In September 1919 the British government banned Dáil Eireann. Two months later Sinn Féin, the Gaelic League and Cumann na mBan were banned too. What led to this dramatic decision?
The British government had largely ignored the establishment of Dáil Éireann in January 1919, predicting that, as historian Eunan O'Halpin says, it was 'a temporary phenomenon which would quickly lose support in the face of firm government.'
Within nine months, however, it had been declared a 'dangerous organisation' and banned. In November 1919 the Irish Volunteers, Sinn Féin, the Gaelic League and Cumann na mBan were proscribed across the whole island.
General Neville McCready, the senior British army officer in Ireland at the time, later admitted that 'the banning of Sinn Féin was not tactically a sound move' because it turned many moderate politicians into 'extremists'. Proscription closed off avenues for political agitation and increased the likelihood of militarisation.
There were various reasons for banning Dáil Éireann on 11 September 1919. Foremost amongst these was the launch of the Dáil Loan. The British Government's complacency in the first months of 1919 had been largely based on its belief that a lack of finance would scupper the ambitions of the rebel government.
This was reinforced by reports from the Inspector General of the RIC of 'waning interest in Sinn Féin' and an apathetic public response to its fundraising appeals. The flotation of the Dáil Loan in August demonstrated Sinn Féin's determination to develop a functioning administration in opposition to Dublin Castle.
If successfully financed, the republican counter state could claim a legitimacy that would extend to the wider republican movement. No longer perceived as unthreatening, the rebel government could not be allowed to continue unchecked.
Oath of Allegiance
Other reasons for the proscription of the republican government were the implementation of the oath of allegiance to Dáil Eireann by members of the Irish Volunteers and the escalating instances of violent attacks throughout the country.
While it may have been tactical to ignore the inauguration of Dáil Eireann in January 1919, the British administration could not ignore the actions of militant republicans. During the summer of 1919, Dublin Castle responded by supressing Sinn Féin, the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan and the Gaelic League in the most active counties of Clare, Tipperary and Cork.
Spy versus spy
IRA Director of Intelligence Michael Collins had begun a systematic campaign to destroy Dublin Castle's intelligence network. On 30 July 1919, on Drumcondra Bridge in Dublin, high-ranking Dublin Metropolitan Police detective Patrick Smyth became the first victim of Collins' newly-inaugurated 'Squad' of assassins.
By September 1919, both the Dublin Castle administration and the British government in London were becoming increasingly concerned by developments in Ireland. This was reinforced by an incident in Fermoy, Co. Cork on 7 September.
In pursuit of arms and ammunition, a Volunteer unit under Liam Lynch ambushed eighteen soldiers of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry on their way church. One soldier was killed – the first since the 1916 Rising - and four more were injured.
When a local coroner's jury refused to return a verdict of murder, the soldiers destroyed business premises in the town that belonged to members of the jury. As historian Marie Coleman points out, this was the first incident of the Crown forces resorting to reprisals - a tactic that would become increasingly widespread as the conflict intensified.
Four days later, on 11 September, Lloyd George and Andrew Bonar Law, leaders of the UK's coalition government, made the decision to declare Dáil Éireann illegal.
This was prompted by an outraged letter from King George V protesting at the Fermoy ambush and demanding 'to know what the government was going to do to protect the lives of suffering people in Ireland.'
Under the terms of the Criminal Law and Procedure Act 1887, the Dáil was declared a 'dangerous association' and banned 'within thirty-two counties and six county boroughs of Ireland'.
The announcement was made in a Viceregal proclamation printed in the Dublin Gazette the following morning and by November, the Irish Volunteers, Sinn Féin, the Gaelic League and Cumann na mBan had been similarity banned across the whole of Ireland.
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.