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More seats for Unionism in reformed Parliament?
Map of the parliamentary boroughs of Belfast. In Lonsdale's plan Belfast would increase four MPs to 10. Photo: Boundary Commission Report (1917) via Internet Archive

More seats for Unionism in reformed Parliament?

London, 24 October 1917 - An amendment proposed to the forthcoming Electoral Bill would see unionists gain seats in Ireland.

The amendment, put forward by Sir John Lonsdale, the Unionist MP for Mid-Armagh, envisages 101 Irish representatives in Westminster, with Ulster gaining four extra seats at the expense of the other provinces.

The Lonsdale plan would see Belfast increase from four MPs to 10; Dublin from four to eight. The plan is based, Lonsdale says, on the standard one member for every 40,000 inhabitants as compared to 70,000 in Great Britain.

However, under the proposal, the boroughs of Newry, Galway, Derry, Limerick, Waterford and Kilkenny would lose their separate representation. 

Already, the proposals have given rise to accusations of unionist gerrymandering. 

Letter from Anna M. Haslam on behalf of the Irish Women's Suffrage and Local Government Association expressing their concerns that Ireland will be excluded from the Representation of the People Bill. (Image: National Archives of Ireland, CSO RP 1917 18085)

The Representation of the People Bill is one of the most significant pieces of legislation under consideration of the Westminster Parliament. The Bill proposes several major democratic reforms, including the extension of the franchise to women. In total, it would enlarge the electorate by more than 6 million voters. A consequence of the expanded electorate is the necessity to examine the distribution of seats in the House of Commons.

The matter remains an open one, although the Home Secretary stated for Ireland to be included in the Representation of the People Bill, a measure of redistribution would be necessary. 

John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, has objected to redistribution in Ireland as the matter was under consideration at the Irish Convention. However, he did not feel that this provided sufficient justification to block Parliament applying the scheme of electoral reform equally for all parts of the UK.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.