50 Years Ago


On October 26, 1948 Judge Kingsmill Moore of the Dublin High Court gave his findings in the landmark Sinn Féin Funds case.

Margaret Buckley, President of Sinn Féin from 1937 to 1950, was one of those who took the Sinn Féin Funds case.
This article does not purport to be a definitive summary of the case. It merely gives a flavour of it. Serious students would need to read the evidence, judgement and other documentation in the archives.

Séamus Ó Góilidhe, former Curragh internee gives the background in his interview in The IRA in the Twilight Years 1923-48. His aunt, Margaret Buckley, President of Sinn Féin 1937-’50, with others took the case.

“Mrs Buckley held faithfully to the Republic of the Second Dáil although, even after the 1926 break and the foundation of Fianna Fáil, she continued to have admiration and respect for de Valera and for old friends within that party.

“She was not a vindictive person, nor could she be, but when it came to the issue of what was known as the Sinn Féin Funds she felt, after much heart-searching, that she and JJ O’Kelly (Sceilg), Diarmaid Ó Laoghaire and Seámus Ó Ruiséal had to grasp the nettle and confront the government (sic) and the principals of Fianna Fáil in court.

“That was in 1947, some time after my imprisonment, and, as I say, it required much heart-searching as the organisation did not recognise the legitimacy of the Free State government or the authority of the courts.

“Following the split of 1922 the party treasurers, Jenny Wyse-Power and Éamon Duggan — both with pro-Treaty sympathies, Duggan being a signatory, lodged the entire fund £8,610 in the courts of the new Free State where it remained until 1942, when Sinn Féin commenced an action for recovery but which could not then for various reasons proceed.

“By resolution of January 17, 1922, the funds were vested in de Valera but, by 1926, when he left Sinn Féin, he had not succeeded in wresting the money from the courts. (NB. According to Kingsmill Moore’s judgement of October 26, 1948 it was on December 9, 1921 that the Standing Committee unanimously vested “all the money and other property of the Organisation in the President as Trustee”).

Ó Góilidhe continues: “In March 1947, to forestall court action by Sinn Féin, de Valera introduced a Bill literally to confiscate the monies, now amounting to £24,000, and to apply them to another purpose, suggesting the promotion of the Irish language as one such purpose; another was to dispose of the monies to ‘needy persons’.

“His argument in the Dáil (sic) and in the court was that ‘the present body was not entitled to these monies either in equity or morally’.

“Meanwhile he had contacted individuals on a former Standing Committee and had secured some sort of agreement from them. The Bill was passed, Fianna Fáil then having an overwhelming majority. Sinn Féin lost the subsequent action.”

Ó Góilidhe remarks later that Fianna Fáil seemed such an easy and logical road to follow. “It promised everything without ever again having to fight for it.” (Is this not true of the Provisionals today?)

Note 3A to the interview says: “This (de Valera’s contention) was not the view of Justice Kingsmill Moore in 1948: the present day Sinn Féin was legally the same organisation as that which was born in 1923. Nonetheless, as a consequence of a tawdry piece of legerdemain (sleight-of-hand, jugglery) in passing the Sinn Féin Funds Bill in 1947, de Valera sequestered monies the value of which today would exceed £555,000.

“Anyone reading the chapter in Brian P Murphy’s Patrick Pearse and the Lost Republican Ideal will find ample evidence there of de Valera’s vigilance in diverting towards Fianna Fáil and the Irish Press, monies which rightfully should have come to Sinn Féin.”

Incidentally, part of the Sinn Féin Funds Act of 1947 was declared unconstitutional in the 26-County courts.

Essentially Judge Kingsmill Moore declared that the Sinn Féin organisation from 1926 to 1948 was the same organisation as that of the same name from 1923 to 1926. This rejected de Valera’s contention that the 1948 Sinn Féin had no right to the funds. It had a better claim than had the Fianna Fáil leader to dispose of them.

