Irish republican legitimatism
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A concept within Irish Republicanism, Irish republican legitimatism denies the legitimacy of the political entities of Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and posits that the pre-partition Irish Republic continues to exist. The concept informs aspects of, but is not synonymous with, abstentionism.
The only political party currently to subscribe to this principle is Republican Sinn Féin which, running on an abstentionist platform, received 2,522 first preference votes, or 0.38 per cent of the valid poll in the 2007 Northern Ireland Assembly elections and 2,403 first preference votes, 0.13 per cent of the valid poll, in the 2004 Republic of Ireland local elections. The Continuity Irish Republican Army, Cumann na mBan and Fianna Éireann also subscribe to republican legitimatism.
Republican legitimatists adopt a traditional Irish republican analysis that views the Irish Republic as proclaimed "in arms" during the 1916 Easter Rising as the sole legitimate authority on the island of Ireland. This view is partly shared by all political parties in the present-day Republic of Ireland, who believe the secessionist and abstentionist First Dáil, which "ratified" the Republic proclaimed in 1916, is a predecessor to the current, internationally recognised, Dáil.
It is on the issue of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty that republican legitimatism departs from mainstream constitutional understanding. It views the Anglo-Irish Treaty as incompatible with the Irish Republic and thus null and void. Although the Treaty was endorsed by the majority of TDs of the Second Dáil, republican legitimatists argue that the vote was invalid as all TDs had, prior to their election, taken a solemn oath to defend the Irish Republic, and that people could not possibly express their true desires on the treaty, as the British had threatened a massive escalation, "immediate and terrible war" as they phrased it, if it was not accepted.
On the basis of these views, republican legitimatism argued that:
- all Irish parliaments convened since the Second Dáil in 1921 are illegitimate as they were established by a piece of British legislation, the Government of Ireland Act 1920;[dubious ]
- the 64 TDs who voted for the Treaty in 1922 had violated their oath to the Irish Republic and abdicated their legitimacy;
- The Second Dáil had never formally dissolved itself.
The pro- and anti-treaty factions of Sinn Féin attempted to present a united block of candidates for the 1922 general election in the 26 counties for the Third Dáil; 58 pro-treaty Sinn Féin members were re-elected compared with 36 anti-treaty members. Of these, 17 of the 58 and 16 of the 36 were returned unopposed. Following the outbreak of the Irish Civil War, the Second Dáil was never dissolved and the (All Ireland) Third Dáil never convened. Led by Éamon de Valera and others, the Second Dáil TDs who had voted against the Treaty abstained from the (26 county) Provisional Parliament of the Free State and the subsequent Oireachtas of the Irish Free State. They and their opponents engaged in the Irish civil war in 1922-23.
Although de Valera had resigned as President of the Republic on 7 January 1922, and had not been re-elected on a very close Dáil vote two days later, a meeting of the IRA Army Executive at Poulatar, Ballybacon on 17 October 1922 adopted a proclamation "reinstating" de Valera as "President of the Republic" and "Chief Executive of the State". The "Emergency Government," as de Valera called it in his autobiography, was established on 25 October 1922.
Members of this Republican government were:
- Éamon de Valera - "President of the Republic" (after his arrest in 1923, substituted by Patrick J. Ruttledge)
- Patrick J. Ruttledge - "Minister of Home Affairs"
- Austin Stack - "Minister of Finance"
De Valera also appointed twelve members of the Second Dáil to act as a Council of State. They were:
- Austin Stack
- Robert Barton
- Count Plunkett
- Seán Ó Ceallaigh (John J. O'Kelly)
- Laurence Ginnell
- Seán T. O'Kelly
- Kathleen O'Callaghan
- Mary MacSwiney
- P. J. Ruttledge
- Seán Moylan
- Michael Colivet
- Seán O'Μahony
This "Government of the Republic", however, was unable to assert the authority it claimed to possess. Effectively an internal government-in-exile, one of its first acts was to rescind the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It continued to meet even after subsequent elections had been held in jurisdiction of the Free State. Styling themselves Comhairle na dTeachtaí, the members of the rump Second Dáil were joined by anti-Treaty republican TDs elected at subsequent elections. The IRA initially recognised the authority of the rump Second Dáil but increased distrust between the two bodies led the IRA to withdraw its support in 1925.
