John Redmond: An essential contribution

He deserves to be remembered as a statesman who made a vital contribution to the creation of an independent Irish State

Irish Parliamentary Party  leader John Redmond.

Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond.

 

John Redmond, who died 100 years ago this week, deserves to be remembered as a statesman who made a vital contribution to the creation of an independent Irish State.

His achievement in forcing the British government to agree to the restoration of a parliament in Dublin paved the way for the drive to full independence in the years that followed. While the vehement resistance of Ulster Unionists frustrated Redmond’s hopes of a 32-county settlement, and the outbreak of the first World War led to its postponement, self-rule for most of Ireland had become an accepted fact of political life by 1914.

The 1916 Rising and the events that followed changed the trajectory of Irish nationalism to a more radical course but Home Rule was a crucial step on the road to the First Dáil and all that followed. Redmond’s failure to appreciate the strength and commitment of Ulster Unionism was a major miscalculation and one that has been repeated by successive generations of Irish nationalists since then.

His decision to support the British war effort in 1914, which led to his undoing, was motivated in large part by a belief that fighting on the same side, against German aggression, would bring nationalists and unionists together after the war. If the war had been over by Christmas 1914, that hope might have been realised, but its duration and the appalling scale of the casualties turned the tide of public opinion in Ireland and created fertile ground for a different approach.

The Rising and the executions that followed it were a fatal blow to Redmond’s hopes of a harmonious settlement between Ireland and Britain and between nationalism and unionism. His acceptance of some form of partition after 1916 undermined his political authority and by the time of the death his dreams of a peaceful accommodation lay in ruins. A century after his death, the latest rupture in Anglo Irish relations over Brexit, not to mention the continuing deadlock between nationalism and unionism, show just how intractable were the problems that confronted Redmond throughout his political life.

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