a1 University of Ulster, Magee College, Northland Road, Londonderry BT48 7JL
The year 1808 does not feature with any greater prominence in the history of Catholic relief legislation than it does generally in Irish history. It was an uneventful year for Anglo-Irish relations, and for the Irish Catholic community in particular it was – on the surface at least – a period of embarrassment, division and failure. The veto controversy, which dominated Catholic politics in 1808, was productive of mutual misunderstanding and was to cast a shadow over the later proceedings of Catholic interest groups. But the significance of the dispute, hidden even to the protagonists, lay in the very breadth and depth of the misunderstanding. With the veto controversy began the gradual loss of confidence in the traditional champions of Catholic relief, the equally gradual transfer of the initiative to new champions and, all unseen, the first faint crack in the union of Britain and Ireland. It is the purpose of this paper to analyse the causes and course of an incident which was fraught with such long-term serious consequences.