Ulster under Home Rule: A Study of the Political and Economic Problems of Northern Ireland

By Thomas Wilson | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION
DEVOLUTION AND PARTITION

By THOMAS WILSON


I

ON the face of it, it must seem somewhat ironical that Ulster should be the only part of the United Kingdom to be governed under a Home Rule Act. Admittedly Ulster's prolonged opposition to any such measure was not in vain, for it is Home Rule with a difference: the local Parliament sits in Belfast, not Dublin, and the loyalists have a majority that is both substantial and assured. A separate Parliament for the North was not open to the same objections from a Unionist point of view as a separate Parliament for Ireland as a whole, but the fact remains that although Home Rule on this basis was accepted by the North, it was never particularly desired. The Unionists would have been quite content with direct government from Westminster, and the Nationalists, for their part, had their eyes fixed on a much larger measure of self-government to be enjoyed in company with the Nationalists in the South. Thus it cannot be said that the new Parliament came into being in response to local demands; it was created rather because the need for partition had been so reluctantly accepted by Westminster and was still regarded as perhaps only a temporary expedient which might be greatly modified, under the provisions of the Act of 1920, should the two new Irish Parliaments so decide at a later date. Had the London government reconciled itself at this stage both to the prolonged division of the island and to the departure of the South from the United Kingdom, it seems unlikely that any special measure would have been passed to provide Ulster alone with a subordinate Parliament that she did not greatly want. Home Rule in Ulster can therefore be regarded as something of an accident, the unforeseen outcome of an unsuccessful attempt to solve the Irish question as a whole.

To say this is not to imply that the only reason for advocating devolution is the desirability of satisfying nationalistic demands. On the contrary, there were two separate ideas running through the debates on Home Rule in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first part of this: first, of course, the need to solve the Irish question, and secondly the desirability of some reform in the machinery of government. Joseph Chamberlain seems to have had both ideas in mind when he proposed

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