Laurence Ginnell

Laurence Ginnell

Laurence Ginnell (1854 – 17 April 1923) was an Irish nationalist politician, lawyer and Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as member of the Irish Parliamentary Party for Westmeath North in the 1906 Westminster Election, from 1910 he sat as an Independent Nationalist. In the 1918 general election he was elected for Sinn Féin.

Early life

He was born in Delvin, Co. Westmeath in 1854. He was self-educated and was called to the Irish bar as well as the England bar. In his youth he was involved with the Land War and he acted as private secretary to John Blake Dillon.

The last great social and agrarian campaign of the home rule movement – the Ranch War conducted between 1906 and 1909 was largely lead and organised by Ginnell, who when elected MP. launched it at Downs, Westmeath, on 14 October 1906.

The purpose of the war was to bring relief to the large numbers of landless and smallholders, particularly in the west, who were relatively untouched by the Wyndham Land Purchase Act (1903) and by the larger policy of purchase. The strategy that Ginnell pursued was the Down’s Policy, or cattle driving, a proceeding designed to harass the prosperous grazier interests, whose ‘ranches’ occupied large, under populated and under worked tracts. The 'Down’s Policy' was also meant to draw public attention to the scandalous inequalities that survived in the Irish countryside. The conservatives within the Home Rule leadership were understandably suspicious about the revival of agrarian disturbances, but the mood of the party organisation was hardening in the aftermath of a disappointing devolution bill in May 1907, from the new Liberal government, so that it seemed logical to turn to the traditional mechanism for reactivating the national question: agrarian agitation. Jackson, Alvin "Home Rule: An Irish History 1800—2000", "Fall and Rise 1892-1910" pp. 110-113, Phoenix Press (2003) ISBN 0-75381-767-5 ]

Ginnell’s cattle-drives began to tail off after the summer of 1908, and the agitation was finally dissolved with the passage of a land reform by the Liberal Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell, hailed by the national movement as an historic victory. In reality, the Ranch War involved an implosion within sectors of the Irish Party, as its leadership had not facilitated the working of the Wyndham Land Purchase Act in the first place, because John Dillon and his like wanted conflict above victory. [ibid p.113]

In 1909 Ginnell was expelled from the Irish Parliamentary Party for the offence of asking to see the party accounts, after which he sat as an Independent Nationalist. During this time he was addressed frequently as "The MP for Ireland." In Westminster he was highly critical of the British Government for holding executions of certain participants in the Easter Rising of 1916. On 9 May he accused the British Prime Minister H. H. Asquith, of "Murder", and was forcibly ejected from the assembly. He visited many of the prisoners who were interned in various prisons in Wales and England and smuggled out correspondence for them.

inn Féin

In 1917 he campaigned to try and ensure the election of Count Plunkett in the Roscommon North by-election in which he defeated the IPP candidate on an abstentionist platform. Following the victory of Éamon de Valera in East Clare, while standing for Sinn Féin, on 10 July 1917, Ginnell resigned his seat in the House of Commons and joined Sinn Féin. At the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis that year, at which the party was re-constituted as a Republican party with de Valera as President, Ginnell and W. T. Cosgrave were elected Honorary Treasurers. In the 1918 Westminster Election, he was elected as a Sinn Féin MP for County Westmeath, comfortably defeating his IPP challenger, and attended the proceedings of the First Dáil. He and James O'Mara were the only Teachtaí Dála (TDs) ever before to sit in a parliament. He was one of the few people to have served in the House of Commons and in the Oireachtas. Ginnell was appointed Director of Propaganda in the Second Ministry of the Irish Republic.

He was appointed the Representative of the Irish Republic in Argentina and South America by de Valera. He carried out his propaganda work here to distribute copies of the Irish Bulletin and to provide the Sinn Féin version of the conflict during the War of Independence. On the 16 August 1921 he returned home to attend the first meeting of the Second Dáil. He travelled back to Argentina some months later to serve as the Representative of the Republic there.

Anti-treaty opinion

He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty that was ratified by the Dail in January 1922, and was elected as an Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin TD in the 1922 General Election on the eve of the Irish Civil War.

On 9 September 1922 Ginnell was the only Anti-Treaty TD to attend the inaugural meeting of the Provisional Parliament or Third Dáil. Before signing the roll Ginnell said: "I want some explanation before I sign. I have been elected in pursuance of a decree by Dáil Éireann, which decree embodies the decree of May 20th, 1922. I have heard nothing read in reference to that decree, nothing but an Act of a foreign Parliament. I have been elected as a member of Dáil Éireann. I have not been elected to attend any such Parliament. Will anyone tell me with authority whether it is …". He was at this point interrupted but resumed saying he would sign the roll and take his seat in the Assembly if the Assembly was Dáil Éireann. He was informed he was not allowed raise any such question until a Ceann Comhairle had been elected. He continued to ask questions regardless to which he got no answer including his question: "Will any member of the Six Counties be allowed to sit in this Dáil?". W. T. Cosgrave moved at this point that he be excluded from the House, Ginnell protested, and he was dragged out by force. His lawyerly sophistry was not appreciated, given that hundreds of people had already been killed in the civil war.

De Valera later appointed him a member of his "Council of State", a 12 member body set up to advise him on the deteriorating situation in the civil war.

He returned to the United States soon after this to serve as the Republic’s envoy in the country. He ordered Robert Briscoe and some of his friends to take possession of the Consular Offices in Nassau Street in New York City, then in the hands of the Free State Government, so as to obtain the list of the subscribers to the bond drive in the United States to help the struggle in the War of Independence. At the time a court case was ongoing to decide on who had the right to the funds, the newly installed Provisional Government or de Valera, as one of the three trustees and those who opposed the Treaty. Laurence Ginnell died in the United States on 17 April 1923 aged 69 years, still campaigning against the Anglo-Irish Treaty.



*Dorothy Macardle (1937) "The Irish Republic."
*Robert Briscoe (1958) "For the Life of Me."
*Frank Gallagher "The Four Glorious Years", 2005 edition.
* [ Laurence Ginnell – 'The Member for Ireland']
*"The Irish Republic. Why? Official statement prepared for submission to the Peace Conference" ( [1919?] ) Author: Ginnell, Laurence []

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