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118 The Story of Parliament


“The catastrophic failure of the potato crop due to disease prompted opponents of the Union to more radical action”


county electorate under the 1850 Franchise Act, they failed to achieve their main objectives. By the 1860s, the aims of the Union’s opponents tended towards separatism, relying if necessary on violence. Unlike O’Connell, the radical Fenian movement sought to establish an independent Irish republic, rather than a self-governing colony within the empire. Te Second Reform Act had little impact in Ireland, but


the abject failure of the Fenian rising in 1867 diverted political dissent back towards constitutional reform, beginning in 1869 with the disestablishment of the (Anglican) Irish Church, an institution that had once been seen as an essential pillar of the Union. Te home rule movement led by Isaac Butt in the 1870s promoted federal devolution, with a subordinate Dublin Parliament dealing with Irish affairs alone. Under the more effective leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell, who forged a powerful alliance of Irish parliamentarians, land reformers and Irish-American republicans, the home rule party developed the capacity to paralyse the legislative process at Westminster. Te great expansion of the Irish electorate in 1884–85 and the adoption of single member constituencies under the Tird Reform Act greatly increased Parnell’s parliamentary following and persuaded prime minister William Gladstone of the case for home rule. Gladstone’s 1886 home rule bill, which envisaged


a single chamber legislature for Ireland with largely local powers, was defeated in the Commons. A second bill in 1893, which proposed an elected bicameral parliament, was rejected by the Lords. Nevertheless, Irish influence at Westminster did help to secure a transformation of the land system between 1870 and 1903. Te campaign was characterised by bitter and violent struggle and tempered by timely concessions from successive Liberal and Unionist governments. It effectively subverted the political and administrative ascendancy of the country’s landed elite and thus removed another buttress of the Union.


In 1912, what was now called the Irish Nationalist party


secured a third home rule bill from the Liberal government. It was passed by the Commons but delayed by the Lords. Opposition to the measure in Protestant-dominated regions of Ulster briefly raised the prospect of civil conflict but tensions dissipated at the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. Nevertheless, the heavy-handed suppression of the republicans’ 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin destroyed hopes for a constitutional settlement of the home rule question. It sparked an insurgency that only came to an end in December 1921 with the conclusion of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Te Government of Ireland Act subsequently established a 26-county Irish Free State, a self-governing dominion, independent, but still in the empire. Te remaining six counties of Ulster became Northern Ireland, with its own parliament, but still part of the United Kingdom. Tis solution had only limited success. In the south


a civil war was followed by a prolonged period of political friction between the Dublin and London governments before an Irish republic was established in 1949. Twenty years later, the unresolved consequences of partition brought about the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, where a Unionist majority had monopolised government since 1920 and a nationalist minority largely repudiated an authority it could not hope to wield. A civil rights campaign, which ended in violence, ushered in 30 years of political and sectarian conflict before a peace process was established in 1998.


Votes for women In 1866, the Liberal MP John Stuart Mill presented a petition to the House of Commons asking for the elective franchise to be extended to all householders “without distinction of sex”. Te petition had 1,521 signatures. Although the history of women and the vote goes back before this, the 1866 petition—organised by the Women’s Suffrage Petition Committee, led by Barbara Bodichon—marked the beginning of organised campaigning and lobbying of parliament by a variety of national and local women’s suffrage societies. Nearly 12,000 petitions for women’s


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