seamus dubhghaill

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


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Northern Ireland Opts Out of the Irish Free State

The six counties of what would become Northern Ireland opt out of the Irish Free State on December 7, 1922 and become a separate political entity with allegiance to England.

The Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922 (Session 2) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, passed in 1922 to enact in UK law the Constitution of the Irish Free State, and to ratify the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty formally.

As originally enacted, the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922 consists of a preamble, five sections (three of which are very brief), and a schedule. The schedule is the text of the Constitution of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) Act 1922, which had been passed in Ireland by the Third Dáil sitting as a constituent assembly and provisional parliament for the nascent Free State. This Irish Act itself has two schedules, the first being the actual text of the Constitution, and the second the text of the 1921 Treaty, formally the Articles of Agreement for a treaty between Great Britain and Ireland.

The Irish Act had been approved by the Irish constituent assembly on 25 October 25, 1922. The bill for the UK Act is introduced by the Prime Minister Bonar Law into the Parliament of the United Kingdom in November 1922. The bill’s third reading in the House of Commons is on November 30. The Act receives Royal assent on December 5, 1922.

On December 7, 1922, the day after the establishment of the Irish Free State, the Parliament of Northern Ireland addresses King George V requesting its secession from the Irish Free State. The address is unanimous, with the abstentionist Nationalist Party and Sinn Féin members absent. The King replies shortly thereafter to say that he has caused his Ministers and the Government of the Irish Free State to be informed that Northern Ireland is to do so.

After the Statute of Westminster 1931, the UK government recognises the right of the Irish government to amend or repeal the UK act, but in fact the Irish government does not do so until it is formally repealed as spent by the Statute Law Revision Act 2007. The Irish government amends the Irish act in 1933 and the 1937 Constitution of Ireland repeals the entire Free State constitution. The UK Judicial Committee of the Privy Council rules in 1935 that the 1933 Act had implicitly amended the UK Act with respect to the jurisdiction of the Free State. The Supreme Court of Ireland has taken the view that the Free State constitution was enacted by the Irish Act, not by the subsequent UK Act. This reflects the view of popular sovereignty rather than parliamentary sovereignty, with the constitution’s legitimacy ultimately springing from the 1922 Irish general election.


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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)