| Personal and legislative unions of the
constituent countries of the United Kingdom
The Act of Union (1800) (Irish: Acht an Aontais 1800), also sometimes called Act of Union (1801), was a set of complementary Acts which merged the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
Before these Acts Ireland had been in personal union with England since 1541, when the Irish Parliament had passed the Crown of Ireland Act 1542, proclaiming King Henry VIII of England to be King of Ireland. Both Ireland and England had been in personal union with Scotland since the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Both Acts remain in force (with amendments) in the United Kingdom.
In 1707, England and Scotland - thitherto a personal union - were merged into the Kingdom of Great Britain, while Ireland was left out. In July 1707, each House of the Parliament of Ireland passed a congratulatory address to Queen Anne, praying that "May God put it in your royal heart to add greater strength and lustre to your crown, by a still more comprehensive Union". The British government did not respond to this, and an equal union between Great Britain and Ireland was not considered until the 1790s. When the union was finally passed in 1800, the British drove the process.
Each Act had to be passed in the Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliament of Ireland. Contemporary laws excluded all non-Anglicans from membership of the Parliament of Ireland. Over 90% of the Irish population belonged to other faiths - most notably the majority religion Roman Catholicism - and were therefore banned until Catholic Emancipation in and around 1829. Furthermore, until the 1790s, Catholics had even been denied the requisite property rights to vote. So the Irish Parliament was the central institution in what had become known by the 1780s as the Protestant Ascendancy. It was also responsible for a series of anti-Catholic discriminatory laws known as the Penal Laws. It had been given a large measure of independence by the Constitution of 1782, after centuries of being subordinated to the English (and later, British) Parliament. Thus, many members had guarded its autonomy jealously, including Henry Grattan, and had rejected a previous motion for Union in 1799. However, a concerted campaign by the British government overturned this reluctance.
From the perspective of Great Britain, the union was required because of the uncertainty that followed the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and the French Revolution of 1789, which inspired the rebels; if Ireland adopted Catholic Emancipation, willingly or not, a Roman Catholic parliament could break away from Britain and ally with the French, while the same measure within a united kingdom would exclude that possibility. Also the Irish and British parliaments, when creating a regency during King George III's "madness", gave the Prince Regent different powers. These considerations led Great Britain to decide to merge the two kingdoms and their parliaments.
The final passage of the Act in the Irish Parliament was achieved with substantial majorities, achieved in part according to contemporary documents through bribery, namely the awarding of peerages and honours to critics to get their votes. Whereas the first attempt had been defeated in the Irish House of Commons by 109 votes against to 104 for, the second vote in 1800 produced a result of 158 to 115.
The Acts ratified eight articles which had been previously agreed by the British and Irish Parliaments:
- Articles I–IV dealt with the political aspects of the Union which included Ireland having over 100 MPs representing it in the united parliament, meeting in the Palace of Westminster. Ireland gained 100 seats in the House of Commons and 32 seats in the House of Lords: 28 representative peers elected for life, and four clergymen of the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, chosen for each session.
- Article V created a united Protestant church, the United Church of England and Ireland, but confirmed the independence of the Church of Scotland.
- Article VI created a customs union, with the exception that customs duties on certain British and Irish goods passing between the two countries would remain for 10 years (a consequence of having trade depressed by the ongoing war with revolutionary France).
- Article VII stated that Ireland would have to contribute two-seventeenths towards the expenditure of the United Kingdom. The figure was a ratio of Irish to British foreign trade.
- Article VIII formalised the legal and judicial aspects of the Union.
Part of the attraction of the Union for many Irish Catholics was the promise of Catholic Emancipation, thereby allowing Roman Catholic MPs (which had not been allowed in the Irish Parliament). However this was blocked by King George III who argued that emancipating Roman Catholics would breach his Coronation Oath, and was not realised until 1829.
Union Flag Edit
The flag created as a consequence of the merger of the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland in 1800 still remains the flag of the United Kingdom. Called the Union Flag (or "Union Jack" when flown on a jackstaff), it combined the flags of England and Scotland with a "St Patrick's Cross" to represent Ireland. However, Wales is not included on the Union Flag, as when the original Union Flag was devised Wales was considered an integral part of the Kingdom of England.
- ↑ Welcome parliament.uk, accessed 7 October, 2008
- ↑ Act of Union 1707, Article 2.
- ↑ Matching Legislation - Statute Law Database
- ↑ The British Act is officially titled Union with Ireland Act 1800 (1800 c.67 39 and 40 Geo 3), the Irish Act Act of Union (Ireland) 1800 (1800 c.38 40 Geo 3).
- ↑ Republic of Ireland - Statute Law Revision (Pre-Union Irish Statutes) Act 1962
- ↑ Republic of Ireland - Statute Law Revision Act 1983, "Repeals".
- ↑ Home - Statute Law Database
- ↑ Journals of the Irish Commons, vol. iii. p. 421
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 Alan J. Ward, The Irish Constitutional Tradition p.28.
- Ward, Alan J. The Irish Constitutional Tradition: Responsible Government and Modern Ireland 1782-1992. Irish Academic Press, 1994.
- Lalor, Brian (ed). The Encyclopaedia of Ireland. Gill & Macmillan, Dublin, Ireland, 2003. ISBN 0-7171-3000-2, p7
- Act of Union - Virtual Library
- Acts of Union - complete original text
- Ireland 1798-1921
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