Parliament of Southern Ireland

The Parliament of Southern Ireland was a Home Rule legislature established by the British Government during the Irish War of Independence under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. It was designed to legislate for Southern Ireland,[2][3] a political entity[lower-alpha 1] which was created by the British Government to solve the issue of rising Irish nationalism and the issue of partitionism, while retaining the whole of Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.

Parliament of Southern Ireland
House of Commons
Disbanded27 May 1922
Preceded byParliament of the United Kingdom
Succeeded byProvisional Parliament[1]
Sir John Ross (last)
Speaker of the House of Commons
Gerald Fitzgibbon (first & last)
Seats64 Senators
128 members of parliament (MPs)
House of Commons voting system
House of Commons last election
1921 Irish elections (first & last)
Meeting place
The Royal College of Science for Ireland
Location for the first official meeting of both Houses. Now Government Buildings
See also:
Parliament of Northern Ireland

The parliament was bicameral, consisting of a House of Commons (the lower house) with 128 seats and a Senate (the upper house) with 64 seats.[4] The parliament as two houses sat only once, in the Royal College of Science for Ireland in Merrion Street. Due to the low turnout of members attending, the parliament was adjourned sine die and was later officially disbanded by the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922.


Under the Act of Union 1800 the separate Kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain were merged on 1 January 1801, to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.[5] Throughout the 19th century Irish opposition to the Union was strong, occasionally erupting in violent insurrection.[6]

In the 1870s the Home Rule League under Isaac Butt sought to achieve a modest form of self-government, known as Home Rule. This was considered more acceptable by British parliamentarians as Ireland would still remain part of the United Kingdom but would have limited self-government. The cause was then pursued by Charles Stewart Parnell and two attempts were made by Liberal ministries under British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone to enact home rule bills, accompanied by a revival of Ulster's Orange Order to resist any form of Home Rule.[7] The First Home Rule Bill was defeated in the Commons by 30 votes; the second Second Home Rule Bill was passed, but then defeated in the Lords.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Walter Long who proposed the creation of two Irish home rule entities.

On 11 April 1912, the Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith, introduced the Third Home Rule Bill which allowed for more autonomy than its two predecessors had.[8] It was defeated twice, but after its defeat for the third time in the Lords the Government used the provisions of the Parliament Act 1911 to override the Lords and send it for Royal Assent, which was received and the bill placed on the statute books on 18 September 1914.[9] However, with the outbreak of the First World War, it was decided that the bill's implementation should be suspended, leading to the passing of the Suspensory Act 1914, which was presented for Royal Assent simultaneously with both the Home Rule Bill and the Welsh Church Act 1914, and ensured that Home Rule would be postponed for the duration of the conflict[10] and would not come into operation until the end of the war.[11] Initially the suspension was not considered an issue by Nationalists, who believed a form of independent self-government had finally been granted. Moreover, like almost everyone else in Europe at that time, Irish nationalists expected the war to be a short one.[12]

Two attempts were made by the Asquith coalition ministry and the Lloyd George ministry to implement the Government of Ireland Act 1914 during the war, first in May 1916, which failed to reach agreement with Unionist Ulster, then again in 1917 with the calling of the Irish Convention chaired by Horace Plunkett. It consisted of Nationalist and Unionist representatives who, by April 1918, only succeeded in agreeing a report with an 'understanding' on recommendations for the establishment of self-government. Starting in September 1919, with the Government, now led by David Lloyd George, committed under all circumstances to implementing Home Rule, the British cabinet's Committee for Ireland, under the chairmanship of former Ulster Unionist Party leader Walter Long, pushed for a radical new idea. Long proposed the creation of two Irish home rule entities,[lower-alpha 1] Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland,[2][3] each with unicameral parliaments. An amendment to the bill in the House of Lords submitted by Lord Oranmore and Browne added a Senate for Southern Ireland, intended to bolster representation of the southern Unionist and Protestant minorities. The government opposed this on the grounds that it would weaken the function of the inter-parliament Council of Ireland, but it was passed, as was an amendment adding a Senate of Northern Ireland.[13][14]

After the 1918 general election, those elected as MPs for Sinn Féin met in Dublin in 1919 and established Dáil Éireann as an abstentionist parliament and declared independence for the Irish Republic.

House of Commons

Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent, the last Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who formally opened the Parliament.

The House of Commons consisted of 128 members who were styled as members of parliament with a presiding officer known as the Speaker of the House of Commons. The basic features of the House were modelled on those of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. The franchise was the same as for Westminster elections under the Representation of the People Act 1918: men over 21 and women over 30. The voting method for elections to the Commons was the single transferable vote[4] with the act prescribing 16 members being elected from multi-member borough constituencies, 104 from multi-member county constituencies and 8 being elected from graduates of Irish Universities. The borough and county constituencies replaced those used for Westminster elections with new multi-member ones. The university constituencies were broken down into four seats for Dublin University and four for the National University.


