Two home rule Bills

Gladstone had, before the 1885 election, already decided that some degree of home rule in Ireland was inevitable.

Initially, he wanted to proceed on a cross-party basis but when that proved impossible the Prime Minister presented what was to be his first home rule Bill to Parliament on 8 April 1886.

This granted Ireland limited self-rule within the British Empire, with the UK Parliament maintaining sovereignty over an Irish parliament and executive based in Dublin. Irish representation in the Westminster Parliament would end.

Liberal opponents

Although supported in principle by Parnell and what was now known as the Irish Party, the Bill’s fate depended upon Liberal opponents. How they would vote was unclear until the early hours of 8 June 1886, when the Bill was read for a second time.

In his closing speech, Gladstone urged his opponents to think "not for the moment, but for the years that are to come" before they rejected it. But when it came to a division 93 Liberals voted against the Bill and it was defeated by 343 votes to 313.

Undeterred, Gladstone took his case to the country but lost the subsequent election, the result producing 316 Conservatives, 78 anti-home rule Liberals (soon to become known as Liberal Unionists) against 191 Gladstonian Liberals and 85 Irish home rulers.

Gladstone resigns

Gladstone resigned, his party split, and Lord Salisbury became Prime Minister.

In 1892 the Liberals returned to government, and Gladstone became Prime Minister for the fourth time. In February 1893 he introduced his second home rule Bill.

This time it provided for continued Irish representation in the UK Parliament.

Fiercely contested

The Bill was fiercely contested at every stage, and only ruthless application of the Parliamentary timetable - known as the guillotine - enabled the government to force it through the Commons by September. The bitterest opposition came from the Ulster Unionists.

The Bill was overwhelmingly rejected in the House of Lords a week later.

Reluctantly, Gladstone accepted this defeat, but instead of resigning or calling a general election, he simply allowed the Bill to drop.