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LONGREAD: The Democratic Programme and Labour, 1919
A group at Liberty Hall in January 1919. Standing L-R: William O'Brien and Cathal O'Shannon. Sitting L-R: Thomas Foran, Nora Connolly, David O'Leary, Seamus Hughes and Patrick O'Kelly

LONGREAD: The Democratic Programme and Labour, 1919

By Ed Mulhall

It was an unusual time and place for a controversy about the origins of the State to develop: in the middle of the ‘Emergency’, the Second World War, in the Seanad, on a sleepy Thursday afternoon and on the Second Stage of an Appropriations Bill.

Indeed, when the Minister for Finance and Tánaiste, Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh, rose to speak he complained that the debate had strayed so far from the bill that he wondered if it was an appropriate way for him to have spent two days of his time.

There had been a lot of ‘hot air’ as the debate ranged from ‘abattoirs’ to ‘artificial manures’ and from the ‘North Atlantic to the Pacific, with many ports along the way’. But one charge had stung him and elicited the significant response.

This was due not just to the nature of the charge but from whom it had come. General Richard Mulcahy of Fine Gael was spending his second period as a Senator having been defeated in the recent election (in which he lost out to the trade union leader James Larkin for the final seat in Dublin North East). As well as being a 1916 veteran, like  Ó Ceallaigh, Mulcahy had been Minister for Defence and Army commander in the First Dáil and in the first Free State government and later Minister for Local Government. But he and Ó Ceallaigh had a long standing personal rivalry not just from them taking opposite sides in the fractious aftermath of the Treaty and the Civil War but arising from their close family connections. They were married to sisters, of the Ryan family, whose brother James was a First Dáil veteran and Fianna Fáil T.D. Mulcahy’s charge was that Ó Ceallaigh and the Fianna Fáil Government had not lived up to the ideals of the First Dáil and in particular the Democratic Programme that it adopted.

He quoted from the Programme the principle that: ‘It shall be the first duty of the Government to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold, from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland’ and he linked it with a call to establish a systematic process in parliament to deal with the fundamental issues of hunger and nutrition, gaps in the social care provisions, poverty and unemployment. Mulcahy’s use of the Democratic Programme, the 25th anniversary of which was imminent, was strengthened by the fact that it was he who had proposed the programme to the First Dáil.

Ó Ceallaigh had prided himself on his achievements in social legislation, particularly the slum clearance and house building programmes of the 1930s when he had been Minister for Local Government in a minority Fianna Fáil administration supported by the Labour party in key votes. His response to Mulcahy was emphatic: ‘The social outlook that inspired the 1916 programme, to which Senator Mulcahy referred also, is the outlook of this Government. Virtually every member of the Government is a 1916 man. They were brought up in that tradition and they have that national, social and economic outlook. They have done their best, with the resources available, in the past 11½ years to implement that programme. The Democratic Programme adopted by the First Dáil in 1919 was - perhaps I may mention this as a matter of interest - written by myself.’ The revelation that he was the author of the declaration and so could attest to its intent was a clincher of an argument. Ó Ceallaigh detailed what had happened: they had gone round to others who were interested in social reform, like William O’Brien and Thomas Johnson (the Labour party and Trade Union Congress leaders) and got ‘some notes from them’ but following discussion in committee he had taken the responsibility of drafting the programme himself as ‘Committees can’t write programmes’. And since then as a member of a government he had tried to implement that programme every day he worked.

The Tánaiste’s revelation elevated the coverage of the Seanad to front page news in the Irish Press the following morning under the headline: 'Tánaiste wrote First Dáil Social Charter.’ Within weeks however his account was being challenged. In a series of three articles in The Irish Times the trade unionist and former labour T.D. Cathal O’Shannon gave a detailed account of the origins of the Democratic Programme, describing how rather than just ‘notes’, a significant draft of the programme had been prepared by the Labour leader Thomas Johnson and this had contributed the majority of the final text. The articles reprinted the programme and the Johnson draft. Ó Ceallaigh was forced to acknowledge that his account was incomplete. In a statement to The Irish Times, he said the articles did not contradict his version which he had made ‘ex tempora’ in response to General Mulcahy but gave a ‘more complete account’ and were a valuable contribution to a subject of great historic importance. Richard Mulcahy became leader of Fine Gael within months and later, in 1948, he received his seal of office as Minister for Education in the inter-party government - the first to include Labour Party ministers - from the now President Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh.

