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The Second Dáil was Dáil Éireann as it convened from 16 August 1921 until 8 June 1922. From 1919–1922 Dáil Éireann was the revolutionary parliament of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic. The Second Dáil consisted of members elected in 1921. One of its most important acts was to bring an end to the War of Independence by ratifying the controversial Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Elections of 1921

In December 1920, in the middle of the Anglo-Irish War, the British Government passed the Government of Ireland Act. This was intended to find a solution to the "Irish problem" by partitioning Irelandmarker into two parts, each of which would have a separate home rule parliament. In 1921 the first elections were held to these new bodies. The general election created the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, and the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. In both jurisdictions the electoral system used was the Single transferable vote.

Sinn Féin nationalists participated in these elections but refused to recognise the new home rule parliaments. Instead the party treated the elections in both parts of Ireland as elections to the Second Dáil of one country. Thus the Second Dáil theoretically consisted of members elected in both parts of Ireland.

The general election to the Northern Irelandmarker House of Commons occurred on 24 May. Of 52 seats, forty were won by Unionist, six by moderate nationalists and six by Sinn Féin. No actual polling took place in the "Southern Ireland" constituencies, as all 128 candidates were returned unopposed. Given the backdrop of the increasingly violent War of Independence, any candidates opposed to Sinn Féin and their supporters could expect to be shot or harassed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Supporters of the Irish Labour Party stood aside to allow the constitutional situation to run its course. Of these 128, 124 were won by Sinn Féin, and four by independent Unionists representing the University of Dublinmarker (Trinity College). Only the Sinn Féin candidates recognised the Second Dáil and five of these had been elected in two constituencies, one in each part of Ireland, so the total number of members who assembled in the Second Dáil was 125.

Despite its republican ethos, the Second Dáil responded favourably to George V's proposals on 22 June for a Truce, which became effective from noon on 11 July 1921. This was upheld by nearly all of the combatants while the months-long process of arranging a treaty got under way. While the truce was welcomed by enthusiastic crowds, and some arrangement beyond the Home Rule Act 1920 provisions was in prospect, it was also evident that the IRA military campaign had not secured the 32-county republic claimed by the Dáil, and that a separate government in Northern Irelandmarker was now functioning.

The Truce also allowed the Dáil to meet openly without fear of arrest for the first time since September 1919, when it had been banned and driven underground.

Between the Truce and the signing of the Treaty the Second Dáil only sat on 10 days, and did not discuss in detail the options available to it. Consequently a bitter debate started on 14 December, when nearly half the TDs discovered that its terms as finally agreed were a long way from the all-Ireland republic that they had campaigned for.

The Treaty

During the Second Dáil the Irish Republic and the British Government of David Lloyd George agreed to hold peace negotiations. As President of Dáil Éireann (Priomh Aire, or literally First Minister) Éamon de Valera was the highest official in the Republic at this time but was notionally only the head of government. In August 1921, in order to strengthen his side's hand the in negotiations, he had the Second Dáil amend the Republic's brief Dáil Constitution to grant him the title President of the Republic, and thereby became head of state. The purpose of this change was to impress upon the British the Republican doctrine that the negotiations were between two sovereign states with delegates accredited by their respective heads of state: the British king and the Irish president.

On 14 September 1921 the Dáil ratified the appointment of Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Robert Barton, Eamonn Duggan and George Gavan Duffy as envoys plenipotentiary for the peace conference in England. Of the five only Collins, Griffith and Barton were members of the cabinet. These envoys eventually signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 6 December. After almost a month of acrimonious debate the treaty was formally ratified by Dáil Éireann on 7 January 1922. The 'Treaty Debates' should also be seen as the first publicly reported debate on what Sinn Féin felt that it had achieved and could achieve. The vote went 64 in favour to 57 against. In the vote the three deputies who represented more than one constituency were each only permitted to vote once, but this would not have changed the outcome.

As the leader of the anti-Treaty minority De Valera resigned as President, and on 9 January his opponent Arthur Griffith took his place on a vote of 60-58.

To satisfy the requirements of the British constitution, the treaty also had to be ratified by the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. Thus Irish nationalists ended their boycott of the home rule parliament to attend the southern House of Commons as MP. This they did alongside the four Unionist MPs who had refused to recognise the Dáil. In this way the treaty was ratified a second time in Dublin, this time unanimously as the anti-Treaty TDs refused to attend.

Under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty a provisional parliament, considered by nationalists to be the Third Dáil, was elected in the Irish general election on 16 June 1922. Collins and de Valera agreed a Pact between the pro- and anti-Treaty wings of Sinn Féin and this pact and the elections were endorsed by the Second Dáil. The new assembly was recognised both by nationalists and the British Government and so replaced both the Parliament of Southern Ireland and the Second Dáil with a single body. The anti-Treaty groups of IRA men, TDs and their supporters were still bitterly opposed the settlement, despite the election result, and this led on to the Irish Civil War.

The Second Dáil in post-Treaty Republican tradition

Within Irish republicanism there is a minor current of thought which argues that the Second Dáil continued to exist after the establishment of the Irish Free State. In December 1938, a group of seven people, who had been elected to the Second Dáil in 1921, met with the IRA Army Council under Seán Russell. At this meeting, the seven signed over what they believed were the authority of the Government of Dáil Éireann to the Army Council. Henceforth, the IRA Army Council perceived itself to be the legitimate government of the Irish Republic.

See also


  1. The five TD (MPs) elected for two constituencies were Michael Collins, Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith, Seán Milroy and Eoin MacNeill.
  4. The seven former TDs were John J. O'Kelly, George Noble Plunkett, William Stockley, Mary MacSwiney, Brian O'Higgins, Tom Maguire and Cathal Ó Murchadha.

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