Emergency Powers Act 1939

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This article is about the Irish law. For the UK law, see Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939.

The Emergency Powers Act 1939 was an act of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) enacted on 3 September 1939 after an official state of emergency had been declared on 2 September 1939.[1] The act allowed the government to:

make provisions for securing the public safety and the preservation of the state in time of war and, in particular, to make provision for the maintenance of public order and for the provision and control of supplies and services essential to the life of the community, and to provide for divers and other matters (including the charging of fees on certain licences and other documents) connected with the matters aforesaid.

The act gave the government the ability to maintain Irish neutrality during The Emergency by providing sweeping new powers to the government for the duration of the emergency, such as internment, censorship of the media and mail by postal censorship, and the government control of the economy.

During the Dáil debate on the act, Fine Gael TD, John A. Costello was highly critical of the delegation of powers, stating that,

… we are asked not merely to give a blank cheque, but, to give an uncrossed cheque to the Government.[2]

Preparation for the emergency were well in hand a year before it was needed, because by way of the 1938 Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement, access had been acquired to the British government's Second World War legal emergency preparations. The Sudetenland crisis prompted the adapting of the British "war book" for Ireland's purposes with draft legislation already finished by September 18, 1938.[3]

According to Tony Gray, the "Emergency Powers Orders", EPOs, "made under the Act were so draconian that they effectively abolished democracy for the period, and most aspects of the life of the country were controlled by the dictatorial powers the government acquired".[4] The Garda Síochána got extended power of search and arrest. Compulsory cultivation of land and compulsory queuing for buses, were a few topics for which orders were made. A total of 7,864 orders were made.[2] One aspect of the EPOs was that once they were laid before the Oireachtas, TDs could only annul an EPO, but could not scrutinise, or amend them like they could with legislation.[3]

Media censorship of radio broadcasts was effected by having news bulletins read to the head of the Government Information Bureau for approval before being broadcast by Radio Éireann and weather forecasts were forbidden; this inconvenienced both farmers and fishermen.[5]

Amendment and expiry[edit]

The Act originally specified a duration of one year. Amending acts passed annually continued the principal act until 2 September 1946, when it was allowed to lapse. There were also substantive amendments to the act's provisions; those of 1940 and 1942 increased the emergency powers, while that passed in 1945, as the war was ending, reduced them.[6][7] Whereas the original act allowed for the internment of foreign nationals, the 1940 amendment extended this to Irish citizens, to combat Irish Republican Army activity.

The Emergency Powers Act finally lapsed on 2 September 1946.[8] However the state of emergency itself was not rescinded until 1 September 1976.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Existence of National Emergency". Dáil debates. Government of Ireland. 77: 19–20. 1939-09-02. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  2. ^ a b Ó Longaigh, Seosamh (2004). "Emergency Law in Action, 1939–1945". In Keogh, Dermot; O'Driscoll, Mervyn. Ireland in World War II: Diplomacy and Survival. Cork: Mercier Press. p. 64. ISBN 1-85635-445-8. 
  3. ^ a b Ó Longaigh, Seosamh (2004). "Preparing Law for an Emergency, 1938-1939". In Keogh, Dermot; O'Driscoll, Mervyn. Ireland in World War II: Diplomacy and Survival. Cork: Mercier Press. p. 38. ISBN 1-85635-445-8. 
  4. ^ Gray, Tony (1997). The Lost Years: The Emergency in Ireland 1939–45. London: Little Brown & Co. p. 5. ISBN 0-7515-2333-X. 
  5. ^ "Radio Éireann during the Emergency: 1939-45". History of RTÉ. RTÉ. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  6. ^ Emergency Powers (Amendment) Act, 1940; Emergency Powers (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1940; [1]; [2]; [3]; [4]; [5]; [6]; [7]
  7. ^ "Emergency Powers (Continuance and Amendment) Bill, 1945—Second Stage.". Dáil Éireann debates. 4 July 1945. Retrieved 16 July 2015. 
  8. ^ "Emergency Powers (Continuance and Amendment) Act, 1945". Government of Ireland. 1945-07-29. pp. §4(1). Retrieved 2008-07-19. The Principal Act shall, unless previously terminated under subsection (2) of this section, continue in force until the 2nd day of September, 1946, and shall then expire unless the Oireachtas otherwise determines. 
  9. ^ "National Emergency: Motion (Resumed)". Dáil debates. Government of Ireland. 292: 119–256. 1976-09-01. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 

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