At the 1926 Sinn Féin ard fheis, Éamon de Valera (then president of the party) effectively called for the abandonment of the legitimatist argument by proposing that the party accept the Free State constitution and return to electoral politics contingent on the abolition of the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown. Opponents of the proposal, led by Father Michael O’Flanagan and Mary MacSwiney, defeated his motion by a vote of 223 to 218. De Valera subsequently resigned as Sinn Féin president to form a new party, Fianna Fáil, which entered the Dáil of the Irish Free State in 1927, reducing the ranks of this rump Second Dáil even further. From this point onwards, de Valera and his followers were seen as having departed from the principles of republicanism by republican legitimatists, who set up Comhairle na Poblachta as a body to popularise its claims.
1938 – Second Dáil to Army Council 
The 17 December 1938 issue of the Wolfe Tone Weekly carried a statement from a body calling itself the Executive Council of the Second Dáil. Above this statement was an introductory paragraph written by Seán Russell announcing that on 8 December, the anniversary of the executions of the "Four Martyrs" (Rory O'Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey) in 1922, the group had transferred what they believed was their authority as Government of the Irish Republic to the IRA Army Council. The statement was published in both Irish and English and appeared below the banner headline "IRA take over the Government of the Republic".
During the period 1922-1938, all seven signatories stood for re-election in the Irish Free State, but by 1938 none were successful. Therefore they considered that their past electoral status in 1921-22 was more important than their subsequent attempts to be elected, as the Second Dáil arose from the last election held in the whole island of Ireland. The signatories now argued that the seven general elections that the Irish Free State electorate had voted in, from 1922 to mid-1938, had all been illegitimate and unconstitutional; even though they had themselves stood as candidates and had on occasion been elected in some of them.
The text of the statement is as follows:
Henceforth, the IRA Army Council perceived itself to be the legitimate government of the Irish Republic. This allowed it to present its declaration of war on Britain in January 1939 (see S-Plan) as the act of a legitimate, de jure government.
1969 – Official/Provisional split
In December 1969, the IRA General Army Convention decided to drop its policy of abstentionism. This resulted in a split in the organisation, leading to the emergence of the (then) majority Official IRA and (minority) Provisional IRA. The supporters of the latter approached Tom Maguire, the last surviving member of the 1938 seven-member rump Second Dáil, who declared that the Provisional IRA was the legitimate successor to the 1938 Army Council and, as such, was the legal embodiment of the Irish Republic.
The text of the statement is as follows:
1986 – Provisional/Continuity split
The Provisional Movement followed this analysis until 1986, when the IRA and Sinn Féin split over the issue of abstentionism once again. As in 1970, republican legitimatists approached Tom Maguire, who in two statements written in 1986 and 1987 but issued posthumously in 1994, maintained that the Army Council of the Continuity IRA was the sole legitimate successor to the 1938 Army Council.
The texts of the statements are as follows:
In the years after the split, the Provisionals moved towards a complete cessation of armed struggle, while Sinn Féin entered constitutional politics. The party now contests elections to the Dail Eireann and the Northern Ireland Assembly - "partionist parliaments" in the legitimatist view - and takes up the seats it wins. However, Sinn Féin maintains an abstentionist stance towards the Westminster Parliament.
Republican Sinn Féin uphold the abstentionist tradition to both "partionist parliaments" plus Westminster, and view themselves as the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905.
- Seamus Fox's Chronology of Irish History 1919–1923
- Éamonn de Bhailéara (Eamon de Valera) entry on Archontology.org website
- The World at War – Ireland Timeline 1918–1948 claims the meeting was held on 26 October. Another source claims the meeting that meeting was held on 9 September 1922.
- Maria Luddy, ‘MacSwiney, Mary Margaret (1872–1942)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- Maguire died in 1993 aged 101.
- Meaning the rump/faithful Second Dáil of 1938;