Andrew Bonar Law and Ireland

Historical context

Sir, – Ronan McGreevy describes as “a notorious act of sedition” Andrew Bonar Law’s declaration in his Blenheim Palace speech of 1912 that he could “imagine no length of resistance to which Ulster will go which I shall not be ready to support” (An Irishman’s Diary, October 24th). Your Diarist omits the final words of the sentence: “and in which they will not be supported by the overwhelming majority of the British people”.

This sentence – just like the then-Conservative and Unionist leader’s statement in the same address that “there are things stronger than parliamentary majorities” – needs to be understood in its historical context.

At the December 1910 general election Law’s party had almost beaten HH Asquith’s Liberals: they gained 271 seats to the 272 won by their opponents. (Their share of the popular vote was larger: 46.6 per cent to 44.2 per cent). Asquith’s administration depended on the support of the Labour and Irish Parliamentary Parties. In 1912, the Liberals lost byelections to the Conservatives. At that point, Law could see electoral victory ahead. As events turned out, the first World War ensured that there was to be no general election until December 1918. – Yours, etc,