The peaceful transfer of power to Fianna Fáil after the 1932 general election confirmed that democratic government was secure in Ireland. Despite initial apprehension on the part of members of the civil service, the transition was relatively smooth. Diarmuid O’Hegarty, secretary to the executive council, became a commissioner of public works and was replaced by John Power (Seán) Moynihan. Moynihan’s brother Maurice became Eamon de Valera’s private secretary and later served as chairman of the committee of civil servants responsible for drafting a new Irish constitution. This committee, which included John Hearne and Philip O’Donoghue, legal advisers to the Department of External Affairs and the attorney general respectively, conducted its deliberations in the government offices in Merrion Street.

The new government embarked on an ambitious programme of legislation, designed to dismantle the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and establish a more self-sufficient economy. De Valera’s cabinet meetings had much weightier agendas than those in the later years of W. T. Cosgrave’s government. Meetings were lengthy, occasionally lasting from 6 pm until the early hours of the following morning. Séan Lemass claimed that de Valera ‘relied on the force of physical exhaustion to get agreement’.

In 1937 the new constitution was enacted, abolishing the title ‘Irish Free State’ and establishing Éire/Ireland as a ‘sovereign independent democratic state’. The constitution introduced the title ‘Taoiseach’; until 1937 the head of government was known as the President of the Executive Council.

Above: Eamon de Valera’s handwritten notes for the 1937 Constitution
Photo: UCD-OFM partnership