Sunday, 7 October 2012

Southern Unionists & Seanad of the Irish Free State

Southern Unionist were instrumental in ensuring their representation in the Seanad of the Irish Free State. 

The 1922 Constitution provided for a Senate of 60 members directly elected. Members would serve 12 year terms, with one quarter of the house elected every three years. The members would be elected under the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote in a single, nationwide, 15 seat constituency. However, to get the house started, the body's initial membership would be appointed by Dail Eireann (the lower house) and the president. To complicate matters even more, after the holding of the first direct election, the constitution was amended, so that the final three elections to the Senate occurred by a method of direct election. Therefore, in the 5 elections to the Senate to occur before its abolition, 3 different systems were used.

It was originally required that that membership of the Senate be limited to those who were over 35. Constitutional amendments made in 1928 reduced, the minimum age to 30 and the ten of office from 12 years to 9 years. Today incarnations of the modern Seanad Eireann are given a new number after each senatorial election. Thus, the current Senate elected in 2011 is known as the "Twenty-fourth Seanad". This was not the custom during the Irish Free State because the Free State Senate was elected in stages and thus considered to be in permanent session. However, as a gesture of continuity with its Free State predecessor, the first Senate elected after 1937 is numbered as the "Second Seanad". The Free State Senate, despite the occurrence of three senatorial elections before its abolition, is considered to have been a single Seanad for the duration of its existence and is thus referred for that whole period as the "First Seanad".

1922 election

Half the initial membership of the Senate was elected by the Dail under the Single transferable vote. The remaining half was appointed by the president of the Executive Council (prime Minister), W.T Cosgrave. Those elected by the Dail were divided into two equal groups by lot, one assigned terms of 3 years and the other terms of 9 year. Those appointed by the president were similarly divided and assigned terms of 6 years and 12 years. The president agreed to use his appointments in 1922 to grant extra representation to the Protestant minority in the State, most of whom were Southern Unionist, to promote inclusiveness in the new Free State. As a result, of the sixty members of the first Senate, as well as 36 Roman Catholics, their were 20 Protestants, 3 Quakers and 1 Jew. It contained 7 peers, a dowager countess, 5 baronets and several knights. The New York Times remarked that the first senate was "representative of all classes", though it has been described as, "the most curious political grouping in the history of the Irish State". Members included William Butler Yeats, Oliver St. John Gogarty and General Sir Bryan Mahon.

Republican opponents of the Anglo Irish Treaty also opposed the new Senate, and 37 of the senators' homes were burnt to the ground. Others were intimidated, kidnapped or almost assassinated. Nevertheless, the first Senate greatly influenced the guiding principles and legislative foundations of the new State. The first Chairman was Lord Glenavy, formerly the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland in 1916-1921. Many of the former Unionist members of the Senate had their homes burnt and were in fear of their life;  however they still carried out their civic duty to the Irish Free State. A snippet from the Irish Times dated April 1922 gives us an insight into the political turbulence and violence through out Ireland in 1922-23 period.

"for two weeks there wasn't standing room on any of the mail boats or mail trains leaving Cork for England. All loyalist refugees, who were either feeling in terror or had been ordered out of the country".

Irish Times 1922

Visiting the Rep. of Ireland? Then why not pop into the public gallery of Parliament House; for visitor information hit on link Leinster House. Furthermore, you have the National Museum of Ireland, National Library of Ireland, all situated on the same street (Kildare Street). So why not spend  a few hours discovering literary and historical Ireland while witnessing Irish democracy at work. If you are interested in Irish and British culture and history on the Island of Ireland then visit our website we provide many links to heritage sites. In addition Dublin Loyal Tours offer guided walking tours of Dublin which include St Patrick's Cathedral. Enjoy our blog and website, we welcome feed back so feel free to contact us. For further related reading Leinster House: Seat of Dail Eireann, Seanad Eireann