Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Guest Post: The Loyalist Easter Rising of 1915

This post originally appeared on Today in Alternate History.

What happens to Ireland if WW1 were delayed (or avoided)?

In a desperate attempt to prevent the full implementation of the Irish Home Rule Bill, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) occupied key buildings across the city of Belfast. 

Edward Carson's Barmy Army demanded an exclusion zone for Ulster, but their rebellion only triggered a violent crackdown by the forces of the British Empire. Despite widespread sympathy from officers in the British Army, this fierce reaction was considered justifiable because there was a whiff of Communism in the air. In fact, the Unionists had been encouraging protests from workers in Glasgow, Liverpool and London, and there was a risk of civil war. Ironically, the Home Rule bill had passed the House of Commons in 1912, but a defeat in the House of Lords placed a two-year hold until their veto timed-out. 

A federal structure was require to unify the thirty-two counties and make a single home rule territory governable. This imperative would require a separation of Church from State and a variation of the Westminster System that would empower the four provinces. Devolution brought a level of autonomy to areas of Protestant Plurality and, despite the tremendously high cost, created a new dominion within the British Empire. For Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, it was a triumph of Liberal Statesmanship, although in truth, he had been forced to accommodate the Irish Parliamentary Party as a result of the Tory gains in the 1910 General Election.

The Irish Republic would finally come into existence in 1948 as the British Government was forced to withdraw from Empire, cutting her overseas security and defence costs as a result of the bankrupting costs of the Great European War. Giving up her Empire was never going to be enough, since the Imperial markets had now been lost and, as a result, economic activity continued to rapidly decline during the next twenty-five years. 

Both Great Britain (GB) and also the Republic of Ireland (RoI) were essential forced to join the European Economic Community in an effort to gain access to the expanding market on the continent. This development eventually led to freedom of movement across the European Union (EU) which had the effect of re-integrating GB and RoI. While the Irish became enthusiastic Europeans (even moving to the common Euro currency), not so much for the British, who were still struggling with internal questions of identity. By the middle of the second decade of the twentieth century, GB held a referendum and voted to leave the EU and build a "global Britain."

This restart affected trading between GB and RoI and Dublin required significant injections of funds from the European Union in order to weather the storm. GB however was unable to ratify a withdrawal agreement and entered a "hard Brexit" on 29th March, 2019 that was the long-standing desire of many Tories. At the current time of writing, this has thrown the whole country into a cyclone of economic problems. But in the long run perhaps Tory statesmanship will demonstrate that the high initial were worth the price, much as Liberal Statesmanship claimed for Ireland over a century earlier. And surely there is a great irony in the Conservative Party resisting Home Rule and later taking Britain into Europe, only to regret both movements later on as they were correctly shown to be on the right side of history.

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