Gladstone and the Irish Nation

By J. L. Hammond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVI
THE FIRST HOME RULE BILL

Events had brought the British people in 1886 face to face with a great constitutional problem. Ireland was governed, as Lord Crewe has put it, like a Crown Colony.1 The election had returned to Parliament a solid party of eighty- five Irish Members who demanded self-government for Ireland. Was it possible to put an end to Crown Colony Government and to substitute a form of government that would be workable, tolerable to the Irish, and compatible with the political unity of the peoples of the two islands? If the answer to this question was favourable, how should the several problems involved in this great change be treated? These were the questions that presented themselves for decision as soon as Parnell found himself at the head of a party which spoke for three-fourths of the people of Ireland.

When Campbell-Bannerman decided to give the Boer States self-government, important statesmen like Balfour, Lansdowne, and Milner, protested, but the Unionist party of that day, badly reduced at the General Election, was not united and British opinion supported the Government's action. It was therefore easy to take the steps that led up to the Union of South Africa without a violent explosion of feeling. There was indeed much more contention over the Education Bill of 1906 than over this great and daring decision. If in January 1886 there had been no more hostility to the grant of self-government to Ireland than there was in 1906 to the grant of self-government to the Boers, it would have been easy to proceed by discussion, conference, and all the

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1
"The presence of Irish Members in the House of Commons did not really contradict this, highly inconvenient as they could make themselves there." Crewe, Rosebery, Vol. II, p. 429.

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