But Kingsmill Moore also maintained that the organisation reorganised under the name Sinn Féin in January 1923 was not the same organisation as that of January 1922. Therefore he did not award the funds to Margaret Buckley and her associates.

The entire judgement runs to 45 pages of typescript on foolscap folio. The middle thirteen pages, 16 to 28 inclusive, are to hand as this is being written.

For students of the period and historians it makes fascinating reading, eg, “Throughout history a flag, a song and a slogan have counted far more than the arguments of philosophers.

“With the Tricolour, the Soldiers’ Song, and the shout ‘Up the Republic’ the battle had been fought, and now (1922) it seemed impossible to accept the first two without the third.”


Then he examines the motivations of both sides, pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty in 1922:

“In favour of acceptance were those of a sanguine and prospective nature, men (sic) who thought more of securing their opportunities than insisting on what they considered to be their rights; the moderates whose outlook suggested and whose experience confirmed the thesis that all life is an illogical compromise between logical extremes and that the grave of every great controversy is accordingly a great compromise; the cautious who weighed the certainty of half a loaf against the possibility of no bread; the practical and pragmatic whose minds were concerned with things rather than words.

“Against them were gathered those whose traditional suspicion of England led them to suspect a snare in every phrase; those who could not brook the idea of compromise in matters which they considered to be sound in principle and not in political expediency; the puritans of politics who were willing to face martyrdom for the rigidity of their code.

“To a degree each side respected the opinions of its opponents. But there came a sticking point. While the supporters of the Treaty saw the Republic as a desirable consummation to be achieved in the fullness of time, but not essential to the reality of independence, to their adversaries its present existence and the need to preserve it were articles of faith which to abandon would be a major heresy.

“From the mass of papers proved in this case and the hours of oral evidence one fact has emerged beyond question, and that is the sincerity of those who demanded the Republic and nothing but the Republic. To them it was not a matter of argument but of conviction transcending all considerations of reason.

“There was an element almost of religion in their attachment to the Republic and it was significant how often Counsel and witnesses when discussing this aspect slipped unconsciously into the vocabulary of old religious controversies.”

Kingsmill Moore makes a moot point when comparing decision-making in the All-Ireland Dáil and in Sinn Féin: “In the Dáil a simple majority was sufficient to carry a resolution, but it required a majority of two-thirds to alter the aims set forth in the constitution of Sinn Féin.

“What was to happen if the Dáil voted in favour of something incompatible with the expressed aims of the Sinn Féin constitution? Was Sinn Féin to adhere to its original aim and flout the opinion and wishes of the Dáil, or was it to be loyal to the Dáil and make its aim conformable by the necessary amendment? If it sought to take this course would the required two-thirds majority be obtained?”

When the Ard-Fheis of Sinn Féin met on February 22, 1922 two resolutions expressed the opposing view-points. A third in the name of Michael Collins read as follows:

“That in the event of a division in the Sinn Féin Organisation at the Extraordinary Ard-Fheis, the existing funds be divided in the exact proportion of the division at the Extraordinary Ard-Fheis.”

None of the three resolutions were reached. A compromise was agreed which (a) postponed the Ard-Fheis for three months; (b) resolved that the Officer Board should act as a Standing Committee, (c) that the Dáil should resume its day to day work; and (d) that in the meantime no Parliamentary elections shall be held and that when held the Constitution of the Saorstát (Free State) in its final form shall be presented at the same time as the Articles of Agreement (ie the Treaty).”

Because Sinn Féin did not face up to the issue, the initiative passed to the Army which on March 26 in a convention representing 75 to 80% of the Volunteers reaffirmed its allegiance to the Republic, stating that the Dáil in approving the Treaty had done a thing it had no right to do. The Convention then appointed an Executive and placed its forces under that Executive.


When the Ard-Fheis reconvened on May 22 another compromise called the Pact was accepted. Only constituencies in the 26 Counties would have an election; sitting TDs would go forward on a National Panel and not oppose each other, forming a Coalition Cabinet in the new Dáil and the final form of Free State Constitution would be available to the public in time to debate it.

