The 1918 general election
Sir, – Elaine Callinan’s interesting analysis of the 1918 election resurrects some of the qualifications about the Sinn Féin landslide which were enthusiastically promulgated during the 1970s and 1980s (“Sinn Féin landslide in 1918 not quite what it seemed”, Opinion & Analysis, December 13th). However, a closer look at the results raises questions about some of the points made in the article.
Is it really the case that the election was marked by “abstentionism” and “high voter disaffection”? In those constituencies which were contested (78 out of 103), the turnout was 68 per cent, a far higher total than in the UK as a whole, where the turnout was just over 57 per cent. The turnout was also broadly similar to the percentage of the electorate who voted in contested constituencies in the December 1910 general election, when there was neither a world war nor a flu epidemic, and political tensions were at fever pitch. The turnout in 1922 and 1923 elections were 62.5 per cent and 61.3 per cent. Turnout did not again exceed 68 per cent until 1927. I suspect most electoral democracies would be quite happy with turnouts of this size in general elections.
A second point is the prominence given to the breakdown of votes recorded in the contested elections and the exclusion of the 25 constituencies where Sinn Féin candidates were unopposed. Of course we can never know how many people from Cork, Kerry, Clare, West Limerick, North Tipperary, East Galway and South Mayo might have voted for Sinn Féin if they had had the opportunity in 1918, but there seems little doubt that the Sinn Féin majorities in these areas would have been very substantial, perhaps higher than their 66.9 per cent average in contested Sinn Féin constituencies.
It is important to be aware of the fact that not everyone in Ireland in 1918 was a Sinn Féin supporter, as was obvious to everyone living at the time, but also important not to underestimate the overwhelming scale of their electoral victory in nationalist Ireland and this, in turn, made it impossible in the long run for Irish revolutionaries to ignore the will of the electorate. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Much has been written and will be written on the Sinn Féin landslide in the 1918 general election and its implications.
This result would be best looked at in conjunction with the local elections of 1920. The local elections of 1920 were the last elections held on an all-Ireland basis and the Local Government Act, 1919, Ireland, ensured that the PR system would be used for the first time in Ireland.
The results were no less stunning than the general election results, proving that the 1918 elections were no flash in the pan.
The local elections were held in two stages: urban in January 1920 and rural in June. Republicans and nationalists ended up controlling 28 of the 32 county councils and most boroughs and urban councils, including Derry, Strabane, Armagh and Omagh. In Belfast the number of unionists elected fell from 52 to 29. The democratic voice of all the people of Ireland, in the 1920 local elections, democratically copperfastened the pledge of allegiance to an independent Ireland freely given in the 1918 general election. – Yours, etc,