The First Home Rule Bill
(official name: Irish Government Bill, 1886
) was the first major attempt made by a British
parliament to enact a law creating home rule
for part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
. It was introduced on 8 April 1886
by Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone
to create a devolved
assembly for Ireland
which would govern Ireland in specified areas. The Irish Parliamentary Party
under Charles Stewart Parnell
had been campaigning for home rule for Ireland since the 1870s.
The Bill, like his Irish Land Act 1870, was very much the work of Gladstone, who excluded both the Irish MPs and his own ministers from participation in the drafting. Following the Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act 1885 it was to be introduced alongside a new Land Purchase Bill to reform tenant rights, but the latter was abandoned.
The key aspects of the 1886 Bill were:
- A unicameral assembly (deliberately not called a parliament to avoid links with the former Irish parliament abolished in 1800 under the Act of Union) consisting of two Orders which could meet either together or separately.
- The first Order was to consist of the 28 Irish representative peers (the Irish peers traditionally elected by all Irish peers to sit in the House of Lords at Westminster) plus 75 members elected through a highly restricted franchise. It could delay the passage of legislation for 3 years.
- The second Order was to consist of either 204 or 206 members.
- All Irish MPs would be excluded from Westminster altogether.
When the bill was introduced Charles Stewart Parnell
had mixed reactions, he said that it had great faults but was prepared to vote for it. In his famous Irish Home Rule Speech
beseeched parliament to pass the Bill and grant Home Rule to Ireland in honour rather than being compelled to one day in humiliation. Unionists
and the Orange Order
were fierce in their resistance, for them any measure of Home Rule was denounced as nothing other than Rome Rule
The vote took place after two months of debating and, on 8 June 1886, 341 voted against it (including 93 Liberals) while 311 voted for it. Parliament was dissolved on 26 June and the UK general election, 1886 was called.
Historians have suggested that the Bill was fatally flawed by the secretive manner of its drafting, with Gladstone alienating Liberal figures like Joseph Chamberlain who, along with a colleague, resigned in protest from the ministry, while producing a Bill viewed privately by the Irish as badly drafted and deeply flawed.
- Robert Kee, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism, (2000 edition, first published 1972), ISBN 0-14-029165-2.
- Alvin Jackson, HOME RULE, an Irish History 1800-2000, (2003), ISBN 0-7538-1767-5.
- Thomas Hennessey, Dividing Ireland, World War 1 and Partition, (1998), ISBN 0-415-17420-1.