The party demands for Ireland “one and indivisible as of right the full status of a sovereign State. We aim at restoring the unity of her territory and the union of all her people under one central supreme government.” The party advocates the abolition of the Oath of Allegiance to the British King. It also calls for lower taxes and less legislation. In policies like trade protectionism and the abolition of the Oath of Allegiance, it agrees with the agenda of Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera. An attempt to lure de Valera and his followers into the party fail. After de Valera creates the Fianna Fáil party in March 1926, Clann Éireann grows closer to that group.
The party attracts little support, and it fails to win any seats in Dáil Éireann at the June 1927 general election. Its seven candidates only attract a few thousand first-preference votes. Seven of them are last in their constituencies and forfeit their deposits. On August 28, 1927, the party issues a statement supporting Fianna Fáil, and ceases political activity.
(Pictured: (L to R) Pádraic Ó Máille, William Magennis, Maurice George Moore who are amongst the most prominent members of the party)
The Second Dáil responds favourably to the proposal from King George V on June 22, 1921 for a truce, which becomes effective from noon on July 11, 1921. This is upheld by nearly all of the combatants while the months-long process of arranging a treaty gets under way. The Truce allows the Dáil to meet openly without fear of arrest for the first time since September 1919, when it had been banned and driven underground.
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. The debate on the Treaty starts on December 14, and continues until January 7, 1922. On that date, the Dáil approves the treaty by 64 in favour to 57 against. As the leader of the anti-Treaty minority, de Valera resigns as President. He allows himself to be nominated again, but is defeated on a vote of 60–58. He is succeeded as president by Arthur Griffith. The anti-Treaty deputies continue to attend the Dáil, with de Valera becoming the first Leader of the Opposition in the Dáil.
The ratification specified by the Treaty is by “a meeting summoned for the purpose of the members elected to sit in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland.” The Dáil vote does not fulfil this because four unionists are absent and one Northern Ireland member is present. The requisite approval comes at a separate meeting on January 14, 1922, attended by the unionists and boycotted by anti-Treaty TDs. The meeting also approves a Provisional Government led by Collins, which runs in parallel to Griffith’s Dáil government and with overlapping membership. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 requires the Commons to be summoned by the Lord Lieutenant and its members to take an oath of allegiance to the king, whereas the meeting on January 14 is summoned by Griffith and the members present do not take an oath.
Before the Act, a number of “Penal laws” had been enacted in Britain and Ireland, which varied between the jurisdictions from time to time but effectively excluded those known to be Roman Catholics from public life.
By this Act, an oath is imposed, which besides a declaration of loyalty to the reigning sovereign, contains an abjuration of the Pretender, and of certain doctrines attributed to Roman Catholics, such as that excommunicated princes may lawfully be murdered, that no faith should be kept with heretics, and that the Pope has temporal as well as spiritual jurisdiction in Great Britain.
Those taking this oath are exempted from some of the provisions of the Popery Act 1698. Although it does not grant freedom of worship, it allows Catholics to join the army and purchase land if they take an oath of allegiance. The section as to taking and prosecuting priests is repealed, as well as the penalty of perpetual imprisonment for keeping a school. Roman Catholics are also enabled to inherit and purchase land, nor is an heir who conformed to the Established church any longer empowered to enter and enjoy the estate of his “papist” kinsman.
As well as amending the Constitution, the 1933 act also amends the Constitution of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) Act 1922, which had both created the Constitution in Irish law and also prohibited any Constitutional amendment incompatible with the Treaty. Since the Free State cannot unilaterally amend the Treaty, Fianna Fáil amends the 1922 act to remove the Treaty’s precedence over the Constitution. Later constitutional amendments are also incompatible with the terms of the Treaty, in particular by weakening and ultimately abolishing the office of Governor-General of the Irish Free State. There is legal controversy over whether the Oireachtas has the power to amend the 1922 act, because it had been passed by the Third Dáil sitting as a constituent assembly before the Oireachtas had come into being. In 1935 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in London rules that, in British law, the Oireachtas does have the power, under the Statute of Westminster 1931. Irish jurisprudence takes issue with many of the assumptions underlying the 1935 decision.
The act is one of a series of Penal Laws passed after the Williamite War to protect the victorious Protestant Ascendancy from a church seen as loyal to the defeated Jacobites and to foreign powers. Its second section states that if an Irish Catholic priest is converted to the established Church of Ireland, he will receive a £20 stipend, levied on the residents of the area where he had last practised. Unregistered clergy are to depart Ireland before July 20, 1704 and any remaining after June 24, 1705 are to be deported. Any that returned are to be punished as under the Banishment Act of 1697 (as high treason). These are sought out by freelance “priest hunters.”
