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Gladstone and the Ulster question

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Gladstone and Ireland
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Abstract

The failure of William Gladstone’s first and second Irish Home Rule bills is most often attributed to his peculiar handling of the political crises surrounding each measure. His approach to the so-called Ulster question is only one aspect of this, but the long-term repercussions mark it out as an area deserving specific attention. This chapter argues that for Gladstone there never was an Ulster question, at least not one deserving an answer which might jeopardise his relationship with Charles Stewart Parnell. How he reached this judgement is bound up with the familiar and contentious story of his ‘conversion’ to Home Rule. Gladstone’s strategy, despite his occasional and often vague assurances to the contrary, did not envisage the possibility of an Ulster dimension to Home Rule, even after the setback of 1886. This is not altogether surprising given that ‘Ulster’ was used by Conservatives and Liberal Unionists as a means of attacking the entire measure.1 Gladstone responded by refuting their arguments and suggesting he was open to proposals, should they be forthcoming. As a tactic designed to expose ‘Unionist’ intransigence Gladstone’s response was a success, at least in the eyes of his supporters. But in adopting this approach, in refusing to propose safeguards for Ulster himself, as advocated by some senior Liberals, Gladstone ensured the failure of Home Rule in his own lifetime.

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Notes

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© 2010 N. C. Fleming

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Fleming, N.C. (2010). Gladstone and the Ulster question. In: Boyce, D.G., O’Day, A. (eds) Gladstone and Ireland. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230292451_7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230292451_7

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-349-30741-8

  • Online ISBN: 978-0-230-29245-1

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