Irish question

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Concept.png Irish question Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
A phrase used mainly by members of the British ruling classes from the early 19th century until the 1920s. The solutions ranged from genocide to assimilation.

The Irish Question was a phrase used mainly by members of the British ruling classes from the early 19th century until the 1920s. It was used to describe Irish nationalism and the calls for Irish independence.

The phrase came to prominence as a result of the Acts of Union 1800 which merged the Kingdom of Ireland with the Kingdom of Great Britain to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and merged the Parliament of Ireland into a single governing body with the Parliament of Great Britain, the Parliament of the United Kingdom based in Westminster. Doing so forced the British political class to pay attention to the state of Ireland and its people.

In 1844, a future British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, defined the Irish Question:

A dense population, in extreme distress, inhabit an island where there is an Established Church, which is not their Church, and a territorial aristocracy the richest of whom live in foreign capitals. Thus you have a starving population, an absentee aristocracy, and an alien Church; and in addition the weakest executive in the world. That is the Irish Question.'


In 1886, with the introduction of the first Home Rule Bill in the House of Commons, the term 'the Anglo-Irish Quarrel'[2] gained favour and became more acceptable than the implied condescension of 'the Irish Question'.

Issues relating to Northern Ireland since the 1920s are often referred to as either "The Troubles" or "The Irish Problem".

The Irish question affected British politics much the way that the nationalities problem affected Austria-Hungary. Normal British domestic issues could not be adequately addressed because of the political divisions created by the oppression of Ireland. The Liberal Party split over Home Rule, with the unionist faction leaving to create the Liberal Unionist Party, ceding control to the Conservatives, thus hurting the cause of further social and political reform.

In 2017, the term was also used to describe issues associated with the UK-Irish border and Brexit.[3][4] The term Irish border question has been used more widely in recent years.


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:The Brutal Legacy of Bloody Sunday is a Powerful Warning to Those Hoping to Save BrexitArticle19 March 2019Patrick CockburnWhat we are seeing is the two most divisive issues in modern British history coming together in a toxic blend: these are Brexit and the Irish question.


  1. The State of Ireland, Hansard, 16 February 1844
  2. The Anglo-Irish Quarrel: A Plea for Peace, John O'Connor Power, London, 1886
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