In 1920 25 councils in the six counties were controlled by nationalists, some of which had voted allegiance to the Dáil. Needless to say the unionists were not pleased, especially with the prospect of the boundary commission, so they set about fixing things. Control over the councils was due to be passed to Stormont on 21st December 1921. When Tyrone CC informed Stormont that they would not recognise Stormont and that their allegiance was to the Dáil the RIC seized their offices and their documents.
Stormont then passed an act (Local Govt, Emergency Powers Bill) which permitted:
“the Ministry, in the event of any of the local authorities refusing to function or refusing to carry out the duties imposed on them under the Local Government Acts, can dissolve such authority and in its place appoint a Commission to carry on the duties of such authority” – Dawson Bates
Fermanagh CC passed the following motion on 21st December 1921;
“We, the County Council of Fermanagh, in view of the expressed desire of a large majority of people in this country, do not recognize the partition parliament in Belfast and do hereby direct our secretary to hold no further communications with either Belfast or British local governments, and we pledge our allegiance to Dáil Eireann”
The RIC seized their offices, sacked officials and the County Council was dissolved and replaced by Commissioners. Armagh, Keady and Newry Urban Councils, Downpatrick Town Commissioners, Cookstown, Downpatrick, Kilkeel, Lisnaskea, Strabane, Magherafelt, and Newry 1 & 2 Rural Councils as well as some Boards of Poor Law Guardians were all similarly dissolved and replaced by commissioners by April 1922. Derry remained.
To permanently deal with the problem, for the following local elections, PR was abolished, and all councilors were obliged to swear an oath to the crown. Our friend Dawson Bates then appointed Sir John Leech as the man to redraw boundaries, which he did at a rapid pace often giving locals only one week to make submissions – nationalists tended to boycott this absurdity. The plan worked excellently – after the 1924 local elections only 2 of the eighty councils were nationalist. Gerrymandering went on, Armagh Urban Council (Nationalist) was dissolved in 1934 and was only set back up again in 1946 with new wards and a unionist majority. Over these years Derry was re-jigged on a number of occasions.
Votes were also limited to rate payers, which was worse on catholics. However in 1945 the new Labour government in Britain abolished this restricted franchise and granted universal suffrage – Stormont managed to be excluded from this and they actually went further with their own Representation of the People Bill 1946 and disenfranchised more people by taking votes away from lodgers, who again were disproportionately catholic given the shortage of housing and Unionist control of how houses were allocated. Companies were also given multiple votes, depending on their value – up to six votes to be cast by the company’s directors. The Unionist government were not even subtle about it, their Chief Whip Major L.E Curran stated it was ;
“to prevent Nationalists getting control of the three border counties and Derry City… The best way to prevent the overthrow of the government by the people who have no stake in the country and had not the welfare of the people of Ulster at heart was to disenfranchise them”
Gerrymandering continued right up until 1967 when the local councils in Fermanagh were all amalgamated into one which despite being a majority nationalist county, was dominated by Unionists to the tune of 36 seats to 17.
Councils were very powerful, as well as allocating houses they were major employers. Unionist control ensured jobs for the boys, school bus drivers, manual laborers etc.
Most of what I know is from Michael Farrell’s “Northern Ireland, The Orange State” but I would like to know more, in particular about what councils did in an attempt to prevent this and what they did during the war of independence and before they were all dissolved. A good topic for a thesis I reckon.
Saoirse go Deo 8 October 2013