seamus dubhghaill

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


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Adoption of the Constitution of the Irish Free State

The Constitution of the Irish Free State (Irish: Bunreacht Shaorstát Eireann) is adopted by Act of Dáil Éireann sitting as a constituent assembly on October 25, 1922. In accordance with Article 83 of the Constitution, the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922 of the British Parliament, which comes into effect upon receiving the royal assent on December 5, 1922, provides that the Constitution will come into effect upon the issue of a Royal Proclamation, which is done on December 6, 1922. In 1937 the Constitution of the Irish Free State is replaced by the modern Constitution of Ireland following a referendum.

Shortly after the British evacuate their troops from Dublin Castle in January 1922, Michael Collins sets about establishing a committee to draft a new constitution for the nascent Irish Free State which would come into being in December 1922. Collins chairs the first meeting of that committee and at that point is its chairman, but is assassinated before the constitution is finalised. Darrell Figgis, the vice-chairman becomes acting Chair. The committee produces three draft texts, designated A, B and C. Draft A is signed by Figgis, James McNeill and John O’Byrne. Draft B is signed by James G. Douglas, C.J. France and Hugh Kennedy and it differs substantially from draft A only in proposals regarding the Executive. Draft C is the most novel of the three. It is signed by Alfred O’Rahilly and James Murnaghan, and provides for the possibility of representation for the people of the northern counties in the Dáil in the event of that area opting out of the proposed free state.

On March 31, 1922, an act of the United Kingdom Parliament called the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922 is passed. It gives the force of law to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which had been negotiated between the British government and Irish leaders in 1921. It also provides by for the election of a body to be called the “House of the Parliament,” sometimes called the “Provisional Parliament,” to which the Provisional Government establishes under that act will be responsible. The act gives no power to the Provisional Parliament to enact a constitution for the Irish Free State. In due course, “the House of the Parliament,” provided for by that act, is elected and meets on September 9, 1922, and calling itself Dáil Éireann, proceeds to sit as a constituent assembly for the settlement of what becomes the Constitution of the Irish Free State.

The Constitution establishes a parliamentary system of government under a form of constitutional monarchy, and contains guarantees of certain fundamental rights. It is intended that the constitution would be a rigid document that, after an initial period, could be amended only by referendum. However, amendments are made to the Constitution’s amendment procedure, so that all amendments can be and are in fact made by a simple Act of the Oireachtas (parliament).

Following a change of government in 1932 and the adoption of the Statute of Westminster 1931, a series of amendments progressively removes many of the provisions that had been required by the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

(Pictured: The Constitution Committee meeting at the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin, 1922)


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The Last Execution in the Republic of Ireland

michael-manningMichael Manning, Irish murderer, becomes the twenty-ninth and last person to be executed in the Republic of Ireland on April 20, 1954.

Manning, a 25-year-old carter from Johnsgate in Limerick, County Limerick, is found guilty of the rape and murder of Catherine Cooper, a 65-year-old nurse who works at Barrington’s Hospital in the city, in February 1954. Nurse Cooper’s body is discovered on November 18, 1953 in the quarry under the New Castle, Dublin Road, Castletroy. She is found to have choked on grass stuffed into her mouth to keep her from screaming during the committal of the crime.

Manning expresses remorse at the crime which he does not deny. By his own account, he is making his way home on foot after a day’s drinking in The Black Swan, Annacotty when he sees a woman he does not recognise walking alone. “I suddenly lost my head and jumped on the woman and remember no more until the lights of a car shone on me.” He flees at this point but is arrested within hours, after his distinctive hat is found at the scene of the crime.

Although Manning makes an impassioned plea for clemency in a letter to Minister for Justice Gerald Boland, his request is denied despite it also being supported by Nurse Cooper’s family. The execution by hanging is duly carried out on April 20, 1954 in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin by Albert Pierrepoint, who has traveled from Britain where he is one of three Senior Executioners.

Frank Prendergast, subsequently Teachta Dála (TD) for Limerick East who knew Manning well, recalls later, “Friends of mine who worked with me, I was serving my time at the time, went up to visit him on the Sunday before he was hanged. And they went to Mass and Holy Communion together and they played a game of handball that day. He couldn’t have been more normal.”

Manning leaves a wife who is pregnant at the time of the murder. His body is buried in an unmarked grave in a yard at Mountjoy Prison.

The death penalty is abolished in 1964 for all but the murder of gardaí, diplomats and prison officers. It is abolished by statute for these remaining offences in 1990 and is finally expunged from the Constitution of Ireland by approval by referendum of the Twenty-First Amendment on June 7, 2001.

The hanging of Michael Manning inspires a play by Ciaran Creagh. Creagh’s father, Timothy, is one of the two prison officers who stays with Michael Manning on his last night and Last Call is loosely based on what happened. It is shown in Mountjoy Prison’s theatre for three nights in June 2006.


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Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland

constitution-of-ireland-2The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which is effected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1972, is approved by referendum on December 7, 1972 and signed into law on January 5, 1973.

The amendment deletes the entirety of Article 44.1.2 which allowed the State to recognise the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens.

Also deleted by the amendment is Article 44.1.3 which allowed the State to also recognise the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland, as well as the Jewish Congregations and the other religious denominations existing in Ireland at the date of the coming into operation of this Constitution.

In drafting the Irish constitution in 1936 and 1937, Éamon de Valera and his advisers choose to reflect what has been a contemporary willingness by constitution drafters and lawmakers in Europe to mention and in some ways recognise religion in explicit detail. This contrasts with many 1920s constitutions, notably the Constitution of the Irish Free State of 1922, which, following the secularism of the initial period following World War I, simply prohibits any discrimination based on religion or avoids religious issues entirely.

De Valera, his advisers, and the men who put words to de Valera’s concepts for the constitution face conflicting demands in his drafting of the article on religion. In contemporary terms, the Amendment marks a defeat for conservative Catholics and Pope Pius XI explicitly withholds his approval from it.

Though perceived in retrospect as a sectarian article, Article 44 is praised in 1937 by leaders of Irish Protestant churches, notably the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, and by Jewish groups. Conservative Catholics condemn it as “liberal.”

When the contents of Article 44 are put to Pope Pius XI by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, then Cardinal Secretary of State, later Pope Pius XII, the pope states in diplomatic language, “We do not approve, nor do we not disapprove – we will remain silent.” It is said that the Vatican is privately more appreciative of the constitution, and Pius XII later praises it.

The Fifth Amendment is introduced by the Fianna Fáil government of Jack Lynch and supported by every other major political party. The Catholic Church does not voice any objection to the amendment, but it is opposed by some conservative Catholics. Some leading members of the Church of Ireland and the Jewish Community say during the campaign that while they appreciate the Article’s recognition of their existence in 1937, it is no longer needed in the 1970s and has lost its usefulness.

The referendum on the amendment occurs on the same day as the referendum on the Fourth Amendment which lowers the voting age to eighteen. The Fifth Amendment is approved by 721,003 (84.4%) in favour and 133,430 (15.6%) against.

Having completed its passage through the Oireachtas and been adopted by the people, it is enacted by being signed into constitutional law by the President of Ireland, the man who had drafted the original article, Éamon de Valera.