It was the drastic move that turned "turned passive resistance into an offensive war". Here's what happened after the Dáil was banned in September 1919.

The immediate result of the British government's new policy of 'drastic action’ was a series of raids, searches and seizures by military and police across the country.  On 13 September, the Irish Independent reported that ‘twenty search parties were engaged in raids in Tipperary town and, as a rule, where [Sinn Féin] club doors were found closed, they were broken open’.

 A raid on Sinn Féin headquarters at 6 Harcourt Street on 12 December resulted in the arrest of Ernest Blythe and Patrick O’Keeffe. Both TDs were on the premises when military personnel and members of the ‘G’ division of the DMP under Detective Sergeant Daniel Hoey entered at 10am.

In a raid that lasted for two hours, copies of the Dáil Loan prospectus, election registers and files of correspondence were seized. Simultaneous raids were made on the residences of Count Plunkett, Michael Staines, Joe McGrath, Alderman Thomas Kelly and William Cosgrave but, as was the case in most places, ‘nothing of an incriminating nature was discovered.’ 

A declaration of war

Minister for Finance Michael Collins was holding a meeting on the second flood of Sinn Féin headquarters when the raid began and narrowly escaped arrest. Quick to react to what he considered a declaration of war, Collins nominated Detective Sergeant Hoey as the next target for his group of assassins.

On 13 September the Irish Independent reported on ‘A Darling Dublin Crime’ in which Hoey had been shot dead ‘practically on the doorstep’ of the Great Brunswick Street police station.

This steel body shield was used by the Dublin Metropolitan Police for protection. Such shields were issued to members of the Crown Forces at the end of 1919 and this shield was kept by donor, who was a Detective Inspector, G. Division, D.M.P., and whose duty was to protect the Chief Secretary, as a souvenir when others were handed in after the Anglo-Irish Truce. This image is reproduced with the kind permission of The National Museum of Ireland.

 Thirty-two year old Hoey, who knew Collins by sight, was a well-known and much-reviled detective in the DMP. He had been involved in the arrest of numerous Volunteers since 1916, when he had identified Thomas McDonagh as one of the leaders of the Rising.

Media blackout

Within a week, Dublin Castle had shut down a selection of provincial newspapers and seven Dublin journals for publishing a full-page advertisement of the prospectus of the Dáil Loan.

The Daily News accurately predicted that the suppression of the Cork Examiner would ‘send its circulation up three times directly it reappears’.

While the provincial press was eventually allowed to resume publication, Arthur Griffith’s Nationality, Fáinne an Lae, Voice of Labour, the Irish Republic, The Leader, New Ireland and The Irish World were permanently suppressed.

Why the ban turned "passive resistance" into "offensive war"

Addressing a meeting at Sinn Féin headquarters after the raid on 12 September, Arthur Griffith declared: 

We do not care a rap whether they issue that proclamation or not. We tell them that as long as the Irish people elect us as their representatives that neither their jails not their bullets nor their bayonets will prevent us carrying the trust the Irish people gave us …  the more they attempt to interfere with [the Dáil Loan], the more, I am sure, Ireland will respond.

The strict enforcement of penalties for soliciting subscriptions to the loan and the arrest of three TDs for unlawful assembly provided timely propaganda for the proscribed rebel government. The Dáil Loan campaign was a resounding success, achieving its goal of £250,000 in June 1920, and £372,000 when it ended that September. 

The Dáil Loan campaign was a massive success. Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

In the same way that the British government’s efforts to cut off funds to the counter state proved counterproductive, its suppression of the political wing of the republican movement served only to strengthen the hand of physical force militants.

As far as Chief-of-Staff of the Irish Volunteers, Richard Mulcahy was concerned, the ban on Dáil Eireann ‘turned passive resistance and defensive tactics into an offensive war’.

Enter the Squad

IRA GHQ officially approved the formal establishment of Michael Collins' Squad at the end of September 1919 and offensive action against Crown forces from 1 January 1920. The first notable action of the Squad was the failed attempt to assassinate the Lord Lieutenant, Field Marshal Viscount French, in the Phoenix Park in December.

Bullet holes: the car in which Lord French was travelling during the assassination attempt in 1919

By January 1920 the scene was set for full-scale guerrilla war. The avenues for political agitation had been closed, the IRA had begun to arm itself more efficiently and ‘the crown forces had exhibited their intention to use reprisals in revenge for IRA assaults’. 

The ban seriously backfires

The failure of the British administration to distinguish between a cultural organisation like Gaelic League and military and political organisations like the Volunteers and Sinn Féin was also ill-advised. It allowed republicans to depict the struggle as one of cultural survival as well as political independence.

Attacks on Irish language organisations, activists, meetings and papers continued into 1920. On 24 June of that year, in response to a claim by British Prime Minister Lloyd George that there was no coercion of the Irish language, the Dáil’s Irish Bulletin told a different story.

A Gaelic League leaflet. While Lloyd George claimed the Irish language movement wasn't under atttack, the Dáil Bulletin showed that activists and classes were being suppressed.

It detailed the arrest of eleven prominent activists and seventeen teachers and organisers, the suppression or dispersion of thirty-eight Gaelic League classes and festivals, and the confiscation of Irish language publications on forty-two occasions. 

How did the Dáil respond? 

From September 1919, Dáil Eireann was effectively a government on the run, but as Arthur Mitchel points out, the ban was ‘not its end but really its making’. Forced underground, the proceedings of the Dáil were less visible to Dublin Castle and, through their membership of the Volunteers, its deputies had a wealth of covert operating experience.

The survival of the parallel government depended on its mobility, its system of communications and the swift substitution of arrested officials. After September 1919, the ministries were relocated to secret offices throughout Dublin. In November, after a raid on the Department of Finance offices at 76 Harcourt Street, Collins promptly moved operations to 5 Mespil Road.

The British raid Sinn Féin HQ, September 1919. This image is reproduced with the kind permission of The National Museum of Ireland.

When the new offices were raided in December, they moved to the "Farm Produce" shop in Camden Street and, occasionally, when a raid was suspected, ‘transferred everything down to Corrigan's Undertakers' premises a little further down’.

Evelyn Lawless, secretary to Collins, recalled that

‘It was not our habit to leave any important papers in the office. I took anything which would give clues of addresses in the country, and all the files we were working on, away with me each evening in an attaché case.’ 

Cumann na mBan members worked as couriers. Image courtesy of the Irish Military Archives

The Dáil employed a variety of means to direct its activities outside the capital including the network of Cumann na mBan members. As women were less likely to be searched than men in 1919, Cumann na mBan organiser

Leslie Price was directed by GHQ to organise lines of communications from Dublin to provincial centres. Nancy Wyse Power recalled the process:

A letter would be brought from Dublin to, say, Bray, where a person appointed for this work would make her way by train, cycle, car or any other method to Rathdrum where another courier took over as far as Arklow, from there to Gorey and so on.

An Invisible Republic

Rather than merely surviving, the Dáil administration continued to grow, increasing its employees, extending its programmes and broadening its control of the country. A Daily Herald report declared in November 1919: 

This Invisible Republic, with its hidden courts and its prohibited volunteer troops, exists in the hearts of the men and women of Ireland, and wields a moral authority which all the tanks and machine guns of King George cannot command.

This article is based on The Atlas of the Irish Revolution edited by John Crowley, Donal Ó Drisceoil, Mike Murphy and John Borgonovo, and its contents do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