Vote 100: celebrating the election of the First Dáil
This week marks the centenary of one of the most momentous events in Irish history
This week marks the centenary of the election of the First Dáil, one of the most significant events in Irish history and one which the citizens of this State can recall with pride. The democratic expression of the people’s will in 1918 led directly to the establishment of an independent state, which survived the vicissitudes of the 20th century and enabled us to have the freedom we enjoy today.
Ireland is one of few new states founded in the aftermath of the First World War which has remained an uninterrupted democracy. That is something for which succeeding generations of people and politicians deserve enormous credit.
The Irish Times is marking the epoch making developments of a century ago with the publication today of Vote 100. This commemorative history project consists of a magazine, an irishtimes.com microsite (irishtimes.com/Vote100) allowing readers to explore the event in pictures, video and text, and an accompanying poster. The latter features a poem by Eavan Boland, specially commissioned by the Government and the Royal Irish Academy, in recognition of one of the most momentous aspects of the 1918 election: it was the first time women were allowed to vote.
The 1918 election resulted in a landslide victory for Sinn Féin which won 73 seats as against just six for the Irish Parliamentary Party which had dominated nationalist politics for 40 years. It should not be forgotten, though, that the Unionist Party which was committed to remaining in the UK won 26 seats, mostly in north east Ulster. The consequences are also still with us today.
What differentiated Sinn Féin from the nationalist movements that preceded it was the party’s pledge not to take its seats in Westminster but instead to establish an Irish parliament at home. It honoured that commitment with the establishment of the First Dáil on January 21, 1919. That Dáil was much more than a protest against British rule. On the day it met for the first time it published a declaration of Irish independence, a democratic programme and a constitution which formed the embryo of those that later emerged in a free Ireland.
Another important development was that Constance Markievicz became the first woman – and the only one at that time – to be elected to the House of Commons, although she did not take her seat. She was appointed Minister for Labour when a cabinet was formed in 1919.
The great achievement of the First Dáil was the setting up of working departments of State which gradually established their legitimacy and began to take over the reins of government even before the Anglo Irish Treaty of December, 1921. That process, which included the raising of a national loan, was arguably a more important assertion of freedom than the violence unleashed in the War of Independence.