Buckingham Palace Conference
The Buckingham Palace Conference, sometimes referred to as the Buckingham Palace Conference on Ireland, was a conference called in Buckingham Palace in 1914 by King George V of the United Kingdom to which the leaders of Irish Nationalism and Irish Unionism were invited to discuss plans to introduce Home Rule to Ireland and avert a feared civil war on the issue. The King's initiative brought the leaders of Nationalism and Unionism together for the first time in a conference.
Since the 1870s, a concerted campaign had been made by Irish nationalist leaders at Westminster, in particular by Charles Stewart Parnell, to have Home Rule (regional self-government) introduced into Ireland. This demand, however, was opposed by the leaders of Irish Unionism, who feared being placed under a Catholic-Nationalist dominated Irish parliament in Dublin. For Unionists, the ultimate safeguard to prevent Home Rule had been the existence of the power of the House of Lords to veto legislation. The Lords, with an inbuilt pro-Unionist Conservative Party majority, exercised its veto, in 1893, to block the Second Home Rule Bill.
As a result of a reduction of its powers under the Parliament Act 1911, the Lords lost the ability to veto Bills. In 1912 the government of Herbert Asquith introduced the Third Home Rule Bill. Under the Parliament Act, the Lords could block a Bill for only three sessions. As a result the Bill finally completed its passage and received the Royal Assent in mid-1914.
The threat that the Bill would this time become law led to protests among Unionists. The leaders of the opposition Conservative Party opted to play the "Orange Card": in 1886, Lord Randolph Churchill had told a rally that "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right". In 1912, leader Andrew Bonar Law threatened to give support for whatever actions Unionists took, whether legal or illegal, to prevent home rule.
Illegal gun-running occurred among both unionists (at Larne) and nationalists (at Howth), and both sides openly organised mass militia movements (the Ulster Volunteers and the Irish Volunteers respectively). Faced with what seemed to be imminent civil war, King George - a strong Hibernophile since his days as a naval officer based in Cork - intervened to stop what be believed was the slide to civil war and took the unprecedented step of inviting the leaders of both communities, along with the British government, to the Palace for a conference.
The conference assembled in Buckingham Palace between 21 and 24 July 1914. Though the issue of home rule had been on the political agenda since the 1870s, the 1914 conference was the first time that a formal peace conference had been called involving both Nationalists and Unionists. Those who attended were the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, Lloyd George, the Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond, his deputy, John Dillon, across the table the leader of the Irish Unionist Alliance, Edward Carson together with Bonar Law, James Craig and Lord Lansdowne. The Speaker of the House of Commons presided.
By the second day Asquith saw that no solution as to which counties were to be temporarily excluded was going to emerge. He wrote to an associate:
"I have rarely felt more helpless in any particular affair, an impasse with unspeakable consequences, upon a matter which to English eyes seems inconceivably small and to Irish eyes immeasurably big. Isn't it a real tragedy?"
The conference broke up after three days without agreement. All sides, however, argued that it had been a useful engagement, with Unionists and Nationalists for the first time having meaningful discussions on how to allay each other's fears about the other. A limited understanding emerged between Carson and the Nationalists that if Ulster were to be excluded, in its entirety, the province should come in or out as a whole.
The conference was overtaken by developments in Europe. In little over a month, the First World War had begun, leading to the suspension of the Home Rule Act for its duration. A further attempt to reach an understanding with Ulster was to prove equally unsuccessful during the 1917–18 Irish Convention. This conference was seen to be a 'waste of time' because of the lack of outcome it produced. Many people saw it as a time for each party to slander each other.
The King's idea of hosting all-party talks on Ireland had echoes in later negotiations that produced the power-sharing executive in the Sunningdale Agreement in the 1970s, and in the negotiations that produced the Belfast Agreement in the late 1990s.
Later interventions by George V on Ireland
King George himself intervened on a number of subsequent occasions on Ireland. In 1920 he made clear his opposition to the behaviour of the Black and Tans paramilitary force being used by the British Government during the Irish War of Independence, while unsuccessfully intervening to try to save the life of hunger striker Terence MacSwiney. After the passing of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 he made a passionate appeal for reconciliation in Ireland at the opening of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in 1921 which led directly to a truce between the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, paving the way for the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
In 1932 he defused a row between the President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State Éamon de Valera and the Governor-General of the Irish Free State James McNeill by getting de Valera to withdraw a request for McNeill's dismissal, and then getting McNeill to take early retirement. De Valera later admitted that the Irish government's criticism of McNeill had been unwarranted.
- Collins, M.E., Movements for reform 1870–1914, pp.142–3, Edco Publishing (2004) ISBN 1-84536-003-6
- Collins, M.E., Sovereignty and partition, 1912–1949, p. 34, Edco Publishing (2004) ISBN 1-84536-040-0
- Jackson, Alvin Home Rule: An Irish History 1800—2000 p.159-163, Phoenix Press (2003) ISBN 0-7538-1767-5
- Geoffrey Lewis, Carson, the Man who divided Ireland (2005), ISBN 1-85285-454-5
- Alvin Jackson, HOME RULE, an Irish History 1800–2000, (2003), ISBN 0-7538-1767-5.
- Thomas Hennessey, Dividing Ireland, World War 1 and Partition, (1998), ISBN 0-415-17420-1.
- Jeremy Smith Bluff, Bluster and Brinkmanship: Andrew Bonar Law and the Third Home Rule Bill pages 161–174 from Historical Journal, Volume 36, Issue #1, 1993.
- Robert Kee, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism (2000 edition, first published 1972), ISBN 0-14-029165-2.
- W. S. Rodner eaguers, Covenanters, Moderates: British Support for Ulster, 1913–14 pages 68–85 from Éire-Ireland, Volume 17, Issue #3, 1982.
- A.T.Q. Stewart The Ulster Crisis, Resistance to Home Rule, 1912–14, (Faber and Faber, London, 1967, 1979), ISBN 0-571-08066-9
- Dorothy Macardle, The Irish Republic (Corgi, 1968)
- Harold Nicolson, King George V
- Frank Pakenham, Peace by Ordeal
- Government of Ireland Act 1914