Home Rule Movement

The Home Government Association was formed in 1870 by a small group of prominent figures.  They sought to establish a federal system for the United Kingdom with an Irish Parliament dealing with Irish affairs.  This was an attempt to challenge the misgovernment of Ireland.

Isaac Butt had sat in Parliament from 1852 to 1868 as a Conservative MP for Youghal.  He shared unease at the government of Ireland from the 1860s onwards and came to believe that a change of the political and constitutional decision in Ireland was essential.

Isaac Butt founded the Irish Home Government Association in 1870  to garner support for Home Rule.  It received tacit support from more radical elements. In 1872, two home rule  supporters beat Conservative and Liberal candidates in Irish by-elections.

The Home Government Association initially, had leading Protestants members. After a conference with Catholic Bishops in Dublin, the body was replaced 1873, by the Home Rule League, also led by Butt.  The Home Rule League attracted Catholic middle-class support and farmers seeking land reform.

Political Breakthrough

In the 1874 general election, the League won 59 seats, two in Ulster with Conservatives winning 33 and the Liberals 10.  Gladstone had lost the election and was succeeded by Disraeli who had  little interest in Irish affairs.  This government remained in place until 1880.

The Home Rule MPs constituted themselves a separate party in Ireland. Butt’s  first Home Rule motion was defeated comprehensively in the House of Commons. Another Home Rule motion was defeated in 1876.  In the meantime, obstructionist tactics were employed by some MPs to highlight the issue.  Isaac Butt died in 1879.

The1880 the election saw the emergence of Charles Stewart Parnell, an obstructionist who was prominent in the party and President of the Land League.  He won 63 seats in the election and was elected leader of the party.  He had in 1877 became President of the Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain, in place of Butt.

Under Parnell the Home Rule Movement became more aggressive, obstructive and relentless. Although he did not agree with their position on the use of force, he maintained the support of hard-line nationalists in the IRB and Fenians.

Parnell was jailed in 1881 for strong public attack on the 1881 Land Act.  He was released and the Act was significantly improved under the so called Kilmainham Treaty providing for the remission of arrears.  He promised to use his influence to end agitation.  He distances himself from the Fenians after the murder of the Chief Secretary.

The Irish National League was formed in 1882 collecting funds to pay MPs (who were then unpaid).  The party became a very formidable force.  Catholic Bishops backed Home Rule on condition that  Catholic University be established to counteract the Queen’s Colleges which were nondenominational.

First Home Rule Bill

The Irish Parliamentary Party won 86 seats in 1885, controlling nearly all constituencies outside of Trinity College and Northeast Ulster. Gladstone was persuaded that Home Rule was the only way to appease Ireland.

A strong Unionist Party emerged in 1885 replacing the Liberals and Conservatives in Ireland.   The Conservative Chief Secretary Balfour and later Prime Minister pursued a policy of “killing Home Rule by kindness”.Until 1885 Ulster had been divided in political lines between the Liberals and Conservatives.  Thereafter Unionism organised and the Irish Unionist Party replaced the Liberals and Conservatives.

The Government of Ireland Bill 1886 was introduced on 8 April of that year by Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone.  The Irish Parliamentary Party had been campaigning for Home Rule since 1870.  However, the legislation was very much the work of Gladstone and the British Government and the Irish MPs were not involved in its drafting.

The Bill provided for a one Chamber Assembly.  It was not termed a Parliament.  There were two Orders which would meet either separately or together. The First Order/ Upper House consisted of 28 Irish peers plus 75 elected under a restricted franchise.  They could delay legislation for up to three years.   The Second Order/Lower House consisted of 206 members.  No MPs would sit in Westminster at all from Ireland.

The executive power would rest with the Lord Lieutenant.  The United Kingdom would retain control over matters such as peace, defence, treaties, trade and coinage.  It retained control of the Royal Ulster Constabulary for a period until passed to  the new Parliament.  The Dublin Metropolitan Police was to pass to the Irish Legislative Assembly.

Bill’s Proposals

The Irish legislative body was to  make laws relating to the peace, order and good government of Ireland.  It could not make laws in relation to the following: the Crown, peace, army, dignities and titles of honour; offences against international law, treason, naturalisation, lighthouses, coinage and copyright. Certain powers in relation to military installations and equipment were reserved to the Imperial Government.

It was provided that it could not pass a law

  • in relation to the establishment or endowment of religion,
  • prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
  • imposing any disability, or conferring privilege on account of religious belief;
  • abrogating the right to establish or maintain any denominational education or denominational institution;
  • prejudicially affecting the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without religious instruction;
  • impairing, without the consent of Her Majesty in Council any existing corporation;
  • imposing duties of customs or
  • amending the Act itself.

The two Orders should deliberate and sit together.  However, they were to vote as separate bodies.  The consent of both bodies was required to most legislation.

The body would sit for terms of five years. In every fifth year, 37 or 38 of the elected members were to retire from office in the First Order. Each elected member must have a certain minimum income and assets pitched at quite a significant level (£200 per annum or £4000 capital).

