John Redmond was born in 1856. He had a Jesuit-based education and became a barrister after studying law at Trinity College, Dublin. He became MP for New Ross in 1880, aged 24. He served here until 1885. From 1885 to 1891, Redmond was MP for North Wexford and from 1891 to 1918, he was MP for Waterford City
He had long believed that Ireland had the right to greater self-government though he did not want to see Ireland independent from Britain. He was opposed to the use of violence and wanted to get anything he could for Ireland through the due process of Parliament. Any decision, from his point of view, needed the legal clout of having gone through the due political and legal process.
Redmond, who had supported Parnell in the later stages of Parnell's political career, was appointed the leader of the Home Rule Party in 1900. Home Rule had been supported by Gladstone in the 1880’s and in 1893 the second Home Rule Bill had been passed by the House of Commons but rejected in the Tory dominated House of Lords where the Unionists of northern Ireland had a number of influential friends.
Redmond realised that the great Liberal victory of 1906 gave the Home Rule Party its chance. The Liberals had been supportive of Home Rule since the time of Gladstone and the 1911 Parliament Act had effectively ended the House of Lords ability to kill off legislation passed by the Commons. Now the Lords could only delay legislation passed by the lower house.
After 1911, Redmond and his party – and many people in Ireland – expected Home Rule to be introduced. In 1912, a third Home Rule Bill was introduced to the Commons. Redmond fully expected it to be passed. However, he was probably not expecting the response that occurred from the protestant dominated northern Ireland.
Over 470,000 men and women signed the Ulster Covenant. This stated quite bluntly that those who signed the covenant would use:
|"all means that may be necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule parliament in Ireland."|
In 1913, the Ulster Volunteer Army was created. Its task was to stop the introduction of Home Rule into Ireland – using force if necessary.
The response in the south had been the creation of the Irish Volunteers and by 1914, two armed camps existed in Ireland; one adamantly against Home Rule, the other for it. The third Home Rule Bill was passed by the Commons in the summer of 1914. Many believe that civil war was only averted in Ireland in 1914 because of the outbreak of World War One.
The Ulster Volunteer Army encouraged men in it to join up to demonstrate their loyalty to the crown. Redmond also encouraged men in the Irish Volunteers to join up. He believed that this would show that they could also be trusted to respond in a manner that would bring credit on them in Britain’s hour of need. In all, over 100,000 men from Ireland volunteered to join the British Army.
Redmond demonstrated his support of the cause by agreeing to suspend the whole issue of Home Rule until the war was over. Therefore, the government was free to concentrate on the war rather than other domestic issues.
Despite this show of loyalty to the cause, Redmond feel out with the government over its refusal to allow Catholics and Protestant volunteers the right to wear insignia that reflected their background; Redmond asked for distinct badges and separate regiments but the War Office failed to give him support for this. As late as 1916, Redmond continued to complain that the War Office was ignoring his demands for such things as different insignia. Any chance Redmond might have had of getting sympathy from the War Office went when the Easter Uprising of 1916, lead by Connolly, Pearce and de Valera, took place.
The reaction of the authorities to the uprising in Dublin also in effect sealed the political fate of Redmond. To start with the people of southern Ireland were angered by what the rebels had done. But the execution of the leaders caused a great deal of resentment in the south of Ireland. Supporters of the Home Rule Party turned to Sinn Fein instead as attitudes hardened. Redmond was seen as being too much in the pocket of Westminster. Redmond died in early 1918 but in the ‘Coupon’ election of 1918, Sinn Fein won many seats previously held by the Home Rule Party. The rise of Sinn Fein could only lead to the decline of the Home Rule Party.