The Constitution of the Irish Free State (Irish: Bunreacht Shaorstát Eireann) is adopted by Act of Dáil Éireann sitting as a constituent assembly on October 25, 1922. In accordance with Article 83 of the Constitution, the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922 of the British Parliament, which comes into effect upon receiving the royal assent on December 5, 1922, provides that the Constitution will come into effect upon the issue of a Royal Proclamation, which is done on December 6, 1922. In 1937 the Constitution of the Irish Free State is replaced by the modern Constitution of Ireland following a referendum.
Shortly after the British evacuate their troops from Dublin Castle in January 1922, Michael Collins sets about establishing a committee to draft a new constitution for the nascent Irish Free State which would come into being in December 1922. Collins chairs the first meeting of that committee and at that point is its chairman, but is assassinated before the constitution is finalised. Darrell Figgis, the vice-chairman becomes acting Chair. The committee produces three draft texts, designated A, B and C. Draft A is signed by Figgis, James McNeill and John O’Byrne. Draft B is signed by James G. Douglas, C.J. France and Hugh Kennedy and it differs substantially from draft A only in proposals regarding the Executive. Draft C is the most novel of the three. It is signed by Alfred O’Rahilly and James Murnaghan, and provides for the possibility of representation for the people of the northern counties in the Dáil in the event of that area opting out of the proposed free state.
On March 31, 1922, an act of the United Kingdom Parliament called the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922 is passed. It gives the force of law to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which had been negotiated between the British government and Irish leaders in 1921. It also provides by for the election of a body to be called the “House of the Parliament,” sometimes called the “Provisional Parliament,” to which the Provisional Government establishes under that act will be responsible. The act gives no power to the Provisional Parliament to enact a constitution for the Irish Free State. In due course, “the House of the Parliament,” provided for by that act, is elected and meets on September 9, 1922, and calling itself Dáil Éireann, proceeds to sit as a constituent assembly for the settlement of what becomes the Constitution of the Irish Free State.
The Constitution establishes a parliamentary system of government under a form of constitutional monarchy, and contains guarantees of certain fundamental rights. It is intended that the constitution would be a rigid document that, after an initial period, could be amended only by referendum. However, amendments are made to the Constitution’s amendment procedure, so that all amendments can be and are in fact made by a simple Act of the Oireachtas (parliament).
Following a change of government in 1932 and the adoption of the Statute of Westminster 1931, a series of amendments progressively removes many of the provisions that had been required by the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
(Pictured: The Constitution Committee meeting at the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin, 1922)