The First Dáil is convened from 1919–1921. It is the first meeting of the unicameral parliament of the revolutionary Irish Republic. In 1919 candidates who have been elected in the Westminster elections of 1918 refuse to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead establish an independent legislature in Dublin called “Dáil Éireann.” The establishment of the First Dáil occurs on the same day as the outbreak of the Irish War of Independence.
Being the first and highly symbolic meeting, the proceedings of the Dáil are conducted for the only time entirely in the Irish language, except for previously drafted declarations that are repeated in other languages as well. The Dáil elects Cathal Brugha as its Ceann Comhairle (chairman). A number of short documents were then adopted. These are the:
- Dáil Constitution – a brief, provisional constitution
- Declaration of Independence
- Message to the Free Nations of the World – asking nations to recognise Ireland as a separate nation, free from British rule
- Democratic Programme – a tract espousing certain principles of socialism
The Declaration of Independence asserts that the Dáil is the parliament of a sovereign state called the “Irish Republic,” and so the Dáil establishes a cabinet called the Ministry or “Aireacht,” and an elected prime minister known both as the “Príomh Aire” and the “President of Dáil Éireann.” The first, temporary president is Cathal Brugha. He is succeeded in April by Éamon de Valera.
The membership of the Dáil was drawn from the Irish MPs elected to sit at the Westminster parliament, 105 in total, of which 27 are listed as being present for the first meeting. Of the remainder 34 are described as being “imprisoned by the foreigners” and three as being “deported by the foreigners.” Five Sinn Féin members are described as being “as láthair” (absent). The remaining 32 members who are invited but not present are six members of the Irish Parliamentary Party and 26 unionists, mainly from the northern six counties that would later form Northern Ireland. These include all MPs elected to sit for Belfast, Counties Down, Antrim, Armagh, and Londonderry, two out of three MPs for County Tyrone and one out of two MPs for County Fermanagh. For the portion of the country that would later become the Irish Free State, MPs do not sit for Waterford city or the Dublin University constituency, although members do attend for the National University of Ireland constituency.
(Pictured: Members of the First Dáil, April 10, 1919. First row, left to right: Laurence Ginnell, Michael Collins, Cathal Brugha, Arthur Griffith, Éamon de Valera, George Noble Plunkett, Eoin MacNeill, W. T. Cosgrave and Ernest Blythe.)