Bloggers for Europe

A short history of Irish democracy

Posted at 5:01 pm by Owen Rooney

Won't someone PLEASE think of the children?

Won't someone please think of the children?

In the past few days, Libertas have started putting up a new poster, eschewing their pastel blues and ballot boxes from the last campaign in favour of apocalyptic skies, crying children and the death of democracy. While I'm going to assume all of you are knowledgeable enough about the Lisbon Treaty to know that it won't signal the end of Irish democracy, what I'd actually like to take issue with is the startling lack of knowledge of the history of democracy in Ireland that Libertas are displaying. Democracy in Ireland didn't, as the poster suggest, suddenly appear on the scene in 1916. In fact, we didn't even have an elected parliament in 1916, and the roots of Irish democracy go back much further.

The first recorded meeting of the earliest Irish Parliament was on 18 June 1264 in Castledermot, County Kildare, and the Parliament of Ireland was then officially established in 1297. Admittedly the franchise for elections was extremely limited in these early days, but this was the case for any democratic system that developed during the middle ages. Although the parliament had a large degree of independence from the English Parliament and British Monarch originally, the act known as Poynings' Law severely restricted the powers of the Parliament of Ireland in 1494, giving the King and English Parliament effectively complete control over it.

The trend towards English consolidation of power in Ireland was temporarily reversed when, in 1782, Irish politicians led by Henry Grattan managed to have Poynings' Law and many other restrictions on the Irish Parliament reversed, after which it went through a period known as 'Grattan's Parliament'. The parliament at this stage had more autonomy than at any time before, and extended the vote to the Catholic majority in 1792. The Act of Union in 1800, however, abolished the Irish Parliament after this brief period of legislative freedom, and for more than a century the only Parliament with power over Ireland was to be the one in Westminster.

Despite campaigns by men such as Daniel O'Connell throughout the 19th century, it was not until 1919 that a parliament sat in Ireland again. Following the 1918 Westminster elections, the 73 MPs elected for Sinn Fein unilaterally founded the first Dáil Eireann, and ratified a declaration of independence on its first sitting on 21 January 1919. Although the Dáil wasn't officially recognised, and in fact declared illegal by the British government, it managed to negotiate the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State.

The Irish Free State was established in 1922, with a Dáil and Seanad elected by proportional representation, and an 'Executive Council' chosen by the Dáil. The Constitution of the Irish Free State also provided a range of measures for direct democracy, such as constitutional amendment by referendum and a citizens' initiative, although these were never actually used. It was on 1 July 1937 that the first ever referendum was held in Ireland, where the voters approved the Constitution of Ireland, as proposed by the government of Eamon de Valera. The modern constitution, which severed the relationship to Britain and the Commonwealth, kept the Dail and Seanad in largely similar form, introduced a directly elected President, and could only be amended by means of referendum, which has since happened 21 times.

So, while looking for a date for the 'birth' of Irish democracy, Libertas could have chosen 1264, 1297, 1782, 1919, 1922 or 1937, all important years in the progression towards our current democratic society. In comparison to these dates, 1916, while an important step towards Irish independence, wasn't actually a turning point in Irish democracy, with democracy in various forms having existed in Ireland since more than 650 years beforehand, and the subsequent return to national democracy occurring 3 years later. If Libertas wish to claim themselves defenders of Irish democratic traditions, it might help if they took the time to learn what those traditions were in the first place.

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Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Perhaps Libertas, too, should start putting question marks at the end of their misleading assertions.

  2. Pleace vote for democracy and against the treaty of lisbon

    Dear irish people!

    Pleace stop the treaty of lisbon! Is is antidemocartic, militaristic, antisocial. The disadvantages are much bigger, than the advantages. The EU can live with its actuell laws. They should only be changed into a democratic direction. With the treaty of lisbon, the european council is able to change this treaty in great parts without asking the parliament. This is nearly the same law, which mades the nationl- rassistic- party of Germany so powerfull in our country in the year 1933. Our basic law (the german constitution) and all other european constitutions should not be replaced by the treaty of lisbon. But the new treaty tries to bring all right- sytstems in a lower level than the new european right. Here is my informationpage: . When you have some more english information, pleace send me a link or text or write it into the visitors book of my page. And pleace spread this text all over Ireland.

    In the hope in your activities for a better Europe, Felix Staratschek, Freiligrathstr. 2, D- 42477 Radevormwald (Germany)

  3. Hi Felix,

    Come Friday I’ll be giving my own opinion on the Lisbon treaty, which is what I’m being asked for, not anyone else’s. Especially when it’s based on such erroneous analysis as your own.


  4. Felix I see you are using the same argument that you did over on the “irelandforeurope” site. I will copy my reply to you so…

    Felix… that is a lie. The Treaty clearly states that amendments to the Treaty MUST be re-ratified at a national level. The EU has never been a racist force like the Nazi party was. Remember that the Nazis in Germany were voted in on a Nationalist and Socialist basis. They campaigned on the purity of their “nation” and their “race”.
    The descendent parties of the Nazi (neo-Nazi groups, religious right, marxist left, nationalist right like the UKIP) are the one campaigning for a NO vote. That does not seem to fit into your haphazard comparison of the EU to Nazi Germany.

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