Dev stood for Stormont
Ireland's founding father and the bastion of orange rule
would seem to make strange bedfellows. But 'The Long
Fella' was twice elected a Member of Parliament in
the Belfast executive. Historian Nollaig O'Gadhra takes
up the story
POLITICAL realists in Fianna Fáil down the years
have always shied away from the idea of direct Northern
involvement, realising as de Valera realised from the outset,
that any Northern block of MPs or dissident
TDs from the six counties could complicate the mathematical
balance in Leinster to use all sorts of ways.
Thus it seems the idea of elected members from the North
participating in Leinster House is not an option until Ireland
is free or united or both.
Anything that upsets the apple cart, the Leinster House
status quo in the meantime is not on - no mater how many
favourable articles or idealistic speeches are made from
time to time. Observer status is another matter
I suppose, but it is interesting to note that most of these
suggestions want such observers from the North
to visit the Seanad, not the directly elected House of Deputies
where the real power players are!
Even the current review of the Seanad, which is reviewing
the question of university representation in the second
chamber hasn't the guts to extend the graduate franchise
to Queen's University, Belfast and the New University
So much forjoint sovereignty or eve cross
border co-operation in the limited area of rotten
borough special votes for university graduates. It
is a situation where the South would be making a small gesture
of power-sharing by offering some input into National life
to certain people in Coleraine and Belfast who have no such
power or privilege in the UK.
But for those of you think the idea of Fianna Fáil
putting forward even strategic candidates in Northern Ireland
is a new idea, they might like to try and answer the following
question from a recent up-market pub quiz. Who
was the only Fianna Fáil candidate to stand in the
1933 General Election for Stormont? He was elected for South
Down and remained an MP at Stormont up to 1938, but refused
to take his seat in that oathbound partitionist parliament.
The answer is Eamon de Valera, then head of the Irish Free
State Government, founder and leader of Fianna Fáil,
the Republican Party, which in 1927 had subscribed
to another oath and had entered that other partitionist
chamber, Leinster House, which they came to dominate five
This famous de Valera Fianna Fáil Republican victory
took place in the Northern Ireland General Elections held
on November 30, 1933 - 70 years ago. The circumstances of
this triumph for the anti-Unionist people of South Down
should perhaps, be recalled in the light of the latest poll.
In 1918, Eamon de Valera already an M.P. for the East Clare
following the historical by-election in June 1917, was returned
unopposed for the same area. But the new President of Sinn
Féin, also ran against the old Home Rule veteran
John Dillon who had taken over leadership of the party in
Westminster on the death of John Redmond in March 1918,
in East Mayo.
De Valera was also nominated for the Fall's area of
West Belfast, which even then had an anti-Unionist majority,
but he was defeated by the better established Irish Nationalist
and Home Ruler, wee Joe Devlin.
After the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, when P.R. was
introduced, North and South, in electoral arrangements for
two partitionist assembles, de Valera, now president of
Dáil Eireann and the Irish Republic as declared by
that Dáil in 1919 and also president of Sinn Féin
was nominated as a big name in the new eight-seat
County Down constituency. He was duly returned in May 1927
along with Nationalist Patrick O'Neill and six Unionists
- Sir James Craig, J. Miller Andrews, Hon. H. Mulholland,
R.M. McBridge, T.W.McMullan and Thomas R. Leavery.
This entitled him to sit in the new Stormont Parliament
in Belfast which was being set up as part of the partition
arrangement. But Dev continued to head up the second Dáil
Éireann in Dublin and was entitled, in theory, to
two votes on the Treaty when it came to be voted on in January
1922 - on behalf of his electorate in Clare and Co. Down.
Similarly Michael Collins who had been put up as a Sinn
Féin big name in Co. Armagh and duly
returned for the four-seater (along with the Nationalist
J.D. Nugent and Unionists Richard Best an D.Graham Shillington)
was entitled to two votes - one for county Armagh and the
other for his West Cork constituency. But both voted once
only on the basis of their personal convictions, thus leading
to the rather ironic situation that Armagh was pro-Treaty
in that crucial vote while County Down voted anti-Treaty.
After the dust of civil war and partition had settled, in
the 1925 General Election for Stormont no contest was held
in County Down or in the Queen's University four-seat
constituency. And so Eamon de Valera, still President of
Sinn Féin and anti-Treaty political outcast in the
south was returned again to Stormont, automatically, for
By the time the next Stormont poll was held in May 1929,
the Unionist government had abolished P.R. and de Valera
- by now the leader of Fianna Fáil and leader of
the opposition in the Free State Dáil which he had
entered in 1927 did not contest South Down, his power base
The seat was taken by Nationalist John Henry Collins who
gained 5,637 votes against 1,626 for his only challenger,
Independent Labour candidate William F. Cunningham. There
were no Unionist or Republican/Sinn Féin candidates
in this constituency.
But many in the hugely anti-Unionist population of South
Down were unhappy with this, and resolved that next time
out they would run de Valera, the old Republican veteran
who had represented them so well from 1921 to 1929, again
at the next General Election.
By the time this poll was held in November 1933, de Valera
had won majority backing for his constitutional Republican/Fianna
Fáil programme in the South and had been elected
as head of the Irish Free State Government in 1932,with
the support of the Labour Party. This he consolidated in
February 1933 in another General Election where he won an
overall Fianna Fáil majority with a firm Republican
programme pledged to dismantling the old Free State constitution
and the other trappings of British domination in the South
- including the Oath test for Dáil membership - so
that the Irish people could adopt, enact and given unto
themselves their own Constitution - written by Dev of course!
- in a referendum.
In that context, de Valera could not refuse the invitation
of his South Down followers - and there were many - to stand
in that constituency. Nor could Fianna Fáil refuse
to endorse their chief as a Stormont candidate, whatever
the complications or precedents. They were sure of course
that Dev would never darken Stormont's door.
Nor would he participate in any way in what still a very
young partitionist parliament, pledged to upholding Orange
supremacy (and inevitably persecution of Northern Irish
Catholics and Nationalists like the people of South Down)
while insisting on an oath for those who might even aspire
to act as a loyal opposition.
The head of the Irish Government, Eamon de Valera, was elected
in South Down as a Fianna Fáil member of the Stormont
Parliament with 7,404 votes to 622 votes for Thomas G. McGrath,
a Republican candidate.
There were no Unionist or Nationalist candidates in this
contest. Four other Down seats, East, Mid, North and West
were all filled by Unionists with no opposition or contest,
except in West Down where Unionist Samuel Fryar was opposed
by Independent Unionist James Finnery.
Following some hectic celebrations in Newry and South Down,
the new Stormont M.P. de Valera ignored the symbolic significance
of his victory. He also ignored Stormont and while he recognised
the symbolic significance of the majority protest
vote which made partition an issue again nothing was
done about it or about the plight of the people who had
voted for him. Even when anti-Catholic riots broke out again
in Belfast in 1934 but the R.U.C. came down heavy on the
Catholic/Nationalists, not on the loyalists burning out
- as usual.
Plus ca change? Seventy years on, we hope not. But....
Courtesy of the Clare Champion