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20 October 2014
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Outcomes of the War: Britain
How had the War affected Ireland's relationship with the British government?

In December of 1918, the coalition government decided it must now hold a general election. The nation and its voters had changed drastically: the inclusion of women over thirty, the absence of hundreds of thousands of men and an unhappy workforce. Britain had not held a general election since 1910, and felt it could not hold one during the War with so many Britons unable to vote.

One of the key issues in the election was Ireland. Since Home Rule had been granted in 1914, then suspended for the length of the War, many things had changed. The Easter Uprising in 1916 had made martyrs of those executed for treason. Fresh violence brought strong anti-British feeling to southern Ireland, and many soldiers were not given a welcome return. Their British uniforms were too much of a reminder that Britain still controlled Ireland.

Unemployment was worse in Ireland than it was in the rest of Britain, with 46 per cent of ex-soldiers jobless. A drastic change was called for. The Irish Party, who had been working for independence for years, was seen as ineffective. The new Sinn Fein party, backed by the Irish Republican Army, swept the election. Eamon de Valera, the only survivor of the Easter Rising executions, led the party in refusing the seats at Westminster, forming their own unofficial parliament.

Political PartyReps. before the electionReps. after the election
Sinn Fein773
Irish National786

The British government had promised Home Rule, but Asquith had promised Ulster it would not be ruled by a Catholic government. Lloyd George had to keep these promises as best he could. In 1920 the government offered the Government of Ireland Act — a partition of Ireland with separate parliaments, including representatives of both sides at Westminster - as a solution. After an initial refusal, Sinn Fein and the IRA were forced by the terrible post-war conditions to negotiate a treaty in 1921. The Irish Free State would be created and given the same 'dominion' status as Canada or Australia. Northern Ireland was not part of the Free State, and would remain as part of the United Kingdom.

Ireland after partition

Why do you think the Irish Nationalists that fought for Britain turned violently against it after the War?

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A - Returning soldiers felt their contribution to Britain's war effort counted for little back home.

B - The execution of those involved in the Easter Uprising was too harsh.

C - High unemployment and poverty continued to be worse than in the North, which was favoured by Britain.

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