Controversial Issues in Anglo-Irish Relations, 1910-21

Ian McKeane reviews Controversial Issues in Anglo-Irish relations 1910-1921 by Cornelius O'Leary and Patrick Maume, Four Courts Press, ISBN 1 85182 657 2, £55/ €45 hbk

THE PREFACE to this book opens with the question, why another book on Anglo-Irish relations between 1910 and 1921, on the Home Rule crisis and the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations?

Controversial Issues in Anglo-Irish Relations

Why indeed? Might this be Irish historiography's response to the 'reality television' format - more of the same but less interesting? Well, no it isn't really, although a slight feeling of déjà vu haunts some of the chapters.

This book is a political history of the government of Ireland 1910-1921 and not a general account of events in Ireland in those years.

The authors remind us of this by firmly setting the onset of the Home-Rule crisis at Westminster. Redmond's manoeuvring in early 1910 which ensured that, four years later, the Home Rule Bill would be on the statute book was in response to the need for the Liberal budget to be passed. The unexpected death of Edward VII, the accession of George V and the second 1910 general election complicated matters.

The authors give a clear and succinct account of the Home Rule crisis but set it at its actual centre - Westminster.

Passing directly to 1916, there is no description of the Rising but a concentration on the effects of government policy in Ireland on British politics.

Light is thrown on some dark corners with a lucid account of Lloyd-George's handling of the Unionists and Nationalists as he attempted to achieve a deal which might enable an immediate, if partial, application of the 1914 Home Rule Bill. This would have meant de-facto partition. It came to nothing because of Unionist and Conservative opposition.

The 1917 Irish Convention is described with the first stirrings of Sinn Féin's electoral success. Yet the fulcrum of events still appears to be Westminster. The linked revised Home Rule Bill and Military Service Bill (Conscription Act) were rushed through parliament in April 1918. The latter had the effect of bringing all shades of Irish opinion (except the Unionists) together in opposition to it, if only briefly. The arrests which followed the proclamation of the 'German Plot' in May were meant to decapitate Sinn Féin, but by leaving Collins and Brugha at large had the effect of hardening its resolve to fight for full independence.

Asquith appointed the arch-unionist, Walter Long, as his government's liaison with the Irish administration. Odd that he would need to do this, since his government was administering Ireland anyway and the authors do not explain this. They also betray that they are less at ease with Sinn Féin material, descending into cliché by describing the IRB as a 'shadowy, secret society' and miss-spelling Beaslaí's name.

The 1919 chapter reminds us of the detail of the broadened franchise, the fact that the 1918 election was the first to be held all on the same day and that the greatest number of sitting MPs stood down. It gives a concise analysis of the results and consequences and discusses the establishment of the First Dáil. The British political response to these events is dealt with limpidly.

The following chapters concentrate on the political developments in Ireland and in Britain in some detail concluding that the absent party from the Treaty negotiations, Sir James Craig, perhaps benefited the most from them although he did not appear to realise this at the time.

The book closes with a number of interesting appendices which include correspondence between Craig and Lloyd George and the Treaty Articles of Agreement.

Overall, this detailed account of the last years of British governance in Ireland is a useful, if expensive, political history and throws light on some dark corners.

A further volume will concern the Boundary Commission, the MacDonald mission to Dublin in 1940, and the declaration of the Republic in 1949.

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