The Oldest Question: Ireland in British Politics and History
  • D. G. Boyce
Part of the British History in Perspective book series (BHP)


The time when the Irish Question first entered British politics can be dated precisely. On 13 February 1844 the House of Commons began a nine-day debate on Ireland on a motion by Lord John Russell, who made a forceful speech on the theme that ‘Ireland is occupied not governed’. The motion was defeated; but the importance of the debate lay in the recognition of Ireland as a special area, with a particular character, which required special treatment. These problems were summed up by Disraeli as ‘a starving population, an absentee aristocracy, and an alien church, and, in addition, the weakest executive in the world’. The exactness of his definition may be open to question; but the point was, as the diarist Charles Greville noted, the ‘very remarkable change in the tone and temper in which the Irish discussion was carried on’. The debate, he thought, revealed that the majority of MPs was ‘impressed with the necessity of laying the foundation of a real and permanent union between the two countries’. But the difficulty, as Greville remarked, lay in the ‘difference of opinion … as to … what the people of England could be brought to consent, and what the people of Ireland would be content to receive’.1


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  2. 2.
    J. L. Hammond, Gladstone and the Irish Nation (London, 1964 ed.), p. 32.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Kerr, op. cit., p. 117.Google Scholar
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© D. G. Boyce 1996

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  • D. G. Boyce

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