Aspects of British Political History, 1914-1995

By Stephen J. Lee | Go to book overview

21

THE IRISH ISSUE 1914-96

Ireland was linked to Britain in 1800 by the Act of Union. Following extensive violence during the First World War, this arrangement ended in 1921 as the three southern provinces became the Irish Free State and two-thirds of the northern province, Ulster, remained within the United Kingdom. For a period of nearly fifty years the two parts adapted to a separate political existence. The Irish Free State severed its last remaining link with Britain when, in 1949, it left the Commonwealth and became the Republic of Eire. Ulster, meanwhile, developed within the United Kingdom as a province with devolved power, which meant that it was represented in two parliaments and had its own government at Stormont. This was not a formula for lasting peace as, from 1968, a series of disturbances occurred which led eventually to the replacement of devolution by direct rule from London. For the next thirty years Ulster remained on the brink of civil war-until more promising signs of a political settlement began to emerge in 1994.


REVOLUTION AND INDEPENDENCE 1914-22

Throughout the nineteenth century there had been opposition to the nature of the relationship between Britain and Ireland. The first half had seen a series of campaigns by Daniel O'Connell, first for the admission of Catholic MPs at Westminster, then for the repeal of the Act of Union. He succeeded in his first objective but at the time of his death in 1851 the second was nowhere in sight. The mid-century crisis, brought by the terrible potato famine, for a while distorted all the issues. But gradually two separate solutions began to emerge for the future of Ireland; one might be categorised as 'republican', the other as 'nationalist'.

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