In the outcome Collins denounced the Pact two days before the Poll and the text of the Constitution was made available only on Polling Day itself — too late to be weighed and considered. Civil War followed and on January 1, 1923, de Valera as President announced the reorganisation of Sinn Féin on a firm Republican basis.

From this sequence of events, Kingsmill Moore found that the 1923 organisation was not the same as the 1922 body, and therefore not entitled to its funds. However, he went on to rule that the post 1926 Sinn Féin was the same organisation as that of the 1923-26 period.

The historian Dr Brian P Murphy in his Patrick Pearse and the Lost Republican Ideal — essential reading for anyone interested in Pearse and the continuation of Sinn Féin and the Second (All-Ireland) Dáil up to 1938 — deals with the Kingsmill Moore judgement.

The first phase of Sinn Féin was from 1905 to 1917, the second from 1917 to 1922 and then he quotes directly from Kingsmill Moore:

“The third and the last (phase) extends from 1923 to the present day. For the first three years of the third period Mr de Valera was supreme, but after he severed his connection in 1926, control passed to various persons, among whom Father O’Flanagan, Mr O’Kelly, Austin Stack, Judge Art O’Connor and Mrs Buckley were prominent.”

Dr Murphy goes on: “For Judge Kingsmill Moore it was de Valera who had broken with the Republican ideal of Sinn Féin, and those who remained in the organisation who had preserved it intact. Speaking of those who had retained their Sinn Féin membership, the judge declared.

“They appeared to me perfectly sincere, believing not only in the righteousness but also in the righteousness of their claim.

“More-over they adduced considerable evidence to show that they faithfully represent one approach to the Irish Republic which was prevalent in the Sinn Féin of 1917-1922, the approach typified in Cathal Brugha amongst others and which I have termed transcendental.

“ It would appear that all the required steps were taken to preserve the continuity of the organisation and that present day Sinn Féin is legally the same organisation as that which was born in 1923.”

Dr Murphy then says: ‘The judicial and judicious verdict of Judge Kingsmill Moore cannot be improved on. It expresses a genuine historical reality which most historians have been slow to recognise.’

He continues: ‘Once in power (in the Free State), de Valera inevitably fell a victim to the divided loyalties that his Machiavellian tactics had brought about. As President of the Republic and in the courts of America de Valera had publicly denied the legitimate title of the Free State to govern — it was the “usurping government.”

“When he became Head of that Free State Government, all doubts as to its legitimacy were cast aside. Lawful power in the de Valera dispensation appeared to reside in the body to which de Valera belonged’, Dr Murphy concludes.

Judge Kingsmill Moore appeared to be particularly impressed with the evidence of “Mr O’Kelly” as he called Seán S Ó Ceallaigh (“Sceilg”). At one stage Sceilg was asked if the funds were given to Sinn Féin could they not then be made available to the Irish Republican Army, “a body which was known not to be co-operating with the State.”?

Seán Ó Ceallaigh in his reply stated that “in 1935 or ’36, sometime before the war (WWII) the Executive Council of the Second Dáil had delegated its powers of government to the Army Council of the IRA.”

The daily reports of the case in the newspapers were very educational to young people at the time. De Valera gave evidence too and the entire history of Sinn Féin from its earliest days, through 1917 when it became definitely Republican, to 1948 was placed on public record.

This was a valuable public service performed by the remnants of a heroic generation who had remained faithful to the All-Ireland Republic.

However, at either the 1949 or the 1950 Ard-Fheis the constitution of Sinn Féin was amended to include under Membership (g) 1 the following sentence; “The Sinn Féin Organisation may not make use of the courts of either Partition assembly for civil actions.”

Margaret Buckley and her associates were present and accepted this.

(More next month. Refs Patrick Pearse and the Lost Republican Ideal by Brian P Murphy published 1991 and High Courts of Justice - Margaret Buckley and Others -v- the Attorney General and Another. Judgement of the Honourable Mr Justice Kingsmill Moore delivered on the 26th day of October, 1948.)

Starry Plough

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