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Provisional Government of Southern Ireland

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Title: Provisional Government of Southern Ireland  
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Subject: Irish Civil War, Irish Free State, W. T. Cosgrave, Michael Collins (Irish leader), Dublin Castle, Aireacht, President of Dáil Éireann, Dáil Constitution, Government of Ireland Act 1920, Irish Republic
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Provisional Government of Southern Ireland

The provisional Government of Southern Ireland[1] (Irish: Rialtas Sealadach na hÉireann; lit., "Provisional Government of Ireland") was the provisional government for the administration of Southern Ireland from 16 January 1922 to 5 December 1922. The government was effectively a transitional administration for the period between the ratifying of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State.[2] Its legitimacy was disputed by the Anti-Treaty delegates to Dáil Éireann.


Under the Irish Republic's Dáil Constitution adopted in 1919, Dáil Éireann continued to exist after it had ratified the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In protest at the ratification, Éamon de Valera resigned the presidency of the Dáil then sought re-election from among its members (to clarify his mandate), but Arthur Griffith defeated him in the vote and assumed the presidency. (Griffith called himself President of Dáil Éireann rather than de Valera's more exalted President of the Republic.)

Most of the Dáil Ministers became concurrently Ministers of this Provisional Government. Michael Collins became Chairman of the Provisional Government (i.e. prime minister). He also remained Minister for Finance of Griffith's republican administration. An example of the complexities involved can be seen even in the manner of his installation. In theory he was a Crown-appointed prime minister, installed under the Royal Prerogative. To be so installed, he had to formally meet the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount Fitzalan of Derwent (the head of the British administration in Ireland). According to republican history, Collins met Fitzalan to accept the surrender of Dublin Castle, the seat and symbol of British government in Ireland. According to British constitutional theory, he met Fitzalan to kiss hands (the formal name for the installation of a minister of the Crown), the fact of their meeting, rather than the signing of any documents, duly installing him in office. Subsequent to the surrender, British soldiers and the Royal Irish Constabulary (which was being disbanded) were called upon again by the Provisional Government to man the guard at Dublin Castle.[3]

There was no other legal mechanism for the transfer of power than kissing hands, as the British "Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922" that covered the transition was passed in March and only came into force on 1 April 1922.[4] The relevant Order in Council signed on 1 April was the "Provisional Government (Transfer of Functions) Order, 1922". This Order passed on the full authority of the state within Southern Ireland to the Provisional Government, including, for the time being, all the laws that applied to Ireland when under British rule.


Article 17 of the Anglo-Irish Treaty begins:

The Provisional Government was then constituted on 14 January 1922. That meeting was not convened as a meeting of the House of Commons of Southern Ireland nor as a meeting of the Dáil. Instead, it was convened by Arthur Griffith as “Chairman of the Irish Delegation of Plenipotentiaries” (who had signed the Treaty) under the terms of the Treaty.[5] Notably it was not convened by Lord Fitzalan, who under the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was the office-holder with the entitlement to convene a meeting of the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. The intention was to merge legally both parliaments to select the ministers for the Provisional Government, but the reality was that the existing pro-Treaty ministers would continue in their posts.

At this meeting the Anglo-Irish Treaty was ratified by the Irish side in accordance with the Treaty, the Provisional Government was elected and Michael Collins was appointed its Chairman. The Provisional Government took up office two days later on 16 January 1922 when British administration handed over Dublin Castle to Collins in person.

On 31 January the Dublin Gazette that listed official government announcements was renamed Iris Oifigiúil.

Notwithstanding its establishment in January 1922, the British Government had not formally transferred any powers to the Provisional Government. The British Government could only do so when the British Parliament had approved the transitional arrangements following from the Anglo-Irish Treaty. This became law on 1 April 1922 under the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922 (12 & 13 Geo. 5. c.4.).[6] The same day by Order in Council a range of governmental powers were transferred to the Provisional Government by the British Government.[7] The several members of the Provisional Government were accordingly re-appointed on that date and these appointments were formally announced in the Dublin Gazette a few days later.[8]

Handover of Dublin Castle

One of the earliest and most remarkable events in the short life of the Provisional Government was the handover of Dublin Castle to the Provisional Government. For centuries Dublin Castle was the symbol, as well as the citadel, of British rule in Ireland.[9] Its transfer to the representatives of the Irish people was greatly welcomed in Dublin. It was regarded as a significant outward and visible sign that British rule was ending.[9] The handover of Dublin Castle occurred on 16 January 1922.[9] The following is a summary of the account of what happened provided by The Times:[9]

