Constitutional political movement in the second half of the nineteenth century, aimed at establishing an Irish parliament. The concept was that the Home Rule parliament would legislate on domestic issues, while imperial matters such as finance, taxation and foreign policy would remain under the control of Westminster.
The Home Rule movement was founded by *Isaac Butt, a former Unionist and member of Parliament. Butt started questioning direct rule from Westminster as he became increasingly aware of the lack of indigenous industry and the appalling level of poverty within Ireland. A barrister who defended Fenian rebels and president of Amnesty Association, Butt was interested in a constitutional solution to the problems which led to the *Fenian rebellion.
In May 1870, Butt founded the Home Government Association to promote Home Rule on a federal basis. This pressure group was initially dominated by Protestants who felt threatened by recent legislation passed by *Gladstone. The disestablishment of the Church of Ireland by Gladstone in 1869 and the *1870 Land Act threatened the status quo in Ireland. Conservative Protestants now saw Home Rule as an expression of loyalty to England and as a means of protecting both the *Act of Union and the privileged position of the Ascendancy in Ireland. However, by 1873 the movement became increasingly nationalistic and lost Protestant support. In November 1873, this organization was replaced with the Home Rule League, which won fifty-nine seats in the 1874 election, thereby establishing a sizable Home Rule party in parliament. Despite this success, Butt proved to be an ineffective leader. In 1877, *Parnell replaced him as Chairman of the Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain. Following Butt’s death in May that year, the leadership of the parliamentary party went to William Shaw.
Parnell’s involvement in the *Land League raised his political profile and by 1880 he had successfully replaced Shaw. In October 1882, the Irish National League was established as the new constituency organization of the Home Rule parliamentary party. By 1886, there were over a thousand branches nationwide, responsible for funding election campaigns and contributing to MP salaries. Parnell at the same time organized the parliamentary party into a strong, closely controlled group, whose members pledged “to sit, act and vote as one” and planned to support the political party in Westminster that offered the most concessions.
In 1885 the Conservative government attempted to win Irish support by relaxing coercion and passing the Ashbourne *Land Act of I885. *Gladstone, the Liberal Party leader, made no such efforts, and Parnell instructed Irish voters in Britain to vote Conservative in the November 1885 election. The results were disappointing for Parnell because, even though his party won 86 seats, it failed to hold a perfect balance of power. (The Conservatives won 249 seats and the Liberals 335.) However, Parnell’s decision to back the Liberals was made easier by Gladstone’s conversion to Home Rule in December 1885.
In April 1886, Gladstone introduced his first Home Rule Bill. It proposed the establishment of a legislature in Dublin with control over domestic matters for the whole island. Imperial matters would still be decided by Westminster (Irish peers and MPs were excluded) and Ireland would be responsible for fifteen percent of the cost of running the British Empire. The bill was defeated in the Commons by 30 votes and Gladstone resigned as Prime Minister. The Conservatives now took office determined to undermine Home Rule with a policy of conciliation, known as Constructive Unionism. This policy held that by solving Ireland’s problems of poverty and land ownership, the Irish would embrace the union with Britain and abandon the quest for Home Rule. Parnell realized that Home Rule now totally depended on an alliance with the Liberals and he spent the next four years developing this relationship.
In December 1890, the *O’Shea divorce case proved disastrous for Parnell and the Home Rule Party. Gladstone stated that “on moral grounds” he could no longer support Parnell. The party split into two opposing factions and would only be reunited under *John Redmond in 1900.
In 1893, Gladstone introduced his second Home Rule bill, which allowed for a continued Irish presence at Westminster with its power limited to voting on Irish bills. The bill was passed in the Commons but was defeated in the House of Lords. The Third Home Rule bill, introduced in 1912 by Prime Minister Asquith would give an Irish parliament power over all internal matters, except for taxation and the police, and Ireland would continue to send forty MPs to Westminster. After the 1911 Parliament Act, the House of Lords no longer had veto power and could only delay legislation for two years. The Home Rule bill therefore was due to become law in 1914, but considerable opposition by Ulster Unionists placed Ireland on the brink of civil war. The onset of *World War I, caused the suspension of the Home Rule bill until the end of the conflict. The *1916 Easter Rising, however, completely changed the political landscape. The ultra-nationalist *Sinn Féin party increasingly gained wide spread support at the expense of the Home Rule party which was practically wiped out in the 1918 General Election. During the *War of Independence, Prime Minister *Lloyd George attempted to bring stability to the country with the *Government of Ireland Act, which established two Home Rule parliaments–one in Belfast and one in Dublin. The act was completely ignored in southern Ireland where it was later superseded by the *Anglo-Irish Treaty. P.E.
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Moody, T.W. and Martin, F.X. (eds.) The Course of Irish History. Dublin: Mercier Press, 1994
O’Day, A. Irish Home Rule: 1867-1921. Manchester University Press, 1998.