The Sinn Féin Bank, formally the Sinn Féin Co-operative People’s Bank was a co-operative bank in Ireland associated with Sinn Féin movement, which operated from August 1908 to October 1921.
The Co-operative Bank was part of Griffith’s plan for national self-sufficiency. It was not a success, though it prepared the way for the later foundation of a National Land Bank.
- The bank was located at 6 Harcourt Street, Dublin.
- It is sometimes confused with the National Land Bank, established as a friendly society in 1919 with Dáil backing, which occupied a neighbouring premises at 5 Harcourt Street.
The bank was established in 1908 to “carry out the business of banker and Bill Discounter, and of Dealer in Stocks, Shares, Bonds, Debentures and other Securities to assist in the development of Irish industries”. Its founding council comprised George W. Russell, Arthur Griffith, and P. T. Daly.
- In 1910 it purchased headquarters at 6 Harcourt Street for £575, leasing the upper floors to the Sinn Féin party, from where the Sinn Féin newspaper was edited.
- From here, Arthur Griffith published a variety of nationalist papers, incl. The Irish Volunteer
The building already had a very strong association with historical events insofar as it was used by John Henry Newman in 1852 as part of the Catholic University, which later became University College Dublin. Under the ownership of Sinn Féin, the building would continue to figure prominently in Irish history.
- In 1918, it was Sinn Féin’s headquarters for its landslide general election victory
- In 1919, Michael Collins set up the first Dail’s Department of Finance there
The 1916 Dublin Rising
In November 1916, the Sinn Féin Bank put in a “Claim for Damages caused during the Disturbances on 24th April, 1916, and following days.” A variety of officials and friends of the bank wrote supporting letters, completed forms and provided testimony to the damage and losses.
- A series of correspondence relating to this claim (No 6241 – The Sinn Féin Bank) has been digitized and made available online by the National Archives.
- The claim “for looting or destruction by Crown forces of typewriter, documents, promissory notes and office property at 6 Harcourt Street, Dublin” was declined by Committee.
The War of Independence
When the First Dáil proclaimed an Irish Republic in 1919, it opened a “Trustees of Dáil Éireann” account at the Sinn Féin Bank for a “Self Determination Fund” of donations from supporters. The Department of Finance of the Dáil ministry under Michael Collins was also in 6 Harcourt Street in 1919.
- After the closure order, the bank temporarily moved to No. 3 Harcourt Street.
On 29 November 1919, the martial law authorities ordered the bank to close, and on 2 January 1920, the DMP went to enforce this order. Based on cheques recovered in a DMP raid on 6 Harcourt Street on 27 February 1920, the Attorney-General for Ireland on 2nd March 1920 ordered Hibernian Bank and Munster and Leinster Bank to give evidence at a private inquiry into their relations with the Sinn Féin Bank.
The inquiry was led by Alan Bell, a resident magistrate, as part of his broader, mostly secret, search for Dáil funds. The banks’ officials were reluctant to cooperate.
- On 26 March 1920, Bell was taken from a tram and shot by Collins’ IRA “Squad”.
- The bank secured through the courts the return of £8000 confiscated in the raid.
On 14 March 1921, the bank’s manager, David Kelly, brother of Sinn Féin TD Thomas Kelly, was killed by crossfire on Great Brunswick Street.
- In the Second Dáil on 18 August 1921, Séamus Dwyer claimed “All the monies invested [in the Sinn Féin Bank] were in jeopardy”.
The short-lived Sinn Féin Bank did not issue its own banknotes or promissory notes but it did have its own brand printed cheques and a variety of the usual printed stationery.
Liquidation of the Sinn Féin Bank
On 19 October 1921, the bank passed a resolution to wind up the company and appointing William O’Brien Hishon liquidator. The confiscated books were returned to Hishon “in a sack” after the June 1921 truce ended the Anglo-Irish War, and he set about deciphering them.
- Michael Collins told the Second Dáil on 26 April 1922 that the Sinn Féin Bank was “now in Liquidation”; of £201,944 8s. 4d.
- Trustees Accounts of Dáil funds, £1,660 7s. 5d. was in the Sinn Féin Bank and the rest in the London Office.
By December 1923, Hishon had received £3,501 in moneys due and paid out £2,685, leaving a balance of £815. The provisional government established under the Anglo-Irish Treaty merged the institutions of the Irish Republic into those of the Dublin Castle administration into the new Irish Free State.
- On 16 April 1923, the Free State Chancery Division ordered the winding up of the Sinn Féin Bank company, appointing Donal O’Connor as liquidator.
The bank’s bookkeeping was deliberately complex, with proxy names for accounts held by republican leaders. In 1923, almost two years since the bank’s books had been seized, it was claimed that the authorities “were unable to make head or tail out of” the confiscated documents.
In August 1923 the court authorised O’Connor to auction off the Harcourt Street premises, which were by then “almost derelict”. The court ruled in December 1923 that the 1921 winding-up resolution was invalid, and ordered Hishon to transfer the £815 balance to the liquidator, Donal O’Connor.
- The bank was dissolved by the High Court in March 1925 and its assets were liquidated.
In April 1926, Dublin County Council, presented with a demand for £113 for damage caused by the DMP raids in 1919–21, voted 13–1 not to pay. The liquidation was completed by 1931 after proceedings costing £2,406 8s. 6d.
The republican Dáil had deposited money with the bank and the Irish Free State, as its legal successor, received £1,198 10s. 9d. at the standard writedown of 50%, forgoing its preferential claim under the Dáil Éireann Loans and Funds Act, 1924.
- Other creditors received £2,620 7s. 0d. at the same rate.
- In 1933, the Irish Free State (under the auspices of the then newly elected Fianna Fáil party) voted £2,045 in public funds to repay creditors for the shortfall.