The Republic of Ireland Act 1948 is an Act of the Oireachtas which declared that Ireland may be officially described as the Republic of Ireland, and vested in the President of Ireland the power to exercise the executive authority of the state in its external relations, on the advice of the Government of Ireland. The Act was signed into law on this date and came into force on 18 April 1949, Easter Monday, the 33rd anniversary of the beginning of the Easter Rising. There was a parade to mark the occasion in Dublin, and smaller parades occurred nationwide. Costello’s unorthodox declaration did at least have popular support in the new Republic.
The Act ended the remaining statutory role of the British monarchy in relation to the state, by repealing the 1936 External Relations Act, which had vested in George VI and his successors those functions which the Act now transferred to the President and ended the fiction of Commonwealth membership.
The withdrawal of the 26 counties from the British Commonwealth was recognised officially by Britain, thereby, becoming the independent Republic of Ireland. The Ireland Act 1949 passed by the House of Commons recognised the withdrawal.
Éamon de Valera had introduced his Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann) in 1937, the Irish Free State, or Éire as it was renamed, was well-nigh an independent republic. However, De Valera was hesitant on proclaiming the 26 counties the Republic.
It is plausible that not only was De Valera’s hesitation a compromise to those who recognised the Republic as consisting of all 32 counties, but that he also did not wish to be the one whom history would indicate as having accepted partition as permanent. As such, Éire claimed that the national territory covered the whole of Ireland but recognised the de facto state of Northern Ireland. It was De Valera’s ardent desire that reunification could be achieved peacefully.
The Act created outrage in Ireland because its provisions guaranteed that partition (i.e. the status of Northern Ireland as a part of the UK) would continue unless the Parliament of Northern Ireland chose otherwise. Because Northern Ireland had a unionist majority, the guarantee that Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK unless the Belfast parliament resolved otherwise copper-fastened the so-called ‘unionist veto’ in British law. The Irish parliament called for a Protest Against Partition as a result. This was the first and last cross-party declaration against partition by the Irish parliament. The revival of an Irish Republican Army in the early 1950s has been attributed by Irish journalist and popular historian Tim Pat Coogan to the strength of popular feeling among nationalists on both sides of the border against the Act.
Before the final Act was published, speculation that the legislation would change the name of ‘Northern Ireland’ to ‘Ulster’ was also the subject of adverse reaction from Nationalist politicians in Northern Ireland and from the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Ireland.
Northern nationalists continued, and many if not most today, still refer to the 26 counties as the Free State and retain the title Republic as the name of a future reunified Ireland.
Photo: Massive Celebration of withdrawal from the British Commonwealth on O’Connell Bridge, Dublin