A peer member was entitled to hold office for life or 30 years.  Thereafter the peerages were to vacate.  28 of the First Order were peers and the rest were elected on the above basis.  The Second Order was to be chosen by existing constituencies, two per constituency.  The legislative body had power to pass money Bills  on the recommendation through the Lord Lieutenant.

The Irish Legislature was to have power to impose tax other than customs and excise.  There was to be a separate consolidated fund. Ireland was to make certain contributions annually to the consolidated United Kingdom fund.  Provisions were made in respect of apportioning the national debt.

Monies collected on account of customs and excise in Ireland were to be applied and paid towards the UK consolidated fund. There was provision whereby if a state of war existed, a further proportion of consolidated fund of Ireland could be used in aid of the Army and Navy.

The executive government vested in Her Majesty and carried on by the Lord Lieutenant through officers and Council as her Majesty should deem fit.  Civil servants were to hold office under the Irish government.

Provision was made for the status of judges. Revenue matters were to be heard by the Exchequer division of the High Court, who could be removed, only   by the Imperial Parliament.

Questions regarding constitutional issues were to be referred to the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty in Council.  Other judges could  be removed, only by both Orders of the legislative assembly.  Their independence and position was ensured and secured.

All existing laws, powers and bodies were to continue in force.  The Act could only be changed by the Imperial Parliament.

Aftermath of Failure


Riots took place in Belfast in 1886 during the debates with a significant number of fatalities.  Other clashes occurred in Ballymena, Derry and Portadown. Famously, the Bill failed to pass the House of Commons ,341 to  311 including 93 Liberals who defected.  It precipitated a general election in 1886.  Joseph Chamberlain and other leading Liberals defected to the Conservatives.

Gladstone went to the country on the first Home Rule Bill, but the election was won by a combination of Liberal Unionists and Tories who united to form the Conservative Party.  Liberals’ numbers fell significantly. The split in the Liberal -opened an era of Conservative dominance.

In 1890, Parnell was forced to resign having been named in a divorce by the husband of one of his Parliamentary members and accordingly an adulterer.  The party split and he died the next year at the age of 45.

Gladstone introduced a second Home Rule Bill in 1893.  The Irish Party was divided and weak during much of the 1890s.  It was eventually reunited in 1900 by John Redmond, from the -Parnellite wing of the party.

Second Home Rule Bill

Gladstone’s commitment to Home Rule remained strong even after electoral defeat. He became Prime Minister again in 1892 in his 80s.  He retired in 1894.

The Home Rule Bill 1893 was Gladstone’s second attempt to introduce Home Rule.  Once again it was largely drafted by Gladstone without input from the recently split with Irish Parliamentary Party or his own Ministry.

The Bill passsed the  House of Commons but was defeated in the House of Lords. After the defeat of Home Rule, the focus shifted on to the land question again and several Land Acts greatly enhanced and increased the pace of land purchase reform, dealing with many symptoms of discontent.

Bill’s Proposals

The 1893 Bill continued to allow 80 MPs to vote at Westminster in non-British matters.

The Bill provided for  two houses, a legislative council and a legislative assembly.  They had power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Ireland in relation to matters exclusively relating to Ireland or part of it.  Supreme authority remained with the Imperial Parliament.

The legislature was to  have powers in relation to broadly the same matters as under the previous legislation.  There were similar provisions restricting laws affecting

  • establishment or endowment of religion,
  • imposing any disabilities, advantage or revenue on the basis of religious belief,
  • diverting property of a religious body
  • abrogating denominational education,
  • imposing disabilities or benefits on the basis of parentage or place of work,
  • deprivation of life, liberty or property without due process of law in accordance with certain principles and precedents
  • denying equal protection of laws,
  • taking of private property without compensation.

The executive authority was exercised in the Lord Lieutenant and other executive officers. An executive committee of the Privy Council of Ireland was aid and advise the government of Ireland. The term of office of the Lord Lieutenant was six years.

The Legislative Council consisted of 48 councillors to be elected.  A person who has to land of £20 rateable  evaluation were entitled to vote. The term was eight years.  The Legislative Assembly consisted of 103 members in accordance with the existing parliamentary constituencies elected for a five-year term.

If a Bill was blocked by the Legislative Council then after dissolution or two years, and ultimately a majority of the two houses voting together, could  determine the issue, if again adopted by the Legislative Council.

There were similar provisions in relation to the division of revenue between Great Britain and Ireland.  Provision was made for Imperial revenue.  The Irish Legislature was given power to propose taxes.  Certain Imperial expenses were to be charged on the Irish Consolidated Fund.

Provision was made for the tenure of judges. There were similar provisions in relation to certain  judges of the High Court who could be removed only by the Imperial Parliament and to determine matters concerning apportionment of revenue etc. amongst other functions.

Appeals from courts in Ireland to the House of Lords were to cease. There was, instead, an appeal to the Privy Council.

Provision was made for the transfer of policing functions.  The existing forces were to cease and be replaced. The powers were limited during a transitional period.  A new police force was to be established.


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