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Friday, February 10, 2006


�ire (pronounced AIR uh, in the Irish language, translated as Ireland) is the name given in Article 4 of the 1937 Bunreacht na h�ireann to the 26-county Ireland state, created under the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, which was known between 1922 and 1937 as the Irish Free State. The name �ire is the nominative form in modern Irish language of the name for the goddess �riu, a mythical figure who helped the Gaels conquer Ireland as described in the Book of Invasions. �ire is still used in the Irish language today to refer to the Ireland as well as the state. Since 1949, the term Republic of Ireland has generally been used in preference to �ire, to clarify that the state rather than the whole island is under discussion. It is sometimes felt that use of �ire is associated with a condescending attitude to Ireland in some right wing quarters of the British media. Technically, however, as the Republic of Ireland Act enacted in 1948 makes clear, the Republic of Ireland is actually a description rather than a name, even if generally used as such.

�ire in the Irish Constitution

The Fianna F�il party government (1932-1948) of �amon de Valera drafted an entirely new constitution, called Bunreacht na h�ireann. The constitution is not an act of the parliament of the Irish Free State, rather it was enacted by the people, by a plebiscite in 1937. The term �ire was used in the constitution to indicate a break with the Irish Free State without implying a return to the Irish Republic or a break with the Crown. Among the new features of that new constitution were a President of Ireland, renaming the President of the Executive Council the Taoiseach, and restoring the senate Seanad �ireann. As it was the religion of over 95% of the population there was a reference (since repealed) to the special position of the Roman Catholic church. Like the Irish Free State constitution which it replaced, Bunreacht na h�ireann had no constitutional link with the Crown, except in external relations through a combination of Article 29 of the Constitution and the External Relations Act, 1936. The repeal of the latter Act by the Republic of Ireland Act, 1948 created Ireland as a sovereign Republic in 1949, with Republic of Ireland as a new description but without changing the name of the state from �ire or Ireland.

From �ire to the Republic of Ireland

The declaration of the republic proved somewhat controversial. In 1945 when asked if he planned to do so, de Valera had replied, we are a republic, having refused to say so before for eight years. He also insisted that Ireland had no king but simply used an external king as an organ in international affairs. However, that was not the view of constitutional lawyers including de Valeras Attorneys-General, whose disagreement with de Valeras interpretation only came to light when the state papers from the 1930s and 1940s were released to historians. Nor was it the view of a single state worldwide, all of whom believed that Ireland did have a king, George VI of the United Kingdom who had been proclaimed King of Ireland in December 1936, and to whom they accredited ambassadors to Ireland. King George in turn as King of Ireland accredited all Irish diplomats. All treaties signed by the Irish Taoiseach or Minister for External Affairs were signed in the name of King George. De Valera did have a history of making statements on constitutional matters that were legally questionable. His belief that the Governor-Generals post had been abolished by a constitutional amendment in December 1936 was privately rejected by his own Attorney-General, James Geoghegan, Secretary to the Executive Council (ie, the states main civil servant and his own closest advisor), Maurice Moynihan, the Parliamentary Draftsmans Office (which drafted legislation) and other leading legal figures in the government. To sort out what was privately seen as a legal mess, de Valera had had to introduce a second enactment, the Executive Power (Consequential Provisions) Act, 1937, which was backdated as if effective from the original date of the supposed abolition in December 1936. In 1947, de Valeras new Attorney-General, future President of Ireland Cearbhall ODalaigh, began drafting a bill to grant to the President the powers in international affairs possessed by the King. Part of the debate in government revolved around whether a republic should be declared in the bill. The very existence of the debate is evidence that de Valeras latest attorney-general and part of his cabinet, maybe even de Valera himself, did not agree with de Valeras statement in 1945 that �ire was already a republic. In the end the draft bill was never submitted to the Oireachtas for approval. Whether that is because it was simply abandoned or because de Valera planned to introduce it after the 1948 general election (which he unexpectedly lost) is unclear. A bill to finally and unambiguously declare a republic was introduced in 1948 by the new Taoiseach, John A. Costello of the Fine Gael party. What caused the bill to be introduced remains a mystery. Costello made the announcement that the bill was to be introduced when he was in Ottawa, during an official visit to Canada. It had been suggested that it was a spur of the moment reaction to offence caused by the Governor-General of Canada, Harold Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis who was of Northern Ireland descent and who allegedly placed symbols of Northern Ireland, notably a replica of the famous Roaring Meg cannon used in the Siege of Derry, in front of an affronted Costello at a state dinner. What is certain is that the prior arrangement whereby toasts to the King (symbolising Canada) and the President (representing Ireland) were to be proposed, was broken. Only a toast to the King was proposed, to the fury of the Irish delegation. Shortly afterwards Costello announced the plan to declare the republic. According to all the ministers in Costellos cabinet but one, however, the decision to declare a republic had already been made prior to Costellos Canadian visit. Costellos revelation of the decision was because the Sunday Independent (an Irish newspaper) had discovered the fact and was about to break the story as an exclusive. However, one minister, the controversial Noel Browne, gave a different account in his autobiography, Against the Tide. He claimed Costellos announcement was done in a fit of anger of his treatment by the Governor-General and that when he returned, Costello, at an assembly of ministers in his home, offered to resign because of his manufacture of a major government policy initiative on the spot in Canada. However, according to Browne, all the ministers agreed not to accept the resignation and to manufacture the story of a prior cabinet decision. The evidence of what really happened remains ambiguous. There is no record of a prior decision to declare a republic before Costellos Canadian trip, among cabinet papers for 1948, which supports Brownes claim. However, in what is generally regarded as one of its most ill-judged decisions, the Costello government refused to allow the Secretary to the Government, Maurice Moynihan, to attend cabinet meetings and take minutes, because they believed he had been close to their enemy, Eamon de Valera (as de Valera had been in office continually for sixteen years and directly preceded them, and as Moynihan had been the states chief civil servant for much of that time, it was hardly surprising that he would have been close to de Valera. No evidence suggests however that he was pro-de Valera and anti-them, and they reversed their decision when they returned to government in 1954.) As a result the minutes were kept by a Parliamentary Secretary (junior minister), future Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave. As someone who had never kept minutes before, it is understandable that Cosgraves minutes at least early on in the government proved less than a thorough record of government decisions. So whether the issue was never raised, was raised but no decision taken, a decision taken informally or formally cannot be unambiguously clarified on the basis of the less than adequate minutes of cabinet meetings in 1948. In addition, Brownes own book, published in the 1980s, is littered with major factual inaccuracies and thus is seen as equally unreliable. The last two surviving ministers of that cabinet in the 1980s, former Minister for External Affairs Sean MacBride and Browne, publicly and trenchantly disagreed as to the events that led to the declaration of the republic. What is certain is that one mans account is wrong. But it has proved impossible to ascertain for certain which ones.1 The Republic of Ireland Act was enacted in Oireachtas �ireann with all parties voting for it. De Valera did suggest that it would have been better to reserve the declaration of the republic until Irish unity had been achieved, a comment hard to reconcile with his 1945 claim that �ire was already a republic. Speaking in Seanad �ireann Costello told senators that as a matter of law, the King was indeed King of Ireland and Irish head of state and the President of Ireland was in effect no more than first citizen and a local notable, until the new law came into force. On 1 April 1949 the Republic of Ireland Act, 1948 came into force. Ireland ceased to have a king. The President of Ireland was upgraded to a full head of state. While the constitutional name of the state, �ire was not changed, the descriptive name given to �ire in the new Act, The Republic of Ireland, became the effective name of the twenty-six county state. All previous ambiguities over name, title, head of state and the positions of the King of Ireland and the President of Ireland were resolved. The Westminster Parliament passed its own Ireland Act 1949 acknowledging the changes, preserving certain rights of Irish citizens in the United Kingdom, and designating the Republic of Ireland as its name for the resulting state. King George VI, who no longer had King of Ireland among his titles, sent a message of goodwill to the new Irish head of state, President Sean T. OKelly. OKellys new status as head of state was celebrated by the first ever state visit by an Irish president abroad, to the Holy See in 1950. (En route, he planned to do the decent thing and call upon Your Majesty but timetabling problems prevented what was intended to be the first ever public meeting between a British king and an Irish president.) The declaration of the republic had two controversial after-effects. On becoming a republic a country ceases to be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Though 1949 saw India as a republic reapply for membership and be accepted, the Republic of Ireland decided not to.2 More controversially, the British parliaments Ireland Act 1949 gave a legislative guarantee to Northern Ireland that Northern Ireland would continue to remain a part of the United Kingdom unless the parliament of Northern Ireland formally expressed a wish to join a United Ireland. This constitutional guarantee became a source of much controversy during the rest of the twentieth century. The word �ire features on all Irish (and since 2002 Euro-Irish) coins, postage stamps, passports and other offical state documents issued since 1937 - see Great Seal of Ireland. Before then, Saorst�t �ireann, the Irish translation of Irish Free State, featured.


