100 YEARS AGO: The 1918 general election

Published in Issue 6 (November/December 2018), Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 26

By Joe Connell

Following the armistice that ended the First World War on 11 November 1918, the British government called a general election for 14 December, in which Sinn Féin won 73 out of 105 seats. The election saw the overwhelming defeat of the moderate nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party, which had dominated Irish politics since the 1880s, and a landslide victory for Sinn Féin, which had never previously enjoyed significant electoral success. In Ulster the Unionists remained the dominant party. The successful Sinn Féin candidates refused to take their seats in Westminster and instead formed a parliament in Dublin on 21 January 1919, the first Dáil Éireann, which declared Irish independence.

Above: A map of the 1918 general election results published by the Friends of Irish Freedom for distribution in America.(NLI)

Sinn Féin fought the election on its own separatist agenda, outlined in its manifesto:

‘GENERAL ELECTION—MANIFESTO TO THE IRISH PEOPLE

THE coming General Election is fraught with vital possibilities for the future of our nation. Ireland is faced with the question whether this generation wills it that she is to march out into the full sunlight of freedom, or is to remain in the shadow of a base imperialism that has brought and ever will bring in its train naught but evil for our race.

Sinn Féin gives Ireland the opportunity of vindicating her honour and pursuing with renewed confidence the path of national salvation by rallying to the flag of the Irish Republic.

Sinn Féin aims at securing the establishment of that Republic.

  1. By withdrawing the Irish Representation from the British Parliament.
  2. By making use of any and every means available to render impotent the power of England to hold Ireland in subjection by military force or otherwise.
  3. By the establishment of a constituent assembly comprising persons chosen by Irish constituencies as the supreme national authority to speak and act in the name of the Irish people, and to develop Ireland’s social, political and industrial life, for the welfare of the whole people of Ireland.
  4. By appealing to the Peace Conference for the establishment of Ireland as an Independent Nation.

Believing that the time has arrived when Ireland’s voice for the principle of untrammelled National self-determination should be heard above every interest of party or class, Sinn Féin will oppose at the Polls every individual candidate who does not accept this principle. The right of a nation to sovereign independence rests upon immutable natural law and cannot be made the subject of a compromise. Any attempt to barter away the sacred and inviolate rights of nationhood begins in dishonour and is bound to end in disaster. Those who have endeavoured to harness the people of Ireland to England’s war-chariot, ignoring the fact that only a freely-elected Government in a free Ireland has power to decide for Ireland the question of peace and war, have forfeited the right to speak for the Irish people. The present Irish members of the English Parliament constitute an obstacle to be removed from the path that leads to the Peace Conference.

Sinn Féin goes to the polls handicapped by all the arts and contrivances that a powerful and unscrupulous enemy can use against us. Conscious of the power of Sinn Féin to secure the freedom of Ireland the British Government would destroy it. Sinn Féin, however, goes to the polls confident that the people of this ancient nation will be true to the old cause and will vote for the men who stand by the principles of Tone, Emmet, Mitchel, Pearse and Connolly, the men who disdain to whine to the enemy for favours, the men who hold that Ireland must be as free as England or Holland, Switzerland or France, and whose demand is that the only status befitting this ancient realm is the status of a free nation.

ISSUED BY THE STANDING COMMITTEE OF SINN FÉIN’

Joseph E.A. Connell is the author of Michael Collins: Dublin 1916–22 (Wordwell Books).

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