The Provisional Government of Southern Ireland (Irish: Rialtas Sealadach na hÉireann; lit., "Provisional Government of Ireland") was the provisional government for the administration of Southern Ireland between 16 January 1922 and 6 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. 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.
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. 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 stipulated that, between its ratification and the eventual creation of the Free State, ".. steps shall be taken forthwith for summoning a meeting of members of parliament elected for constituencies in Southern Ireland since the passing of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and for constituting a Provisional Government..."
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. Notably it was not convened by Lord Fitzalan, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 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.
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.). The same day by Order in Council a range of governmental powers were transferred to the Provisional Government by the British Government. 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.
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. 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. The handover of Dublin Castle occurred on 16 January 1922. The following is a summary of the account of what happened provided by The Times:
All Dublin was agog with anticipation. From early morning a dense crowd collected outside the gloomy gates in Dame Street, though from the outside little can be seen of the Castle, and only a few privileged persons were permitted to enter its grim gates....At half past 1, members of the Provisional Government went in a body to the Castle, where they were received by Lord FitzAlan, the Lord Lieutenant. Mr. Michael Collins produced a copy of the Treaty, on which the acceptance of its provisions by himself and his colleagues was endorsed. The existence and authority of the Provisional Government were then formally and officially acknowledged, and they were informed that the British Government would be immediately communicated with in order that the necessary steps might be taken for the transfer to the Provisional Government of the powers and machinery requisite for the discharge of its duties. The Lord Lieutenant congratulated ... expressed the earnest hope that under their auspices the ideal of a happy, free, and prosperous Ireland would be attained...The proceedings were held in private, and lasted for 55 minutes, and at the conclusion the heads of the principal administrative departments were presented to the members of the Provisional Government.
The following officiaI communique was afterwards issued from the Castle::
In the Council Chamber at Dublin Castle this afternoon His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant received Mr. Michael Collins as the head of the Provisional Government provided for in Article 17 of the Treaty of December 6. Mr. Collins handed to the Lord Lieutenant a copy of the Treaty, on which the acceptance of its provisions by himself and his colleagues had been endorsed and other members of the Provisional Government were then introduced. The Lord Lieutenant congratulated. Mr. Collins and his colleagues and informed them that they were now duly installed as the Provisional Government and that in conformity with Article 17 of the Treaty, he would at once communicate with the British Government, in order that the necessary steps might be taken for the transfer to the Provisional Government of the powers and machinery requisite for the discharge of its duties. He wished them every success in the task that they had undertaken, and expressed the earnest hope that under their auspices the ideal of a happy, free, and prosperous Ireland would be attained.
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):
The members of the Provisional Government of Ireland received the surrender of Dublin Castle at 1.45 p.m. today. It is now in the hands of the Irish nation. For the next few days the functions of the existing departments of the institution will be continued without in any way prejudicing future action. Members of the Provisional Government proceed to London immediately to meet the British Cabinet Committee to arrange for the various details of handing over. A statement will be issued by the Provisional Government tomorrow In regard to its intentions and policy. - Michael Collins, Chairman.
At the end of the day's events, the following telegram was sent from the King to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland:
Am gratified to hear from your telegram of successful establishment of the Provisional Government in Ireland. Am confident that you will do all in your power to help its members accomplish the task that lies before them. -George R.
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". 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.
However, its members were also members of the Republican Dáil and that Parliament held meetings into June. 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 the viceroy Viscount 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:
On 23 November Erskine Childers and eight other IRA men appealed for their lives to the civilian judiciary. 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.,
The Provisional Government styled itself the Provisional Government of Ireland or (Rialtas Sealadach na hÉireann in Irish) and overprinted its postage stamps accordingly. It is questionable whether it should not have been the provisional Government of Southern Ireland.
In addition, the Provisional Government is sometimes referred to as having been the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State. In law, the Irish Free State did not exist until 6 December 1922 at which point the Provisional Government ceased to exist (although those who had been its members were on that date elected as the first Executive Council of the Irish Free State).
Notwithstanding the above, to confuse matters somewhat, from 9 September 1922 the provisional Government of Southern Ireland was accountable to a Provisional Parliament - and that Parliament was not a House of the Parliament of Southern Ireland. This is because on 27 May 1922, Lord Fitzalan pursuant to the terms of the Free State (Agreement) Act declared that the Parliament of Southern Ireland was dissolved and he called "a Parliament to be known as and styled the Provisional Parliament of what was not stated"
Throughout its existence, it was referred to by those who participated in it as Rialtas Sealadach na hÉireann, or in English, the Irish Provisional Government.
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. The Dunmanway killings in April emphasised the government's lack of control. In May 1,200 Garda Síochána recruits mutinied. 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, but Collins continued to supply arms until shortly before his death in August 1922. 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. The Government lifted, then re-imposed and then lifted the "Belfast Boycott", designed to end the sale of Northern Irish goods in the south.
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.