Home Rule Bill

Irish Parliament building, Dublin
Irish Parliament building, Dublin

The general election of 1910 returned more than 80 seats for Irish Nationalists; 73 of those seats were won by Sinn Féin MPs. They refused to come to London and instead they set up Dáil Éireann, their own parliament in Dublin later in 1919.

However the two largest parties in Parliament, the Liberals and the Conservatives had failed to win an overall majority and needed the votes of the Home Rule Party to form a government. In return for their support the Home Rule Party demanded Home Rule for Ireland.

  • The Liberal Party, under Prime Minister Herbert Asquith introduced the Home Rule Bill to Parliament in 1912.
  • The signing of Home Rule into the statute books would be delayed for two years until 1914. By then it was put on hiatus due to the outbreak of WW1.

Unionists were horrified by this development and set about making their feelings known.

  • They drew up a petition called The Ulster Covenant (also known as Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant) in September 1912.
  • By January 1913, an Ulster Volunteer Force of 100,000 members was set up to defend Ulster from Home Rule. In April 1914 they brought almost 25,000 rifles from Germany to Larne in Belfast.
  • Unionists were now positioning themselves to resist Home Rule by force.

Meanwhile in the south of Ireland the supporters of Home Rule had observed what was happening in Ulster and took steps to defend Home Rule.

  • The Irish Volunteer Force was set up to protect Home Rule. By mid-1914 the Force had approximately 180,000 members.
  • In July 1914 they brought in 1,500 rifles through Howth.
  • Tensions mounted between Nationalist and Unionists to such an extent that Ireland was on the verge of civil war. It was suggested in The House of Lords that a temporary partition plan could be an option, whereby six counties in Ulster would continue to be governed by Westminster.
  • The outbreak of WW1 meant that Home Rule was suspended for the duration of the conflict and tensions were abated as both Nationalists and Unionists took up arms against the Germans.

Many Ulster Volunteers joined the British army to fight against the Germans. Likewise many Irish Volunteers agreed to join the British Army, but 11,000 refused. They remained in Ireland, preferring to wait for “Ireland’s opportunity”.