Irish Houses of Parliament - The Dáil Chooses A Different Home

The Dáil Chooses A Different Home

When, in January 1919, Irish republican MPs elected in the 1918 General Election assembled to form the First Dáil and issue a Unilateral Declaration of Independence, they chose not to seek to use the old Parliament House on College Green. Instead, they used the Round Room of the Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin. (Ironically, the Round Room had more royal connections than the old Parliament House; it had been built for the visit of King George IV in 1821).

Even if the new Dáil had sought to use the old Parliament House, it is highly unlikely that the Bank of Ireland, then with a largely Unionist board (some of whom being directly descended from members of the former Irish Parliament), would have supplied the building for such a use, not least because it was also a working bank and the Bank's then headquarters. When, in 1921, the House of Commons of Southern Ireland, created in the Fourth Home Rule Act (known as the Government of Ireland Act 1920) met (or supposedly met, only four MPs, all unionists, turned up for the State Opening of Parliament by the Lord Lieutenant), it assembled in the Royal College of Science instead of the old Parliament House.

In 1922, when the Provisional Government under W. T. Cosgrave made plans for the coming into being of the new Irish Free State, it gave little thought to using the old Parliament House as the parliament building for the new state. Though larger than Leinster House, the building eventually selected, it possessed three major practical problems. Firstly, it was the working headquarters of Ireland's major bank, which would need to have an alternative headquarters provided, were the state to use the building for parliamentary purposes;

In addition, it lacked room around it for the provision of additional buildings to be used for governmental purposes. Directly behind it, on the actual location of Chichester House, there was now a major street called Fleet Street. In front of it, on both the Lords and Commons entrances, were major thoroughfares, College Green and Westmoreland Street, meaning that the only space for expansion was on its Foster Place side, yet here too there was little potential for the constitution of government offices. (In contrast, the eventual choice, Leinster House, possessed the Royal College of Science, parts of which the state immediately 'borrowed' to use as a Cabinet office, a prime ministerial office and offices for several ministries)

While in the 18th century the fact that one of its House of Lords entrance opened directly onto a street caused little worry, in the Ireland of 1922 with a civil war raging, the building was simply too insecure to be used as a modern day parliament building. While the House of Commons entrance was surrounded by railings, it offered only minimal parking space and minimal security from attack, and practically no means of escape in the event of an attack. In contrast Leinster House was located well in from the streets that surrounded it, had considerable parking potential and was far more secure in the event of an anti-treaty republican attack on the Free State Dáil and Seanad.

As a result, the Free State initially hired Leinster House from its then owner, the Royal Dublin Society, in 1922, before buying it in 1924. Longer term plans either to convert the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, into a national parliament, or to build a new parliament house, all fell through, leaving Leinster House as the accidental permanent modern Irish parliament house.

Read more about this topic:  Irish Houses Of Parliament

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