The Birth of the Irish Free State, 1921-1923

By Joseph M. Curran | Go to book overview

Chapter 14

The Constitution:
January-June 1922

The draft Constitution was largely the creation of a committee appointed by the Provisional Government. Griffith had urged Collins to appoint the well-known literary figure and Sinn Feiner, Darrell Figgis, as its chairman. However, Collins distrusted the erratic Figgis and took the chairmanship himself, naming Figgis as his deputy. Thus, although he did not have time to attend the committee's sessions, Collins retained ultimate control of the drafting process. The man Collins really wanted to head the committee was James Douglas, a Dublin businessman and organizer of the Irish White Cross relief work in 1920-21. Douglas served on the committee and was Collins' principal liaison with it; he also persuaded Collins to name C. P. France, an American lawyer (who also was active in White Cross work), as legal adviser, and France soon became a full member of the committee. Other members included James MacNeill, brother of Eoin MacNeill and former Indian civil servant; Hugh Kennedy, K. C., legal adviser to the Provisional Government; Kevin O'Shiel and John O'Byrne, barristers; and James Murnaghan, a Dublin law professor. Appointment of Alfred O'Rahilly, a Cork physics professor who was deeply interested in Catholic social-justice teachings, completed the roster.' In general, the appointments were well advised. All the committee's members supported the Treaty but only Collins and Figgis were partisan figures. The others were legal and administrative experts or men who had won the nation's gratitude for their successful efforts to relieve distress.

The Constitution Committee began work in late January and finished in early March. Griffith and Collins attended the opening session, and although they gave no detailed instructions, they left the committee in no doubt as to the kind of constitution they wanted. Their intention was that the document ignore the formal law governing Anglo-Dominion relations in favor of constitutional practice and usage. Griffith told the committee he wanted as little as possible of the Canadian Constitution in that of the Free State. 2 Collins went further, telling the group to bear in mind not past legalities but future practicalities, and to produce a "true democratic constitution." 3 He made clear to Douglas that he wanted a constitution which would be short, simple, and easy to change as Ireland moved to complete freedom. It should not treat Anglo-Irish relations,

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