Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Enhanced British Parliamentary Papers on Ireland, 1801-1922 :: Government Politics Political Essays

Enhanced British Parliamentary Papers on Ireland, 1801-1922 The British Parliamentary Papers on Ireland (BPPI) are an indispensable primary source for virtually every historian (and many non-historians) working in most fields of Irish history, and the history of Anglo-Irish relations, during the period of the Union (1801-1922). We have identified some 13,700 official publications relating to Ireland from the House of Commons[1] Sessional Indexes for this period, ranging in scale from short bills of a few pages and reports, to the massive social inquiries with volumes of minutes of evidence exemplified by the decennial censuses, the Poor Inquiry Commission (1836) and Devon Commission (1845) reports, each of which were multi-volume documents covering thousands of pages. Subjects covered by BPPI range from government, politics and administration, to finance, agriculture and industry, communications, emigration, social conditions, poor relief and health, population, law and order, education, cultural institutions, religion and language. The types of evidence contained are extremely varied, from statistical series and accounts to lightly- or unedited transcripts of emigrants’ letters and witness interviews from across the social spectrum. Obviously the BPPI are elite documents, created by the Government, Parliament and state agencies for the purposes of governance, administration, and the creation of official knowledge. This naturally implies an official bias in what was thought relevant of observation, what data was collected, and what was selected for publication. The principal value of the BPPI might thus be taken to lie in what they tell us about governing knowledge, preoccupations, strategies and ideologies – all crucial in themselves for an understanding of the British-Irish relationship in the period between the Act of Union and the Irish Revolution and the partition of the island in 1919-22. But the BPPI can also provide us with much more than the ‘official view’. British governance of Ireland took place in the context of executive responsibility to Parliament, a body which contained growing numbers of oppositional and nationalist Irish members who could demand returns of official data and serve on committees and commissions of inquiry, and beyond Parliament (however imperfectly) to an Irish as well as a British public opinion, increasingly conscious through the burgeoning popular press of the proceedings of Parliament. Irish newspapers, for example, carried not only verbatim accounts of parliamentary debates, but long extracts from the BPPI, and debated their findings and implications in editorials. The BPPI were very much part of the public life of 19th and early 20th-century Ireland.

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