Sunday, 13 November 2011

Act of Union 1800 Ireland

Act of Union 1800 Ireland

This is a long post and it is long because the Act of Union in 1800 is very important in understanding all of Irish history.

Just before we begin the history of how the Act of Union 1801 came about, I think it is important to offer an opinion on what state Ireland was in just after the 1798 rebellion.  For certain these events raised for the first time a sense of Irish nationalism and is often referred back to by republicans and nationalists today.

The fact that there had been a rebellion, and probably more important, the fact that the French had tried to land and fight in Ireland, was now a major concern for the English government.  After another small rising and the arrival of yet more French ships a fear was created among the British, that Ireland could be used as a base for continental Europe to attack Britain.  William Pitt, believing a political solution was required, passed the Act of Union, to make sure this could never happen.

The United Irishmen were all but defeated with many leaders in jail and many of their organisers dead.  However there was still considerable opposition to any proposed Union, and this actually came mainly from Protestants who although were proud to be part of a British Empire, saw themselves as Irishmen first who sat under the British constitution which they highly respected.

The Irish parliament believed they had remained loyal throughout the rebellion and indeed it was Irish troops and Irish militia who had fought against and put down the rebels.  They believed they could be left to run the country with an Irish parliament and should be trusted to do so.

Strange though it may sound to many readers, the Orangemen were particularly against the union as at that time Protestants held a dominant position in Irish society, and was a position they would not wish to relinquish.    Opinion varied greatly not only by religion, but by status and indeed on a geographic basis.

Dublin in principle, were against it as it could diminish their status, whereas Cork was for it as it would give them parity with Dublin. The truth is that it simply depended on the self interests of individuals and groups as to whether they were for or against the union. Despite these protestations this Act of Union 1801 was passed which abolished the Irish Parliament and united Ireland and Britain as a single kingdom with a single parliament.  The main provisions of the Act were:

  • The two kingdoms to become one as “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”
  • All subjects of the United Kingdom to be under the same regulations as to trade and commerce
  • The Irish Established Church to be continued forever, and to be united with that of England
  • All members of parliament to take an oath (aimed at excluding Catholics)
  • Ireland to contribute 2/17ths towards the expenditure of the United Kingdom for 20 years

William Pitt had planned to include an article on Catholic emancipation but had to drop this article due to the fierce opposition of leading Irish Protestants.  Catholics were promised that emancipation would shortly follow but this never happened.  Once this act was passed many of those who had homes in Dublin now moved to London and very little changed for the ordinary tenant in Ireland.  The newly formed parliament did pass what are best termed coercion bills, which gave government and police extraordinary powers of arrest, imprisonment, transportation and these laws were enforced rigidly.

Many of those prosecuted were ignorant of the laws and in many cases did not speak English so were unable to even understand the court proceedings.  In the Northern counties of Ireland, many magistrates were Orangemen, and this later became the result of a parliamentary inquiry.

I would now recommend that you read about Robert Emmet