Speech at the Opening of the Free State Parliament

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Speech at the Opening of the Free State Parliament

11 September 1922

William T. Cosgrave

The Dáil or parliament of the Irish Free State held its first meeting less than three weeks after the death of Michael Collins. The decision to convene the Dáil while civil war still raged was a statement by the Provisional Government that democracy would prevail. The attendance consisted of the protreaty Sinn Féin members, members of the Labour Party, the Farmers' Party, and independents; the thirty-six antitreaty Sinn Féin members boycotted the parliament.

SEE ALSO Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921; Cosgrave, W. T.; Politics: Independent Ireland since 1922

. . . The nation which has struggled so long against the most powerful foreign aggression will not submit to an armed minority which makes war upon its liberties, its institutions, its representation and its honour. During its long and bitter struggle Irish honour was bright and resplendent. An Irishman's word of honour was dearer than his life, and no political advantage can have any respect without honour. There must be clear thinking on this subject of peace. We demand no concessions which cannot be given without honour. We insist upon the people's rights. We are the custodians of the rights of the people and we shall not hesitate to shoulder them. We are willing to come to a peaceful understanding with those in arms, but it must be on a definite basis. We want peace with England on the terms agreed to by the country. Apart from the question of the honour of the nation we are satisfied that the nation stands to lose incomparably less from the armed internal opposition than from a reconquest. The national army is prepared to pay the price, and so are we. Last December Ireland was in a position of power and of influence of great promise for the country. Foreign nations expressed their appreciation of the settlement, and for a short period there was a boom in business. The action of the opposition destroyed that boom, lessened that power and damaged the reputation of the nation. These potentialities must be restored. Great material loss has been inflicted on the nation. It is impossible to estimate the extent of this loss, but it is easy to appreciate how much was needed to restore the country after the war with the English; war with the English in this sense meaning not the last 3 or 4 or 5 years, but the war which restricted national development, which left us a poor nation, which left us industrially and politically on the same level with the smaller nations of Europe, and the education of the country fashioned as if Ireland were a province and not a nation. Hard work lies before the parliament of the nation, and with the active and cordial cooperation of both and of the various sections making up the community it will be possible to restore the Irish nation not alone to the position in which it was at the time the treaty was signed but to the potentialities which the treaty offered and which it is possible to get out of the treaty. There is now no reason why blame should be shifted on the British or any other government blamed if we do not succeed. This parliament and this government is of the people and expects to get that support which is essential to a government and a parliament. We must realise our responsibilities not to one section or to one order of the community, and we must seek to make the administration of this country and the business of the parliament something worthy of the people. Our army and police force must be efficient; the courts must command the confidence of the people, and the parliament must resuscitate the Gaelic spirit and the Gaelic civilisation for which we have been fighting through the ages and all but lost. The nation is still full of vigour and is conscious that a mere handful of violent persons is for the moment standing athwart its upward and onward march towards the achievement of its highest hopes.

Reprinted in Irish Political Documents, 1916–1949, edited by Arthur Mitchell and Pádraig Ó Snodaigh (1985), pp. 144–145.

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Speech at the Opening of the Free State Parliament

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Speech at the Opening of the Free State Parliament