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27 January 2000 Edition

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Remembering the Past: Ireland's independence declared

By Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Following the Roll Call of the members of An Chéad Dáil Éireann (The First Dáil) on that significant afternoon of 21 January 1919, the next business of the assembly was to adopt a provisional Constitution.

Bunreacht Dála Éireann was a short constitution of five articles, which as well as stating that is was only a provisional constitution, also conferred powers to legislate on the assembly, named Dáil Éireann. The Constitution also detailed the ministries, the procedures in relation to their election and the election of the Ceann Chomhairle. Whether this short constitution was meant to be a constitution for the Republic or just for the elected assembly is still being debated by historians. Suffice to say it was the first Constitution of Céad Dáil Éireann. It was proposed by Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh, who stated that there would be omissions and that in the future there would be a need to add to it. Seán Hayes, the deputy for West Cork, seconded the adoption of the Constitution.

Interestingly a reference to an Irish Republic, which appeared in a prior draft of the constitution, was omitted when it was put to Dáil Éireann on January 21. The Sinn Féin TDs had though, on 7 January 1919, taken the following oath:

``I hereby pledge myself to work for the establishment of an independent Irish Republic; that I will accept nothing less than complete separation from England in settlement of Ireland's claims; and that I will abstain from attending the English parliament.''

Following the adoption of the provisional Constitution for the First Dáil, Cathal Brugha called for the TDs to be upstanding while the Declaration of Independence was read, firstly in Irish by Brugha himself, then in French by George Gavan Duffy and lastly in English by Eamon Duggan. Reading the Declaration, Cathal Brugha stated:

``Deputies, you understand from what is asserted in this Declaration that we are now done with England. Let the world know it and those who are concerned bear it in mind.''

He continued saying ``Pé ní a thiocfaidh as a bhfuil ráite anseo - imirt anama nó bás - tá deire le ré na cainte in Éirinn, agus má's maith is mithid é - tá deire le ráiméas.'' (Whatever comes of what is said here today - risk to soul or death - the era of talking is at an end in Ireland - and thankfully - there is an end to the bullshit). In what nearly amounted to a declaration of war, Brugha continued: ``Caithfear briseadh do dhéanamh ar an gceangal seo idir an dúiche seo is Sasana. Mura ndéantar sin ní bheidh aon tsíocháin ann.'' (The connection between this jurisdiction and England must be broken. If it is not there will be no peace).

Piaras Beaslaí seconded the adoption of the Declaration, stating that ``without the brave heroes of 1916, the First Dáil wouldn't be in existence. The spirit, of those brave warriors who acted on their beliefs was with us in this Dáil. We will pursue the independence referred to in the Declaration in every way possible. That means action, and we will not shirk from that action, even though it may mean imprisonment or injury. Dáil Éireann will do everything within its power to bring about freedom and implement the Declaration.''

Brugha then asked the deputies present to stand and affirm in Irish that: ``We adopt this Declaration of Independence, and we pledge ourselves to put it into effect by every means in our power.''

This was done unanimously.

Dáil Éireann passed the Declaration of Independence 81 years ago last week.

(Next week: Ireland's Message to the Free Nations.)


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