seamus dubhghaill

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


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Passage of the Special Powers Act 1922

special-powers-act-1922The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, often referred to simply as the Special Powers Act, is passed by the Parliament of Northern Ireland on April 7, 1922, shortly after the establishment of Northern Ireland, and in the context of violent conflict over the issue of the partition of Ireland. Its sweeping powers make it highly controversial, and it is seen by much of the Northern Irish nationalist community as a tool of Ulster unionist oppression. The Act is eventually repealed by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, following the abolition of Northern Ireland’s parliament and the imposition of direct rule by the British government.

At the start of the twentieth century, the people of Ireland are divided into two mutually hostile factions. Nationalists, the much larger group, are mostly Roman Catholic, identify primarily as Irish, and want some form of Irish home rule or independence from Britain. Unionists, the smaller group, concentrates primarily in the province of Ulster, are mostly Protestant, identify primarily as British (although many see themselves as Irish and British), and are committed to remaining within the United Kingdom.

Partition is formally established with the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This also establishes the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which comes into being the following year. Partition is followed by high levels of inter-communal violence, especially in Belfast. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), although it spends most of these years fighting in the Irish Civil War, aims to use armed force to end partition and compel the United Kingdom to withdraw sovereignty from Northern Ireland.

The Act is presented as being necessary to re-establish peace and law and order in Northern Ireland, and enables the government to “take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order,” although it is specified that the ordinary course of law should be interfered with as little as possible. Because it is presented as emergency legislation, the Act is initially current only for one year and has to be renewed annually. In 1928, however, it is renewed for five years and when this period expires in 1933 the Act is made permanent.

Despite rhetoric accompanying the Act which asserts that it is for the purpose of restoring public order, its provisions continue to be used for the entire period of the Northern Irish parliament’s existence. Because the Ulster Unionist Party is the only party ever to form a government in this parliament, the Act is used “almost exclusively on the minority population.” Initially, regulations under the Act are used mostly to curb immediate violence and disorder. One of the most controversial of these is internment without trial.

After the troubles of the early 1920s dies down, the provision for internment is not used until the IRA’s Border Campaign of the 1950s, in which several hundred republicans are interned. Following the outbreak of The Troubles in 1968, many within the Protestant community call for the reintroduction of internment. This occurs in 1971 and authorises internment of those suspected to be involved in terrorism. Although there are loyalist as well as republican terrorists at this time, of the 1,981 men interned, only 107 are loyalists. Due to inadequate intelligence-gathering, many of the interned republicans are members of the Official Irish Republican Army rather than the recently formed Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), which is much more heavily involved in terrorist activity at the time.

Internment ends in 1975, but is credited with increasing support and sympathy for the PIRA amongst the Catholic community and outside of Northern Ireland. It helps to create political tensions which culminate in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike and the death of MP Bobby Sands. Imprisonment under anti-terrorism laws specific to Northern Ireland continue until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but these laws require the right to a fair trial be respected.

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Ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty

anglo-irish-treaty-negotiatorsThe Anglo-Irish Treaty is ratified by the Parliament of the United Kingdom on December 16, 1921. It is ratified by the British House of Commons by a vote of 401 to 58. On the same day the House of Lords votes in favour by 166 to 47.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty, commonly known as “The Treaty” and officially the “Articles of Agreement for a Treaty Between Great Britain and Ireland,” is an agreement between the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and representatives of the Irish Republic that concludes the Irish War of Independence. It provides for the establishment of the Irish Free State within a year as a self-governing dominion within the “community of nations known as the British Empire,” a status “the same as that of the Dominion of Canada.” It also provides Northern Ireland, which had been created by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, an option to opt out of the Irish Free State, which it exercises.

The agreement is signed in London on December 6, 1921, by representatives of the Government of the United Kingdom, which includes Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who is head of the British delegates, and by representatives of the Irish Republic including Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith. The Irish representatives have plenipotentiary status (negotiators empowered to sign a treaty without reference back to their superiors) acting on behalf of the Irish Republic, though the British government declines to recognise that status. As required by its terms, the agreement is ratified by “a meeting” of the members elected to sit in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland and separately by the British Parliament.

Éamon de Valera calls a cabinet meeting to discuss the treaty on December 8, where he comes out against the treaty as signed. The cabinet decides by four votes to three to recommend the treaty to Dáil Éireann on December 14. Though the treaty is narrowly ratified, the split leads to the Irish Civil War, which is won by the pro-treaty side.

The Irish Free State as contemplated by the treaty comes into existence when its constitution becomes law on December 6, 1922 by a royal proclamation giving the force of law to the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922.

(Pictured: Members of the Irish negotiation committee returning to Ireland in December 1921)


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Dáil Éireann Approves the Anglo-Irish Treaty

second-all-ireland-dailDáil Éireann votes to approve the Anglo-Irish Treaty on January 7, 1922, following a debate through late December 1921 and into January 1922. The vote is 64 in favour, 57 against, with the Ceann Comhairle and three others not voting. The Sinn Féin party splits into opposing sides in the aftermath of the Treaty vote, which leads to the Irish Civil War from June 1922 until May 1923. The treaty is signed in London on December 6, 1921.

Two elections take place in Ireland in 1921, as a result of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 to establish the House of Commons of Northern Ireland and the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. The election is used by the Irish Republic as the basis of membership of the Second Dáil. The general election to the Northern Ireland House of Commons occurs on May 24, 1921. Of 52 seats, forty are won by unionists, six by moderate Irish nationalists, and six by Sinn Féin. No actual polling takes place in the Southern Ireland constituencies, as all 128 candidates are returned unopposed. Given the backdrop of the increasingly violent War of Independence, any candidates opposed to Sinn Féin and their supporters can expect to be harassed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Supporters of the Irish Labour Party stand aside to allow the constitutional situation to run its course. Of these 128, 124 are won by Sinn Féin, and four by independent unionists representing the University of Dublin constituency. Only the Sinn Féin candidates recognise the Second Dáil and five of these have been elected in two constituencies, one in each part of Ireland, so the total number of members who assemble in the Second Dáil is 125.

