Irish History Live


Civil Authority (Special Powers) Act by John McCaul

The Civil Authority (Special Powers) Act (1922) was a piece of emergency legislation that was passed by the Northern Ireland (N.I.) House of Commons in April 1922, a period, which Alvin Jackson described, as a time of ‘civil war within Northern Ireland’.[1] It empowered the N.I. Minister of Home Affairs, Sir Richard Dawson Bates, to ‘take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order.’ In addition, Michael Farrell notes that ‘it gave the minister power to make further regulations, each with the force of a new law, without consulting parliament, and to delegate his powers to any policeman.’[2]

The Act was initially composed of thirty-five regulations, which were drawn primarily from the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act (1920) and allowed for the prohibition of public meetings and processions, organisations and seditious literature (including newspapers), and the imposition of curfews in addition to a host of other measures. Further powers were re-enacted in the years after 1922 such as internment (indefinite detention in jail), which was imposed initially in the 1920s but was in operation at various times until 1975 when it was discontinued.  

To continue reading, click here.             


[1] A. Jackson, Ireland 1798-1998 (Oxford, 1999) p. 338.

[2] M. Farrell, Northern Ireland: the orange state (London, 1998) p. 93.


Works cited and further reading:

Bardon, J., A history of Ulster (Belfast, 1992).

Buckland, P., Factory of grievances: devolved government in Northern Ireland (Dublin, 1979).

Donohue, L., ‘Regulating Northern Ireland: The Special Powers Acts, 1922-1972’ in Historical Journal, xli (1998), pp 1089-120.

Farrell, M., Northern Ireland: the orange state (London, 1998).

Hennessy, T., A history of Northern Ireland 1920-1996 (Basingstoke, 1997).

Jackson, A., Ireland 1798-1998 (Oxford, 1999).

Whyte, J., ‘How much discrimination was there under the Unionist regime, 1921-1968?’ in T. Gallagher and J. O’Connell (eds), Contemporary Irish studies (Manchester, 1983), pp 1-36.


This entry was written by John Mc Caul. John is currently a second-year History and Politics undergraduate student at Queen’s University Belfast. His main research interests include Modern Irish History especially with regard to early twentieth-century Irish nationalism and republicanism and the Northern Ireland 'Troubles’. In August 2013, John intends to participate in the Study USA programme and complete a business diploma at Warren Wilson College, Asheville, North Carolina. This will help him to further develop his employability skills and build upon qualities already garnered at Queen’s. In September 2014, he will begin the final year of his undergraduate degree and complete a dissertation in Modern Irish History.

Short Cuts