Tuesday, January 29, 2019

1918 General Election and the first Dail

Last Wednesday Kildare County Councils Decade of Commemorations Committee organised an event in Naas to mark the first meeting of Dail Eireann held in the Mansion House, Dublin on the 21st January 1919. That meeting of the “Assembly of Ireland” followed a remarkable electoral triumph by the Sinn Fein Party which was helped hugely by the changes brought about by The Representation of The People Act 1918. That Act which broke the link between property ownership and voting rights gave the parliamentary vote to men over 21 years and to certain women over 30 years of age. This increased the Irish Electorate from approximately 700,000 to just under two million. Given what happened in Ireland in 1918, it was no surprise to find that the Sinn Fein party candidates got the majority of support. The rise of the Sinn Fein Clubs and the Volunteer movement owed much to the conscription crisis of April 1918. The Sinn Fein party’s popularity was further enhanced by the “German Plot” of the following month when many of its leaders and Volunteer organisers were arrested and interned. The British Governments decision to proclaim these two organisations in addition to Cumann na mBan and the Gaelic League added further impetus to the wave of Irish Nationalism which gripped the Country in the months prior to the General Election of December 1918. 105 Members of Parliament were elected in December 1918 of which 73 were Sinn Fein and 26 Unionists with the once powerful Parliamentary Party returning only 6 members. Many of the Sinn Fein members elected were either in Prison or on the run and that first Dail sitting consisted of only 28 Sinn Fein members. Representing the County of Kildare was Domhnall Ua Buachalla and Art O’Connor. Ua Buachalla from Maynooth, a veteran of the 1916 Rising represented North Kildare while here in the South, Art O’Connor, an Engineer with Kildare County Council had defeated the sitting M.P., Denis Kilbride. O’Connor was one of the many Sinn Fein candidates interned at the time of the election and so missed the first Dail sitting. The Parliamentary success enjoyed by Sinn Fein was added to with the holding of local elections in 1920. They were the first nationwide elections held under the proportional representational system which was intended to support minority groups. The result was an overwhelming victory for Sinn Fein candidates. Irish local authorities subsequently acknowledged the authority of Dail Eireann. In the meantime, the British House of Commons had passed legislation providing for parliaments in the six counties and twenty six counties. On the 24th May 1921, elections were held to return members to the two parliaments. The two sitting TD’s for County Kildare were returned without a contest. The following day, the I.R.A. attacked and burned the Dublin’s Custom House, an action intended to destroy British government files and so reinforce the Irish claim to self government. The truce came into effect on the 11th July 1921 and on the 7th January 1922 the terms of the Treaty was agreed leading many on the anti-treaty side to claim it was an act of betrayal. Seven days later the “Parliament of Southern Ireland” was convened and was attended only by the pro-treaty members of Dail Eireann. Neither of the Kildare members attended. On the 14th April 1922, anti-treaty forces took over the Four Courts in Dublin, an action which is generally regarded at the start of the Civil War. Michael Collins and Eamon DeValera in an attempt at making peace later agreed to put forward candidates for a further general election. Collins later repudiated the agreement in the face of continuing guerilla warfare but it was clear that the pro-treaty side had the support of the majority of the Irish people. The election held on the 16th June 1922 saw Ua Buachalla and O’Connor lose their seats while another unsuccessful candidate was Athy man JJ Bergin standing for the Farmers Union. The Civil War which was marked with brutality and atrocities ended in May 1923. Regrettably the anti-treaty irregulars were not accorded an amnesty and many had to leave the country or go on the run to evade arrest. The first general election under the new Free State Constitution was held on the 27th August 1923. Ua Buachalla and O’Connor lost again. In the June 1927 General Election, O’Connor was unsuccessful but Ua Buachalla was elected and re-elected in the election call for the September of the same year. The June election saw two unsuccessful candidates from the Athy area JJ Bergin and George Henderson both representing Independent Farmers. The Irish State which emerged from the Treaty negotiations acquired a maturity and stability, the start of which was that first Dail meeting of the 21st January 1919. Kildare County Council’s celebration was a worthy event which regrettably was attended by only four of the forty County Councillors who represent this county.

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