The Irish legislature was subordinate to the British Parliament.  The British Parliament claimed the right to legislate for Ireland.  In practice, the British Parliament did not impose direct taxation or legislation in relation to contentious matter.

Under Ponying’s Law, the Irish Parliament could not meet until the Lord Lieutenant or justices and the Irish Privy Council had transmitted bills to the King and the British Privy Council as a basis and reason for summoning it.  Any matter the Irish Parliament wished to pass had to be approved by this means.

Proposals for legislation could be initiated in either house by way of a heads of bills.  This might be varied however, by the British or Irish Privy Council, and if so, the Parliament had no power to make any further amendment.  It could only be accepted or rejected.

Although the Parliament could be summoned without approval under the Great Seal, it remained necessary that the laws be submitted to the British Privy Council which could reject or alter them. A declaratory Act of George I asserted that the Irish Privy Council was subordinate to the English Privy Council.  This rested on Ponying’s  law.

The judicial jurisdiction of the Irish House of Lords was withdrawn in 1720.


The Irish Parliament comprised the House of Lords and House of Commons.

Of the 300 members elected to the Irish House of Commons, 216 was elected by boroughs and manors and up to 176 at least were elected by individual patrons.  No less than 40 boroughs, many of dubious merit had been created by James II.


Two were elected by each county.  Two  were elected by the 117 boroughs, and  two by Trinity College. The electorate comprised freeholders with a land valuation of 40 Shillings. The qualifications for election and the electorate  in the boroughs was more complicated.

In the corporations, the members of the corporation itself were the electoratl.  In the freemen boroughs, the freemen of the borough and members of the corporation had the vote.  In many cases, the borough electorate were extremely small, coming to no more than a couple of dozen electors and in some cases, less.  Some boroughs were small villages.

Major landholders in practice played a significant role in relation to the county elections.  They appointed a sheriff who as returning officer had control over the franchise.  Voting was in public.

There was also considerable corruption in the borough seats.  Some boroughs were manor boroughs, which were at the disposal of the Lord of the Manor.

Penal laws passed by both English and Irish Parliaments precluded the Catholics from sitting and from the electorate.  Catholics were excluded from Parliament by the requirement to take oath of allegiance and the oath of supremacy.  Until 1793, Catholics could not vote at Parliamentary elections.

Protestant dissenters were not subject to the same restrictions, but in practice very few sat in the House of Lords or House of Commons.The “Test” clause shut out nonconformists from corporations, which elected a high proportion of members.

Convocation and Elections

Unlike the position after the 1688 revolution in England, parliament was not by law required to be convoked and re-elected at regular intervals.  They might last for a whole period as occurred in the case of George II’s reign for 33 years.

Parliamentary elections were not held regularly.  Until 1768, Parliament was terminated only by the death of the King or Queen.  One Parliament lasted for the entire reign of George I and another for the entire reign of George II.

An Irish bill containing the provisions of the Bill of Rights was sent to England in the early 18th century but was never returned.

House of Lords

The House of Lords included 22 bishops and lay peers.  Not all Irish peers sat in the House of Lords. Catholic peers were debarred, and many were absent.

The peers not only dominated the House of Lords but controlled a significant number of the boroughs electing the lower house.

The established church was one of the chief instruments of government.  The bishops constituted about half the working majority of the House of Lords. A number of ecclesiastical taxes were payable including tithes and benefices of various type together with other quasi-taxes.  Many bishops were absentees.

Grattan’s Parliament 1782-1800

The background to the assertion of greater level of Irish independence was the American Revolution. The Irish House of Commons maintained its claim to  the exclusive right to initiate revenue bills and sought freedom to legislation without the veto/ consent of the British Privy Council..

In 1782,Yelvertons Act amended Ponying’s law.  A bill which passed both houses of the Irish parliaments has to be transmitted by the Lord Lieutenant to the King, and if returned, it was to be deemed to pass Parliament.  The Lord Lieutenant would declare the royal assent. The British Privy Council did not have a veto. Although the monarch could withhold consent, this did not happen in practice.

The assertion of Parliamentary independence was accompanied by loyalty to the Crown and the assertion of the freedoms of the English Constitution for Ireland. The legislative changes marked the commencement of the period of “Grattan’s Parliament”, in which the Irish Parliament had significantly enhanced powers and status, which continued until  the Union in 1800.

Catholic Relief

In 1778, the first major Catholic Relief Act was passed, which allowed Catholics to take leases for 999 years and inherit land.  Under 1782 act, the  remaining disabilities relating to land were abolished.  Catholic clergy were permitted to perform ecclesiastical functions although some significant disabilities remained.

An Act was passed permitting Catholics to keep school provided they obtained a licence.  The so-called sacramental test was abolished.



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