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The Dáil sat for the very first time 100 years ago tomorrow. Here's what they talked about

Many of those elected to the Dáil were listed as “fé ghlas ag Gallaibh” (imprisoned by the foreigners).

Image: Dublin City Council

IN DUBLIN’S MANSION House on 21 January 1919, the Irish Parliament met for the very first time.

Tomorrow will be 100 years since the first Teachta Dáila convened for the first time, realising an ambition long held by republicans to declare an independent Irish republic.

There were just 27 Sinn Féin members present for the first meeting of Dáil Eireann. 

Leaders of the time such Eamon de Valera, WT Cosgrave and Constance Markievicz were not present.

Here’s what happened on that day:

As gaeilge

The members who turned up were all members of Sinn Féin who’d been elected in the 1918 general election which had taken place in December. The party decided not to take their seats in Westminster and form their own parliament instead.

They convened at 3.30pm at the Mansion House on Tuesday 21 January 1919.

Proceedings were conducted almost entirely in Irish, and it was George Noble Plunkett who was the first to speak, proposing Cathal Brugha as Ceann Comhairle.

“Molaimse don Dáil Cathal Brugha, an Teachta ó Dhéisibh Phortláirge do bheith mar Cheann Comhairle againn indiu,” Plunkett said.

Proceedings soon got to the roll call, where the names of all those elected on the island of Ireland in the 1918 general election were read out.

This included prominent unionists such as Edward Carson and James Craig. They were listed as “as láthair”, or absent.

A large number were listed as “fé ghlas ag Gallaibh”, or imprisoned by the foreigners.

A number of them had been arrested the previous year over the so-called “German plot” , which alleged that a number of republicans had been engaging in “treasonable communication with Germany”.

It included Markievicz, de Valera, Arthur Griffith and William Cosgrave.

Of the 73 Sinn Féin TDs, 36 were listed as “fé ghlas ag Gallaibh”.

Bunreacht dala Éireann 

After the roll call, the declaration of independence was read out – in Irish, English and French.

Here’s a section of the declaration:

“We ordain that the elected Representatives of the Irish people alone have power to make laws binding on the people of Ireland, and that the Irish Parliament is the only Parliament to which that people will give its allegiance.

We solemnly declare foreign government in Ireland to be an invasion of our national right which we will never tolerate, and we demand the evacuation of our country by the English Garrison.
We claim for our national independence the recognition and support of every free nation in the world, and we proclaim that independence to be a condition precedent to international peace hereafter.

This was shortly followed by a message of the free nations of the world, urging it to support the new Irish republic.

Again, it was read out in Irish, English and French.

It said:

Ireland to-day reasserts her historic nationhood the more confidently before the new world emerging from the War, because she believes in freedom and justice as the fundamental principles of international law, because she believes in a frank co-operation between the peoples for equal rights against the vested privileges of ancient tyrannies, because the permanent peace of Europe can never be secured by perpetuating military dominion for the profit of empire but only by establishing the control of government in every land upon the basis of the free will of a free people, and the existing state of war, between Ireland and England, can never be ended until Ireland is definitely evacuated by the armed forces of England.

Democratic programme

The democratic programme of the Dáil followed next, and this outlined the aspirations of what the new government would achieve and the rights that citizens would enjoy under it.

It said that the country shall be ruled in accordance with the principles of liberty, equality and justice for all.

It was every man and woman’s duty, it said, to give their allegiance and service and, in return, the republic would declare the right of every citizen to an adequate share of produce of the nation’s labour. 

“It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as Citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland,” it said.

The programme also declared that it would introduce a system at odds with the “foreign Poor Law system”, which were measures taken by the British parliament to address poverty and inequality.

The new Irish government it would ditch this system and introduce “a sympathetic native scheme for the care of the nation’s aged and infirm, who shall not be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the nation’s gratitude and consideration”. 

It closed with a pledge to develop Ireland’s industries and use its natural resources for the good of the people, and indicated a goal of cooperating with other governments in developing social and industrial laws that would provide a lasting improvement in the conditions under which the working classes live and labour.

Break for the day

All of this business last just under two hours, with the Dáil rising at 5.20pm.

The Ceann Comhairle said that they would reconvene at 3.30pm the following day.

And, 100 years on, the Mansion House will play host again as the country marks the centenary of the first Dáil.

There will be a ceremonial event, including a joint sitting of Dáil and Seanad Éireann, in the Round Room of the Mansion House tomorrow, along with an address by President Michael D Higgins.

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Sean Murray

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