Government of Ireland Act 1914
The Government of Ireland Act 1914 (4 & 5 Geo. 5 c. 90), also known as the Home Rule Act, and before enactment as the Third Home Rule Bill, was an Act passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom intended to provide home rule (self-government within the United Kingdom) for Ireland. It was the third such bill introduced by a Liberal government during a 28-year period in response to agitation for Irish Home Rule.
|Long title||An Act to provide for the better Government of Ireland.|
|Citation||4 & 5 Geo. 5 c. 90|
|Territorial extent||United Kingdom|
|Royal assent||18 September 1914|
|Commencement||Postponed by Suspensory Act 1914|
|Repealed||23 December 1920|
|Repealed by||Government of Ireland Act 1920|
|Name and origin|
|Official name of legislation||Government of Ireland Act 1914|
|House of Commons passed?||Yes|
|House of Lords passed?||No; passed under Parliament Act 1911|
|Which House||House of Lords, three times (overruled)|
|Date||1912, 1913, 1914 (overruled)|
|Details of legislation|
Lower: House of Commons
House of Commons: 164
|MPs in Westminster||42 MPs|
|Executive head||Lord Lieutenant|
|Executive body||Executive Committee of the Privy Council of Ireland|
|Act implemented||Never implemented|
|Succeeded by||Government of Ireland Act 1920|
|Constitutional documents and events relevant to the status of the United Kingdom and its countries|
The Act was the first law ever approved by the Parliament of the United Kingdom that provided for a devolved government in any part of the UK proper (as opposed to colonial territories). However, the implementation of both it and the equally controversial Welsh Church Act 1914 was formally postponed for a minimum of twelve months with the beginning of the First World War. The continuation of the war beyond 1915 and subsequent developments in Ireland resulted in further postponements, meaning that the Act never became effective; it was finally superseded by a fourth home rule bill, enacted as the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which partitioned Ireland, creating Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, both intended to have Home Rule.
During 1909, a constitutional crisis began when the House of Lords rejected David Lloyd George's Finance Bill. Two general elections occurred in January and December 1910, both of which left the Liberals and Conservatives equally matched, with John Redmond's Irish Parliamentary Party having the balance of power in the House of Commons. The Irish Party, which had campaigned for home rule for Ireland since the 1870s, pledged to assist the Liberals in return for the introduction of a home rule bill. The Parliament Act 1911 then replaced the unlimited veto of the Lords with one lasting only 2 years, ensuring that a bill passed by the Commons could not be blocked for more than two years.
The Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith, introduced the Bill on 11 April 1912. Allowing more autonomy than its two predecessors, the bill provided that:
- A bicameral Irish Parliament would be established in Dublin (a 40-member Senate and a 164-member House of Commons) with powers to deal with most national affairs. Each province of Ireland would be presented by ten senators elected by proportional representation.
- A number of Irish MPs would continue to attend the Parliament of the United Kingdom (42 MPs, rather than 103).
- Dublin Castle administration would be eliminated, though with the retention of the Lord Lieutenant.
The financial situation was a concern. Irish taxes had yielded a surplus of £2 million in 1893, that had become a current spending net deficit of £1.5m by 1910 that had to be raised by London. An annual "Transferred Sum" mechanism was proposed to maintain spending in Ireland as it was.
The Bill was passed by the Commons by a majority of 10 votes in 1912 but the House of Lords rejected it by 326 votes to 69 in January 1913. In 1913 it was reintroduced and again passed by the Commons but was again rejected by the Lords by 302 votes to 64. In 1914 after the third reading, the Bill was passed by the Commons on 25 May 1914 by a majority of 77. Having been defeated a third time in the Lords, the Government used the provisions of the (new) Parliament Act to override the Lords and send it for Royal Assent.
Unionists in Ulster were opposed to a home-rule Ireland governed from Dublin. Hostility to the Home Rule Bill was increasing in the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, and Londonderry. Early in 1912, some of the residents of that area began forming small local militias. By April 1912, the Irish Unionist Alliance's managing politician, Sir Edward Carson, could review 100,000 marching Ulster Volunteers. On 28 September 1912, more than 500,000 Unionists signed the Ulster Covenant pledging to defy Home Rule by all means possible. The Covenant was developed by Carson and organised by Sir James Craig. This Covenant specifically pledged not to acknowledge any Parliament out of Dublin, nor to obey its laws, nor pay any taxes levied by its government. This would be problematic especially since Ulster was the wealthiest and most prosperous part of Ireland. In January 1913, the Unionist Council reorganised their volunteers into a paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), whose members threatened to resist by physical force the implementation of the Act and the authority of any restored Dublin Parliament by force of arms. On 28 November 1913, Irish Nationalists responded by forming the Irish Volunteers "to secure the rights and liberties common to all the people of Ireland" The government's ability to oppose the Unionist threat was rendered questionable by the "Curragh Mutiny" of 20 March 1914, when many British Army officers at Curragh in County Kildare, the main Army camp in Ireland, threatened to resign or accept dismissal rather than deploy against the Ulster Volunteers, forcing the government to cancel planned troop movements.