On 24 May 1921, elections were held for the House of Commons of Southern Ireland, the same day as the elections for Northern Ireland. No contests occurred as all 128 MPs were returned unopposed, with Sinn Féin winning all 124 seats which made up the borough and county constituencies and the seats allocated to the National University of Ireland, and Unionists the four seats for graduates of Dublin University.[15] Dáil Éireann chose to regard that election as elections to the Second Dáil.[16] The 124 Sinn Féin candidates elected, plus the six Sinn Féin members elected to the House of Commons of Northern Ireland elected at the same time (five of whom also had seats in Southern Ireland), assembled as the Second Dáil.

1921 Southern Ireland general election
Party Leader No. of seats  % of seats
Sinn Féin Éamon de Valera 124 (unopposed) 96.9
Independent Unionist 4 (unopposed) 3.1
Totals 128 100

June 1921 meeting

On 28 June 1921, the House of Commons and the Senate formally assembled in the Royal College of Science for Ireland, now Government Buildings, in Merrion Street, for a State Opening by Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent, the last Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Only the four Unionist MPs attended the Commons. After electing Gerald Fitzgibbon to be Speaker, the House adjourned sine die. This was the only formal meeting of the House.[17]

January 1922 Treaty ratification meeting

The Mansion House, the location where members elected to the House of Commons met on 14 January 1922.
The Signature page of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in London on 6 December 1921 by representatives of the British Government and envoys of the Irish Republic who claimed plenipotentiary status. On 7 January 1922, Dáil Éireann ratified the Treaty. However, in accordance with its terms, the Anglo-Irish Treaty needed also to be ratified "at a meeting of members of the Parliament elected for constituencies in Southern Ireland" and the British Parliament.

A meeting in the Mansion House was convened on 14 January 1922 by Arthur Griffith as Chairman of the Irish Delegation of Plenipotentiaries[18] (who had signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty) of "members of the Parliament elected for constituencies in Southern Ireland". Griffith's actions led to discussions between the Irish Treaty delegation and the British Government over who had authority to convene the 'meeting' as under the Government of Ireland Act 1920 the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (then Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent) was the office-holder with the entitlement and power to convene a meeting of the House of Commons of Southern Ireland.[19] The meeting was attended by 64 pro-Treaty Sinn Féin TDs and four Unionist MPs from the University of Dublin; it elected Alderman Liam de Róiste, one of the representatives of Cork Borough, as chairman (although at this time Eoin MacNeill was Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann),[20] duly ratified the Treaty and nominated Michael Collins for appointment as Chairman of the Provisional Government.[21] Collins was installed in his post by the Lord Lieutenant in Dublin Castle on 16 January 1922 and formed the Provisional Government of Ireland.[21] The members at this meeting did not take the British Oath of Allegiance, which was required by MPs in the House of Commons.


The Senate of Southern Ireland was the upper house of the Parliament of Southern Ireland established by the Government of Ireland Act 1920.[4] The Senate convened in 1921 but was boycotted by Irish nationalists. Fifteen members attended its first meeting,[22] and it sat only three times.


The Fourth Home Rule Bill provided for a Senate of 64 members. The composition was specified in the Second Schedule, and the mode and time of selection in the Fourth Schedule. The bill stipulated that the membership be composed of:[23]

In practice, however, only forty senators were selected, as the labour movement, the Catholic Church and the county councils (controlled by Sinn Féin) refused to co-operate. Of those elected, many had participated in the Irish Convention of 1917–18.[25] Of the incomplete membership, not all attended its few sessions. Some were subsequently members of the Free State Seanad (upper house), either appointed by W. T. Cosgrave, President of the Executive Council, or elected by the members of the Dáil (lower house).

Donal O'Callaghan was Lord Mayor of Cork throughout the existence of the Senate, but was also returned for Cork Borough in the 1921 election to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. Section 18(4) of the 1920 Act precluded anyone from sitting in both Houses at once; but since O'Callaghan boycotted both, the question was moot in his case.


The Senate assembled three times,[26] though its chairman, Sir John Ross, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, was too ill to attend. Only 15 senators attended its first meeting. Since 124 of the 128 members of the House of Commons of Southern Ireland boycotted that chamber, the Parliament could not function. On 21 June 1921, the week before its first meeting, the Senate sent a petition to David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, arguing for more powers for the Parliament, and stating it would not serve in the event that the elected lower house was replaced by a body appointed by the Lord Lieutenant.[27]


The Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922 was passed on 31 March 1922 by the British Parliament. It gave the force of law to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which was scheduled to the Act.[28][29][30] Section 1(2) of the Act provided that for the purposes of giving effect to Article 17 of the Treaty the Parliament of Southern Ireland would be dissolved within four months from the passing of the Act. The Parliament of Southern Ireland ceased to exist on 27 May 1922, when Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, formally dissolved it and by proclamation called "a Parliament to be known as and styled the Provisional Parliament".[31] An election to this Provisional Parliament was held on 16 June 1922. On 6 December 1922, the Constitution of the Irish Free State came into force and Southern Ireland ceased to form part of the United Kingdom. The Oireachtas of the Irish Free State was a bicameral parliament consisting of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann.

