The controversy over Irish Home Rule was undoubtedly the most serious of the domestic problems with which Asquith’s Liberal government was faced between 1911 and 1914, dwarfing even those of women’s suffrage and labour unrest. By the summer of 1914 Ireland appeared to be on the verge of a violent civil war between supporters and opponents of the government’s Home Rule Bill, a conflict which threatened to destabilise the British political system itself. The ‘Irish question’ was at the same time part of a more complex ‘crisis of nationalism’ confronting Britain’s imperial state at home and abroad. To understand the full significance of the divisions over the future of Ireland it is necessary not merely to study events in Ireland or the history of Anglo-Irish relations but to place these in the context of political developments on the British mainland and elsewhere, particularly the deepening rift between the Liberal and Unionist parties, the growth of a ‘Radical Right’ and the worsening international situation which led, in August 1914, to the outbreak of the First World War.
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