At the Bill's third reading in the Commons on 21 May 1914 several members asked about a proposal to exclude the whole of Ulster for six years. Asquith was seeking any solution that would avoid a civil war. During the emotional debate which lasted until 25 May 1914, Sir Edward Carson made the statement:
"I say this to my Nationalist fellow-countrymen, and indeed also to the Government, you have never tried to win over Ulster. You have never tried to understand her position. You have never alleged, and you cannot allege, that this Bill gives her one atom of advantage."
A government amending bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 23 June 1914 (before the Lords had considered the original Home Rule bill itself) and passed there with amendments on 8 July. Carson and the Irish Unionist Party (mostly Ulster MPs) backed the amending bill, which provided for "temporary exclusion of Ulster" from the workings of the future Act. The Lords' amendments to the amending bill were unacceptable to the government. What was still to be negotiated were the number of counties excluded (four, six or nine) and whether exclusion would be temporary or permanent. The compromise proposed by Asquith was straightforward. Six counties in northeast Ulster were to be excluded "temporarily" from the territory of the new Irish parliament and government, and to continue to be governed as before from Westminster and Whitehall. How temporary the exclusion would be, and whether northeastern Ireland would eventually be governed by the Irish parliament and government, remained an issue of some controversy. To save prolonged debate in parliament, George V called the Buckingham Palace Conference with two MPs from each of the British Liberal and Conservative parties, and two each from the nationalists and unionists. The conference, held between 21 and 24 July 1914, achieved very little.
Passing of the Bill
This section needs additional citations for verification. (May 2017)
With the beginning of World War I on 4 August 1914, Asquith decided to abandon his Amending Bill, and instead rushed through a new bill, the Suspensory Act 1914, which was presented for Royal Assent simultaneously with both the Government of Ireland Act 1914 and the Welsh Church Act 1914. Although the two controversial Bills had now finally become statute on 18 September 1914, the Suspensory Act ensured that Home Rule would be postponed for the duration of the conflict and would not come into operation until the end of the war. (Eventually Home Rule was considered by the Irish Convention in 1917–18, and by the cabinet from September 1919; the Welsh Church Act was delayed until March 1920). The Ulster question was 'solved' in the same way: through the promise of amending legislation which was left undefined.
Dublin was a battlefield for a week during the Easter Rising of 1916. This rebellion would have a major effect on the Home Rule passage and many Home Rulers would be troubled by this event. After the Rising, two attempts were made during the First World War to implement the Act. The first attempt came in June 1916, when Prime Minister H. H. Asquith sent David Lloyd George, then Minister for Munitions, to Dublin to offer immediate implementation to the leaders of the Irish Party, Redmond and Dillon. The scheme concerned partition, officially a temporary arrangement, as understood by Redmond. Lloyd George however gave the Ulster politician, Carson, a written guarantee that Ulster would not be forced into a self-governing Ireland. His tactic was to ensure that neither side would find out before a compromise was implemented. A modified Act of 1914 had been developed by the Cabinet on 17 June. The Act had two amendments enforced by Unionists on 19 July – permanent exclusion and a reduction of Ireland's representation in the Commons. When informed by Lloyd George on 22 July 1916, Redmond accused the government of treachery. This was decisive in determining the future fortunes of the Home Rule movement. Lloyd George, now Prime Minister, made a second attempt to implement Home Rule in 1917, with the calling of the Irish Convention directed by Horace Plunkett. This consisted of Nationalist and Unionist representatives who, by April 1918, only succeeded in agreeing on a report with an 'understanding' on recommendations for the establishment of self-government.
The end of the war, in November 1918, was followed in Ireland by the December 1918 general election, the majority of seats being won by the republican separatist Sinn Féin party, then in January 1919 by the Irish War of Independence, so that the Act was never implemented. The future of Home Rule was determined by the Government of Ireland Act 1920. It established Northern Ireland, with a functional government, and Southern Ireland, the governmental institutions of which never functioned completely. Southern Ireland, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, became the Irish Free State.
- James F. Lydon, The Making of Ireland: From Ancient Times to the Present, Routledge, 1998, p. 326
- Hansard online, start of the debate 11 April 1912; accessed 20 January 2009
- Future financial arrangements, Hansard 11 April 1912 – accessed 20 January 2009
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