Standing orders and precedents in the Irish House of Commons in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

Today’s blog from Glenn McKee follows his paper given at our Parliaments, Politics and People Seminar at the IHR last week. Below Glenn summarizes his paper ‘Standing orders and precedents in the Irish House of Commons in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’…

Irish House of Commons
Irish House of Commons 1790

The paper examined how the Irish House of Commons used precedents and standing orders in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the seventeenth century the Irish House not only looked to its own history but also unambiguously to Westminster for precedents and practices, which were imported as rules and orders. The 1690s saw a distinct change. In the face of growing ‘patriot’ sentiment, with its assertion of the longevity and independence of the Irish Parliament, public citation of English precedents became problematic, acutely so since the cutting edge of constitutional and procedural developments was in London. Instead, the Irish House resorted to bald assertions of its ‘undoubted rights’ and the ‘constitution of parliament’, or promulgated changes for which Dublin had no past precedents by standing order―itself a Westminster term. Paradoxically, the goal was to assert its independence by making the Irish House of Commons as similar to Westminster as possible. From 1695 to 1715 standing orders were used by the Irish House to assert its claims, especially to the control of finance, and to regulate and improve its integrity and efficiency of its operation. The stimulus and conduit for change were a growing print culture (both Dublin and Westminster published their Votes comprehensively from the reign of William III), the shared political alignment of politics in Westminster and Dublin, and contacts between politicians and parliamentary officials.

Robert RochfortAlan BrodrickWilliam Connolly

Speakers of the Irish House of Commons: Robert Rochfort, Alan Brodrick, William Conolly

After 1715 the pace slowed. Standing orders became more outward facing (for example, regulating parliamentary elections) rather than renovating the House’s internal procedures. Perceptions about the operations of standing orders diverged from Westminster. By the 1730s Members in Dublin assumed that their standing orders had a life no longer than a parliament, and for a time in the 1750s for only a session, and required revival. Debates about standing orders were ill-informed, tendentious and overlaid with ambiguity about the place of Westminster’s procedures. The gravitational pull of Westminster procedures did not, however, diminish during the eighteenth century. The institutional divergence between Dublin and Westminster was so small that when the Irish constitutional changes of 1782-83 (removing the main constraints on the Irish Parliament imposed by Poynings’ Law) were made, the extensive procedural changes that followed were adopted silently without a new package of orders. The constitutional changes also removed a major necessity for discrete procedures. Despite setting up two committees after 1782 to review standing orders, the Irish House of Commons established neither a definitive compendium nor an authoritative arbiter of its rules. The House produced no equivalent of Westminster’s Speaker Onslow making lofty and rigorous judgments on procedures

Henry BoyleJohn PonsonbyEdmund PeryJohn Foster

Speakers of the Irish House of Commons (continued): Henry Boyle, John Posonby, Edmund Pery and John Foster

The adoption of Westminster practices was not of itself a new departure. The Irish House had looked to Westminster since the sixteenth century. This attitude was deep-rooted. Precedents, standing orders and parliamentary manuals provided vehicles all heading in the same direction, which gathered speed after 1782. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the development, codification and publication of procedures flowed from Westminster. While the à la carte approach of the Irish House of Commons to Westminster procedures persisted to a degree until the Union, all the items on the available menu were cooked at Westminster.


The last seminar of term will be this evening at 5.15pm in Senate House (south block) Rm 243 (note this is different from our usual room). Robin Eagles, Editor of the House of Lords 1715-90 section will give his paper, ‘Old and unfit for other service? Maintaining the fabric of Parliament c.1660-1760’ 

To stay updated on our seminar programme see the IHR website.


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