The Parliament so elected and so constituted was destined not merely to destroy the effective power of the House of Lords, and to place on the Statute-book a measure setting up an Irish Parliament in Dublin, but to be an assembly longer in duration and more memorable in achievement than any in English history since the Long Parliament. During the eight years of its reign the Great War was fought and won; the “rebel party” in Ireland once more, as in the Napoleonic Wars, broke into armed insurrection in league with the enemies of England; and before it was dissolved the political parties in Great Britain, heartily supported by the Loyalists of Ulster, composed the party differences which had raged with such passion over Home Rule and other domestic issues, and joined forces in patriotic resistance to the foreign enemy.
But before this transformation took place nearly four years of agitation and contest had to run their course. In the first session of the Parliament, by a violent use of the Royal Prerogative, the Parliament Bill became law, the Peers accepting the measure under duress of the threat that some four or five hundred peerages would, if necessary, be created to form a majority to carry it. It was then no longer possible for the Upper House to force an appeal to the country on Home Rule, as it had done in 1893. All that was necessary was for a Bill to be carried in three successive sessions through the House of Commons, to become law. “The last obstacle to Home Rule,” as Mr. Redmond called it, had been removed. The Liberal Government had taken a hint from the procedure of the careful burglar, who poisons the dog before breaking into the house.
The significance of the manner in which the Irish question had been kept out of view of the electorate by the Government and their supporters was not lost upon the people of Ulster. In January 1911, within a month of the elections, a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council was held at which a comprehensive resolution dealing with the situation that had arisen was adopted, and published as a manifesto. One of its clauses was:
“The Council has observed with much surprise the singular reticence as regards Home Rule maintained by a large number of Radical candidates in England and Scotland during the recent elections, and especially by the Prime Minister himself, who barely referred to the subject till almost the close of his own contest. In view of the consequent fact that Home Rule was not at the late appeal to the country placed as a clear issue before the electors, it is the judgment of the Council that the country has given no mandate for Home Rule, and that any attempt in such circumstances to force through Parliament a measure enacting it would be for His Majesty’s Ministers a grave, if not criminal, breach of constitutional duty.”
The great importance, in relation to the policy subsequently pursued by Ulster, of the historical fact here made