During the Second Dáil, the government of the Irish Republic and the British government of David Lloyd George agree to hold peace negotiations. On September 14, 1921 the Dáil ratifies the appointment of Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Robert Barton, Eamonn Duggan, and George Gavan Duffy as envoys plenipotentiary for the peace conference in England. These envoys eventually sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6. After almost a month of acrimonious debate the treaty is formally ratified by Dáil Éireann on January 7, 1922.

To satisfy the requirements of the British constitution, the treaty also has to be ratified by the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. Thus Irish nationalists end their boycott of the home rule parliament to attend the southern House of Commons as MPs. This they do alongside the four Unionist MPs who had refused to recognise the Dáil. In this way the treaty is ratified a second time in Dublin, this time unanimously as the anti-Treaty TDs refuse to attend.

Under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty a provisional parliament, considered by nationalists to be the Third Dáil, is elected in the 1922 general election on June 16. Collins and Éamon de Valera agree a pact between the pro- and anti-Treaty wings of Sinn Féin and this pact and the elections are endorsed by the Second Dáil. The new assembly is recognised both by nationalists and the British Government and so replaces both the Parliament of Southern Ireland and the Second Dáil with a single body. The anti-Treaty groups of IRA members, TDs, and their supporters are still bitterly opposed the settlement, despite the election result, and this leads to the Irish Civil War.

(Pictured: Second All-Ireland Dáil Éireann, elected in 1921)


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The Government of Ireland Act 1920 Becomes Law

government-of-ireland-act-1920The Government of Ireland Act 1920, an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom also known as the Fourth Home Rule Bill, becomes law on December 23, 1920.

The Act is intended to establish separate Home Rule institutions within two new territories of Ireland – the six northeastern counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone are to form “Northern Ireland,” while the remaining 26 counties of the country are to form “Southern Ireland.” Each territory is to be self-governing, except in areas specifically reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom such as defence, foreign affairs, international trade, and currency. Provision is made for their future reunification under common Home Rule institutions.

Home Rule never takes effect in Southern Ireland due to the Irish War of Independence, which results instead in the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment in 1922 of the Irish Free State. However, the institutions set up under this Act for Northern Ireland continue to function until they are suspended by the British parliament in 1972 as a consequence of the Troubles.

The final provisions of the 1920 Act remaining in force are repealed under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, after the Good Friday Agreement. In the republic, the Statute Law Revision Act 2007 repeals the Act almost 85 years after Constitution of the Irish Free State replaced it as the basic constitutional law.


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The Sunningdale Agreement

council-of-irelandThe Sunningdale Agreement, an attempt to establish a power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive and a cross-border Council of Ireland, is signed at Sunningdale Park in Sunningdale, Berkshire, England on December 9, 1973. Unionist opposition, violence, and a loyalist general strike causes the collapse of the Agreement in May 1974.

On March 20, 1973, the British government publishes a white paper which proposes a 78-member Northern Ireland Assembly, to be elected by proportional representation. The British government would retain control over law, order and finance, while a Council of Ireland composed of members of the executive of the Republic of Ireland, the Dáil Éireann, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly would act in a consultative role.

The Northern Ireland Assembly Bill resulting from the White paper becomes law on May 3, 1973, and elections for the new assembly are held on June 28. Republicans boycott the elections and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) continued its campaign of opposition throughout the outcome.

After the Assembly elections, negotiations between the pro-White Paper parties on the formation of a “power-sharing Executive” begin. The main concerns are internment, policing, and the question of a Council of Ireland. On November 21, an agreement is reached on a voluntary coalition of pro-agreement parties. This new power-sharing Executive take up office and have its very first meeting on January 1, 1974. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) is deeply divided – its Standing Committee votes to participate in the executive by a margin of only 132 to 105.

Provisions for a Council of Ireland exist in the Government of Ireland Act 1920, but these have never been enacted. Unionists resent the idea of any “interference” by the Republic of Ireland in their newly established region. In 1973, after agreement has been reached on the formation of an executive, agreement is sought to re-establish a Council of Ireland to stimulate co-operation with the Republic of Ireland. Talks are held between December 6-9 in the Berkshire town of Sunningdale between the British Prime Minister Edward Heath, the Irish Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and the three pro-agreement parties. On December 9, a communiqué announcing the agreement is issued, which later becomes known as the “Sunningdale Agreement.”

On December 10, the day after the agreement is announced, loyalist paramilitaries form the Ulster Army Council, a coalition of loyalist paramilitary groups, including the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force, which oppose the agreement.

In January 1974, the Ulster Unionist Party narrowly votes against continued participation in the Assembly and Brian Faulkner resigns as leader. He is succeeded by the anti-Sunningdale Harry West. In March 1974, pro-agreement unionists withdraw their support for the agreement, calling for the Republic of Ireland to remove the Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution first. These Articles are not revised until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Following the defeat of a motion condemning power-sharing in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Ulster Workers’ Council, a loyalist organisation, calls a general strike for May 15. After two weeks of barricades, shortages, rioting, and intimidation, Faulkner resigns as chief executive and the Sunningdale Agreement collapses on May 28, 1974.

(Pictured: Unionist Party leader and designated leader of Ulster’s new executive, Brian Faulkner, sits with SDLP leader Gerry Fitt and John Hume, during talks at Sunningdale, Berkshire, to establish a Council of Ireland.)