|Citation 4 & 5 Geo. 5 c. 90|
Royal assent 18 September 1914
|Territorial extent Ireland|
Repealed 23 December 1920
|Long title An Act to provide for the better Government of Ireland.|
Commencement Postponed by Suspensory Act 1914
The Government of Ireland Act 1914 (4 & 5 Geo. 5 c. 90), also known as the Home Rule Act, and before enactment as the Third Home Rule Bill, was an Act passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom intended to provide home rule (self-government within the United Kingdom) for Ireland. It was the third such bill introduced by a Liberal government in a 28-year period in response to the Irish Home Rule movement.
The Act was the first law ever passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom that sought to establish a devolved government in any part of the UK. However, the implementation of both it and the equally controversial Welsh Church Act 1914 was formally postponed for a minimum of twelve months with the outbreak of the First World War. The continuation of the war beyond 1915 and subsequent developments in Ireland led to further postponements, meaning that the Act never took effect; it was finally superseded by a fourth home rule bill, enacted as the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which partitioned Ireland, creating Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, both intended to have Home Rule.
In 1909, a constitutional crisis arose when the House of Lords rejected David Lloyd George's Finance Bill. Two general elections took place in January and December 1910, both of which left the Liberals and Conservatives equally matched, with John Redmond's Irish Parliamentary Party holding the balance of power in the House of Commons. The Irish Party, which had campaigned for home rule for Ireland since the 1870s, pledged to support the Liberals in return for the introduction of a home rule bill. The Parliament Act 1911 replaced the unlimited veto of the Lords with one lasting only two years, ensuring that a bill passed by the Commons could not be blocked for more than two years.
The Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith, introduced the Bill on 11 April 1912. Allowing more autonomy than its two predecessors, the bill provided for:
The financial situation was a concern. Irish taxes had yielded a surplus of £2 million in 1893, that had turned into a current spending net deficit of £1.5m by 1910 that had to be raised by London. An annual "Transferred Sum" mechanism was proposed to maintain spending in Ireland as it was.
The Bill was passed by the Commons by a majority of 10 votes in 1912 but the House of Lords rejected it 326 votes to 69 in January 1913. In 1913 it was reintroduced and again passed by the Commons but was again rejected by the Lords by 302 votes to 64. In 1914 after the third reading, the Bill was passed by the Commons on 25 May 1914 by a majority of 77. Having been defeated a third time in the Lords, the Government used the provisions of the Parliament Act to override the Lords and send it for Royal Assent.
Unionists in Ulster were opposed to a home-rule Ireland governed from Dublin. Early in 1912, they began forming small local militias. By April 1912, the Irish Unionist leader, Sir Edward Carson, could review 100,000 marching Ulster Volunteers. On 28 September 1912, over 500,000 Unionists signed the Ulster Covenant pledging to defy Home Rule by all means possible. The Covenant was drawn up by Carson and organised by Sir James Craig. In January 1913, the Unionist Council reorganised their volunteers into a paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), whose members threatened to resist by physical force the implementation of the Act and the authority of any restored Dublin Parliament by force of arms. On 28 November 1913, Irish Nationalists responded by setting up the Irish Volunteers "to secure the rights and liberties common to all the people of Ireland" The government's ability to face down the Unionist threat was thrown into question by the "Curragh Incident" of 20 March 1914, when British Army officers tendered their resignations rather than fight the Ulster Volunteers, forcing a climb-down by the government.
At the Bill's third reading in the Commons on 21 May 1914 several members asked about a proposal to exclude the whole of Ulster for six years. Asquith was seeking any solution that would avoid a civil war. During the emotional debate which lasted until 25 May 1914, Sir Edward Carson made the statement:
"I say this to my Nationalist fellow-countrymen, and indeed also to the Government, you have never tried to win over Ulster. You have never tried to understand her position. You have never alleged, and you cannot allege, that this Bill gives her one atom of advantage."
A government amending bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 23 June 1914 (before it had considered the original bill itself) and passed there with amendments on 8 July. Carson and the Irish Unionist Party (mostly Ulster MPs) backed the amending bill, which envisaged "temporary exclusion of Ulster" from the workings of the future Act. The Lords' amendments to the amending bill were unacceptable to the government. What was still to be negotiated were the number of counties excluded (four, six or nine) and whether exclusion would be temporary or permanent. The compromise proposed by Asquith was straightforward. Six counties in northeast Ulster were to be excluded "temporarily" from the territory of the new Irish parliament and government, and to continue to be governed as before from Westminster and Whitehall. How temporary the exclusion would be, and whether northeastern Ireland would eventually be governed by the Irish parliament and government, remained an issue of some controversy. To save endless debate in parliament, George V called the Buckingham Palace Conference with two MPs from each of the British Liberal and Conservative parties, and two each from the nationalists and unionists. The conference, held between 21 and 24 July 1914, achieved very little.
The passing of the Bill
With the outbreak of World War I on 4 August 1914, Asquith decided to abandon his Amending Bill, and instead rushed through a new bill the Suspensory Act 1914 which was presented for Royal Assent simultaneously with both the Government of Ireland Act 1914 and the Welsh Church Act 1914. Although the two controversial Bills had now finally reached the statute books on 18 September 1914, the Suspensory Act ensured that Home Rule would be postponed for the duration of the conflict and would not come into operation until the end of the war. The Ulster question was 'solved' in the same way: through the promise of amending legislation which was left undefined.
After the Easter Rising of 1916, two attempts were made by Prime Minister H. H. Asquith during the First World War to implement the Act. The first attempt came in June 1916, when David Lloyd George, then Minister for Munitions, was sent to Dublin to offer immediate implementation to the leaders of the Irish Party, Redmond and Dillon. The scheme revolved around partition, officially a temporary arrangement, as understood by Redmond. Lloyd George however gave the Ulster leader, Carson, a written guarantee that Ulster would not be forced into a self-governing Ireland. His tactic was to see that neither side would find out before a compromise was implemented. A modified Act of 1914 had been drawn up by the Cabinet on 17 June. The Act had two amendments enforced by Unionists on 19 July – permanent exclusion and a reduction of Ireland’s representation in the Commons. When informed by Lloyd George on 22 July 1916, Redmond accused the government of treachery. This was decisive in sealing the future fortunes of the Home Rule movement. Asquith made a second attempt to implement Home Rule in 1917, with the calling of the Irish Convention chaired by Horace Plunkett. This consisted of Nationalist and Unionist representatives who, by April 1918, only succeeded in agreeing a report with an 'understanding' on recommendations for the establishment of self-government.
The end of the war, in November 1918, was followed in Ireland by the December 1918 general election, the majority of seats being won by the republican separatist Sinn Féin party, then in January 1919 by the Irish War of Independence, so that the Act was never implemented. The future of Home Rule was determined by the Government of Ireland Act 1920. It established Northern Ireland, with a functional government, and Southern Ireland, whose governmental institutions never fully functioned. Southern Ireland, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, became the Irish Free State.