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How successful was Sir Robert Peel's Irish policy (1841-45)?

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Introduction

How successful was Sir Robert Peel's Irish policy (1841-45)? Sir Robert Peel's strong-nerved and far-sighted approach to Ireland's social discontent demonstrated all the best attributes of the innovative politician that he was. However, the minimal effect felt by Irish people highlights the eventually fatal inefficiency of his leadership. Peel's policies were largely based on the principle of "coercion and conciliation": at first he took an authoritarian stance, and only later looked to be persuasively appeasing. In doing so, Peel hoped to promote Unionism, and hence to instil in the Irish a sense of loyalty towards Britain. He aimed to stop Ireland's radical threat by winning over the Irish Catholics, and to create a convincingly secure long-term relationship between the two governments. Tragically, it was this last aim that Peel, and many of his successors, found most elusive. The challenge posed by Ireland's resistance to British rule necessitated willingness on Peel's part to gain the support of the country's people. The Catholic population made up over seventy percent of the main, and with the vote granted them by 1829's Emancipation, they had become a vital election target. It was widely understood that the Catholic clergy guided and inspired the laity, and Peel recognised their vital place in Irish society. ...read more.

Middle

Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Association was the focus of this movement. Popular for its constructive resentment of British rule, the Association could be joined for as little as 1d per year, and hence attracted huge membership. Plans to set up an independent Irish Parliament in Dublin provoked fears that it would be used to repeal the Act of Union, persuading Peel to act promptly and resolutely. By the summer of 1843, the Repeal movement was growing strongly, posing an unprecedented threat to British control. The situation exposed Peel's authoritarian side. He announced that any attempt to abolish the Union would be met with unrelenting force, a move encouraged by reactionaries such as Lord Wellington, who urged Peel to "attack remorselessly." However, rather than confront the country as a whole, Peel targeted what he perceived to be the route of the problem: O'Connell himself. Banning the Repeal Association's next mass meeting, Peel had O'Connell arrested, tried and imprisoned for sedition. The action, at the county of Clontarf in October 1843, diminished O'Connell's reputation and sent out a clear message to Ireland's Republicans: rebellion would not be tolerated. The so-called 'monster' meetings, which had in the past attracted upwards of a million people each, faded radically, and O'Connell, who had surrendered to British arrest, would never have the same influence again. ...read more.

Conclusion

The funding supplied to the Catholic seminaries paled in insignificance to the money provided annually to the Anglicans; being all too obvious to the Irish public, this would forever embitter them against Peel and, for all their inventiveness, against his policies. Furthermore, from the Irish Famine alone, one can see that this final, and most important, objective failed. It was a fatal blow, both for the Irish people, and for Peel's political career. Having confirmed Catholicism's diminished status by proclaiming his support of the 'Home' churches, Sir Robert Peel always faced an uphill struggle to win back the approval of the Irish public. His policies were well-funded and well thought out, but lacked the effectiveness needed to seriously impact on Ireland's people. Whilst being driven by the correct intention, the Maynooth and Colleges Bills exposed Peel's inability to engage with the Irish public. Other political manoeuvres, such as the introduction of Lord Heytesbury, appeared to be hollow gestures; certainly, their impact was minimal. From this perspective, it appears that Britain's true objective in Ireland was not to provide long-term prosperity to the ailing population, but to guarantee England's short-term safety, and to deter other potential rebels. In this sense, Peel was successful. But, as the Irish Famine affirmed soon afterwards, Ireland's public had been poorly served by Britain's Government. It is no wonder that they wanted their own. 7/3/2005 Luke Bullen SPC ...read more.

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