The centenary of Dáil Éireann
Sir, – Regarding your important supplement on the centenary of Dáil Éireann, the photograph chosen for the supplement was that of the meeting of Dáil Éireann on April 1st, 1919, and not that of the first meeting of January 21st, 1919. The selection of the correct photograph is important as it was the 24 men pictured in the January photograph who were mainly responsible for the significant declarations made on that day: the Declaration of Independence, the Message to the Free Nations of the World and the Democratic Programme. Michael Collins and Harry Boland also contributed to these statements but they were not present in January as they were planning the escape of de Valera from Lincoln jail. Members of the Labour Party also contributed to the contents of the Democratic Programme.
Second, there is no presentation of the character of Lord French’s rule in Ireland, although there is an article by Ronan McGreevy on his attempted assassination. An understanding of Lord French’s position is critical to any understanding of the War of Independence and the role of the Royal Irish Constabulary in that war. Lord French was appointed on May 6th, 1918, as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland on the understanding with Lloyd George that he was “to set up a quasi-military government in Ireland with a soldier lieutenant”. His appointment was made to counter the response of all Irish politicians to the imposition of a Conscription Act on Ireland on April 12th, 1918. That response had been made on April 18th, 1918, at a large gathering in the Mansion House, in which it was declared that the Act was “a declaration of war on the Irish people”. Eamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith of Sinn Féin were joined by John Dillon and Joseph Devlin of the Irish Party and by representatives of the Labour Party and trade unions. Their action was supported by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It was in this context that Lord French, signing himself “Governor General”, issued a proclamation on May 16th, which announced that some people were plotting with the Germans. This led to the arrest and imprisonment, without trial, of over 100 men and women of the Sinn Féin party.
So significant were these events that a case might be made that they marked the first steps of the War of Independence; at the very least they cannot be ignored in any consideration of the background to the meeting of the first Dáil Éireann. They also serve to confirm that the RIC was no ordinary police force. Since the start of the first World War in 1914, the RIC had implemented the Defence of the Realm Act and the Defence of the Realm Regulations, both of these measures taking precedence over civil law; and, while continuing to implement these Acts, they also enacted the martial law edicts of Lord French. In short they were not a normal police force; they sustained a military dictatorship. – Yours, etc,
Dr BRIAN P MURPHY OSB.