The Democratic Programme remained as a contentious symbol of the commitment of the State to social reform and the story of its origin an important landmark in the relationship between the labour movement and the State. In the words of political scientist and author of the definite work on the First Dáil, Brian Farrell: ‘The Democratic Programme was promising not only a new political order but a new society…it would have transformed the independence project into a social revolution. But this did not happen. For the Democratic Programme never represented the real aspirations of the First Dáil created by Sinn Féin.’

Labour and the Trade Union movement had played a prominent role in the major mobilisation against conscription throughout 1918. Its representatives were movers in the Mansion House conference initiative which co-ordinated opposition and included Sinn Féin and Irish Party leaders. Union action resulted in a general strike in April and with women’s representative groups the Lá na mBan protest of June. The labour representatives on the Mansion House committee were William O’Brien, the president of the ITUC (Irish Trade Union Congress) and Thomas Johnson (born in England, later based in Belfast, and a founder of the Irish Labour Party with Connolly and O’Brien). O’Brien had long associations with the Republican leadership. A close associate of James Connolly in the union activity he had liaised with Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh in arranging the meeting between Connolly and the militant Republicans that resulted in the secret planning of the Rising. He, together with Ó Ceallaigh and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, had been chosen by the rebel leaders to act as a civil authority in the Rising planning. He had been interned in Frongoch and worked closely with Sean T. Ó Ceallaigh, Michael Collins, and Cathal O’Shannon there. O’Shannon, who had been a Connolly assistant in Belfast was now working closely with O’Brien as editor of the union paper Voice of Labour (Irish Opinion) and both were members of the Socialist Party of Ireland which was becoming more active in response to revolutionary activity in Russia.

Both O’Brien and O’Shannon remained in regular contact with Republican leaders throughout this period and were responsible for co-ordinating their activities. (O’Shannon and O’Brien had been members of the IRB and presumably maintained secret contact with Republican leaders through this as well). O’Brien’s main focus was on the re-organisation of the trade union movement during this period, with union membership growing from 100,000 in 1916 to 225,000 in 1920 and increased militancy for workers’ rights. Johnson became treasurer as he moved to Dublin in 1918.

With the detention of de Valera, Griffith and other leaders in the so called ‘German plot’ arrests of 1918, the remaining leaders of Sinn Féin were focusing on the prospective General Election. Already there were efforts to have a united nationalist front with many constituencies to be uncontested. But Labour members were inclined to contest and use an election to get a mandate for its social agenda. William O’Brien, in his presidential address to the 1918 annual Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress in Waterford, which formally launched the joint political and trade union organisations, linked James Connolly as an inspiration for the ‘great men and women who have given us the Russian revolution’ but also signalled that they must better organise politically and seek representation locally and nationally. The extension of the franchise gave them an opportunity and they must seek to mobilise to represent these new voters, in particular those women voters whose militancy had won them this right. A motion to prepare for an election was passed and in the aftermath of the conference work began on a manifesto and they began seeking out candidates (O’Brien, the suffragist Louie Bennett, and absent trade union leader James Larkin were all proposed; others such as Citizen Army founder Captain Jack White were to offer themselves). But as the election became a real possibility tensions rose within the party membership on the approach to the ballot, on the policy of abstentionism, taking an oath and on whether the self-determination vote should be split by running candidates in the same constituencies as Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin was similarly concerned with this division and moved formally to negotiate with Labour on their approach. O’Brien and Cathal O’Shannon met the Sinn Féin representatives Harry Boland and Robert Brennan in September and told them of their determination to run candidates. Faced with this prospect Sinn Féin went ahead and ratified candidates for four of the Dublin seats Labour was targeting including that of Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh in College Green. (The ruthlessness of the executive on candidate selection also extended to Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, who wished to run in a Dublin constituency but was nominated for North Antrim which she refused.) The executive of Sinn Féin drew up a pledge to be submitted for Labour candidates to take if there were to be an agreement to withdraw their favour; the pledge required allegiance to the principles of self-determination and abstentionism. The aim of this was to force their hand on a commitment to abstentionism and it succeeded.

