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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Seán MacBride, Politician & Chief of Staff of the IRA

Seán MacBride, Irish government minister, prominent international politician, and a former Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies in Dublin at the age of 83 on January 15, 1988.

MacBride is born in Paris on January 26, 1904. He is the son of Major John MacBride and Maud Gonne. After his father’s execution for his participation in the Easter Rising of 1916, MacBride is sent to school at Mount St. Benedict’s, Gorey, County Wexford in Ireland. In 1919, at the age of 15, he joins the Irish Volunteers, which fights as part of the Irish Republican Army, and takes part in the Irish War of Independence. He is imprisoned by the Irish Free State but is released in 1924 and resumes his IRA activities. He returns to Dublin in 1927 and becomes the Director of Intelligence of the IRA.

Toward the end of the 1920s, after many supporters have left the IRA to join Fianna Fáil, some members start pushing for a more left-wing agenda. After the IRA Army Council votes down the idea, MacBride launches a new movement, Saor Éire (“Free Ireland”), in 1931. Although it is a non-military organisation, Saor Éire is declared unlawful along with the IRA, Cumann na mBan, and nine other organizations.

In 1936, MacBride becomes Chief of Staff of the IRA after Moss Twomey is sent to prison for three years. At the time, the movement is in a state of disarray, with conflicts between several factions and personalities. In 1937, he is called to the bar and then resigns from the IRA when the Constitution of Ireland is enacted later that year. As a barrister, he frequently defends IRA political prisoners, but is not unsuccessful in stopping the execution of Charlie Kerins in 1944 who is convicted of killing Garda Detective Dennis O’Brien in 1942. In 1946, during the inquest into the death of Seán McCaughey, he embarrasses the authorities by forcing them to admit that the conditions in Portlaoise Prison are inhumane.

In 1946, MacBride founds the republican/socialist party Clann na Poblachta, hoping it would replace Fianna Fáil as Ireland’s major political party. In October 1947, he wins a seat in Dáil Éireann at a by-election in the Dublin County constituency. However, at the 1948 Irish general election Clann na Poblachta wins only ten seats.

MacBride is serving as Minister of External Affairs when the Council of Europe drafts the European Convention on Human Rights. He serves as President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from 1949 to 1950 and is credited with being a key force in securing the acceptance of this convention, which is finally signed in Rome on November 4, 1950. He is instrumental in the implementation of the repeal of the External Relations Act and the passing of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948 which comes into force in 1949.

Clann na Poblachta is reduced to only two seats after the 1951 Irish general election. MacBride keeps his seat and is re-elected again at the 1954 Irish general election. Opposing the internment of IRA suspects during the Border Campaign (1956–62), he contests both the 1957 and 1961 Irish general elections but fails to be elected both times. He then retires from politics but continues practicing as a barrister. He expresses interest in running as an independent candidate in the 1983 Irish presidential election, but does not receive sufficient backing and ultimately does not enter the contest.

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, MacBride works tirelessly for human rights worldwide. He is a founding member of Amnesty International and serves as its International chairman from 1961 until 1975. During the 1980s, he initiates the Appeal by Lawyers against Nuclear War which is jointly sponsored by the International Peace Bureau and the International Progress Organization.

MacBride is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 as a man who “mobilised the conscience of the world in the fight against injustice.” He later receives the Lenin Peace Prize (1975–76) and the UNESCO Silver Medal for Service (1980).

In his later years, MacBride lives in his mother’s home, Roebuck House, that served as a meeting place for many years for Irish nationalists, as well as in the Parisian arrondissement where he grew up with his mother, and enjoyed strolling along boyhood paths. In 1978, he receives the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.

MacBride dies in Dublin on January 15, 1988, just eleven days shy of his 84th birthday. He is buried in a simple grave in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, with his mother, and wife who died in 1976.


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The Republic of Ireland Act 1948 Signed Into Law

The Republic of Ireland Act 1948 is an Act of the Oireachtas which declares that Ireland may be officially described as the Republic of Ireland, and vests in the President of Ireland the power to exercise the executive authority of the state in its external relations, on the advice of the Government of Ireland. The Act is signed into law on December 21, 1948 and comes into force on April 18, 1949, Easter Monday, the 33rd anniversary of the beginning of the Easter Rising.

The Act repeals the External Relations Act 1936. Under that Act, King George VI acts as the Irish head of state in international relations by accredited ambassadors and on the State’s behalf accepts credentials appointing foreign ambassadors to the State. The Republic of Ireland Act removes this last remaining practical role from the King and vests it instead in the President of Ireland, making the then President of Ireland, Seán T. O’Kelly, unambiguously the Irish head of state.

In 1945, when asked if he plans to declare a Republic, the then Taoiseach Éamon de Valera replies, “we are a republic.” He also insists that Ireland has no king, but simply uses an external king as an organ in international affairs. However, that is not the view of constitutional lawyers including de Valera’s Attorneys General, whose disagreement with de Valera’s interpretation only come to light when the state papers from the 1930s and 1940s are released to historians. Nor is it the view in the international arena, who believe that Ireland does have a king, George VI, who had been proclaimed King of Ireland in December 1936, and to whom they accredit ambassadors to Ireland. King George, in turn, as “King of Ireland” accredits all Irish diplomats. All treaties signed by the Irish Taoiseach or Minister for External Affairs are signed in the name of King George.

In October 1947, de Valera asks his Attorney General, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, to draft a bill to repeal the External Relations Act. By 1948 a draft of the bill includes a reference to the state as being a republic. In the end, the draft bill is never submitted to the Oireachtas for approval.

The bill to declare Ireland a republic is introduced in 1948 by the new Taoiseach, John A. Costello of the Fine Gael party. Costello makes the announcement that the bill is to be introduced when he is in Ottawa, during an official visit to Canada. David McCullagh suggests that it is a spur of the moment reaction to offence caused by the Governor General of Canada, Lord Alexander, who is of Northern Irish descent, who allegedly places loyalist symbols before an affronted Costello at a state dinner. What is certain is that an agreement that there be separate toasts for the King and for the President of Ireland is broken. The Irish position is that a toast to the King, instead of representing both countries, would not include Ireland. Only a toast to the King is proposed, to the fury of the Irish delegation. Shortly afterwards Costello announces the plan to declare the republic.

However, according to all but one of the ministers in Costello’s cabinet, the decision to declare a republic had already been made before Costello’s Canadian visit. Costello’s revelation of the decision is because the Sunday Independent had discovered the fact and was about to “break” the story as an exclusive. The evidence of what really happens remains ambiguous. There is no record of a prior decision to declare a republic before Costello’s Canadian trip.

At any rate, the Act is enacted with all parties voting for it. De Valera does suggest that it would have been better to reserve the declaration of the republic until Irish unity had been achieved, a comment hard to reconcile with his 1945 claim that the Irish state was already a republic. Speaking in Seanad Éireann Costello tells senators that as a matter of law, the King is indeed “King of Ireland” and Irish head of state and the President of Ireland is in effect no more than first citizen and a local notable, until the new law comes into force.

The United Kingdom responds to the Republic of Ireland Act by enacting the Ireland Act 1949. This Act formally asserts that the Irish state had, when the Republic of Ireland Act came into force, ceased “to be part of His Majesty’s dominions” and accordingly is no longer within the Commonwealth. Nonetheless the United Kingdom statute provides that Irish citizens will not be treated as aliens under British nationality law. This, in effect, grants them a status similar to the citizens of Commonwealth countries.