Recalling how Fianna Fáil deputies used the notion of an empty formula to deal with the oath of allegiance on entering the Dáil.
Following the election in June 1927, Fianna Fáil deputies led by Éamon de Valera refused to take the oath of allegiance to the king and were not admitted entry to Dáil Éireann. In August, the deputies dismissed the oath as an empty formula and entered the Dáil.
On 10 August 1927 Éamon de Valera led his 45 Fianna Fáil deputies into Dáil Éireann for the first time. This event marked the final stage in the transition of main stream republicanism from military to parliamentary opposition.
In 1927, having failed to get the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis to agree to participate in Dáil Éireann, Éamon De Valera resigned from Sinn Féin and formed a new political party Fianna Fáil. After success at the polls in June 1927, Éamon de Valera was prevented from entering the Dáil as he and his party members refused to swear an oath of allegiance to a foreign king.
They were kept out of the assembly by force.
Acceptance and rejection of the oath of allegiance became the main point of reference between those who accepted the Free State Dáil and those who rejected the Dáil.
The murder of Kevin O'Higgins on 10 July 1927 and the introduction of stringent public safety acts marked a change in the political reality. On 9 August, Éamon de Valera explained to a meeting of the national executive of Fianna Fáil that there was,
No alternative between giving up political action and entry into the Free State Dáil.
Following the meeting, a public statement signed by all 45 Fianna Fáil deputies was issued containing the "empty formula" . The plan was to present themselves at the clerk's office of the Dáil for the purpose of complying with the conditions of Article 17 of the constitution.
Fianna Fáil entered the mainstream of Irish political life.
Of the original 45 deputies, only Frank Aiken, Sean McEntee, Martin Corrie, Paddy Smith and Tommy Mullins are alive today. The former Fianna Fáil deputy Tommy Mullins speaks to John O'Donoghue about the day that Fianna Fáil first entered Dáil Éireann.
In June 1927, Fianna Fáil deputies assembled on Abbey Street marching in pairs to the gates of Dáil Éireann. On arriving at the gate, Éamon de Valera spoke to the guard on duty and they were admitted to the clerk's office.
Tommy Mullins recalls the Dáíl as a very forbidding looking place with a statue to "The Famine Queen" Victoria. On entering the building, they were greeted by a line of civic guards and ushers. They demanded admission to the Dáil in the name of the Irish people who had given them a mandate to represent them. They were denied admission over their refusal to take the oath of allegiance and returned to their headquarters on Abbey Street. They began a campaign to remove the oath of allegiance to the British king from the constitution. This would enable them to enter the Dáil without having to make any declaration.
On 10 August, they entered the Dáil in pairs with each deputy making sure that the other did not sign the oath. They were escorted to the clerk's office where they each declared that they came to take their seats as representatives of the people and not to take any oath to the king. Colm Ó Murchú, the clerk, said that he was not interested in their political views and was only concerned that they sign the book. They each signed in turn, not as a surrender to a foreign power but as a sort of hotel register to get entry into the Dáil.
No oath was taken.
Upon entering the Dáil, the deputies had very little knowledge of the formalities of parliamentary politics. Tommy Mullins says that it came quite naturally to them. Many had been members of county councils, urban councils, and corporations. Others had spent time in prison or camps where they developed their political debating skills.
Tommy Mullins recalls on one occasion that some of the deputies carried guns into the chamber as they did not know how they were going to be treated by the Free State Government having fought against them in the civil war.
Some had reason to believe that maybe our leaders would be done away with.
In 1932, Fianna Fáil finally took office defeating William T Cosgrave in the election. Tommy Mullins describes the scepticism of Fianna Fáil towards many of the Free State institutions. However, William T Cosgrave agreed that there would be a completely peaceful transfer of power.
Most of the members of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil at that time had come straight out of jails and camps.
This episode of 'Summer Journal' was broadcast on 10 August 1977. The presenter is John O'Donoghue.