Discord within the Labour party was growing with local organisations refusing to nominate candidates and an acrimonious debate at the Dublin Trades Council. At a special meeting in the Mansion House to introduce the Labour Manifesto both Cathal O’Shannon and William O’Brien were heckled about the ambiguity of the manifesto on abstentionism and on the potential of damaging the solidarity of the vote for self-determination. The manifesto had re-iterated the policy of abstentionism but left open the possibility that the National Executive could reverse this if circumstances changed. The intention of the leadership was not to alienate completely the Ulster unionists who were affiliated with the Trade Union congress.

That pressure on the Labour leadership intensified as they prepared for their special conference to endorse the manifesto. On the eve of the conference, speaking at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh expressed the hope that Labour would ‘stand aside to allow the election to be fought on the clear issue of Ireland versus England’. His confidence had no doubt been strengthened from his private contact with O’Brien for when the National Executive met before the conference O’Brien had changed his position on the issue and supported a motion by Thomas Johnston that they withdraw from the election completely. Their decision was one of pragmatism as much as ideology, not wishing to alienate important constituencies in their membership but it was one which also reflected their priorities for an economic and activist organisation rather than a political one.

Thomas Johnson proposed the National Executive motion to the conference and said that things had changed, the election was not to be a ‘war election’ as envisaged but a ‘peace election’ and there were calls from around the country for a ‘unanimity’ on the demand for self-determination: ‘your national executive believes earnestly in this desire, that they would willingly sacrifice, for a brief period, their aspirations toward political power if thereby the fortunes of the nation can be enhanced (applause).’ They were therefore recommending the withdrawal of all Labour candidates from the election. They would show by their example that ‘the Labour party was the only party that is prepared to sacrifice ‘party’ in the interest of the Nation’. There were some dissenting voices at the conference including that of Cathal O’Shannon, who had voted against the motion at the executive and who argued that Labour needed to view its action with an international perspective where labour was mobilising. It was in the international context that the battle for self-determination would be fought and having their own democratic mandate was important; not having one meant they were cutting ‘one third of their numerical representation and one half of their moral strength’.

There was a particular focus by the Labour leadership on this issue as they proposed to attend an international labour and socialist conference to make the case for self-determination and representation for Ireland in advance of a Peace Conference. Despite the decision to withdraw from the election the special conference endorsed the manifesto, a radical one for its time.

The implications of withdrawal, from such a significant election, for the role of Labour in Irish politics were long lasting, as Brian Farrell judged: ‘As the great drama of modern Irish state building began, Labour had the opportunity to play a difficult, possibly a decisive role. In withdrawing from the play, Labour leaders ‘confused the prompters stool with a place on the stage’ (in Peader O’Donnell’s phrase). The Labour Party has paid a heavy electoral price for that ever since.’

In the immediate aftermath of the poll, between voting and counting, in a lead article entitled ‘After the poll - A reminder that Pearse and Connolly aimed at Economic Nationhood’, the editor of The Voice of Labour Cathal O’Shannon urged Sinn Féin to note two statements, one from Pearse and one from Connolly and to note the identity of opinion in them. Pearse’s quote was from his pamphlet A Sovereign People: ‘I have insisted upon the necessity of physical freedom. I now insist upon the necessity of complete control of the material resources of the nation in order to achieve the completeness of that physical freedom. The nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all the men and women of the nation but to all the material possessions of the nation; the nation’s soil and all its resources, all wealth and all wealth producing processes within the nation. In other words, no private right to property is good as against the public rights of the nation.’ The election results were declared on 28 December with Countess Markievicz elected as the first woman MP and three Labour Unionists elected in Belfast.

The Voice of Labour office in Liberty Hall

The Sinn Féin executive had begun preparations for an assembly fulfilling their separatist pledge. There was a joint meeting of the Sinn Féin executive and those elected Republican members who were not in prison on 1 January 1919 which decided to summon a secret meeting of the Republican members on 7 January at which the programme for the first meeting of Dáil Éireann would be decided as well as two significant documents: a ‘Declaration of Independence’ and a ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’. Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh was on the committee to draft the documents, and the standing orders and constitution of the new Dáil, together with George Gavan Duffy, Piaras Béaslaí and Eoin MacNeill. The invitations for the 7 January meeting which described it as the ‘first meeting of Dáil Éireann in private session’, were sent out by Harry Boland and Alderman Tom Kelly.

During these weeks the Labour leadership were preparing for the International Socialist and Labour Conference which was to be held in Berne, Switzerland. Thomas Johnson, Cathal O’Shannon and William O’Brien were to be their representatives and a detailed document making the case for Irish self-determination was prepared. O’Brien met Richard Mulcahy on 1 January to discuss the proposed conference. Formal meetings between Labour and Sinn Féin were set to resume with Harry Boland, Michael Collins and Rory O’Connor due to meet William O’Brien on 3 January but neither Boland nor Collins turned up.