The following officiaI communique was afterwards issued from the Castle:[9]

On leaving the Castle the members of the Provisional Government again received a great ovation from a largely augmented crowd. They returned to the Mansion House from where the Chairman of the Provisional Government, Michael Collins issued the following statement (referring to nothing less than a surrender of the Castle):[9]

At the end of the day's events, the following telegram was sent from the King to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland:[9]


There was never again “a meeting of members of the Parliament elected for constituencies in Southern Ireland” after 14 January 1922 and neither the Treaty nor the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922 provided that the Provisional Government was or would be accountable to any such body. On 27 May 1922 Lord Fitzalan, in accordance with the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922 formally dissolved the Parliament of Southern Ireland and by proclamation called “a Parliament to be known as and styled the Provisional Parliament”.[10] Under the terms of the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922, the Provisional Government did become accountable to that parliament. Therefore, between its formation on 14 January 1922 and 19 September 1922 (when the Provisional Parliament first met) the Provisional Government was responsible to no parliament at all.[8]

However, its members were also members of the Republican Dáil and that parliament held meetings into June.[11] The Dáil had no legitimacy in British law and under its own laws was the parliament to which another government was accountable – the Aireacht (Irish Republic Government). The constitutional uniqueness of the situation was such that Lord Fitzalan remained in his post undisturbed for months after his "surrender", and in the summer of 1922 he frequently held military reviews of departing British soldiers in the Phoenix Park outside the then Viceregal Lodge.

Name of Provisional Government

Postage stamps of the government consisted of overprinted British stamps. The text in traditional Irish orthography reads Rialtas Sealadach na hÉireann 1922 and translates as Provisional Government of Ireland 1922

Article 15 of the treaty refers to "the provisional Government of Southern Ireland hereinafter constituted", referring to Article 17 quoted above, which refers to "the administration of Southern Ireland". The Irish Free State (Agreement) Act, 1922 and subsequent order in council refer to "the Provisional Government established under [Article 17 of the Treaty]", without mention of "Southern Ireland". The Provisional Government styled itself the Provisional Government of Ireland, or Rialtas Sealadach na hÉireann in Irish.[12] It overprinted its postage stamps accordingly. In addition, the Provisional Government is sometimes referred to as having been the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State; the Irish Free State was created in law on 6 December 1922 when its Constitution came into force. The Constitution refers to the Executive Council's predecessor as "the Provisional Government" unqualified.

From 9 September 1922 the provisional Government was accountable to the Third Dáil as a "Provisional Parliament", which was unrelated to the Parliament of Southern Ireland which had been dissolved on 27 May 1922 by Lord Fitzalan who, pursuant to the terms of the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922, proclaimed "a Parliament to be known as and styled the Provisional Parliament" (of what was not stated) after the June 1922 election.[10] On 23 November Erskine Childers and eight other IRA men appealed for their lives to the civilian judiciary.[13] The Master of the Rolls in Ireland considered the existence of a Provisional Government in Ireland and its authority to act as proposed and execute the nine.

Now we have what is called a Provisional Government in Ireland, and although for the time being it is in a transitional state, it has been formally and legally constituted and derives it validity from the treaty between Great Britain and Ireland and the Act of Parliament confirming that Treaty.,[14]

Several Acts of the post-1922 Oireachtas of the Irish Free State and the post-1937 Oireachtas refer to the "Provisional Government of Ireland".[15]

Lack of control despite electoral success

As a transitional entity the Provisional Government needed co-operation to steer the creation of the Free State, ensure the smooth withdrawal of British forces and to restore the economy. Anti-treatyites, having opposed the Treaty in the Dáil, mostly withdrew from the assembly and, having formed an opposition "republican government" under Éamon de Valera, began a political campaign from March 1922. At the same time the powerful IRA Army Executive divided, and its anti-Treaty members refused to be bound by the Dáil vote that had ratified it. Barracks that were being evacuated by the British army, in line with the Treaty, were sometimes taken over by anti-Treaty forces. In some cases no government soldiers were available and take-overs had to be made by the new Garda Síochána police force.[16] The Dunmanway killings in April emphasised the government's lack of control. In May 1,200 Garda Síochána recruits mutinied.[17] A force led by Rory O'Connor occupied four central buildings in Dublin on 14 April. The Provisional Government ignored this challenge to its authority, hoping that the occupiers would realise that they had achieved nothing, and leave. Instead some incidents at the Four Courts in late June led to the open outbreak of the Irish Civil War on 28 June.

