Irish Unionist Alliance

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Irish Unionist Alliance
Leader Edward James Saunderson
William St John Brodrick, Earl of Midleton
Founded 1891 (1891)
Dissolved 1922 (1922)
Ideology Conservatism,
Irish unionism
Political position Right-wing
Politics of Ireland
Political parties

The Irish Unionist Alliance (also known as the Irish Unionist Party) was a unionist party founded in Ireland in 1891 from the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union to oppose plans for Home Rule for Ireland within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The party was led for much of its life by Colonel Edward James Saunderson and later by the William St John Brodrick, Earl of Midleton. In total, eighty-six members of the House of Lords affiliated themselves with the Irish Unionist Alliance, although its membership was small.

The party aligned itself closely with Liberal Unionists and the Conservative Party to campaign to prevent the passage of a new Home Rule Bill. Among its most prominent members were Dublin barrister Edward Carson and founder of the Ireland's cooperative movement Horace Plunkett. Its electoral strength was largely (though not exclusively) Dublin-based, with it electing MPs from constituencies in the south Dublin area and for the Dublin University constituency. There was a unionist majority on Rathmines district council until 1929, seven years after most of Ireland became independent from the UK.

Ulster Unionism[edit]

The party was replaced in Ulster by the Ulster Unionist Party from the start of the twentieth century. In Ulster, other reasons for unionism included the industrial growth of Belfast after 1850 that depended on the British Empire, and a fear of Rome Rule, the worry about a Catholic-dominated Irish parliament. In the tense period between the Parliament Act 1911 and the Home Rule Act 1914, the Ulster unionists created their own paramilitary group, the "Ulster Volunteers", raising the spectre of civil war.

From 1914 to the formal partition of Ireland in 1920–21, the Ulster Unionists relied upon their local electoral majority in what became Northern Ireland. Under the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty Northern Ireland became a part of the Irish Free State from its creation on 6 December 1922; the Northern Irish parliament voted to leave the Free State two days later.

Southern Unionists[edit]

Northern and Southern Ireland

From the suggestion of some sort of north-south partition under the 1914 Home Rule Act, the Southern Unionists (in what would become Southern Ireland and then the Republic of Ireland) were in a much weaker electoral position than the Ulster Unionists, and necessarily they had to compromise with their opponents.[citation needed]

Social position[edit]

Anti-John Redmond poster, 1910

Their leaders included wealthy and well-educated men who wanted to live in Ireland, and felt Irish. Their cultural affiliations with the British Empire led to their description locally as Anglo-Irish, and by unkind opponents as "West Brits".[1] They were generally Anglicans while many of the more strident Ulster Unionists were Presbyterians.

Though their numbers were small, a considerable amount of industry in Southern Ireland had been developed indigenously by Southern Unionist supporters. These included Jacob's Biscuits, Bewley's, Beamish and Crawford, Jameson's Whiskey, W.P. & R. Odlum, Cleeve's, R&H Hall, Dockrell's, Arnott's, Goulding Chemicals, the Irish Times and notably the Guinness brewery, then Ireland's largest company. They controlled financial entities such as the Bank of Ireland and Goodbody Stockbrokers. They were concerned that a new home rule state might create new taxes between them and their markets in Britain and the British empire, that would add to their costs and probably reduce sales and therefore employment. They were all considered to be good employers by contemporary standards.

Southern Unionist landowners had inherited large estates that were being sold off to tenant farmers under the recent Irish Land Acts. As a group they were richer by about £90 million by 1914, which would either stay in the Irish economy, given a favourable political arrangement, or leave if the outcome appeared too uncertain or too radical.[2] This temporarily gave them a voice far beyond their number in the Irish electorate. Some of the more progressive of these attempted to introduce a moderate form of devolution through the Irish Reform Association. Others of the landed gentry were prominent in horse breeding and racing, and as British Army officers.

In discussing problems of civic morality in 2011 in the Republic of Ireland, former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald remarked that before 1922: "In Ireland a strong civic sense did exist – but mainly amongst Protestants and especially Anglicans".[3]

Political realities 1914–22[edit]

Having opposed Home Rule before 1914, they came to regard a Home Rule Ireland within the empire as preferable to an entirely independent Ireland outside it. Many of its leading figures were associated with the Kildare Street Club, a gentleman's club in Dublin. They were said to represent about 300,000 people out of a population of about 3 million in what is now the Republic of Ireland (i.e. excluding Northern Ireland).[4][5]

Southern Unionist members sided with Irish Nationalists against the Ulster Unionists during the 1917–18 Irish Convention in an attempt to bring about an understanding on the implementation of the suspended Home Rule Act 1914. Home Rule did however come to pass for Northern Ireland under the Government of Ireland Act 1920.[6]

The Alliance's opposition to Irish partition led to its being marginalised at the 1918 general election, which showed the rising influence of the republican Sinn Féin party on the one hand and the Ulster Unionist Council on the other. Just three Southern Unionists were elected, one for Rathmines in Dublin and two in the University of Dublin constituency. Although the election saw many Alliance members such as Edward Carson returned for Ulster constituencies, they did not agree with the need to keep Ireland united, even under Home Rule.

Though the IUA hoped to play a part in the Parliament of Southern Ireland envisaged under the 1920 Act, the parliament never functioned. The Irish Times, said to be the "voice of Southern Unionists", realised that the 1920 Act would not work and argued from late 1920 for "Dominion Home Rule", the compromise that was eventually agreed upon in the 1921–22 Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Despite its impotence, hundreds of those seen as its supporters were attacked as soft targets in the Anglo-Irish War (1919–21) and the Irish Civil War (1922–23), tens of thousands emigrated and hundreds of houses were burnt.[7] The IUA helped form the Southern Irish Loyalist Relief Association to assist war refugees and claim compensation for damage to property.[8][9][10]

Irish Free State[edit]

The party lost its reason to exist following the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922. Some of its leading figures, such as the Earl of Midleton, Lord Dunraven, James Campbell and Horace Plunkett (a cousin of Count Plunkett), were appointed in December 1922 by WT Cosgrave to the Free State's first Senate.[11] Amongst others, Horace Plunkett's home in County Dublin was then burnt down during the Irish Civil War (1922–23) because of his involvement in the Irish Senate. From 1921 IUA voters generally supported the mainstream Cumann na nGaedheal party.

In the 1923 election three formerly loyalist businessmen were elected as the Business and Professional Group.

From 1921 to 1991 the proportion of Southern Irish Protestants declined from 10% to 3% of the population; these had provided the bulk of the IUA's support base.[12]

See also[edit]



  • Barberis, Peter, John McHugh and Mike Tyldesley, 2005. Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organisations. London: Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8264-5814-9, ISBN 978-0-8264-5814-8