The Constitution of Ireland, the second constitution of the Irish state since independence, comes into force on December 29, 1937 following a statewide plebiscite held on July 1, 1937, replacing the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State. It asserts the national sovereignty of the Irish people. The constitution falls broadly within the tradition of liberal democracy, being based on a system of representative democracy. It guarantees certain fundamental rights, along with a popularly elected non-executive president, a bicameral parliament based on the Westminster system, a separation of powers and judicial review. The Constitution may be amended solely by a national referendum.
The Constitution of Ireland replaces the Constitution of the Irish Free State which had been in effect since the independence, as a dominion, of the Irish state from the United Kingdom on December 6, 1922. There are two main motivations for replacing the constitution in 1937. Firstly, the Statute of Westminster 1931 grants parliamentary autonomy to the six British Dominions (now known as Commonwealth realms) within a British Commonwealth of Nations. This has the effect of making the dominions sovereign nations in their own right. The Irish Free State constitution of 1922 is, in the eyes of many, associated with the controversial Anglo-Irish Treaty. The anti-treaty faction, who oppose the treaty initially by force of arms, is so opposed to the institutions of the new Irish Free State that it initially takes an abstentionist line toward them, boycotting them altogether. However, the largest element of this faction becomes convinced that abstentionism cannot be maintained forever. This element, led by Éamon de Valera, forms the Fianna Fáil party in 1926, which enters into government following the 1932 Irish general election.
The second motive for replacing the original constitution is primarily symbolic. De Valera wants to put an Irish stamp on the institutions of government, and chooses to do this in particular through the use of Irish Gaelic nomenclature.
The text of the draft constitution, with minor amendments, is approved on June 14, 1937 by Dáil Éireann, then the sole house of parliament as the Seanad had been abolished the previous year.
The draft constitution is then put to a plebiscite on July 1, 1937, the same day as the 1937 Irish general election, when it is passed by a plurality of 56% of the voters, comprising 38.6% of the whole electorate. The constitution formally comes into force on December 29, 1937.
Mary MacSwiney, Irish politician and educationalist, is born in London on March 27, 1872, to an Irish father and English mother. In 1927 she becomes leader of Sinn Féin when Éamon de Valera resigns from the presidency of the party.
MacSwiney returns to Ireland with her family at the age of six and is educated at St. Angela’s School in Cork. At the age of twenty, she obtains a teaching post at a private school in England and studies for a Teaching Diploma at the University of Cambridge, which is normally reserved for men.
Influenced by her younger brother Terence MacSwiney‘s staunch Irish republicanism, MacSwiney joins the Gaelic League and Inghinidhe na hÉireann. She is a founder member of Cumann na mBan when it is formed in 1914 in Cork and becomes a National Vice-President of the organisation. She leads the denunciation of British rule at the Convention of November 1914. In 1916 she is arrested and imprisoned following the Easter Rising and is also dismissed from her teaching position due to her republican activities. Several months later, upon her release from prison, she and her sister Annie re-found Scoil Íte, a sister school to Patrick Pearse‘s St. Enda’s School, and she remains involved with the school for the rest of her life.
MacSwiney supports the Irish War of Independence in 1919–21. After the death of her brother Terence in October 1920 on hunger strike during the height of the war, she is elected for Sinn Féin to the Cork Borough constituency in 1921. She gives evidence in Washington, D.C., before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. For nine months she and Terence’s widow, Muriel, tour the United States lecturing and giving interviews.
MacSwiney is active in her friendship with Harry Boland and de Valera, whom she cultivates assiduously. In October 1921, a second delegation is to be sent to London which for the first time includes Michael Collins. MacSwiney, who remains implacably opposed, pleads with de Valera to be allowed to go. She is refused as de Valera thinks her to be “too extreme.” She strongly opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty, debating during December 1921 to January 1922 to resume the war. On December 21 she speaks for three hours, criticising the agreement from all angles.
MacSwiney is arrested at Nell Ryan’s home, a safe house, at 40 Herbert Park, Ballsbridge, on November 4, 1922, when it is raided by Free State soldiers. She is interned at Mountjoy Gaol and immediately goes on hunger strike. Cumann na mBan organizes vigils outside the prison in protest of Mary’s and the others internment. The Women’s Prisoner’s Defence League is formed in August 1922 to protect their rights. During the hunger strike she refuses doctor’s visits and is resigned to her death. Her condition is critical and she is given the Last Rites by a Catholic priest. The Government is not prepared to allow strikers die so she is released.
