The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Government of Ireland Act 1920

An Act to Provide for the Better Government of Ireland, more usually the Government of Ireland Act 1920 (this is its official short title; the formal citation is 10 & 11 Geo. 5 c. 67.) was the second act passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom to provide for Home Rule in Ireland.



Home rule bills in 1886 and 1893 had both failed, and that of 1912 stalled (it was approved by the UK Parliament in 1914, and received Royal Assent immediately before the outbreak of the First World War but was suspended for the duration of what was expected to be a short war) halted the process of enactment. As the fourth attempt to pass a bill providing for Irish devolution, the 1920 Act is also known as the Fourth Home Rule Bill.


The Act, introduced by the government of David Lloyd George, divided Ireland into two territories, Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, each self-governing except in areas specifically reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom: chief amongst these were matters relating to the Crown, to defence, foreign affairs, international trade, and currency.

"Southern Ireland" was to be all of Ireland except for "the parliamentary counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone, and the parliamentary boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry" which were to constitute "Northern Ireland". This partitioning of Ireland was an attempt by the British Government to reconcile the demand by Irish nationalists, on the one hand, for home rule and that by Irish unionists, on the other, that home rule not be conceded. Northern Ireland as defined by the Act, amounting to six of the nine counties of Ulster, was seen as the maximum area within which unionists could be expected to be in a majority,

Each entity was to have its own parliament "consisting of His Majesty, the Senate of (Northern or Southern) Ireland, and the House of Commons of (Northern or Southern) Ireland". A single Lord Lieutenant of Ireland would represent the King, and a Council of Ireland would co-ordinate matters of common concern to the two parliaments. Both parts of Ireland would continue to send a number of MPs to the Westminster parliament. Elections for both lower houses took place in May 1921.


The Northern Ireland parliament came into being in 1921. At its inauguration, in Belfast City Hall , King George V made a famous appeal for Anglo-Irish and north–south reconciliation. The speech, drafted by the government of David Lloyd George on recommendations from Jan Smuts1, Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, with the enthusiastic backing of the King, opened the door for formal contact between the British Government and the Republican administration of Eamon de Valera.

Southern Ireland never became a reality. All 128 MPs elected to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland were returned unopposed, and 124 of them, representing Sinn Féin, declared themselves TDs (Irish for Dáil Deputies) and assembled as the Second Dáil of the Irish Republic.

With only the four Unionist MPs (all representing graduates of the Irish Universities) and 15 appointed senators turning up for the state opening of the Southern Ireland Parliament in the Royal College of Science in Dublin (now Government Buildings) in June 1921, the new legislature was suspended.

The House of Commons of Southern Ireland came back into existence again for a short time under the Anglo–Irish Treaty of 1921, to fulfill two functions. The first was to formally ratify the Treaty, which it did in January 1922 (The Second Dáil, which had authority in nationalist eyes for ratifying the Treaty, did so in December 1921). Secondly, it was required to put in place a Provisional Government, which it did, under General Michael Collins. Collins was then legally installed in office by the Lord Lieutenant, Viscount Fitzalan of Derwent.

The Treaty provided for the ability of Northern Ireland's Parliament, by formal address, to opt out of the new Irish Free State, which it duly did. A Boundary Commission was set up to redraw the border between the new Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. The Council of Ireland never functioned as hoped, as an embryonic all-Ireland parliament.

In 1927, the Vice-President of the Executive Council, Kevin O'Higgins drew up plans to join Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State as an Irish dual monarchy under George V, who was to be crowned King of Ireland at a public ceremony in the Phoenix Park in the centre of Dublin. However, with O'Higgins's assassination later that year, the coronation plan was dropped.

The 1920 Act remained the Constitution of Northern Ireland until repealed under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

See also

External links


  • Robert Kee, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism (2000 edition, first published 1972), ISBN 0140291652.


  1. Jan Smuts was one of the best Boer commanders of the Second Boer War. His deep Commando raids into Cape Province caused considerable embarrassment and difficulties for the British Army. After the war he decided that his future and that of South Africa lay in reconciliation between Afrikaner and the British. In 1914 at the start of World War I the Boer "bitter enders" rose against the government in the Boer Revolt and allied themselves with their old supporter Germany. General Smuts played an important part in crushing the rebellion and defeating the Germans in Africa, before fighting on the Western Front. The South African establishment, of which Smuts was a part, in contrast to the British establishment in 1916, was lenient to the leaders of the revolt, who were fined and spent two years in prison. After this revolt and lenient treatment the "bitter enders" contented themselves with working within the system. It was his experience of the Boer British rapprochement which he was able to bring to the attention of the British government as an alternative to confrontation.
Last updated: 05-15-2005 06:23:22