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13 January 2000 Edition

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Remembering the Past: The Declaration of Independence

By Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Sinn Féin candidates scored a spectacular victory in the December 1918 Westminster elections. The result, announced on 28 December gave the party 73 out of a total of 105 seats. Of the remainder, the irish parliamentary party got just 6 seats and the remaining 26 went to the unionists. Sinn Féin candidates had stood on the policy of self-determination for Ireland and declared that they would not be taking seats in the Westminster Parliament. This abstensionist policy had been adopted by Sinn Féin candidates in all elections since 1917.

As the pro-Irish Parliamentary Party newspaper The Freeman's Journal admitted on 30 December 1918:

``The meaning of the Irish vote is as clear as it is emphatic. More than two-thirds of the electors throughout national Ireland have endorsed the Sinn Féin programme. They invited the people to join to the demand for a Republic as something immediately obtainable and practicable as well as desirable, the declaration that they would accept nothing else and nothing less.''

In the New Year, Harry Boland and Alderman Tom Kelly issued invitations from the Sinn Féin Headquarters in 6 Harcourt Street, to all Sinn Féin deputies to attend a private meeting in the Mansion House in Dublin on 7 January. Count Plunkett chaired the meeting of 26 deputies and it was decided to proceed with the plan to institute an independent parliament for Ireland, which would take on the powers of government. It was agreed to invite all the recently-elected deputies to attend the opening session of Dáil Éireann on 21 January 1919 in the Mansion House. The meeting also decided that a committee should be selected to ensure that adequate preparations were made to ensure that the opening day of the First Dáil would be a success. They were also tasked with drawing up a constitution, a programme of government and other public pronouncements that they felt should be made on that momentous day.

George Gavan Duffy, Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh, Piaras Beaslaí and Harry Boland were among the committee members. The invitation to attend Dáil Éireann was sent to all the recently-elected deputies, signed by Count Plunkett who'd been re-elected to the Roscommon seat he first won in 1917.

Harry Boland and Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh contacted the Labour leader Thomas Johnston asking him to prepare a draft political policy statement for the parliament. Johnston's original draft echoed the Communist Manifesto and some alterations were made before it was put to the floor of the Mansion House under the title the Democratic Programme.

The Declaration of Independence, which was to be the first item on the agenda of the First Dáil after the adoption of a provisional constitution for the Céad Dáil, was chiefly framed by George Gavan Duffy and was based on previous IRB declarations in the second half of the 19th Century and on the 1916 Proclamation. Thousands of copies of the Declaration, the Democratic Programme and the Address to the Free Nations of the World were printed up for distribution to the public and the media on the opening day and subsequently.

The English Privy Council voted not to ban the assembly, in the belief that to do so would be to give republicans a publicity coup. The number of foreign media in attendance, however, guaranteed that the republicans had their coup regardless, and though news of the proceedings was censored in Ireland and in Britain, around the world the bold step by the Sinn Féin Teachtaí Dála was given much coverage. Despite the Privy Council's decision republicans were on their guard and precautions were in place in the event of a raid on proceedings.

(More next week)

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