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30 March 2000 Edition

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Remembering the Past: Press coverage for First Dáil

By Aengus Ó Snodaigh

The initial session of the First Dáil lasted two days, the next session wasn't held until 1 April 1919 and lasted five days, three of the meetings being held in private. The first session received reasonable coverage at home and abroad. An English Times correspondent wrote: ``The proceedings throughout were orderly and dignified, not a word being uttered that could provoke ill-feeling.''

The evening of the inaugural meeting saw that the revolutionaries recognised the importance of cultivating good press relations. Sinn Féin hosted a reception and dinner in the Oak Room of the Mansion House, Dublin, in honour of visiting journalists. The investment in that evening was to stand republicans in good stead in the turbulent years ahead.

Despite the British government censor reacting quickly to the proceedings by banning the publication of the Declaration of Independence and the Democratic Programme, there was widespread media comment on the inauguration of an Irish parliament.

The newspapers which were openly Sinn Féin headlined this significant event, but other newspapers in Ireland were not so sure.

The Redmonite Freeman's Journal expressed doubt: ``The question which dominates all other issues is whether the declarations bear any relation to realities, and whether it is seriously proposed to take measures to give them practical effect.'' It continued to say that if the advocates were not serious that the country was ``on the eve of one of the most tragic chapters in the history of Ireland'' and that to proceed would ``inevitably lead to defeat, disaster and ruin of National hopes''. The Irish Times took much the same line, attacking it as Bolshevism and titling one editorial on the proceedings, ``Cloud-Cuckoo Land''. It, though, recognised that it was ``a solemn act of defiance of the British Empire, by a body of young men who have not the slightest notion of that Empire's power and resources and not a particle of experience in the conduct of public affairs''.

The Irish Independent also warned of ridicule, but stated it was ``a bold move'' while the Belfast Telegraph called the Dáil a ``farce''. It called for its suppression, saying that its existence would encourage republicans to break the law. The Cork Examiner said it was ``a political step of first importance'' which showed ``that Ireland no longer placed confidence in British government''.

The Dublin correspondent for the London Times saw it as a ``stage-play'', while the Daily Mail is quoted as stating: ``Whether Sinn Féin will perish either in a shriek of laughter or in a De profundis for the dead in a country where comedy and tragedy walk hand in hand none may prophesy.''

The Manchester Guardian found the whole episode ridiculous: ``The republican theatricalism which had its absurd climax in the gathering of the Irish `Constituent Assembly `will not be taken seriously in this country.''

One English newspaper, the Daily News, said though that it was ``very easy to laugh at the Sinn Féin Parliament, but it is not certain that it is wise''.

The reaction by the nationalist newspapers to these criticisms and attacks were summed up in the Leader (25 January 1919): ``The quips and jokes and threats and prophecies of the English press, are of course, of no interest to us.''

An tÓglach, the Irish Volunteer newspaper, said that Dáil Éireann was ``a lawfully constituted authority, whose moral sanction every theologian must recognise, an authority claiming the same right to inflict death on the enemies of the Irish State as every free national Government claims in such case''.

This concludes this series of articles on the inaugural meeting of An Chéad Dáil Éireann. More information can be obtained from the following books: Revolutionary Government in Ireland - Dáìl Éireann 1919-22 by Arthur Mitchell; An Chéad Dáil Éireann agus an Ghaeilge le Nollaig Ó Gadhra; The Irish Republic by Dorothy Macardle; and Dáil Éireann, minutes of proceedings.

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