords veto it would be law in two years. What may have been seen as equally important though, was the fact that the bill being passed encouraged extremism in Ulster, in which the people were worried about separation from the Union. The Liberal government now found itself opposed by the strong resistance of the Ulster unionists who had ‘turned to armed militancy to oppose the imposition of Home Rule’ and this eventually led to the Ulster crisis. Thus resistance would ensure that by 1914 Home Rule for the whole of Ireland looked unlikely.
It could be argued though that Home Rule would not have been possible without Roman Catholic Emancipation in 1829. For the first time significant legislation was passed to benefit Catholics and O’Connell had successfully linked Catholicism and nationalism.
Daniel O’Connell was a key figure during the main turning point for Irish...
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