On this day, 100 years ago, the Home Rule Act was signed into law by British King George V. Its application was suspended for the duration of the war in Europe. It was agreed that an Amending Act providing for Ulster would be enacted before it came into force. Based on this, John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, called on Irish people to enlist for service in the war.
he enactment of Home Rule was seen at the time as a triumph for Redmond and his party, who had campaigned for 40 years to achieve it.
It never came into force. In the general election of December 1918, Sinn Fein won a clear majority of Irish seats, rejected the Home Rule Act and upheld the declaration of an Irish Republic of 1916 on all the islands. The British government rejected this statement and refused to recognize Sinn Fein. A savage guerrilla war ensued.
The British then replaced the Home Rule Act with the Government of Ireland Act, which created two parliaments, one for the six northern counties and another for the 26 counties of Southern Ireland. This was unacceptable to Sinn Fein.
In order to end armed hostilities, the British government agreed with Sinn Fein representatives in December 1921 that Southern Ireland would become the Irish Free State and enjoy greater independence than under the Home Rule Act, but would remain in the Empire. .
Assuming that greater autonomy had been achieved, the founders of the Free State and their successors treated the Home Rule Act as a non-event. The refusal of the current government to mark its centenary goes in this direction. This is to underestimate the importance of the autonomy law. Although it never came into force, it had a lasting effect on shaping British opinion.
Prior to its enactment, the Conservative Party was totally opposed to self-government for any part of Ireland, and the Liberal Party was lukewarm in its support. After that, all British parties supported some measure of home rule for this part of Ireland.
This provided the platform for those who negotiated the treaty settlement in 1921. British opinion was crucial then, as it has been in recent decades in relation to the North. In 1921 he was unwilling to concede Sinn Fein’s demands for an all-Ireland republic and as a result this did not happen.
It may be true, as Ronan Fanning has argued, that the British government under Lloyd George would not have granted the measure of independence it did in 1921 had it not been for the armed action of the IRA. But the fact that they were willing to do so also reflected the reality that it was not seen in Britain as so different from the Home Rule they accepted in 1914.
On this basis, the heirs of the Irish Revolution, who formed Irish governments after independence, could have celebrated the Home Rule Act as a contribution to what was achieved through armed struggle.
The fact that they never felt capable of doing so may reflect fears that celebrating the Home Rule Act would lend credence to the idea that it would have served Irish nationalists better to have accepted it and worked rather than resorting to violence. To have followed the constitutional route would have avoided the corrosive bitterness left by the violence between 1916 and 1923, when the Irish killed their compatriots.
The violence of those years also led British governments to give Ulster trade unionists carte blanche in policing and discrimination.
We need to face more honestly the high price paid for the violence from which this state was born. A good start would be to stop devaluing the progress made by Nationalist Ireland without resorting to violence, one of which was the Home Rule Act of 1914.