The Irish Free State was both victim and survivor of the general crisis of European democracy in the inter-war era. Born into civil war in 1922, it saw repeated bouts of instability and political violence, the emergence of radicalised movements on the left and right in the 1930s, and the subsidence of political unrest late in that decade. In this period the state’s reliance on emergency legislation to deal with subversion was obviously an indication of the persistence of unrest, and such laws have usually been seen as an inescapable part of the state’s pursuit of authority and legitimacy. On the other hand, the Irish case is also an example of how a state’s political development can be affected by civil war, since the continuities in the state’s legislative response to political extremism, from 1922 onwards, are too strong to ignore. Of course, the Free State was also one of the few new democracies to survive the period with its democratic institutions intact, but from the outset this achievement was accomplished through the paradox of withholding the conventions of democracy until the period of crisis would pass. One view is that this was the price to be paid for countering the threat to democratic government posed by subversive organisations, while such organisations themselves argue that they remained subject not to a ‘government of laws’ but to ‘a government of men’. As in other situations, the legitimacy of such legislation was inextricably linked to the case governments made for there being a state of emergency, but such arguments were always deeply contested. Either way, the whole issue of emergency legislation reveals both a confused understanding of the requisites of constitutional government in Ireland, and the need to appreciate the complex nature of the decisions states make in an era of violent conflict.