According to Cathal O’Shannon it was Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh who approached William O’Brien with the proposal to have some agreed Labour document or social programme endorsed by the Dáil so that this could act as a mandate for those Labour representatives at the conference. Representation at the Peace Conference was a major priority for the Sinn Féin leadership and any international recognition was seen to further this aim. The concept of a Democratic Programme, listing social priorities had been first suggested by a Labour motion at a meeting of the Dublin Trades Council in March 1918 which called for its inclusion in a new constitution. The meeting of 7 January, which decided on the format for Dáil Éireann, had on its agenda both the Declaration of Independence and the Message to the Free Nations but there was no mention of a Labour document until the next meeting of the representatives on 14 January, also held in private. A statement issued after the meeting stated: ‘A document drafted by the Irish Workers’ Delegates of the International Conference was submitted to the members present and it was decided that the statement of claims set out were heartily approved. A committee was appointed to draw up the draft programme of constructive work on democratic lines in consultation with the Labour leaders.’ There was a formal meeting of the two sides on the following Saturday (11th) with Harry Boland, Michael Collins, George Gavin Duffy , Rory O’Connor and P.J. Little on the Sinn Féin side and Thomas Johnson, William O’Brien and Cathal O’Shannon among those on the Labour side. For Labour it was decided that Johnson would draft the document with input from O’Shannon and O’Brien. O’Shannon contributed the opening section using Pearse’s writings as he had in his Voice of Labour leading article. He chose this reference as it was the best example of Pearse acting under the influence of Connolly.

The next meeting of the Dáil representatives on 17 January which was to finalise arrangements for the first public sitting of the Dáil four days later had on its agenda as item 4, ‘Democratic Statement’. By this time a completed draft had been submitted by the Labour side. It was headed: ‘Thomas Johnson’s draft of Democratic programme as submitted at their request to the Sinn Féin leaders, January 1919.’ It is likely that comments were received at that meeting on the draft but when it came for final consideration on the eve of the Dáil meeting it was clear that there were serious problems. According to Ó Ceallaigh, suggestions for amendment came in a ‘bundle of notes’ gathered by Harry Boland who was in charge of the process and when these and the Johnson document were handed over to him as chair of the final ‘subcommittee’ meeting it lead to a furious discussion with some of those present ‘violently opposed’ to some of its elements’. P.J. Hegarty gives an account of an IRB meeting on that day which he attended (and may have been the same as that more diplomatically accounted for by Ó Ceallaigh). There was lively debate ‘the preponderance of opinion being against it. It was urged that this declaration was ultra vires for the Dáil whose one and only action was to get the English out of Ireland and that all internal and arguable questions like this should be left over until the English had been got out, and, on a vote, that view was upheld. Collins then said he would suppress the ‘democratic programme’. Ó Ceallaigh, who had instigated the initiative with O’Brien, undertook to redraft the labour statement himself and have it ready for the following morning (though it was nearly midnight). ‘I was given liberty to put in what I pleased and to omit what I thought proper. I asked for and was given a promise by those present that they would stand over whatever document I produced.’

Ó Ceallaighh went home accompanied by Collins and Boland to find his house full of visitors as other TDs gathered for the Dáil meeting. Among them was his brother-in-law Dr James Ryan who recalled Ó Ceallaigh leaving the group to work on his draft. Ó Ceallaigh worked through the night: ‘It was after four o’clock next morning before I had finished the job. Then I had to be down in Abbey St. at the O Foghludha’s typing office by 10 o’clock so that they might have copies for the Dáil meeting. The Democratic Programme as drafted by me was not submitted to any committee or individual, except my wife, who stayed up with me and assisted me greatly in this work.’

