Irish Parliamentary Party
Now at his height Parnell pressed Gladstone to resolve the Irish Question with Home Rule, but the Liberals were divided. Parnell then sided with the Conservatives. Gladstone's second government fell, and Lord Salisbury's Conservatives formed an administration. Both parties now courted Parnell.
The Irish Party retained 85 seats and, in the years up to 1889, centred itself around the formidable figure of Parnell, who continued to pursue Home Rule, striving to reassure English voters that it would be of no threat to them. During that period, the National League was out of contact with him and primarily concerned with its own vested interests, keeping up local agitation during the Plan of Campaign to further the not-fully-resolved land question, and leading Liberal voters to slowly increase their support for Home Rule.
Parnell worked untiringly between Ireland and Britain making speeches for support which he actually got from the (IRB) Fenians who rallied to him. He was married in June 1891 to Mrs O'Shea. After an election tour in the west of Ireland, his health deteriorated seriously, and he died in October in their Brighton home. His funeral in Dublin was attended by 200,000 people. In his speeches he was convinced of an Ireland completely separated from Britain, but was ambiguous, never committing himself nor distancing himself, from the use of physical-force.
The unresolved land reform situation was again the mainspring for renewed political activity. William O'Brien had withdrawn from parliament to Mayo and in 1898, driven by the plight of the farming community's need for more land, formed together with Davitt a new land movement, the United Irish League (UIL). It quickly spread first in the west, the following year nationwide like the old Land League and attracted members from all factions of the two split parties, O'Brien threatening to displace them and take them both over.
During the previous years many notable Acts of social legislation were pressed for and passed in Ireland's interest:
This prospect after 40 years of struggle was greeted optimistically, even when self-government was initially limited to running Irish affairs. But for Unionists, convinced the Union with the United Kingdom was economically best for Ireland, and for Protestants, now that Devlin's paramilitary AOH organisation had saturated the entire island, fearing a Church dominated nationalist government, it was a disaster.
Redmond and his IPP nationalists, as later those who succeeded them in 1919, had little or no knowledge of Belfast, underestimating Unionist resistance as a bluff, insisting "Ulster will have to follow". William O’Brien who in 1893 worked closely on passing the Second Home Rule Bill, warned to no avail, that if adequate provisions were not made for Ulster, All-Ireland self-government would never be achieved.
The Irish Parliamentary Party was for the first time confronted with double opponents from both Unionists and Sinn Féin (the Irish Labour Party agreed to abstain so as not to complicate matters for Sinn Féin by introducing socialist proposals). In the past the IPP only faced opposition from candidates at conventions within the Home Rule movement. It never had to compete a nationwide election, so that the party branches and organisation had slowly declined. In most constituencies the new young local Sinn Féin organisation controlled the electoral scene well in advance of the election. As a result, in 25 constituencies the IPP did not contest the seats, and Sinn Féin candidates were returned unopposed.
After the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the moderate Home Rule party was effectively airbrushed out of official Irish history, but it left its mark in politics on both sides of the border. The new Sinn Féin party that emerged in 1917 was heavily influenced by its Home Rule predecessors. Perhaps obliviously Sinn Féiners adopted and adapted the tactics of their Home Rule opponents, and soon beat the Redmondites at their own game. They quickly came to represent and cherish old local customs associated with the Home Rule party, absorbing their habits and skills and passing them on to its successors, Cumann na nGaedheal/Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the IPP was the introduction to Irish society of a parliamentary constitutional tradition and all that went with it – a fully up and running local government administration with its diverse institutions, which had rooted itself more deeply than anyone could have imagined into the life of the country. The party had above all (in the era prior to 1914) contributed in its prime to the political maturity of the nation and to the transformation of its society.