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The Irish Free State (Irish: Saorstát Éireann) is the state established initially as an autonomous dominion under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives in 1922 ending the Irish War of Independence (or Revolution). On the day the Irish Free State was established, it comprised the entire island of Ireland, but Northern Ireland almost immediately exercised its right under the treaty to remove itself from the new state.
In 1931, a referendum approved a new constitution establishing a republican form of government and severing all ties to the King and Parliament of the United Kingdom. It also pulled out of the Imperial Commonwealth Federation
There have been three constitutional forms of government; Dáil Constitution (1920-1922), Irish Free State Constitutions of 1923 and 1931.
The Dáil Constitution, voted by the first Dail established an independent republic, that was not recognized by the UK. The main provisions established a provisional Government, integrated by a President and ministers elected by the Dail. The Dail that had full legislative and constitutional powers and a judicial system of Dáil Courts.
The Constitution of 1923 established a parliamentary system of government under a form of constitutional monarchy, very similar to the one of 1930, with a Governor General has representative of the King acting has head of state. The new state would be called the Irish Free State and would be an autonomous dominion of the British Commonwealth. Northern Ireland would be included in the Irish Free State unless its Parliament decided to opt out (which it ultimately did).
By the The Constitution of 1931 the Irish Free State is a constitutional republic with a parliamentary system of government. The main political institutions are:
- The President, that serves as head of state, and is directly elected by the people for seven years, and can be elected for a maximum of two terms. The Presidency is primarily a ceremonial office, but is entrusted with certain constitutional powers with the advice of the Council of State
- The Taoiseach serves as the head of government and is appointed by the President upon the nomination of the Dáil. Most Taoisigh have served as the leader of the political party that gains the most seats in national elections. The Government is constitutionally limited to fifteen members. No more than two members can be selected from the Seanad, and the Taoiseach, Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and Minister for Finance must be members of the Dáil.
- The Oireachtas is a bicamera national parliament composed of the President of Ireland and the two Houses of the Oireachtas: Seanad Éireann (Senate) and Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives). The Seanad is composed of sixty members, with eleven nominated by the Taoiseach, six elected by two universities, and 43 elected by public representatives from panels of candidates established on a vocational basis. The Dáil has 166 members (Teachta Dála) elected to represent multi-seat constituencies under the system of proportional representation and by means of the single transferable vote. The Dáil must be dissolved within five years after its first meeting following the previous election.
The revolutionary Dáil Courts system created in 1921– during the War of Independence-, were organized into a Supreme Court of Ireland, as the highest judicial authority in Ireland. It is a court of final appeal and exercises, in conjunction with the High Court, judicial review over Acts of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament). Its judges are appointed by the President of the Republic in accordance with the binding advice of a judicial advisory board. The rest of judiciary is composed of higher and lower courts.
The Local Government Act 1898 is the founding document of the present system of local government. This Act established a county council for each of the thirty-three Irish counties and ridings. The geographic remit of the Irish Free State, which was established pursuant to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922, was confined to twenty-six of the traditional counties of Ireland and thus included 27 administrative counties. To this number may be added the county boroughs. Local government has progressively lost control over services to national and regional bodies, particularly since the foundation of the state in 1923.
The main political parties are the Cumann na nGaedheal (pro Dominion and Commonwealth, and center-right nationalism), in government until 1930, after that it merged with other groups forming the Fine Gael (Christian democracy and center-right).
Against the Dominion status and membership in the Commonwealth were the Sinn Féin (left nationalism), Fianna Fáil (center-left nationalism) and Labour Party (social democratic and i favor of social reform and workers rights).
The Fianna Fáil was formed as split from the Sinn Fein over abstentionism. The Fianna Fáil participated in elections and its members to took their seats in the Dáil.
From mid 1920s to the end of the 1930s paramilitary groups, made up of veterans from the Irish Revolution and Civil Revolution, were formed by major parties has a mean to providing protection for party rallies and assemblies; the disruption of opposing political parties and the fight against their paramilitary units. These were the Army Comrades Association (ACA, informally linked to the Cumann na nGaedheal/Fine Gael), IRA (Sinn Féin), Fianna Éireann (Fianna Fáil) and Irish Citizen Army (ICA, Labour Party). In 1939 they were declared illegal and forcefully disband.
As a Dominion, the Irish Free State was mainly and agricultural producer with a small industrial in Cork and cutoff from the more ndustrial Northern Ireland. The conservative economic social policy of Cumann na nGaedheal government, although successful in creating a stable state, it was unable to create prosperity and improve the living standards for the Irish people after the struggles for independence.
The Great Economic Depression of 1931 was harsh on the economy of the Irish Free State, high employment low demand for agricultural products on foreign and Commonwealth markets, economic hardship in many rural areas, the burden of mortgage payments to UK due to money advanced under the pre-independence Land Acts.
Armed forces and Law enforcement
During the Irish War of Independence (or Revolution) the Irish Volunteers were recognized by Dáil Éireann as its legitimate army. Later the Volunteers, joined with Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan and Fianna Éireann, forming the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In practice, the Dáil had great difficulty controlling the actions of the IRA, specifically in Ulster. The signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty cause a split in the IRA, some commanders ignored the political authority of the Dail and continued the guerrilla warfare. A new and more obedient force, the Irish National Army (INA), created from loyal IRA officers and troops, armed units of the Irish Republican Police and new volunteers.
In its beginnings the INA, with help of the Garda, was engaged against the rebel IRA troops in the Civil War and counter terrorism. Later in maintaining control of clashes between paramilitary groups and disband of these.
The INA was the sole army until 1930, when the Irish Defence Forces (Óglaigh na hÉireann) where created as the Irish Free State's military force. The IDF encompass:
- Irish Army (an tArm)
- Naval Service (An tSeirbhís Chabhlaigh)
- Air Service (An tAerchór)
- Local Defence Forces (An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil). It comprises the Army Reserve (AR) and the Naval Service Reserve (NSR).
Law enforcement is in charge of the Garda Síochán, the unarmed national police of Ireland. The Garda replaced the the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Irish Republican Police of 1920–22.