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The First Dáil (Irish: An Chéad Dáil) was Dáil Éireann as it convened from 19191921. In 1919 candidates who had been elected in the Westminster elections of 1918 refused to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assembled as a unicameral, revolutionary parliament called "Dáil Éireann". The establishment of the First Dáil occurred on the same day as the outbreak of the Anglo-Irish War. After elections in 1921 the First Dáil was succeeded by the Second Dáil of 19211922.

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First Dáil
Laurence Ginnell (first from left, front row),
Michael Collins (second from left, front row),
Cathal Brugha (third from left, front row)
Arthur Griffith (fourth from left, front row)
Eamon de Valera (centre, front row),
Count Plunkett (fourth from right, front row)
Eoin MacNeill (third from right, front row)
W.T. Cosgrave (second from right, front row)
Kevin O'Higgins (first on right, third row)
Contents

General election of 1918

Main article: 1918 general election in Ireland

In 1918 the whole of Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom and was represented in the British Parliament by 105 MPs. From 1882–1918 most Irish MPs were members of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) which favoured limited home rule for Ireland, achieved by a peaceful campaign for reform. This tactic managed to get a home rule law on the statute book but the implementation of this law was shelved with the outbreak of the First World War. In the meantime the more radical Sinn Féin party grew in strength.

Sinn Féin's founder, Arthur Griffith, believed that nationalists should emulate the means by which Hungarian nationalists had achieved partial independence from Austria. In 1867, led by Ferenc Deák, Hungarian representatives had boycotted the Imperial parliament in Vienna and unilaterally established their own legislature in Budapest. The Austrian government had eventually become reconciled to this new state of affairs which became known as an Ausgleich or "compromise". Members of Sinn Féin also, however, supported achieving separation from Britain by means of an armed uprising if necessary.

Between the Easter Rising of 1916 and the 1918 general election Sinn Féin's popularity was increased dramatically by the execution of most of the leaders of the 1916 rebels and by a clumsy attempt to introduce military conscription in Ireland. The party was also aided by the 1918 Representation of the People Act which increased the Irish electorate from around 700 thousand to about two million.

Voting in most constituencies occurred on 14th December and elections were held almost entirely under the traditional 'first-past-the-post' system1. In total Sinn Féin won 73 out of the 105 Irish seats in the Westminster parliament. Unionists won 26 seats, all but three of which were in the six counties that today form Northern Ireland, and the IPP won six. Twenty-five of the elected Sinn Féin candidates were unopposed and therefore returned without a ballot. Despite the large number of candidates elected unopposed, and evidence of intimidation and electoral fraud on the part of Sinn Féin supporters, the elections were seen as a landslide victory for the party.

Once elected the Sinn Féin MPs chose to follow through with their plan of abstention from the Westminster parliament and instead assembled as a revolutionary parliament they called "Dáil Éireann": the Irish for "Assembly of Ireland". Unionists and members of the IPP refused to recognise the Dáil, and three Sinn Féin candidates had been elected in two different constituencies, so the First Dáil, when it met, consisted of a total of seventy Deputies or "TDs" 2.

Mansion House meeting

The first meeting of Dáil Éireann occurred on 21st January, 1919 in the Round Room of the Mansion House: the residence of the Lord Mayor in Dublin. At this first, highly symbolic meeting the proceedings of the Dáil were conducted largely through Irish. The Dáil elected Cathal Brugha as its Ceann Comhairle (chairman or speaker). A number of short documents were then adopted. These were the:

The Declaration of Independence asserted that the Dáil was the parliament of a sovereign state called the "Irish Republic", and so the Dáil established a cabinet called the Ministry or "Aireacht", and a elected a prime minister known both as the "Príomh Aire" and the "President of Dáil Éireann". The first, temporary president was Cathal Brugha. He was succeeded, in April, by Eamon de Valera.

Anglo-Irish War

On precisely the same day as the Dáil's first meeting two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were ambushed and killed at Soloheadbeg, in Tipperary, by members of the Irish Volunteers. This incident had not been ordered by the Dáil but the course of events soon drove the Dáil to recognise the Volunteers as the army of the Irish Republic and the ambush as an act of war against Great Britain. The Volunteers therefore changed their name, in August, to the Irish Republican Army. The Soloheadbeg incident is thus regarded as the opening act of the Anglo-Irish War. From its first meeting the Dáil also set about attempting to secure de facto authority for the Irish Republic throughout the country. This included the establishment of a parallel judicial system known as the Dáil Courts.

Shortly after its establishment the Dáil was declared illegal by the British authorities and thereafter met only intermittently and at various locations. The First Dáil held its last meeting on 10th May, 1921. After elections on 24th May the Dáil was succeeded by the Second Dáil which sat for the first time on 16th August.

Legacy

The First Dáil and the general election of 1918 have come to occupy a central place in Irish republican mythology. The 1918 general election was the last occasion on which the entire island of Ireland voted in a single election held on a single day until elections to the European Parliament over sixty years later. The landslide victory for Sinn Féin was seen as an overwhelming endorsement of the principle of a united independent Ireland. Until recently many republican paramilitary groups, such the Provisional IRA, often claimed that their campaigns derived legitimacy from this 1918 mandate.

Today the name Dáil Éireann is used for the lower house of the modern Oireachtas (parliament) of the Republic of Ireland. Many commentators, including, recently, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, have suggested that despite the ambitious aspirations of the First Dáil, Irish independence only "really" began in 1922 with the foundation of the Irish Free State. Nonetheless, successive Dála (plural for Dáil) continue to be numbered from the "First Dáil" convened in 1919. The current Dáil, elected in 2002, is, as a result, the "Twenty-ninth Dáil".

Prominent members

Footnotes

  1. The exception to the use of this system were the constituencies of Dublin University and Cork City. The two Unionist representatives returned for the University of Dublin (Trinity College) were elected under the Single Transferable Vote, and the two Sinn Féin candidates elected for Cork City were returned under the Bloc voting system.
  2. The three members elected for two constituencies were Arthur Griffith, Eamon de Valera and Liam Mellows.

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