Adding to the instability, the Provisional Government continuously and covertly supplied arms to the IRA in Northern Ireland in an attempt to maintain IRA support elsewhere. This undeclared conflict was formally ended by the "Craig-Collins Agreement" of 30 March 1922,[18] but Collins continued to supply arms until shortly before his death in August 1922.[19] Provisional Government policy veered between trying to persuade the Government of Northern Ireland to join a re-united Ireland and trying to conquer it. A major concern was the welfare of Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland, many of whom suffered the harsh policing methods of the Ulster Special Constabulary that was formed in late 1921 to deal with the IRA there. Collins' support for the IRA in the north prolonged the suffering, though from 2 August he did limit it to defensive actions.[20] The Government lifted, then re-imposed and then lifted the "Belfast Boycott", designed to end the sale of Northern Irish goods in the south.[21]

Following the general election on 16 June 1922, held just before the civil war, the Second Irish Provisional Government took power until the creation of the Irish Free State on 6 December 1922.

By mid-1922, Collins in effect laid down his responsibilities as President of the Provisional Government to become Commander-in-Chief of the National Army, a formal structured uniformed army that formed around the pro-Treaty IRA. As part of those duties, he travelled to his native County Cork. En route home on 22 August 1922, at Béal na mBláth (an Irish language placename that means 'the Mouth of Flowers'), he was killed in an ambush. He was 31 years old. After Collins' and Griffith's deaths in August 1922, W. T. Cosgrave became both Chairman of the Provisional Government and President of Dáil Éireann, and the distinction between the two posts became irrelevant.

On 6 December 1922, Northern Ireland, Southern Ireland and the Irish Republic were replaced by the Irish Free State, with executive authority nominally vested in the King, but exercised by a cabinet called the Executive Council, presided over by a prime minister called the President of the Executive Council. On 7 December the House of Commons of Northern Ireland unanimously exercised its right under the Treaty to secede from the Irish Free State.

List of ministers

See also


  1. ^ Name of administration as per Treaty
  2. ^ For a useful summary of the constitutional background, key dates and appointments concerning the provisional Government, see Taoiseach’s Website. See also the Anglo Irish Treaty
  3. ^ Hansard, 4 May 1922 - accessed 22 Jan 2009
  4. ^ Debate of 31 March 1922 - accessed 22 Jan 2009
  5. ^ This followed discussions between the Irish Treaty delegation and the British Government over who had authority to convene the “meeting”.
  6. ^ Notably, while this Act gave the force of law to the Treaty, it was not strictly the instrument which ratified the Treaty. That function was to fall to the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922 passed on 5 December 1922.
  7. ^ "State Intelligence" (PDF). London Gazette (32661): 2705–13. 4 April 1922. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Taoiseach's Website
  9. ^ a b c d e f g The Times, 17 January 1922 – Dublin Castle Handed Over, Irish Ministers in London Today, The King’s Message.
  10. ^ a b Source: Macardle (1999), pg 718 and DCU Website.
  11. ^ Dates of sittings, Jan-June 1922
  12. ^ Dáil debates 9 Sep 1922
  13. ^ Garret FitzGerald Reflections On The Foundation of the Irish State, University College Cork, April 2003
  14. ^ The Times, The Childers Case. Judge's Reasons For Refusing Writ. 24 November 1922
  15. ^ Irish Statute Book, accessed 14 October 2014:
    "Adaptation of Enactments Act, 1922, Section 15". 
    "Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923, Section 21". 
    "Damage To Property (Compensation) Act, 1923, Section 15". 
    "Indemnity Act, 1923, Section 4". 
    "Dublin Reconstruction (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1924, Section 13". 
    "Industrial and Commercial Property (Protection) Act, 1927, Section 168". 
    "Preamble to the Civil Service (Transferred Officers) Compensation Act, 1929". 
    "National Health Insurance Act, 1933, Section 22". 
    "Cork Tramways (Employees' Compensation) Act, 1933, Section 10". 
    "Transport Act, 1944, Schedule 5". 
    "Transport Act, 1950, Schedule 4". 
  16. ^ Takeover of Kildare barracks
  17. ^ McCarthy, B. "The Civic Guard Mutiny" 2012, Mercier Press, ISBN 9781781170458.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Sunday Independent article, 22 August 2010
  20. ^ Volume 1, Documents on Irish Foreign Policy Volume I, 1919 -1922 (Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1998); National Archives file NAI DT S1801A
  21. ^ Documents on Irish Foreign Policy Volume I, 1919 -1922 (RIA, Dublin, 1998); 1922 documents online
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