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24 September 2014
Wars and Conflict - Profiles

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Irish Parliamentary Party

The Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) was formed in 1882. It had originated in the Home Government Association which was established in 1870 by Isaac Butt, a Member of Parliament, academic and barrister. He favoured limited self-government (home rule) for Ireland, to be achieved by legislation passed at Westminster; this narrow objective was to define the movement for the next fifty years. Butt became convinced that Britain was mishandling Irish affairs. His own nationalist feelings were aroused while acting for the defence of some Fenian prisoners between1865-68. By the time of his death in 1879, his ineffectual leadership was being superseded by others amongst the small group of Irish home rule MPs, who were angrier and more militant than himself. In the 1880s, the IPP developed into a powerful, popular and successful party under Parnell’s charismatic leadership. He created a highly centralised, disciplined and modern party. All its candidates were pledged to ‘sit, vote and act as directed’; needy MPs were provided with financial support, and an effective constituency organisation was built up in Ireland. It had a parallel organisation in Britain. Parnell took full advantage of Ireland’s growing political consciousness and the extension of the franchise (1884-85), championed land reform and attracted the support of the Catholic hierarchy. He exploited favourable circumstances at Westminster, notably Gladstone’s conversion to home rule in 1885. By the late 1880s, the IPP consistently won up to 86 of Ireland’s 103 Commons seats.

Image of John Redmond

John Redmond ©

In 1890-91, the IPP split into contending factions after Parnell’s fall, and never fully recovered the popularity it had hitherto enjoyed. Its leaders progressively seemed out of touch - an aging and conservative Irish establishment. It suffered from the competing attraction of new organisations - the ‘new nationalism’- which appealed especially to the young and to groups the IPP had virtually ignored. These movements fostered and reflected the emergence of a more militant nationalist spirit. Their members dismissed home rule as inadequate, were contemptuous of the IPP’s dependence on Westminster and on British politicians, and put forward alternative ideas both regarding nationalism’s aims and means. Though IPP unity was restored in 1900 under Redmond’s leadership, and Westminster passed a number of reforms beneficial to Ireland (re land, education, etc.), the party consistently failed in its efforts to win Irish home rule, the single issue with which it was most closely identified. Between 1910-14, however, it held the balance of power at Westminster and Redmond succeeded in restoring the question to the centre of the political stage. The achievement of self-government appeared imminent in 1912 when the third Home Rule bill was introduced, only to be blocked by effective opposition from the Ulster Unionists and the Conservative Party.

When the war in Europe began in 1914, Redmond enthusiastically supported Britain’s military effort, partly to earn its gratitude and also in the misguided hope that he could thus lay the basis for a new sense of unity in Ireland itself. But his party`s support declined rapidly following the Easter Rising, and the final failure of negotiations regarding home rule in 1916, when he softened his position on partition. The IPP was all but obliterated by Sinn Féin in the 1918 election; its representation fell from over 70 seats to just 6. A vital factor in its virtual collapse was the extension of the franchise in 1918; it failed sufficiently to appeal to the first- time voters who comprised over two-thirds of those going to the polls.

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