Meeting Ireland's terms

The constitutional dispute between the Irish and British parliaments continued throughout the 18th century. Catholics, meanwhile, were disenfranchised in 1728.

It was another fifty years before the Penal Code - which also targeted Presbyterians, in favour of the Anglican Church - was relaxed, allowing Catholics long tenure of land.

In 1753 the Irish House of Commons successfully asserted control over surplus revenue, in opposition to the British government.

Irish Volunteers

In 1778 the Irish Volunteers were formed, a patriotic movement which demanded the removal of restrictions imposed upon Irish commerce by the British Parliament.

The Volunteers were encouraged by the behaviour of the opposition. During 1779 several British MPs repeatedly pressed the claim of Ireland for the easing of trade restrictions, mainly to embarrass the Prime Minister, Lord North, who refused to compromise.

But slowly there was progress, largely as a result of protests by the Irish politician Henry Grattan. When the British Parliament met on 25 November 1779, North’s hand was forced and he resolved to remove every Irish grievance over commerce.

Removing restrictions

Over the following months several Acts removed individual trade restrictions. All in all, the concessions made in 1779-80 put Ireland almost on a par with Great Britain in terms of trade with colonies, although she was still excluded from the area of the East India Company’s monopoly.

But far from appeasing Grattan and the Volunteers, it prompted them to campaign for full parliamentary independence through fear that trade restrictions might be reinstated at any time.

1720 Act repealed

Finally, on 17 May 1782, Charles James Fox, the Foreign Secretary, informed the British House of Commons of his readiness to “meet Ireland on her own terms and give her everything she wanted in the way she herself seemed to wish for it”.

The 1720 Act was repealed and Poynings’ Law was substantially amended.

The Irish Parliament now had the sole right to legislate its own affairs with final jurisdiction resting with the Irish House of Lords.

Administration

Irish administration, however, remained in the hands of a lord lieutenant and chief secretary appointed by the British government.

Some Irish politicians, meanwhile, pursued successful careers as members of the British Parliament. For example Edmund Burke, who sat for the Wendover, Bristol and Malton constituencies from 1765-97, was a noted orator, political theorist and philosopher.