Third Dáil

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The Third Dáil, was both the Provisional Parliament or the Constituent Assembly of Southern Ireland from 9 August to 6 December 1922; and the lower house (Dáil Éireann) of the Oireachtas of the Irish Free State from 6 December 1922 until 9 August 1923.

Election of the Third Dáil/Provisional Parliament[edit]

The elections to the Third Dáil took place on 16 June 1922. They occurred under the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote. Unlike the Second Dáil, which was notionally elected by the whole island of Ireland, the Third Dáil would not include members elected from Northern Ireland. Since the election of the Second Dáil in 1921, Sinn Féin, the only political party represented in the Dáil, had split into pro and anti-treaty factions and these two factions became the major contestants of the 1922 elections. Despite a pact between the two factions, the elections were therefore effectively a de facto referendum on the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The pro-treaty side won a majority of seats and the anti-treaty faction boycotted the assembly, refusing to recognise the body as the legitimate heir to the Second Dáil, and the Civil War broke out shortly afterwards.

Article 17 of the Anglo-Irish Treaty[edit]

Article 17 of the Anglo-Irish Treaty provided that:

By way of provisional arrangement for the administration of Southern Ireland during the interval which must elapse between the date hereof [6 December 1921] and the constitution of a Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State [This ultimately occurred on 6 December 1922] in accordance therewith, steps shall be taken forthwith for summoning a meeting of members of Parliament elected for constituencies in Southern Ireland since the passing of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and for constituting a provisional Government, and the British Government shall take the steps necessary to transfer to such provisional Government the powers and machinery requisite for the discharge of its duties, provided that every member of such provisional Government shall have signified in writing his or her acceptance of this instrument [the Treaty]. But this arrangement shall not continue in force beyond the expiration of twelve months from the date hereof.

Article 17 therefore envisaged by way of "provisional arrangement" the creation of a provisional government. For the purposes of giving effect to Article 17, the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922, an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom provided in Section 1(2) that:[1]

  • the British Government could by Orders in Council transfer powers to the Provisional Government of Southern Ireland;
  • the Parliament of Southern Ireland would be dissolved within four months from the passing of the Act; and
  • elections would be held for "the House of the Parliament" to which the Provisional Government would be responsible (i.e. the Third Dáil). The Act did not give a name to that Parliament but said that in matters within the jurisdiction of the Provisional Government (i.e. only certain matters concerning Southern Ireland), it would have power to make laws in like manner as the Parliament of the Irish Free State when constituted. This last-mentioned "House of the Parliament" is what is more commonly referred to as the Third Dáil.

Rival political theories[edit]

The Third Dáil was:

Both theories agree that it was a "constituent assembly".

Rival political theories existed in Ireland at the time. Ireland since 1919 had been governed under two rival political theories. To nationalists and republicans, an assembly of Irish members of parliament (who adopted the equivalent Irish language term Teachta Dála or TD) had formed in Dublin in 1919 and was seen as the valid parliament of the Irish People from which the Irish Republic received its sovereignty. Each Dáil in turn was the successor of the earlier one and the legitimate parliament of the Irish Republic. The Second Dáil was chosen through an election in 1921 called by the British administration in Ireland, the elected republican members forming themselves into the Second Dáil rather than the Parliament of Southern Ireland they were elected to.

However according to British political theory the assembly of Irish MPs in Dublin did not constitute a valid parliament and was subsequently declared illegal. Under British theory, legal government remained vested in His Majesty's Government in Westminster, and its Irish executive, under the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland based in Dublin Castle. In 1920 the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was enacted, which created in 1921 two Irish parliaments; one for Northern Ireland in Belfast and one for Southern Ireland, which was called to assemble in Royal College of Science in Dublin. The uncontested elections in Southern Ireland produced the House of Commons of Southern Ireland, though when the new house was called to assemble, only four MPs turned up. The rest assembled as the illegal Second Dáil.

Two governments, two parliaments, one objective[edit]

Under the Treaty, procedures were set in place to merge the republican and British systems. Initially both remained separate to validate the Treaty from their own perspectives. So the Second Dáil and the House of Commons of Southern Ireland both voted separately to ratify the Treaty. Each house chose their own distinct but overlapping governments, with a government of the Irish Republic being chosen under President Arthur Griffith, while a Provisional Government under Michael Collins was chosen by the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. In reality both governments effectively worked as a team. Then both governments dissolved both houses and called elections to a body that could be seen, depending on the political theory followed, as the successor of either or both houses. The Proclamation by the Provisional Government which called the body stated that it was made 'pursuant to the provisions of ... an Act entitled the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act, 1922'[2]

Crown assembly or Republican Dáil?[edit]

Whether the new house, the Third Dáil/Provisional Parliament, was a republican parliament or crown assembly became an issue for some Anti-Treaty Irish republicans. Laurence Ginnell turned up in the assembly to demand an answer as to which category, crown or republic, it belonged. Even the Ceann Comhairle (the speaker) and the Lord Lieutenant seemed confused. At one stage the Ceann Comhairle referred to a message from the Lord Lieutenant to the assembly,[3] even though, in theory, the assembly, if the lineal successor of the earlier Dála, should not have been accepting a message from the representative of the British king, while the Lord Lieutenant equally should not have been sending a message to the body if it were still the parliament of the Irish Republic.

The ambiguities and constitutional puzzles regarding the two governments previously chosen by the different parent assemblies of the current constituent assembly, were solved when the separate governments themselves were merged through the sudden death of Arthur Griffith and the assassination of Michael Collins within one week of each other. The two chief governmental offices, the President of the Republic[4] and the Chairman of the Provisional Government (who was constitutionally a Minister of the Crown), came to be held by the one man, W. T. Cosgrave, producing a unique constitutional hybrid; a crown-empowered prime minister who was also president of a republic. Amid all the confusion of the status of parliaments and prime ministerial titles, the ambiguous combination of monarchy and republicanism in Cosgrave's office was accepted by both political theories.

Enactment of the Constitution – two systems become one[edit]

The Constitution of the Irish Free State provided, within its own articles, that it would not come into effect until it had been adopted by both the British Parliament and the Third Dáil, which it referred to as the "constituent assembly". The Third Dáil adopted the Constitution of the Irish Free State on 25 October 1922. The document was then enacted by the British Parliament and came into force on 6 December. The new constitution used the name Dáil Éireann for the lower house of a new parliament called the "Oireachtas". However it provided that until the first elections to this new lower house the "constituent assembly" would exercise "all the powers and authorities" conferred on the 'new' Dáil Éireann. The Third Dáil therefore functioned as a legislative lower house from December 1922 until it was dissolved on 9 August 1923 to enable the 1923 general election to be held.

The Fourth Dáil, the first Dáil Éireann of the Irish Free State, was convened one month later in September. In spite of the nomenclature preferred by nationalists, under British constitutional theory it was this first Free State Dáil that was the first legitimate Irish political institution to bear the name "Dáil Éireann".

Footnotes[edit]

See also[edit]

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