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Irish_Stamp_First_Dail.jpg
Irish stamp comemorating the first meeting of Dáil Éireann in 1919.
This article is about Dáil Éireann as it existed from 1919-1922. For a general article on the body see: Dáil Éireann.

From 1919-1922 Dáil Éireann (English: Assembly of Ireland) was the revolutionary, unicameral parliament of the unilaterally declared Irish Republic of the same period. The Dáil was first formed by Sinn Féin MPs elected in the 1918 United Kingdom general election who refused to recognise the British parliament at Westminster and chose instead to unilaterally establish an independent legislature in Dublin. The convention of the First Dáil coincided with the beginning of the War of Independence.

The First Dáil was replaced by the Second Dáil in 1921. Both of these Dála existed outside of British law. The status of the Third Dáil of 1922-1923 was different. This was elected under the terms of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty as a provisional parliament to pave the way for the creation of an independent Irish state, and had the recognition of the British government. With the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, a new parliament called the Oireachtas was established, of which Dáil Eireann became the lower house.

Contents

History

First Dáil (1919-1921)

Main article: First Dáil

In the 1918 general election a large majority of the representatives returned in Ireland were members of the Sinn Féin party. In accordance with their manifest these representatives gathered in the Mansion House in January, 1919 for the first meeting of new assembly called "Dáil Éireann". Owing to many of its number being in gaol, only 26 TDs (MPs) were able to attend. At its first meeting the Dáil issued a Declaration of Independence, declared itself the parliament of the "Irish Republic" and adopted a short constitution.

On the same day, but in unconnected circumstances, two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were ambushed and killed by Irish Volunteers in Tipperary, acting on their own initiative. In this way the Irish War of Independence began. Shortly afterwards the Irish Volunteers were renamed to the "Irish Republican Army", a force theoretically under the control of the Dáil. In August the Dáil was declared illegal by the British government and thereafter met only intermittently and in secret.

Second Dáil (1921-1922)

Main article: Second Dáil

In May 1921 elections were called in Ireland to two new bodies established by the British government. These were the Parliaments of Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. These legislatures were brought into being by the 1920 Government of Ireland Act in a vain attempt to placate nationalists by granting Ireland a limited from of home rule. However, both parliaments were rejected and boycotted by Sinn Féin, who instead treated them as elections to Dáil Éireann.

The Second Dáil met in August of 1921 and in September it agreed to send envoys to negotiate a peace settlement with the British government. These envoys returned from England with the Anglo-Irish Treaty which, after prolonged and acrimonious debate, was narrowly ratified by the Dáil in December.

Third Dáil (1922-1923)

Main article: Third Dáil

To implement the Anglo-Irish Treaty the Third Dáil was elected in September, 1922. This Dáil was not recognised under British law as "Dáil Éireann" but merely as a provisional assembly. Unlike previous Dála, the Third Dáil did not include members elected in Northern Ireland. The election was effectively a referendum on the Anglo-Irish Treaty but the pro-treaty members of Sinn Féin won a majority of seats. After this result the anti-treaty faction refused to recognise the new assembly and the Irish Civil War followed shortly afterwards.

In October, acting as a constituent assembly, the Third Dáil ratified the Constitution of the Irish Free State. The new state was officially established in December and thereafter the Third Dáil served, not as a unicameral parliament, but rather as the lower house of new parliament called the Oireachtas. It was dissolved in August 1923.

Constitutional and symbolic role

Until the conclusion of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 it was the mission of Dáil Éireann to create a parallel system of government in Ireland that would gain the allegiance of the public and eventually surplant the British state. Much success was achieved in this goal. For example the Dáil was able to persuade many Irish people to boycott the British judicial system and instead seek justice in a network of Dáil Courts. Nonetheless, the Irish Republic was not quite a true de facto state and received no support among the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland.

However, for its members the role of Dáil Éireann was symbolic as well as concrete. By winning the 1918 general election they were able to claim that the Dáil was the legitimate parliament of Ireland, and that from the Dáil they derived legal authority to wage war against British rule. This was not merely an abstract philosophical point. At this time many Irish people were devout Catholics whose church taught that war was sinful unless waged by a legitimated authority and for a just cause. Part of the reason for convening Dáil Éireann was therefore to satisfy the requirements of Jus Ad Bellum and to make it easier to win the support of both clergymen and the general public. The Catholic Church had been outspoken in its condemnation of the IRA during the war.

The Dáil Constitution adopted in 1919 was a brief, provisional document that placed few limitations on the power of the Dáil and could, in any case, be amended by a simple vote. Under the constitution the executive of the republic consisted of a cabinet led by an official called both the "President of Dáil Éireann" and the "Príomh Áire". In 1921 the constitution was changed to rename this official "President of the Republic" and make him head of state.

At all times the Republic's executive consisted of members of the Dáil and was theoretically answerable to it. The most important tasks of ministers were to command the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and, during 1921, to communicate and conduct negotiations with the British government. While notionally answerable to the cabinet, in practice individual IRA units enjoyed a high degree of autonomy.

After the election of the Third Dáil in 1922 the role of the Dáil changed substantially. Under the Anglo-Irish Treaty this body was intended to prepare the ground for the creation of an independent state called the Irish Free State. Powers were therefore progressively transferred to it from the British administration over a short period. The Third Dáil also had the role of acting as a "constituent assembly" to adopt the new Free State constitution.

While, as far as the Dáil was concerned, the Irish Republic and its cabinet continued to exist right up until the Irish Free State came into force, under British law the Third Dáil was charged with electing an executive called the "Provisional Government". For a time, until they were effectively merged, this Provisional Government and the old republican administration existed side by side, with the same membership.

Today the First and Second Dála continue to have symbolic importance for the most radical Irish republicans. The general election of 1918 was the last occasion on which a single general election occurred across the whole island of Ireland and is seen by some republicans as granting a mandate for violent resistance to the British rule in Northern Ireland that is unextinguished even to this day.

Because the Third Dáil and its successors have not been elected on an all-Ireland basis, in republican ideology they have not been legitimate. In fact the Second Dáil is deemed never to have been dissolved. In militant republican theory, those members of the Second Dáil who rejected the Anglo-Irish Treaty are believed to have granted the group that is today the Provisional IRA explicit authorisation for its campaign.

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