John Edward Redmond (1856-1918) was the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party from 1900 to 1918.
John Redmond was born in County Wexford in Ireland in 1856. A nationalist by birth, whose father had been a nationalist Irish MP he was educated by the Jesuits in Clongowes Wood, one of Ireland’s premier public schools, and then in Trinity College Dublin. He then studied in the Kings Inn in Dublin, becoming a barrister. However like his father he soon became involved in politics, being elected as an MP for New Ross for Charles Stewart Parnell’s Irish Parliamentary Party in 1880. He served as MP for New Ross 1880-1885, North Wexford 1885-1891 and finally for Waterford City, from 1891 until his death in 1918.
A devotee of Parnell, Redmond was passionately opposed to physical force nationalism, campaigning for Home Rule, a limited form of self government for Ireland within the United Kingdom. When the Irish Parliamentary Party split over Parnell’s long-term sexual relationship with the wife of a fellow MP, Redmond sided with his deposed leader. He led the pro-Parnellite rump of the split party from Parnell’s death in 1891 until the party itself healed its wounds and merged again in 1900, he being elected as its chairman (leader).
The budget crisis of 1909 led to the curbing of the power of the House of Lords, which had previously blocked the budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George. With the Lords’ veto gone, Irish home rule (which the Lords had blocked in 1894) again became a possibility, the odds increasing when the Irish Parliamentary Party came to hold the balance of power after the 1910 general election. In 1912, the government of Herbert Asquith introduced the Third Home Rule Bill to allow for Irish local self-government. As expected the Lords blocked the measure. However under the Parliament Act, 1911, its veto could if necessary be overridden in two years.
Home rule, however was passionately opposed by protestant Irish unionists, who feared domination in a overwhelmingly Roman Catholic state. Unionists also feared economic problems, namely that the predominantly agricultural Ireland would impose tariffs on British goods, leading to restrictions on the importation of industrial produce; the main location of Ireland’s industrial development was the north-east of the island, the area dominated by unionists. Some unionists leaders threatened the use of force to prevent home rule, helped by their supporters in the British opposition Conservative Party.
In an effort to avoid what he thought would be civil war, Asquith amended the Third Home Rule Bill to partition Ireland, separating the unionist areas, who for a limited period would continue to be governed by London, not Dublin. Though opposed to the partition, Redmond and his party reluctantly agreed to the termporary partition. Using the Parliament Act, the Lords was deemed to have passed the Bill; it received the Royal Assent in 1914. However with the outbreak of World War One, the Act was suspended, to come into force after what was expected to be a short war.
Redmond could have had every expectation of becoming head of a new Irish government, based in the old Parliament House in College Green. However it was not to be. He enthusiastically supported Irish participation in the Great War. His own brother, Willie Redmond, who was also an MP, signed up in the army; he was killed in action. However in Easter 1916, a rising took place by a small minority of republicans, under Padraig Pearse.
Though a military disaster, the Easter Rising helped fuel nationalistic sentiment, particularly when Britain, in an act of monumental stupidity, firstly executed the leaders of the Rising, perceiving them as traitors in war-time, and then tried to enforce conscription into the British army in Ireland. Though large numbers of Irish men had willingly joined up, enforced conscription created a backlash that boosted Sinn Féin, the small monarchist party that had played no part in the Rising, but which having been wrongly ‘blamed’ by Britain and the Irish media, was then taken over by surviving Rising leaders, under Eamon de Valera. In 1918, Sinn Féin won the vast majority of seats in the general election, and in a Unilateral Declaration of Independence, established the Irish Republic, with a new parliament, called the Assembly of Ireland or in gaelic Dáil Éireann.
Redmond, however never lived to see the collapse of the party he had given his life to. He died in March 1918 and was succeeded in the leadership by John Dillon. His home town of Wexford remained a strongly Redmondite area for decades afterwards. A later Irish Taoiseach (prime minister), John Bruton, hung a painting of Redmond, whom he regarded because of his commitment to non-violence, as his hero, in his office in Ireland’s Government Buildings.