Some of the context that may have concerned Collins was evident in the morning papers which warned of the radicalism that might come from the new assembly, both the Freeman’s Journal and The Irish Times seeing potential ‘Bolsheviks’. At the first meeting of the Dáil, that afternoon, 21 January 1919, following the nomination of Cathal Brugha as Ceann Comhairle and a roll call of TDs, Ó Ceallaigh moved the motion to accept the Dáil Constitution his committee had prepared. The three declarations were then moved, the Declaration of Independence, the Message to the Free Nations of the World and the Democratic Programme. The Democratic Programme was first read in Irish by Piaras Béaslaí, translating in real time from the English text as he had not had time to do a proper translation due to the late production of the document. Unlike the other documents there was no version in French and it was read in English by Alderman, now T.D., Tom Kelly. Richard Mulcahy speaking in Irish proposed its adoption recognising its radical nature. ‘ní féidir le náisiún bheith saor an fhaid agus tá an chuid is lugha dá mhuintir gan Saoirse.’ The motion was seconded by Con Collins from Limerick and adopted without a vote.

Tom Johnson and Cathal O’Shannon were viewing the proceedings from the public gallery, and O’Shannon wrote that Johnson was so stirred by hearing his words: ‘that by his side in the gallery of spectators I put my hand to his arm in restraint and with a sh! sh! enjoined him to observe Ceann Comhairle Cathal Brugha’s instruction that there be no applause. I was afraid Johnston would break into a cheer.’ O’Shannon recalled later to Radio Éireann that he and Johnson noticed that there were changes but didn’t know the story of what occurred until years later. Writing in The Irish Times in response to Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh in 1944, O’Shannon analysed the changes in the text. He estimated that two thirds of the final text were Johnson’s one third Ó Ceallaigh (there was about half of the Johnson text omitted completely).

The use of Pearse‘s terminology in the Sovereign People as the foundation of the programme is retained with only a very slight re-wording of the Johnson draft:

‘...and in the language of our first President, Pádraig MacPhiarais, we declare that the Nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its material possessions; the Nation’s soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth producing processes within the Nation, and with him we affirm that all rights to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare.’

A more substantive change comes with the third paragraph where Johnson had written:

‘We further declare that as the Nation in the exercise of its sovereignty may entrust its soil and its resources, its wealth and wealth producing processes to the care and charge of any of its citizens, to use and exploit for the Nation’s enrichment, on such terms and subject to such conditions as may be determined by the whole people, so the Nation must ever retain right and power to resume possession of such soil or wealth whenever the trust is abused or the trustee fails to give faithful service’

This full paragraph is omitted from the Democratic Programme and replaced as follows:

‘We declare that we desire our country to be ruled in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality and Justice for all, which alone can secure permanence of Government in the willing adhesion of the people.’

Ó Ceallaigh also removed Johnson’s text encouraging organisation into trade unions and co-operatives and omitted its final commitment to the elimination of a class that lives upon the ‘wealth produced by the workers’. But retained were the clear commitments to children, their education and welfare and the social responsibilities of the Republic. Though these amendments may have substituted the aspirations of republicanism for Johnston’s translation of Pearse’s principles into their logical consequence, their removal did not dilute the impact of the core message. The document, like the 1916 Proclamation, was a synthesis of Republican and Socialist perspectives and Ó Ceallaigh fashioned the text so that it stood comfortably beside the other documents prepared for the session without losing its radical impact. The Irish Times saw the Democratic Programme as a clear socialist message linking it to its fear of Bolshevism and Piaras Béaslaí later commented that many of the members present would not have agreed with the ‘communist flavour of the declaration, quoted in the language of our first President Pádraig Mac Piarais’ and would not have voted for it without amendment had there been any ‘immediate prospect of putting it into force’. Béaslaí admitted: ‘if any charge of insincerity could be made against this first Dáil it would be on this score.’

At the time the Declaration served its main purpose and armed with this ‘mandate’ the Labour representatives, Johnson and O’Shannon, (also representing the Socialist Party of Ireland) attended the International Socialist Conference in Berne in February 1919. They laid their detailed document on self-determination that had been presented to Sinn Féin in January before the conference and made the case for representation at the Peace Conference. They contributed extensively to the debates at the conference, O’Shannon confronting British Labour leader and future Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald on Ireland’s rights, resulting in a compromise motion that recognised the right to self-determination and representation at the Peace Conference but without recognition of the Republic. On their way home they consulted with Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh who was then operating as an envoy in Paris seeking admission to the Peace Conference.

