The Democratic Programme
By Aengus Ó Snodaigh
The last item on the agenda of the opening day of Dáil Éireann was the adoption of the Democratic Programme - ``Clár Oibre Poblachtaighe''. The Programme was not among the documents originally given to the sub-committees to prepare, but the committee preparing for the historic opening of Dáil Éireann saw the importance in adopting a statement of principles and objectives outlining the new parliament's attitudes to economic and social matters.
The first mention of such a document occurs in the minutes of the ``Select Committee A'' which had been tasked with drawing up the Constitution and the Standing Orders for the Dáil and in a Sinn Féin Press release issued after the meeting on 14 January 1919. The press release said: ``A document drafted by The Irish Workers' Delegation of the International Conference was submitted to the members present, and it was decided that the statement of national claims set out were heartily approved. A committee was appointed to draw up a programme of constructive work on democratic lines in consultation with the Labour leaders.''
When the preparatory committee, consisting of Harry Boland, George Gavan Duffy, James O'Mara, Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh, Eamonn Duggan, Eoin Mac Néill and Piaras Beaslaí, met again on 17 January, they approved the versions of the Address to the Free Nations, The Constitution of Dáil Éireann and the Declaration of Independence. The draft Democratic Programme submitted by the Labour leaders (Thomas Johnston and William O'Brien principally) proved to be too radical, too socialist, for some of the IRB leaders who were also vetting the documents and it was therefore not voted on. Michael Collins is among those who was said to have had objections to some of the document's pronouncements. Harry Boland was go-between with the committee and the Labour leaders and on the eve of the inaugural meeting he instructed Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh to bring the draft home and to produce a document which was acceptable to the various interests for presentation the following day.
Piaras Beaslaí had the honour to read the Democratic Programme in Irish to the parliament. He said in Irish before reading it that ``the Programme was hastily prepared, but that it was felt it was better to hastily prepare the programme than not to have one at all''. Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh then read aloud the English translation.
While reiterating the sentiments expressed in the 1916 Proclamation, the Democratic Programme committed Dáil Éireann to:
``Make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as Citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland.''
It agreed to replace the Poor Law system with ``a sympathetic native scheme for the care of the Nation's aged and infirm, who shall not be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the Nation's gratitude and consideration''. It would also be the duty of the Dáil to ``safeguard the health of the people and ensure the physical as well as the moral well-being of the Nation''.
The Programme stated that Dáil Éireann would be responsible for the promotion and development of ``the Nation's resources'' and the ``recreation and invigoration of our industries'' in the ``interests and for the benefit of the Irish people''. The Dáil would be obligated to ``prevent the shipment from Ireland of food and other necessaries until the wants of the Irish people are fully satisfied and fully provided for''.
Its final provision was for the development of ``a standard of Social and Industrial Legislation with a view to a general and lasting improvements in the conditions under which the working classes live and labour''.
In proposing the adoption of the Democratic Programme, Dick Mulcahy said that the health of the nation was dependant on the message of the programme being adopted fully in the laws agreed in the future by the deputies. West Limerick deputy Conor Collins seconded the adoption of the Democratic Programme.
The programme was accepted unanimously. Following its adoption the Dáil agreed to adjourn its proceedings till the following day at 3.30pm to agree the normal rules and regulations of the house and to elect a cabinet. The house rose at 5.20pm.
(Next Week: The election of Dáil Éireann's first cabinet)