The Irish Question and the Evolution of British Imperial Law, 1916-1922
30 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2016
Date Written: December 15, 2016
By the early twentieth century Dominion status seemed ideally suited as the answer to the perennial ‘Irish question’. It offered Ireland a generous measure of autonomy while maintaining the territorial integrity of the British Empire. Nevertheless, the prospect of granting Dominion status to Ireland remained little more than a fantasy on the eve of the outbreak of the First World War. This reality was altered by two parallel historical developments. The first of these was the 1916 Easter rising that killed any possibility of an effective home rule settlement for the entire island of Ireland. The second was a rapid acceleration in the evolution of the self-governing Dominions of the Empire towards greater autonomy in the constitutional sphere. In the aftermath of the First World War these two developments came together in the signing of the 1921 Treaty that permitted the Irish Free State to emerge with the status of a self-governing Dominion, the same constitutional status held by Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. This article will examine the legal and constitutional developments that took place between 1914 and 1922 that removed the possibility of an ‘Irish Dominion’ from the realms of fantasy and allowed it to play a vital role in the emergence of the self-governing Irish state. It also examines the important role of Hessel Duncan Hall’s book The British Commonwealth of Nations (1920) in influencing this process.
Keywords: Ireland, British Empire, Dominion, constitution, self-governing, Irish free state
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