The Union with Ireland, 1800

The 1798 rebellion in Ireland brought to a head British government concerns over the state of constitutional relations between the two countries. After negotiations and parliamentary proceedings at Westminster and in Dublin, where considerable bribery and corruption were deployed, a legislative union was agreed. Under the ensuing legislation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland came into force on 1 January 1801, with the Irish MPs and peers joining the 1796 Parliament, in what now became the first UK Parliament. The expected measure of Catholic emancipation foundered on the rock of royal opposition and William Pitt the younger soon resigned as prime minister.

The granting of legislative independence to Ireland in 1782 marked the start of what later generations would refer to as ‘Grattan’s Parliament’. In theory, the Irish Parliament no longer had to submit draft legislation (‘heads of bills’) to the Irish and British privy councils before being given permission to proceed with passing acts; in practice, it was still a secondary legislature and had to defer to the combined wishes of the ministry in London and its executive head in Ireland, the lord lieutenant. This meant that political tension continued to exist between the two countries, and Pitt had already given some thought to the idea of a union.

The rebellion that broke out in May 1798 and took some time to quell caused great instability in Ireland. At a time of inte