See also


  1. Southern Ireland did not become a state. Its constitutional roots remained the Act of Union, two complementary Acts, one passed by the Parliament of Great Britain, the other by the Parliament of Ireland.


  1. Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922- Section 2 thereof provides that "For the purpose of giving effect to article 17 of the Anglo-Irish Treaty... as soon as may be and not later than four months after the passing of this Act the Parliament of Southern Ireland shall be dissolved and such steps shall be taken as may be necessary for holding, in accordance with the law now in force with respect to the franchise number of members and method of election and holding of elections to that Parliament, an election of members for the constituencies which would have been entitled to elect members to that Parliament, and the members so elected shall constitute the House of the Parliament to which the Provisional Government shall be responsible, and that Parliament shall, as respects matters within the jurisdiction of the Provisional Government, have power to make laws in like manner as the Parliament of the Irish Free State when constituted.
  2. "Order in Council under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920 Fixing Appointed Days for Certain Purposes", SR&O 1921 (No. 533)
  3. Jackson (2004), p. 198
  4. "Government of Ireland Act 1920: Provisions as to Parliaments of Southern and Northern Ireland".
  5. Act of Union 1800
  6. Murphy, James H. Ireland, A Social, Cultural and Literary History, 1791–1891. p. 116.
  7. Stewart, A. T .Q. (1967). The Ulster Crisis, Resistance to Home Rule, 1912–14. Faber and Faber. p. 31. ISBN 0-571-08066-9.
  8. "Hansard online, start of the debate 11 April 1912". Archived from the original on 22 May 2011. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  9. "Parliamentary Standard Note on the Parliament Acts" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 June 2009. (232 KiB) (SN/PC/675)
  10. Jackson (2003), p. 164
  11. Hennessey, Thomas (1998). "The Passing of the Home Rule Bill". Dividing Ireland, World War I and Partition. Routledge Press. p. 76. ISBN 0-415-17420-1.
  12. Jackson (2003), p. 166
  13. "Defeat Suffered By Government; Amendment Providing Senate For Southern Ireland Passed By Lords". Herald-Journal. Spartanburg. 2 December 1920. p. 2. Retrieved 5 February 2011.
  14. "Government of Ireland Bill". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Vol. 42. House of Lords. 1 December 1920. col. 783–906.
  15. "Dáil elections since 1918". ARK Northern Ireland. Archived from the original on 27 November 2020. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  16. "Dáil Éireann debate - Tuesday, 10 May 1921 - PRESIDENT'S STATEMENT. - ELECTIONS". Houses of the Oireachtas. Archived from the original on 5 August 2020. Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  17. Ward, Alan J (1994). The Irish Constitutional Tradition. Responsible Government and Modern Ireland 1782–1922. Catholic University Press of America. pp. 103–110. ISBN 0-8132-0793-2.
  18. "Information on Arthur Griffith from the Parliament of the United Kingdom". Archived from the original on 10 March 2012. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  19. Mansergh, Nicholas (2007) [1934]. The Irish Free State – Its Government and Politics. Read. pp. 39–40. ISBN 978-1-4067-2035-8.
  20. "Irish Treaty Ratified". Times. London, England. 16 January 1922. p. 10. Retrieved 29 September 2014 via The Times Digital Archive.
  21. Macardle, Dorothy (1968) [1937]. The Irish Republic. Corgi. pp. 592–593. ISBN 0-552-07862-X.
  22. "Oireachtas Historical Debates". Archived from the original on 9 July 2011.
  23. "Ark elections". Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  24. Roderick O'Flanagan, J. (1870). The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of Ireland – from the earliest times to the reign of Queen Victoria.
  25. "Appendix II: List of members, secretariat, and committees". Report of the Proceedings of the Irish Convention (PDF). Command papers. Vol. 9019 (1918 ed.). Dublin: HMSO. 1918. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 August 2011. Retrieved 5 February 2011.
  26. "ARK Northern Ireland Elections – The Senate of Southern Ireland, 1921". Archived from the original on 1 August 2010. Retrieved 9 December 2010.
  27. "Ask New Irish Act; Senators for South Ireland Send Memorial to Lloyd George" (PDF). The New York Times. Associated Press. 22 June 1921. Retrieved 5 February 2011.
  28. Text of Anglo Irish Treaty (New York Times).
  29. "Final debate on 31 March 1922 -accessed 22 January 2009". Archived from the original on 9 March 2017. Retrieved 10 June 2011.
  30. "An Act to give the force of Law to certain Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, and to enable effect to be given thereto, and for other purposes incidental thereto or consequential thereon."  preamble to the Act
  31. Source: Macardle (1999), pg 718 and DCU Website. Archived 12 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine


  • Jackson, Alvin (2004). Home Rule – An Irish History. Oxford University Press.
  • Jackson, Alvin (2003). Home Rule: An Irish History 1800—2000. Phoenix Press. ISBN 0-7538-1767-5.
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