William Gladstone introduces the Government of Ireland Bill 1886, commonly known as the First Home Rule Bill, in the Parliament of England on April 8, 1886. It is the first major attempt by a British government to enact a law creating home rule for part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The bill proposes to create a devolved assembly for Ireland which will govern Ireland in specific areas. The Irish Parliamentary Party under Charles Stewart Parnell has been campaigning for home rule for Ireland since the 1870s.
The Bill, like his Landlord and Tenant Act 1870, is very much the work of Gladstone, who excludes both the Irish MPs and his own ministers from participation in the drafting.
If passed, the 1886 Bill would create a unicameral assembly consisting of two Orders which could meet either together or separately. The first Order would consist of the 28 Irish representative peers plus 75 members elected through a highly restricted franchise. It could delay the passage of legislation for up to 3 years. The second Order would consist of either 204 or 206 members. All Irish MPs would be excluded from Westminster altogether.
Executive power would be possessed by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whose executive would not be responsible to either Order.
Britain would still retain control over a range of issues including peace, war, defence, treaties with foreign states, trade, and coinage. No special provision would be made for Ulster. Britain would retain control of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) until it deems it safe for control to pass to Dublin. The Dublin Metropolitan Police would pass to Irish control.
When the bill is introduced, Charles Stewart Parnell has mixed reactions. He says that it has great faults but is prepared to vote for it. In his famous Irish Home Rule speech, Gladstone beseeches Parliament to pass it and grant Home Rule to Ireland in honour rather than being compelled to one day in humiliation. Unionists and the Orange Order are fierce in their resistance. For them, any measure of Home Rule is denounced as nothing other than Rome Rule.
The vote on the Bill takes place on 8 June 1886 after two months of debate. The Government of Ireland Bill is defeated by a vote of 341-311. In the staunchly loyalist town of Portadown, the so-called “Orange Citadel” where the Orange Order is founded in 1795, Orangemen and their supporters celebrate the Bill’s defeat by “Storming the Tunnel.”
Parliament is dissolved on June 26 and the U.K. general election of 1886 is called. Historians have suggested that the 1886 Home Rule Bill was fatally flawed by the secretive manner of its drafting, with Gladstone alienating Liberal figures like Joseph Chamberlain who, along with a colleague, resigned in protest from the ministry, while producing a Bill viewed privately by the Irish as badly drafted and deeply flawed.