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1912 - Third Home Rule Bill

Neither the general election of 1900 nor that of 1906 was fought on the home-rule question. In 1900 the dominant issue was the Boer War, and in 1906 it was understood that no home rule bill would be introduced by the Liberals, if they were given a majority, until after another general election. In 1906 only 158 Conservatives and Liberal Unionists were returned to Parliament, and the Liberals had a majority of 186 over Conservatives and Irish Nationalists combined. The crisis over the budget of 1909 brought this Parliament to an end, and in the election of January 1910, the Nationalists resumed their position as arbiters of the destinies of British governments: Conservatives and Liberal Unionists, 273; Liberals and Labor members, 315 ; Nationalists, 82. The work of this Parliament was first to pass the budget and then to settle the question of the Lords' veto.

Sinn Fein, meaning literally " Ourselves alone," was an organization that aimed to cut loose from all connection with England. Founded about 1905 by Mr. Arthur Griffith, it repudiated the parliamentary methods of the Nationalists, and ultimately an extreme group, like the earlier Fenians, set as their goal an Irish republic to be established by direct action.1 Also there was the Gaelic League, which, although originally established (in 1892) by Dr. Douglas Hyde for the revival of the ancient Irish language and literature, gradually became dominated by Sinn Fein and came to nourish separatist ambitions. The Irish Republican Brotherhood came to comprise the most extreme clement. some years their most effective leader was James Larkin, an uncompromising foe of capital, who organized a formidable transport strike and an armed force known as the Citizen Army, but who subsequently went to America.

The Nationalists faithfully supported their Liberal allies throughout the memorable session of 1910, knowing that the reduction of the power of the House of Lords was even more essential for the success of home rule than it was for the carrying through of the other reforms in the Liberal program. A second general election was necessary before the House of Lords could be induced to perform the self-denying act of passing the Parliament Bill: This election was fought in December, 1910, and the result was to leave parties much as they were after the January election. Again the Nationalists held the balance of power in the House of Commons: Conservatives and Unionists, 272; Liberals and Labor members, 314; Nationalists, 84.

The time had now come for the Nationalists to claim the reward for their support of Liberal governments. The session of 1911 was devoted to the Parliament Bill and to Mr. Lloyd George's scheme for national insurance: but even before the opening of Parliament, in February, 1912, Mr. Churchill made his memorable speech at Belfast on 08 February 1912, in which he outlined the intentions of the Liberal government in support of Home Rule in the forthcoming Irish bill. The new bill was introduced in Parliament on April 1, and was vigorously debated before it was allowed to pass its first reading.

The Home Rule Bill was rejected in the House of Lords on January 30, 1913, by a vote of 326 to 69. This measure became the first law on the statute book of Great Britain to which there was not prefixed the clause: " Enacted by the King's Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons " - the first act to become law under the Parliament Act of 1911. The vote of January 30 showed that, without the help of the Parliament Act, the Irish bill could hardly have become law without at least one more general election, and that it would have been necessary to dissolve Parliament definitely on the home rule issue in order to obtain a popular mandate too strong to be disregarded by the House of Lords. Under the Parliament Act the bill must be passed by the Commons for the second and the third time in practically its original shape.

In spite of the long and persevering fight that the Irish Nationalists made for home rule, and in spite of the fact that home rule had had its place in Liberal programs since 1886, it is difficult to believe that any home rule bill would have had a reasonable chance of becoming law, had it not been that the Lords, by throwing out the Finance Bill of 1909, defied the Commons and invited the contest in which they were worsted. With the Parliament Act in force, the Liberals were in a position to re-pass the present Home Rule Bill in the session of 1913 for the Lords again to reject and, in 1914, to send it forward to the king for his signature without the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal. Home rule for Ireland was the first-fruits of the great constitutional change which destroyed the power of the House of Lords to annul Liberal legislation and has left it only the power to delay.

The measure restored to Ireland its Parliament and confered on the Irish nation the keenly desired boon of self-government. But the position of Ireland was in no way comparable with that of Canada, Australia or South Africa. After representative and responsible government was granted to Canada, she was left free to regulate her own trade and commerce, to levy her own taxes and to collect her own duties and imposts. No such restrictions were laid upon her as are imposed upon Ireland. Ireland was still be tied hand and foot by restrictions on her power of levying taxes, of controlling oversea trade, of deciding even such domestic matters as land legislation, old-age pensions and national insurance. Ireland was not given the fiscal independence that was essential to real home rule; and the degree of home rule granted to her was far short of the measure of home rule that England has granted to each of her oversea dominions.

Although a Home Rule Bill was finally enacted in 1914, its implementation was suspended at the outbreak of war in Europe. The Home Rule Bill which for the third time passed the Commons in May, 1914, was formally placed on the Statute Book following the signature by the King, 17 September, 1914; but successive suspending bills postponed its operation until the conclusion of the War.

There were now four main parties in Ireland: the Unionists, concentrated chiefly in Ulster, but with a sprinkling in the three other provinces, stanchly insistent on the maintenance of the English connection; the old Nationalists, or parliamentary Home Rule party, steadily losing ground; the Sinn Feiners looking toward separation; and the Dublin Labor party which had thrown in its lot with the Sinn Feiners, though the combined forces of the extremists remained in a minority until the summer of 1916. Most disquieting was the fact that each of the four parties was organized into an army.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:00:32 ZULU