For the British Empire, the “Irish question” that had rumbled interminably for centuries, re-emerged as an urgent cause for concern in 1919. It now had a new dimension arising from a separatist rebellion in Dublin, which had occurred two and a half years earlier, in April 1916, which though easily defeated at the time, had transformed Irish opinion so dramatically that independence was now the preferred choice of the majority of the Irish electorate. This was clearly expressed in the General Election of 1918 which saw an overwhelming victory for the separatist Sinn Féin (Ourselves Alone) Party all over the island, who immediately proceeded to form a new parliament (The Dáil) in Dublin, refusing to take their seats in the London Parliament.Share
Before the assassination of ArchDuke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28th 1914 dramatically took the attention of the world away from all other issues, the British House of Commons had been on the point of applying Home Rule to Ireland, a measure that would have devolved a significant measure of self-rule to a Dublin based parliament. At that time that was the full extent of Irish aspirations. The Home Rule Act had been passed after more than three decades of Parliamentary debate and struggle, including several narrow defeats; which had strained relationships between rival communities in Ireland as well as between the two islands that formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
On the eve of its implementation, after having been approved by the House of Commons and signed into law by the King in September 1914; the measure was shelved for the duration of the war that had been declared just a few weeks before. There was a belief that the fighting would run its course by the end of that year; that everybody would be “home for Christmas” and the Act brought into force after a short (successful) military campaign. How presumptuous those hopes were !!
In reality, the deferral gave huge immediate relief to the Imperial Government, as due to the strong opposition of the Unionist population concentrated in Ulster, there was a real possibility that the Irish situation would descend into all out civil war once implementation of the Home Rule Act began. As the Summer of 1914 changed into Autumn, all sides engaged in the debate and controversies surrounding Home Rule were focused on the more immediate and urgent challenge of fighting Germany and her allies. The vexed Irish question, under the circumstances that now prevailed in Europe; had suddenly become a mere side show and a relatively less important and localised debate.
Each player now had its own perspective of what its role should be in the European conflict that was about to unfold in the months ahead, and their expectations when the war was over. (Read more.)