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1916 Llyod George Negotiations

The Lloyd George negotiations is the term commonly given to the talks spearheaded by David Lloyd George, then the British Minister of Munitions, on behalf of the British government between May and July 1916. The aim of these negotiations was to reach a settlement regarding home rule for Ireland, thus removing it from the British political scene for the remainder of the First World War. The British government hoped that the talks could break the political deadlock which had plagued attempts at an Irish settlement in the pre-war period between the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) which demanded home rule for all of Ireland and the Unionist opposition to home rule that had emerged under the direction of Edward Carson.

The Third Irish Home Rule Bill had been placed on the Statute Book in September 1914 with a Suspensory Act which ensured that home rule could not be implemented until one year after the European War had reached its conclusion. It was also intended that special provision for Ulster would be addressed at this stage. However, this strategy was interrupted by the Easter Rising in Dublin in April 1916. Despite the suppression of the rising, the British government felt compelled to readdress the Irish situation. Having visited Ireland in early May to see conditions for himself, Herbert Asquith (the British Prime Minister), returned to London with renewed confidence that the time was right for an Irish settlement.[1] At a British cabinet meeting on 21 May Asquith assigned Lloyd George the task of resolving the Irish difficulty by undertaking negotiations between the Unionist and Nationalist factions.[2] The government’s intention to embark upon new negotiations was made public a few days later when Asquith announced the scheme to the House of Commons.[3]

These negotiations differed in two important respects from those which had taken place at the Buckingham Palace Conference of July 1914. Firstly, the Unionists now held several prominent positions within the war coalition cabinet and, secondly, Lloyd George conducted the talks with the Unionist and Nationalist delegations separately rather than on a face to face basis around a single table. The Nationalist delegation comprised of the Irish Parliamentary Party MPs, John Redmond, Joseph Devlin and Thomas Power O’Connor, with Edward Carson and James Craig representing the Unionists. The basis of the negotiations was to bring about the immediate implementation of the 1914 Home Rule Act, with the exclusion of the six northern counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone. These areas would not come under the newly formed Irish parliament in Dublin, but rather would continue to be ruled by the Imperial parliament in London. Full strength Irish representation was therefore to be maintained at Westminster.[4] Both parties agreed to these terms provisionally and returned to gain support for the proposals from their followers.

Carson summoned a private meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council (UCC) on the 6 June 1916 at which he outlined the terms of the agreement. After much deliberation the UUC unanimously accepted the proposals on 12 June 1916.[5] The Irish Parliamentary Party presented the proposals to their Ulster supporters at a Convention in St Mary’s Hall Belfast on 23 June 1916. Although the party managed to get the Lloyd George scheme passed at the Convention by 475 to 265 votes it was only Joseph Devlin’s considerable influence amongst nationalists in the north-east of the province and the threat of resignation from the party leader, Redmond, which saw the proposals accepted.[6] The IPP believed that the Lloyd George proposals advocated ‘temporary’ exclusion of the six northern counties and therefore partition of any sort was part of a war emergency act. Consequently, they fully expected the issue of exclusion to be revisited after the war.[7] Lloyd George had intentionally let the terms of the proposals, particularly the nature of exclusion, remain ambiguous. As a result, whilst the Nationalists believed that they were signing up to temporary exclusion, the Unionists under Carson were claiming that the proposals meant if not permanent exclusion, then the guarantee at least, that the excluded area would not automatically come under an Irish home rule parliament at the end of the war but rather further negotiations would be initiated.[8] More significantly, Carson had obtained a written document from Lloyd George which stated that ‘we must make it clear that at the end of the provisional period Ulster does not, whether she wills it or not, merge in the rest of Ireland’.[9]

The ambiguity surrounding the nature of exclusion was not the only problem hampering the proposals. Unlike previous attempts at settlement, the Lloyd George proposals had not been submitted to the British cabinet for agreement prior to being presented to the Nationalist and Unionist delegations. The difficulty in gaining acceptance for the terms from the cabinet was compounded by the very nature of the war-time coalition as several prominent Unionists could now thwart the agreement from within the hub of British politics. In fact many Unionist members went into a ‘state of mutiny’.[10] Walter Long, William Palmer (the 2nd Earl of Selborne), and Henry Fitzmaurice (Lord Lansdowne), all gave notices of their resignation.[11] This was alarming given the European situation. It was under the pressure of this Unionist opposition that the negotiations eventually collapsed. The final straw came on the 19 July when two amendments were introduced which advocated permanent exclusion and the reduction of the number of Irish representatives at Westminster.[12] As a consequence John Redmond and the IPP were left with no choice but to reject the proposals. The failure of the Lloyd George negotiations had a considerable negative impact on the reputation of the Irish Party. The IPP having accepted the temporary exclusion of the six northern counties at the Ulster Nationalist Convention in St Mary’s Hall, only for the proposals to ultimately fail, helped to facilitate the rise of its political rival Sinn Féin. Another formal attempt at an Irish settlement did not take place until the Irish Convention which met at Trinity College in July 1917.

 

 [1] D. W. Savage, ‘The attempted Home Rule settlement of 1916’ in Éire-Ireland, ii (1967), pp 133-4.

 [2] Alan O’Day, Irish Home Rule 1867−1921 (Manchester, 1998), p. 271.

 [3] Hansard, The Parliamentary Debates, fifth series, House of Commons, 1909-42 (vol. i-cccxciii, London, 1909-42), vol. lxxxii (25 May 1916), cols. 2308-2311.

 [4] ‘Headings of settlement as to the Government of Ireland’ (Lloyd George Papers, Parliamentary Archive, London, LG/D/15/1/7).

[5] Patrick Buckland, Irish Unionism II: Ulster Unionism and the origins of Northern Ireland 1886−1922 (Dublin, 1973), pp 105-6.

[6] Alvin Jackson, Home Rule: an Irish history 1800−2000 (London, 2004), p. 187.

[7] Denis Gwynn, The life of John Redmond (London, 1932), p. 507.

[8] Jackson, Home Rule, pp 187-8; D. G. Boyce, ‘British opinion, Ireland, and the war, 1916−1918’ in Historical Journal, xvii, no. 3 (1974), p. 580.

[9] Boyce, ‘British opinion’, p. 580.

[10] J. P. Finnan, John Redmond and Irish Unity, 1912−1918 (New York, 2004), p. 202.

[11] T. P. O’Connor to John Redmond, 21 June 1916 (Redmond Papers, National Library of Ireland, MS 15,215/2/A).

[12] Savage, The attempted Home Rule settlement, p. 143. 

 

This entry was written by Erica S. Doherty.  At time of writing, Erica is a third-year history Ph.D. student in the School of History and Anthropology, Queen's University Belfast. Her Ph.D. is an examination of the Irish Parliamentary Party MP, Thomas Power O'Connor, from 1912 to 1924 and focuses on his role within the party's inner leadership circle.

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