The use of the Democratic Programme as a practical guide to policy was more problematic. The position was clearly stated by Éamon de Valera, released from prison and President of Dáil Éireann, in the debate on government formation in April (with Countess Markievicz as Minister for Labour, Richard Mulcahy as Minister for Defence and Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh as Ceann Comhairle, although he spent most of the year in Paris). De Valera was asked by Deputy Tom Kelly to outline his social policy in light of the priorities promised in the Democratic Programme and replied: ‘it was quite clear that the democratic programme, as adopted by the Dáil contemplated a situation somewhat different from that in which they actually found themselves. They had the occupation of the foreigner in their country and while that state of affairs existed they could not put fully into force their desires and their wishes as far as their social programme was concerned…He had never made any promise to Labour, because while the enemy was within their gates the immediate question was to get possession of the country.’ The end of the War of Independence and the signing of the Treaty did not alter this approach to the programme. When Labour deputies, led by Johnson and including both O’Brien and O’Shannon, elected in the 1922, acted as an opposition to the Free State Government following the withdrawal of de Valera and the anti-treaty TD’s from the Dáil. Part of their rationale was to ensure that the State’s new Constitution should embody the principles of the Democratic Programme. This they failed to achieve as a number of their amendments were rejected by the Government, the Minister Kevin O’Higgins dismissing the Programme as ‘largely poetry’ stating that the proposals ‘looked very much like Communist doctrine’. In the civil war period the imprisoned IRA leader Liam Mellows created a document based on the Democratic Programme as a blueprint for a Republican programme. De Valera and the anti-treaty side continued to claim adherence to the principles of the Democratic Programme, referenced it in the foundation documents of Fianna Fáil and used this as a fundamental critique of the Labour participation in the Free State Dáil. Thus while the programme remained in the currency of political debate for some time after its adoption it was not reflected in policy or legislation to any noticeable degree. It was in Patrick Lynch’s phrase ‘the social revolution that never was’.

Brian Farrell in his assessment of the First Dáil saw the Democratic Programme as a practical document with its ‘socialist’ approach intended to give legitimacy to Labour’s representation at the international conference rather than as an accurate reflection of the social ideals of Sinn Féin at the time. His interviews with veterans of the period confirmed the analysis that it was ‘another political manoeuvre designed to win support’. Of more significance he believed were the operational documents adopted by the Dáil, the Dáil Constitution and its standing orders as submitted by Seán T.  Ó Ceallaigh as these set the context for the new state, one that was not revolutionary but which was firmly in the parliamentary tradition: ‘The Easter Rising was a catalyst in the actual process by which independence was achieved. It did not significantly alter the basic direction and values of the Irish political system. Its revolutionary effect was short-term immediate and almost totally confined to the political sphere. A terrible beauty was not born. The new state may have been inspired by the actions of the Easter Week leaders; it never set itself to adopt their example. Those who have opted to pursue that policy of resort to arms rather than political persuasion have, ever since, found themselves on the periphery of Irish political life.’ He was writing in 1971.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the First Dáil on 21 January 1969 there was a special joint session of the Dáil and Seanad in the Mansion House to mark the occasion. In the round room there were just 11 veterans of the first assembly. Among them were President Éamon de Valera, Dr James Ryan, who had been a member of the Oireachtas continually from that time, apart from the period of Fianna Fáil abstentionism, and who was in Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh’s house as he finalised the Democratic Programme and Richard Mulcahy, who had proposed it. Cathal O’Shannon had been unwell and was unable to attend the session, but he had contributed to RTÉ’s special programme on the anniversary and no doubt followed the live television coverage with commentary by Seán Duignan. The Democratic Programme was again at the centre of public debate. The Irish Times published both the final document and Thomas Johnson’s draft document side by side and in the public protest surrounding the occasion the document was continually referenced. There had been large street protests on the morning of the Mansion House event organised by the Dublin Housing Action group, some of whose members had been in prison following earlier protests. The housing agitation was organised to seek action for the homeless crisis, to stop evictions and to get the government to declare a housing emergency. The protest held at the GPO included calls for the implementation of the Democratic Programme and a mock trial of the leaders attending the commemoration on their failure to uphold it. A deputation from the action committee was invited into the Mansion House, where Labour’s Frank Cluskey was Lord Mayor, by Sinn Féin leader Tomás MacGiolla, on behalf of the National Commemoration Committee, on the morning of the anniversary.

