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Gladstone and Ireland 1868-74


Gladstone became Prime Minister in 1868, following the election after the passing of the 1867 Reform Act. He had a majority of 120, and his words on receiving the summons to Buckingham Palace were "My mission is to pacify Ireland". Gladstone concluded that there were three main grievances to be redressed in Ireland and proposed to deal with them all: Church, land and education.

Problems of the Act

  1. it failed to define clearly the rights of tenant and landlord
  2. landlords could raise the rent at the end of a lease, and if the tenant could not pay the new rent, the landlord could evict him - so no compensation could be claimed for improvements
  3. landlords made tenants go without compensation or made them fight for it in the courts: often tenants could not afford to do this
  4. the Act came too late to provide an acceptable solution: it offered "Too little, too late"
  5. it failed to prevent unreasonable rent increases. This was the real weakness: the government was unable to legislate for control of Irish rents because property was sacrosanct and government could not - dare not - interfere in private property

Crime and disturbances increased in Ireland while these Acts were going through parliament because of

  1. Fenian activity and money from America
  2. the state of agrarian problems

The problem was so bad that in 1870 a Peace Preservation Act (a Coercion Act) had to be passed; then in 1871 the Westmeath Act gave the Lord Lieutenant more dictatorial powers

Gladstone's general policy failed:

The situation was not fully appreciated at the time. Parliament was dissolved in January 1874 and Disraeli was returned as Prime Minister of a Conservative government. He did little for Ireland.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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