En route to Liam Lynch‘s funeral, MacSwiney is again arrested when the car in which she is riding is stopped and she is recognised. She is taken with Kate O’Callaghan to Kilmainham Gaol. Fearless of death, she begins another protest. They continued to be interned without charge, but it is explained she is distributing anti-government propaganda. After nineteen days of hunger strike she is due to be released on April 30, 1923. The Governor allows O’Callaghan to go but stays a decision on MacSwiney. Most of the women on hunger strike are sent to the North Dublin Union.
In March 1926 the party holds its Ard Fheis. MacSwiney and Father Michael O’Flanagan lead the section from which Éamon de Valera and Fianna Fáil break away. De Valera has come to believe that abstentionism is not a workable tactic and now sees the need to become the elected government of the Dáil. The conference instructs a joint committee of representatives from the two sections to arrange a basis for co-operation. That day, it issues a statement declaring “the division within our ranks is a division of Republicans.” The next day, de Valera’s motion to accept the Free State Constitution, contingent upon the abolition of the Oath of Allegiance, narrowly fails by a vote of 223 to 218. However, de Valera takes the great majority of Sinn Féin support with him when he founds Fianna Fáil.
MacSwiney continues to maintain a republican position until her death. By then she is vice-president of Sinn Féin and Cumann na mBan but loses her seat at the June 1927 general election. When lack of funds prevent Sinn Féin contesting the second election called that year, MacSwiney declares “no true Irish citizen can vote for any of the other parties.”
Mary MacSwiney dies at her home in Cork on March 8, 1942. Her stance, both before and after the Treaty, may be summed up by her statement, “A rebel is one who opposes lawfully constituted authority and that I have never done.”
The Free State is established as a Dominion of the British Commonwealth of Nations. For one day, it encompasses all thirty-two counties of Ireland. Northern Ireland, which is comprised of the six northernmost counties, exercises its right under the Treaty to opt out of the new state on December 7.
In the first months of the Free State, the Irish Civil War is waged between the newly established National Army and the anti-Treaty IRA, who refuse to recognise the state. The Civil War ends in victory for the government forces, with the anti-Treaty forces dumping its arms in May 1923. The anti-Treaty political party, Sinn Féin, refuses to take its seats in the Dáil, leaving the relatively small Labour Party as the only opposition party. In 1926, when Sinn Féin president Éamon de Valera fails to have this policy reversed, he resigns from Sinn Féin and founds Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil enters the Dáil following the 1927 general election, and enters government after the Irish general election of 1932, when it becomes the largest party.
De Valera abolishes the Oath of Allegiance and embarks on an economic war with Britain. In 1937 he drafts a new constitution, which is passed by a referendum in July of that year. The Free State comes to an end with the coming into force of the new constitution on December 29, 1937. Under the new constitution the Irish state is named Ireland.
(Pictured: The Executive Council of the Irish Free State, October 1928)
Fianna Fáil, the centrist to centre-right and conservative political party in the Republic of Ireland, is founded on March 23, 1926 after a split with Sinn Féin on the issue of abstentionism. Historically, Fianna Fáil has been seen as to the left of Fine Gael and to the right of Sinn Féin and the Labour Party. It is generally seen as a “catch all” populist party, representing a broad range of people from all social classes.
When his motion calling for elected members to be allowed to take their seats in Dáil Éireann if and when the controversial Oath of Allegiance is removed fails to pass at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in 1926, Éamon de Valera resigns from the presidency of the party and, with Seán Lemass, Constance Markievicz, and others, forms a new party, Fianna Fáil (The Warriors of Destiny), a party that is to dominate 20th-century Irish politics. The party adopts its name on April 2 of the same year.
Though the new party is also opposed to the Treaty settlement, it adopts a different approach of aiming to make the Irish Free State a republic. Fianna Fáil’s platform of economic autarky has appeal among the farmers, working-class people, and the poor, whilst alienating more affluent classes.
From the formation of the first Fianna Fáil government on March 9, 1932 until the election of 2011, the party is in power for 61 of 79 years. Its longest continuous period in office is 15 years and 11 months (March 1932 – February 1948). Its single longest period out of office in the 20th century, is four years and four months (March 1973 – July 1977). Seven of the party’s eight leaders, including de Valera, serve as Taoiseach.
It is the largest party in the Dáil at every general election from the 1932 general election until the 2011 general election, when it suffers the worst defeat of a sitting government in the history of the Irish state. This loss is described as “historic” in its proportions, and “unthinkable.” The party moves from being the largest party to the third-largest party in the Dáil.