Gladstone misunderstood the Irish question. This is why his Irish policy failed. Discuss.

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‘Gladstone misunderstood the Irish question. This is why his Irish policy failed’.

Disraeli, Gladstone’s longtime opponent in the House of Commons, defined the Irish question, saying ‘you have a starving population, an absentee aristocracy and alien church and in addition the weakest executive in the world. This is the Irish question’. To a great extent, Gladstone agreed with this assessment and based much of his Irish policy off of Disraeli’s assertion. The Irish question was perhaps Gladstone’s main priority while in office from 1868-74. On discovering that he had was to become Prime Minister, the first words he spoke were ‘my mission is to pacify Ireland’. This was not the first time he had considered the Irish question as extremely pressing and important. In 1845 in a letter to his wife he wrote ‘Ireland forces upon us great social and religious questions. God grant that we may have the courage to look them in the face and work through them’. Gladstone faced the Irish question with this same conviction during his first government. Thus it was not for lack of effort that his Irish policy failed. Rather it was the way in which he went about reforming the three main areas of concern: land, religion and education. In certain areas he misunderstood the issues at the heart of the Irish question. In others, by the time his bills had past both houses, they were so diluted by amendments that little of his policy remained. It may have been a combination of these factors, fundamental misunderstanding, poor implementation and lack of party unity, that doomed his Irish policy to failure.

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        Land reforms were at the heart of Gladstone’s Irish policy but mostly failed to achieve their aims. His goal in Irish land reform can be defined by the three Fs: fixity, fair rents and free sale of leases. It was these three things that he tried to address in the 1870 Irish Land Act. The Act was mostly designed to protect poor catholic tenants from being unfairly evicted from their land by greedy protestant landlords. It banned exorbitant rates and stated that if tenants were evicted for any other reason than failure to pay their rent, they could seek compensation. ...

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