January 2019 marks the centenary of the first public sitting of Dáil Éireann. Ciarán Galway speaks with Houses of the Oireachtas Head of Communications Derek Dignam about the planned programme of commemorative events.
The Irish general election on 14 December 1918 heralded a landslide victory for Sinn Féin and the collapse of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP). Standing on an abstentionist platform, the party secured 73 of the 105 Irish seats in Westminster. The Sinn Féin MPs followed through on a pledge to establish a revolutionary unicameral parliament which they called Dáil Éireann. All Irish MPs were invited to attend.
At the first public meeting of the Dáil in the Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House on 21 January 1919, 29 Members were recorded as ‘I láthair’ (present), although two, Michael Collins and Harry Boland, were incorrectly recorded to conceal their efforts to organise Éamon de Valera’s escape from Lincoln Gaol. Five Sinn Féin Members, along with 32 invited Members (26 unionists and six IPP MPs) were recorded ‘as láthair’ (absent). Of the remaining Members, 34 were recorded as ‘fé ghlas ag Gallaibh’ (imprisoned by the foreigners) and three as ‘ar díbirt ag Gallaibh’ (banished by the foreigners).
Under the tagline Dáil 100, Derek Dignam and his team have been working to develop a programme of events for the centenary of the first public sitting of Dáil Éireann. The days either side of 21 January 2019 will encompass the three core events of this calendar.
“On the weekend beforehand, we intend to open Leinster House for some public engagement activities and tours of the Houses. On Monday 21 January 2019 there will be a ceremonial sitting in the Round Room of the Mansion House. Following this, we are planning a TED-Ed Club talk for students on Tuesday 22 January, again in the Round Room,” Dignam outlines.
During a two-hour sitting in January 1919, Members adopted a Dáil Constitution (in Irish alone) and adopted the Democratic Programme which outlined socio-economic principles. A Declaration of Independence was then read, first in Irish, then in French and, finally, in English. The Declaration stated: “We ordain that the elected Representatives of the Irish people alone have power to make laws binding on the people of Ireland, and that the Irish Parliament is the only Parliament to which that people will give its allegiance.” The Dáil also delivered a Message to the Free Nations of the World urging them to “support the Irish Republic by recognising Ireland’s national status and her right to its vindication at the Peace Congress”.
That same day, near Soloheadbeg in County Tipperary, the Irish Volunteers’ 3rd Tipperary Brigade ambushed a Royal Irish Constabulary escort and killed two officers. This event came to be regarded as the opening engagement of the War of Independence. Despite its prohibition in September that year, the Dáil’s clandestine meetings continued intermittently.
“Through a programme of events, we are hoping to socialise Dáil 100 and ensure that it doesn’t just drop in January – we will be building up to it.”
“Through a programme of events, we are hoping to socialise Dáil 100 and ensure that it doesn’t just drop in January – we will be building up to it,” the Head of Communications explains.
The build-up is diverse. Beginning in autumn 2018, the Oireachtas Communications Unit, particularly Parliamentary Education Officer Conor Reale, has been releasing lesson plans for post-primary students “to help them appreciate the significance of this historic event and to bring to the fore the parliamentary activities which define that”.
On 7 December, the former Members are holding a conference which will focus on both Vótáil 100 and Dáil 100 and includes keynote speakers such as former Fianna Fáil TD Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. It will be covered by Oireachtas TV and the proceedings made available to the public in the future.
Likewise, Dignam’s team have collaborated with the Royal Irish Academy to develop a joint conference on 11 December – Dáil Éireann: the first 100 years, 1919–2019. “We worked with them to develop a suffrage conference in February this year which was very successful and so we are running that model again. There will be four panels across the day,” he explains.
The two morning discussions will be chaired by Stephen Collins and Olivia O’Leary and will each include academic panellists who have an expertise in government, politics and history. Afterwards, a panel of politicians will discuss recent innovations in the Dáil and how it can stay relevant into the future. A final media panel will discuss contemporary public perceptions of Dáil Éireann.
On 16 January, mirroring the Vótáil 100 coin which was minted in November 2018, the Central Bank will launch a coin to mark Dáil 100. “Vótáil 100 and Dáil 100 are taglines that we created, and a lot of people and organisations were happy to row in behind them. These coins when they go into circulation should help to popularise awareness of the centenaries. The presentation boxes themselves are labelled with these taglines which is a collaboration which we greatly welcome,” Dignam notes.
The programme of events is set to continue after January 2019 and will include a culture night and an open night which will be branded with the Dáil 100 tagline. Dignam also indicates that a second Ceann Comhairle’s Lecture will be explored in 2019, similar to the very successful inaugural lecture on the theme of suffrage delivered by guest speaker Alison Cowzer.
“We would also like to work with Dáil na nÓg about having a joint event with them. That could become a very symbolic event for 2019,” he concludes.