Parliament of Southern Ireland

Parliament of Southern Ireland
Houses Senate,
House of Commons
Established 1920
Disbanded 27 May 1922
Preceded by Parliament of Ireland/
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Succeeded by Provisional Parliament[1]
Speaker of the House of Commons
Seats 192
64 Senators
128 members of parliament (MPs)
House of Commons voting system
House of Commons last election
Irish elections, 1921
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 of Southern Ireland was a Home Rule legislature set up by the British Government during the Irish War of Independence under the Fourth Home Rule Bill. It was designed to legislate for Southern Ireland,[2] a political entity which was created by the British Government to solve the issue of rising Irish nationalism and the issue of partitionism, whilst retaining Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.

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.[3] 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.[4] Throughout the 19th century Irish opposition to the Union was strong, occasionally erupting in violent insurrection.[5]

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 far more acceptable 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.[6] 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.[7] 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 placed on the statute books on 18 September 1914.[8] However, with the outbreak of World War I 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[9] and would not come into operation until the end of the war.[10] Initially the suspension was not considered an issue by Nationalists, who believed independent self-government had finally been granted and that the war was to be a short one.[11]

Two attempts were made by the Asquith Government to implement the Third Home Rule Act 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, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland,[12] each with unicameral parliaments. An amendment to the bill in the House of Lords submitted by Geoffrey Browne, 3rd Baron 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]

House of Commons

The House of Commons of Southern Ireland as established under the original version Fourth Home Rule Bill was intended as the sole chamber of the Parliament; however the final version of the bill established two chambers with the House of Commons as the lower house of the Parliament. It consisted of 128 members who were styled as being members of parliament and whose presiding officer was to be known as the Speaker of the House of Commons. The basic features of the House were constructed from those of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom which was structured in a similar manner. The voting method for the election of MPs was the Single transferable vote[15] with the bill prescribing 16 members being elected from multimember borough constituencies, 104 from multi-member county constituencies and 8 being elected from graduates of Irish Universities, with all members having equal standing in the eyes of the House. The borough and county constituencies replaced those used for Westminster elections with new multi-member ones. The University seats were broken down into 4 for the University of Dublin and 4 for the National University of Ireland.


Main article: Irish elections, 1921

On 24 May 1921, elections were held for the House of Commons of Southern Ireland, simultaneously with elections for Northern Ireland, nominally under the single transferable vote. In reality however, 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 4 seats for graduates of University of Dublin.[16] The Irish Republic chose to regard that election as elections to the Second Dáil. 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, assembled as the Second Dáil.

Southern Ireland general election, 1921
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

The 1st Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent, the last Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who formally opened the Parliament.

On 28 June 1921 the House of Commons, together with the appointed Senate, formally assembled in the Royal College of Science for Ireland, now Government Buildings, in Merrion Street, for a State Opening by His Excellency The 1st Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent, the last Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In reality only four Unionist MPs attended. Having elected Gerald Fitzgibbon to be Speaker, the House adjourned sine die. This was the only formal meeting of the House.[17]

Anglo-Irish Treaty

Main article: Anglo-Irish Treaty
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 proclaimed Irish Republic who claimed plenipotentiary status. 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, which has led it to sometimes erroneously being claimed that the House of Commons of Southern Ireland approved the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The Dáil Éireann for the de facto Irish Republic also ratified the Treaty.

January 1922 meeting

The Mansion House, the location where members elected to the House of Commons met on 14 January 1922.

The Provisional Government of the Irish Free State was constituted on 14 January 1922 "at a meeting of members of the Parliament elected for constituencies in Southern Ireland" in the Mansion House. The meeting was not a meeting of the House of Commons of Southern Ireland; rather, it was a meeting of the members elected to sit in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. Notably, the meeting was convened by Arthur Griffith as "Chairman of the Irish Delegation of Plenipotentiaries"[18] (who had signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty) under the terms of the Treaty. 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 TDs and 4 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.[21] The MPs in the Commons were also required to take the British Oath of Allegiance however, those at the ratification meeting took no Oath.


