The World At Home: A hundred years on, remember the words of Thomas Johnson
2019-01-01 12:40:55 -


By Aodhán Ó Ríordáin


As the commemorations of the Dáil’s first meeting in 1919 are ongoing, it is depressingly inevitable that the name of Tom Johnson will rarely be mentioned. The author of the Democratic Programme of the first Dáil was the then leader of the Labour Party and had decided not to field candidates in the historic 1918 election.

Originally from Liverpool, Johnson was a trade unionist who became president of the Trade Union Congress in 1915. Thrust into the leadership of the Labour Party owing to the death of James Connolly and the exile of James Larkin, Johnson believed the national question needed to be settled in 1918 and decided not to contest the election. He was, however, a leader of a strike to protest against the threatened introduction of conscription into Ireland in that year.

In thanks for the political sacrifice that he and Labour made in 1918, Johnson was allowed the honour of drafting the 1919 Democratic Programme, and was said to have been visibly upset when it was read into the record of that first parliamentary gathering in the Mansion House on 21 January 1919.

I have included it here in full, so that readers can appreciate the ethic and honour which was attached to the vision of that first Sáil, but also as a challenge to us all to deliver on what hasn’t been achieved a century later:

“We declare in the words of the Irish Republican Proclamation the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies to be indefeasible, and in the language of our first President, Pádraíg Mac Phiarais, we declare that the Nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its material possessions, the Nation’s soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the Nation, and with him we reaffirm that all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare.

“We declare that we desire our country to be ruled in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality, and Justice for all, which alone can secure permanence of Government in the willing adhesion of the people.

“We affirm the duty of every man and woman to give allegiance and service to the Commonwealth, and declare it is the duty of the Nation to assure that every citizen shall have opportunity to spend his or her strength and faculties in the service of the people. In return for willing service, we, in the name of the Republic, declare the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the Nation’s labour.

“It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic 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.

“The Irish Republic fully realises the necessity of abolishing the present odious, degrading and foreign Poor Law System, substituting therefor 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. Likewise it shall be the duty of the Republic to take such measures as will safeguard the health of the people and ensure the physical as well as the moral well-being of the Nation.

“It shall be our duty to promote the development of the Nation’s resources, to increase the productivity of its soil, to exploit its mineral deposits, peat bogs, and fisheries, its waterways and harbours, in the interests and for the benefit of the Irish people.

“It shall be the duty of the Republic to adopt all measures necessary for the recreation and invigoration of our Industries, and to ensure their being developed on the most beneficial and progressive co-operative and industrial lines. With the adoption of an extensive Irish Consular Service, trade with foreign Nations shall be revived on terms of mutual advantage and goodwill, and while undertaking the organisation of the Nation’s trade, import and export, it shall be the duty of the Republic to prevent the shipment from Ireland of food and other necessaries until the wants of the Irish people are fully satisfied and the future provided for.

“It shall also devolve upon the National Government to seek co-operation of the Governments of other countries in determining a standard of Social and Industrial Legislation with a view to a general and lasting improvement in the conditions under which the working classes live and labour.”


Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is a Labour Party Senator.

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