Category: Archive

Peer today, gone tomorrow

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — A centuries-long tradition of British hereditary peers living in the Republic and holding the right to seats in the House of Lords will be swept away when the current session of the Westminster parliament ends on Thursday.

Only one hereditary peer who lives south of the border tried to maintain the link. The third baron Kilbracken, 79, stood as a Labor candidate in a complicated election system that allowed 75 out of about 750 hereditaries to stay on in a transitional House of Lords.

A distinguished journalist and champion of Irish causes, Lord Kilbracken — John Raymond Godley — who lives in Killegar, Co. Cavan, got only three votes.

Kilbracken worked as a reporter for the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Express and later as a foreign correspondent.

He has been a champion of many Irish causes in the House of Lords. In 1972 he renounced his British citizenship in the wake of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry and he handed back the Distinguished Service Cross he was awarded as a fighter pilot during World War II.

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Among peers with homes here who didn’t stand in last week’s election were Lord Altamount, owner of Westport House, Co. Mayo, with its only privately owned zoo in the country; the Duke of Devonshire, owner of Lismore Castle in County Waterford, and Lord Revelstoke, owner of Lambay Island off Dublin.

Thursday will also mark the end of Lord George Bingham’s chances of ever taking a seat when he inherits the Earldom of Lucan from his missing father. Lord "Lucky" Lucan vanished in November 1974 after the murder in London of the family nanny Sandra Rivett.

He left behind a string of gambling debts and confusion surrounding his tenants in Castlebar, Co. Mayo.

Another unsuccessful candidate in the election was the fourth Earl of Iveagh, who recently sold his Farmleigh mansion off Phoenix Park in Dublin to the government for £23 million. The Guinness heir got 40 votes from his rule-by-right-of-birth colleagues.

His father was the only man to have held seats in both the Lords and the Seanad when he was appointed as one of the Taoiseach’s 11 nominees by Liam Cosgrave.

Slane-based "rock" peer, Lord Mount Charles might also have created a similar record involving the Dail. He unsuccessfully stood as Fine Gael candidate in Meath in 1992.

His Irish earldom did not allow him to attend the Lords but on the death of his father, the seventh Marquess of Conyngham, he will also inherit the UK title of Baron Minster. It would have conferred on him the right to a Lords seat.

"I am effectively extinct," Lord Mount Charles said,

His father never took his Lords seat. His grandfather did but never spoke. "You have to go back two generations if you want to find an active involvement by my family."

He regards it as a sad occasion. Irish-based peers may have seemed anachronistic but they had a unique perspective of both countries and the relationships between them.

"Despite the arguments put forward that the hereditaries were really just a bunch of Tory buffers I have always seen the House of Lords as being, in a sense, independent. It is often forgotten that it threw out 290 bills during the 18 years of Tory rule."

Remaining on as one of 10 hereditary peers made life peers under a special deal with the Labor government is Lord Longford, who sits in the British upper house using his UK title, Lord Pakenham.

Thursday will be the last step in centuries of steady decline in the power and privilege of British aristocracy in Ireland and their right of rule due to their bloodline.

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