Liberal Policies

What were the main features of the liberal policies towards Ireland 1906-1914?

  • Liberals went into the 1906 election with a “step by step” approach to Home Rule.
  • Home Rule played very little part in the 1906 Election. Home Rule next time was the slogan, meaning after the next General Election.
  • Irish affairs were passed to civil servants known as Chief Secretaries.
  • Chief Secretary Augistine Birrell lacked real insight into the Irish problem and his complacency and incompetence in administration contributed to the Liberals losing control of Ireland in the pre war years.
  • The Liberal Government attempted in 1907 to introduce a scheme of devolution where a central Irish council would exercise some local authority but Unionist opposition forced it to be abandoned.
  • From the years 1906 to 1910, Irish Home Rule, always a controversial subject, could be avoided by the Liberals as with such a huge majority in the Commons that they did not need any other party’s support.
  • After the January 1910 elections (that were held as a result of the constitutional conflict over the 1909 budget), the Liberals only had a majority of 2 over the Conservatives. Labour had 40 seats. To ensure that they had a majority, the Liberals had to get the support of the 82 Irish Nationalists.
  • The Parliament Act was introduced in 1911 which would benefit both the Liberals and the Irish Nationalists.  It meant that a bill would become law after it was rejected 3 times by the Lords.  This meant that Irish Home Rule became a much more realistic proposition.
  • Liberal policy did not take sufficient account of the strong feelings of the Protestant majority in the nine counties of Ulster. No attempt was made to offer the Protestants a chance to stay fully attached to Great Britain.
  • Asquith failed to support an amendment to the Home Rule Bill that would have excluded 4 Ulster counties from Home Rule.
  • Liberal policy headed by Asquith was not firm enough in dealing with the challenges to the power of parliament, Asquith adopted a wait and see approach which encouraged the protestant opposition to believe they could win by standing firm and threatening violence.
  • There was no attempt to arrest any of the very high profile people who were advocating armed resistance to Parliament.
  • Only in 1913 did Asquith finally consider offering some get out to the Unionists. This would have allowed any Ulster county to be excluded from Home Rule for six years. This was rejected by the Unionists.
  • Given the subsequent history of Ireland, the policy of “wait and see” may have been as successful as any other more forceful approach to the problem.
  • The Liberals had to listen to both the Ulster Unionists and the Irish Nationalists. Democracy means that both parties' views have to be taken into account, how you do this and reconcile two such opposing forces is still trying us today! 
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