The Senate of Southern Ireland was the upper house of the Parliament of Southern Ireland established by the 1920 Fourth Home Rule Bill.[15] 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 senators 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. Article 18(4) of the 1920 Act precluded anyone from sitting in both Houses at once; 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.

On 27 May 1922, The Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, formally dissolved the Parliament of Southern Ireland and by proclamation called "a Parliament to be known as and styled the Provisional Parliament".[31] From that date, the Parliament of Southern Ireland ceased to exist. The abolition of the Parliament effectively ended Southern Ireland, which was not a country, however. It was not until the establishment of the Irish Free State on 6 December 1922, under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, that Southern Ireland formally ceased to exist.

See also


  1. Irish Free State (Agreement) Act, 1922- Section 2 thereof provides that "For the purpose of giving effect to particle 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. Statutory Rules & Orders published by authority, 1921 (No. 533). Additional source for 3 May 1921 date: Alvin Jackson, Home Rule – An Irish History, Oxford University Press, 2004, p198; 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.
  3. See: Government of Ireland Act 1920
  4. Act of Union 1800.
  5. James H. Murphy, Ireland, A Social, Cultural and Literary History, 1791–1891, p116
  6. Stewart, A.T.Q., The Ulster Crisis, Resistance to Home Rule, 1912–14, p.31, Faber and Faber (1967) ISBN 0-571-08066-9
  7. Hansard online, start of the debate 11 April 1912
  8. "Parliamentary Standard Note on the Parliament Acts" (PDF). (232 KiB) (SN/PC/675)
  9. Jackson, Alvin Home Rule: An Irish History 1800—2000 p.164, Phoenix Press (2003) ISBN 0-7538-1767-5
  10. Hennessey, Thomas: Dividing Ireland, World War I and Partition, The passing of the Home Rule Bill p.76, Routledge Press (1998) ISBN 0-415-17420-1
  11. Jackson, Alvin Home Rule: An Irish History 1800—2000 p.166, Phoenix Press (2003) ISBN 0-7538-1767-5
  12. Statutory Rules & Orders published by authority, 1921 (No. 533). Additional source for 3 May 1921 date: Alvin Jackson, Home Rule – An Irish History, Oxford University Press, 2004, p198; 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.
  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. |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 42. House of Lords. 1 December 1920.
  15. 1 2 Text of the Act as originally enacted in 1920, from the Office of Public Sector Information
  16. "Dáil elections since 1918". ARK Northern Ireland. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  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
  19. Mansergh, Nicholas (2007) [1934]. The Irish Free State – Its Government and Politics. Read. pp. 39–40. ISBN 1-4067-2035-6.
  20. "Irish Treaty Ratified." Times [London, England] 16 Jan. 1922: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.
  21. 1 2 Macardle, Dorothy (1968 [1937]). The Irish Republic. Corgi. pp. 592–593. ISBN 0-552-07862-X. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  22. Oireachtas Historical Debates Web site
  23. Ark elections
  24. "The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of Ireland – from the earliest times to the reign of Queen Victoria" by J. Roderick O'Flanagan, 1870 publication
  25. "Appendix II: List of members, secretariat, and committees". Report of the Proceedings of the Irish Convention (PDF). Command papers. 9019 (1918 ed.). Dublin: HMSO. 1918. Retrieved 5 February 2011.
  26. "ARK Northern Ireland Elections – The Senate of Southern Ireland, 1921". Retrieved 9 December 2010.
  27. Associated Press (22 June 1921). "Ask New Irish Act; Senators for South Ireland Send Memorial to Lloyd George". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 February 2011.
  28. Text of Anglo Irish Treaty (New York Times).
  29. Final debate on 31 Mar 1922 -accessed 22 Jan 2009
  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.
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