The formal proceedings in the Mansion House that afternoon, included speeches in Irish by President de Valera, Taoiseach Jack Lynch, Fine Gael leader Liam Cosgrave (whose father was a member of the First Dáil), Labour leader Brendan Corish and Senator James Dooge representing the Seanad. There were two significant interruptions to the proceedings. As President de Valera began, the IRA veteran and survivor of the Mount Street Battle in 1916, Joseph Clarke, interrupted stating: ’This is a mockery. There are people on hunger strike in Mountjoy. The housing of the people...’ Clarke, who was on crutches, had been head usher for the First Dáil was then escorted out by ushers following his protest. Following the speech of the Taoiseach Jack Lynch there was another interruption. This time it was Senator Owen Sheehy Skeffington, son of Hanna who had sought a nomination in 1918 and of Frank murdered in 1916. As an independent Senator from Trinity College, Dublin, he asked, in English: ‘A Chinn Comhairle, I rise to ask the Taoiseach arising out of his speech whether he sees the likelihood of the democratic programme of the First Dáil being implemented in the foreseeable future or does he feel that it will continue to remain largely a dead letter?’ There was no response. In his contribution Brendan Corish, whose father had been both a Sinn Féin and a Labour T.D. aligned the current Labour party firmly with the principles of the Democratic Programme and to their implementation. Later in 1969 he would lead the party into an Election with a radical manifesto and the aim that the ‘70s would be socialist’. It was to be an unfulfilled wish.

The Proceedings of the First Dáil including the text of the Declaration are here :

The Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Conferences for 1918 are here:

The RTE Radio documentary on the First Dáil is here:

The RTE Archives exhibition on the First Dáil is here:

Further Reading
1. Brian Farrell, The Founding of Dáil Éireann (Dublin, 1971)
2. Brian Farrell, 'Labour and the Irish Political Party System', in Economic and Social Review, 1 (3) 1970
3. Brian Farrell, 'A note on the Dáil Constitution, 1919' in Irish Jurist, IV (1) Summer 1969
4. Brian Farrell (ed.), The Creation of the Dáil (Dublin, 1994)
5. Cathal O’Shannon, The 1919 “Democratic Programme, three articles Irish Times 31 January, 1 and 2 February, 1944, Bureau of Military History, WS 1396.
6. Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh, Memoir (unpublished), text included in his Witness statement, WS 1765.
7. J. Anthony Gaughan, Thomas Johnson (Dublin 1980)
8. Arthur Mitchell, Labour in Irish Politics 1890-1930 (Dublin, 1974)
9. Arthur Mitchell, Revolutionary Government in Ireland (Dublin, 1974)
10. William O’Brien, Forth the Banners Go (Dublin, 1969)
11. Maire Comerford, The First Dáil (Dublin, 1969)
12. Michael Laffan, The Resurrection of Ireland, the Sinn Féin Party 1916-1923 (Cambridge, 1999)
13. Michael Laffan, 'Labour must wait' in Patrick J. Corish (ed) Radicals, Rebels and Establishments (Belfast, 1985)
14. Adrian Grant, Irish Socialist Republicanism 1909-36, Dublin, 2012.
15. Piaras Béaslaí, Michael Collins and the making of a new Ireland (Dublin 1926)
16. P.S. O’Hegarty, A history of Ireland under the union,1801-1922 (London, 1952)
17. Patrick Lynch, The Social Revolution that never was, in T. Desmond Williams (ed), The Irish Struggle, 1916-26 (London, 1966)
18. Charles Townshend, The Republic, the fight for Irish Independence (London, 2013)
19. C.D. Graves, The Irish Transport and General Workers Union: the formative years (Dublin 1982.)
20. Padraig Yeates, A City in Turmoil, Dublin 1919-21 (Dublin 2012)
21. Brendan Halligan, The Democratic Programme and the First Dáil, paper May 2009,
22. David McCullagh, De Valera, Volume 1, Rise 1882-1932 (Dublin 2017)
23. Thomas Morrissey, William O’Brien (Dublin 2007)
24. Niamh Puirséil, The Irish Labour Party, 1922-73 (Dublin, 2007)
25. David Fitzpatrick, Harry Boland’s Irish Revolution (Cork, 2003)
26. J.J. Lee, Ireland 1922-1985: Politics and Society (Cambridge, 1989)
27. Dorothy Maccardle, The Irish Republic (Dublin, 1999)
28. Maryann Gialanella Valiulis, Portrait of a Revolutionary: General Richard Mulcahy and the foundation of the Irish State (Dublin, 1992)
29. Margaret Ward, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington a life (Cork, 1997)
30. Emmet O’Connor , A Labour history of Ireland (Dublin, 1992)


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.