Constitution (Amendment No. 17) Act 1931

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The Constitution (Amendment No. 17) Act, 1931 (No. 37/1931) popularly called the Public Safety Act 1931, was an amendment to the Constitution of the Irish Free State which inserted Article 2A, empowering the Executive Council to declare a state of emergency during which most provisions of the constitution could be suspended and extra security measures taken. These measures included the use of a military tribunal (the Constitution (Special Powers) Tribunal) to try civilians for political crimes, granting extra powers of search and arrest to the Garda Síochána (police), and the prohibition of organisations deemed a threat to the state's security. The act was rushed through in October by the then government, of Cumann na nGaedheal under W. T. Cosgrave, during a period of increased activity by physical force Irish republicans. Cosgrave declared an emergency as soon as the act was passed and prohibited republican organisations, including the Irish Republican Army, Fianna Eireann, Cumann na mBan and Saor Éire, as well as communist revolutionary groups.[1] The military tribunal was motivated in part by jury intimidation in trials of republican activists.[2] The opposition Fianna Fáil party condemned the act and ended the emergency when it gained power after the 1932 election. However, in 1933 it reinstated the emergency and banned the Blueshirts, and in 1936 the IRA was banned again. In the landmark 1934 case State (Ryan) v. Lennon, the Supreme Court of Ireland held that the Oireachtas has not acted ultra vires in passing the 1931 act.[3][4]

The Free State Constitution was replaced in 1937 by the current constitution, which provided more restrictions on the use of emergency powers. Experience of the 1931 act informed the provisions of the Emergency Powers Act 1939, in force during the Emergency of World War II, and those of the Offences against the State Act 1939, which remains in force with amendments.


  • Longaigh, Seosamh Ó (2006). Emergency Law in Independent Ireland, 1922-1948. Four Courts Press. ISBN 9781851829224. 


  1. ^ A Dictionary of Irish History, D.J.Hickey & J.E.Doherty, Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1980. Pp. page 90. ISBN 0-7171-1567-4
  2. ^ O'Halpin, Eunan (1999-07-22). Defending Ireland: The Irish State and its Enemies since 1922. OUP Oxford. pp. 79–80. ISBN 9780191542237. Retrieved 20 March 2017. 
  3. ^ "The State (Ryan and Others) v. Lennon and Others [1935] 1 I.R. 170" (Rich Text Format). Important Judgments. Supreme Court. Retrieved 15 March 2017. 
  4. ^ Forde, Michael; Leonard, David (2013). "1.07: Article 2A". Constitutional Law of Ireland (3rd ed.). A&C Black. pp. 9–11. ISBN 9781847667380. Retrieved 15 March 2017.