1 By the 1980s both mens personal relationship had broken down completely. Browne saw MacBride, who had been his party leader at the time, as egotistical and manipulative, holding him personally responsible for his dismissal from cabinet. (It was MacBride who had demanded and got Brownes resignation over the Mother and Child Scheme fiasco.) MacBride saw Browne as a deliberately provocative trouble-maker who, in his book Against the Tide, had told lies including a series of characterisations of his cabinet colleagues that were generally seen as gross and offensive distortions. (One character mocked, T�naiste William Norton, was attacked for his liking for sugar and desserts, his eating habits compared to that of a pig. Browne, himself a medical doctor, never mentioned in the book that Norton was subsequently diagnosed as a Diabetes mellitus, which would have explained his dietary habits.) Thus the MacBride/Browne clash over Brownes book and its claims about the declaration of the republic was seen not as discussion of the topic but of both settling old scores with a long-term bitter enemy. 2 The issue of whether Ireland should rejoin the Commonwealth is occasionally raised. One of Sean Lemasss ministers, Brian Lenihan, suggested the Republic of Ireland should rejoin in the 1960s. The suggestion, previously approved by Lemass who wanted to see the reaction, drew a negative response and was quietly dropped. In the 1990s, Eamon � Cuiv then a junior minister (now a full cabinet minister), and coincidentally a grandson of Eamon de Valera, unilaterally suggested the Republic of Ireland should reapply for membership. The suggestion drew little hostility but no great enthusiasm. � Cuiv has continued to raise the issue occasionally.

Additional reading and sources

Noel Browne, Against the Tide
Bunreacht na h�ireann (1937 Irish Constitution)
Stephen Collins, The Cosgrave Legacy
Tim Pat Coogan, De Valera (Hutchinson, 1993)
Brian Farrell, De Valeras Constitution and Ours
F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland since the Famine
David Gwynn Morgan, Constitutional Law of Ireland
Tim Murphy and Patrick Twomey (eds.) Irelands Evolving Constitution: 1937-1997 Collected Essays (Hart, 1998) ISBN 1901362175
Alan J. Ward, The Irish Constitutional Tradition: Responsible Government and Modern Ireland 1782-1992 (Irish Academic Press, 1994) ISBN 07165252283 Also: D�il Debates, papers from the Irish National Archives and information from a forthcoming book. by:
Irish Free State (1922-37) width 40% align center Irish States (1171-present) width 30% align center Alternative Description Used:
Republic of Ireland (1949- present)