Constitutional differences

Throughout the 17th century the English Parliament displayed a growing determination to directly control Irish affairs.

As well as indirect control over Irish laws via Poynings’ Law, the English Parliament had long claimed, and occasionally exercised, a right to legislate directly for Ireland.

In 1692, some members of King William’s first Irish Parliament suggested that Poynings’ Law be repealed, while there was tension over Irish attempts to initiate financial Bills.

Meanwhile, penal laws passed by the Irish Parliament continued to restrict the activities of Catholics.

Undercutting

As the Irish economy recovered, woollen goods began to undercut English manufacturers who complained to the English Parliament which, in 1697, promised to pass laws stopping the export of woollen goods from Ireland to any foreign country, excluding England.

Some in Ireland urged conciliation but William Molyneux, an Irish MP, issued a pamphlet called 'The Case of Ireland’s being Bound by Acts of Parliament in England, Stated'.

No right to legislate

In this he revived the argument that the English Parliament had no right to legislate directly for Ireland, arguing that common law precedent proved Ireland’s right to independent legislative and judicial powers under the King.

The English Parliament responded angrily and, in 1699, passed the threatened Woollen Act.

Although the immediate effects on the Irish economy were not severe, it discouraged Irish enterprise and contributed to the growth of Protestant nationalism. The woollen industry, for instance, was largely in the hands of Protestants.

Public discontent

The union between England and Scotland in 1707 led some in Ireland to suggest they also unite at Westminster. But between 1719 and 1725 Irish public opinion turned against the new British Parliament when two issues in particular aroused public discontent.

The first concerned the question of whether the Irish House of Lords could act as the final court of appeal for Irish cases.

Matters reached a head in 1719 when in the case of Sherlock v Annesley one of the disputants appealed successfully to the Irish House of Lords, prompting the defeated party to appeal to the British House of Lords, which found in his favour.

Appeal

The Irish parliament appealed to the King to support its right to final jurisdiction but, in March 1720, the British Parliament passed an Act for “better securing the dependency of the kingdom of Ireland on the crown of Great Britain”.

This Declaratory Act stated that Westminster could make laws binding Ireland and act as the final court of appeal for Irish cases.

Copper coinage

The second issue revolved around the attempt to increase Ireland’s copper coinage. In 1722 the King granted a patent to William Wood, a Wolverhampton merchant, to mint copper coinage for Ireland.

In 1723 a campaign began in Ireland, headed by Jonathan Swift, who wrote a series of pamphlets - the Drapier’s Letters - which contested the right of the British government to impose the new coins on Ireland.

Also within Living Heritage

Biographies

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  • William Molyneux

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