History of Northern Ireland 4

From the Home Rule crisis to the end of Stormont

Home Rule and the
Ulster
Crisis

 

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the shape of politics in the north of Ireland harden around the issue of Home Rule for
Ireland.

 

The first Home Rule bill, the Government of Ireland Bill, was proposed by Gladstone's Liberal government in 1886 in return for Irish nationalist support, but aroused intense opposition from Conservatives in Great Britain and
Ireland
.

 

En route to a meeting of Conservatives and Orangemen in Belfast’s Ulster Hall, Randolph Churchill famously announced, ‘Ulster will fight and
Ulster
will be right.’ As Belfast experienced the most intense sectarian street violence of the century, the Bill was defeated by the defection of 93 members of
Gladstone
’s own party.

 

A second Home Rule bill failed in 1893, doomed by the split in Charles Stewart Parnell’s Irish Parliamentary Party. But by 1910 Irish members again held the balance of power at
Westminster
and soon only the veto of the House of Lords stood in the way of the passage of a third Home Rule bill. Unionists led by Edward

Carson and James Craig began to organise for armed resistance in the north.

 

The bill was introduced in April 1912. There were violent sectarian disturbances in Belfast and elsewhere in Ulster and in September more than 400,000 men and women signed the Ulster Covenant, pledging ‘to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in
Ireland
’.

 

Unionists set up the Ulster Volunteer Force in 1913 and by the end of the year, 90,000 loyalists had been organised along military lines. Nationalists responded by establishing the Irish Volunteers and achieved 41,000 northern nationalist members by May 1914. With the importation of weapons by both sides and the passage of the bill into law, the outbreak of civil war seemed inevitable and was only averted by the outbreak of the first world war.

 

Partition and Stormont

 

As southern unionism declined as a political force and opposition to Home Rule became increasingly northern and Protestant in character, some form of partition of the
island of
Ireland
seemed inevitable. During the progress of the third Home Rule bill in 1912, Edward Carson argued for the exclusion of the nine county
province of
Ulster
. The Government of Ireland bill eventually proposed the six
county Northern Ireland and its parliament was opened by George V in June 1921.

 

That parliament sat first at
Belfast City Hall, then in the Presbyterian assembly’s college buildings, near Queen’s University, in south
Belfast
. Finally, in 1932, the parliament moved to the purpose built, sternly neoclassical building on the Stormont estate on the eastern outskirts of
Belfast
.

 

No Nationalist member accepted a seat in the
Northern Ireland
parliament until 1925, the only year in which the unionist majority fell below 20. The parliament was prorogued in 1972, in the face of the violent civil disorder of the Troubles and dissolved the following year. However, the Stormont site has been the venue for a number of attempts at local self government in ensuing years. 

 

Further r
eading

Belfast: An Illustrated History (1982) by Jonathan Bardon;
Belfast
: 1000 Years (1985) by Jonathan Bardon and Stephen Conlin.

 

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