I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. While I acknowledge that progress has been made on the national monument in Moore Street, in that the buildings have been bought and there is a plan and funding in place, what has not been achieved is our ensuring that the buildings will be preserved in their context. It is only when one visits the site and is taken through what was the battlefield that one appreciates the importance of the context.
I remember how the events of 1966 were marked and there is no doubt there was a degree of triumphalism at the time, which was very understandable given that some of those who took part in the Rising were still alive and would have been involved in shaping the event and making sure the legacy of the leaders was properly preserved. I imagine the tone and content of the 2016 commemorations will be different. I was in primary school at the time of the earlier commemoration and I remember such events as the renaming of the railway stations and streets, the pageantry and the parades. I was perhaps more interested than most because my grandparents had taken part in the Rising and both of them were in the Four Courts garrison. Therefore, it was a subject that was a constant among my family. There is no doubt that 2016 will be different in both tone and content. However, the children who are in primary school now and who will remember the 100th anniversary of the Rising in decades to come will all have markers in the same way as I did. Some will be physical markers such as buildings, the museum in the GPO and the work in Kilmainham Gaol are great examples, and the battlefield site such as Moore Street should be one of those markers. I believe the context will be different in 2016.
History is brought to life when it is in context and that is what is important here and that is why the wider battlefield site should be preserved.
I would like to read a quote which states:
The O'Rahilly volunteered to lead the charge and he, together with twelve others, left the side door of the GPO and led his advance party under fire towards the junction of Henry Street and Moore Street as dusk fell. On Moore Street, the column separated into two sections as they headed for the British barricade. The O'Rahilly ordered the charge and dashed towards the barricade. British troops immediately replied with intense machinegunfire. Most of the group took cover in the shop doorways. The O'Rahilly could hear British troops calling out his position and so he decided to make a final dash to safety across Moore Street into Sackville Lane (now O'Rahilly parade) on the far side of the street. As he made a run for it, more firing ensued and he was again struck down along with another volunteer Frank Shouldice. He dragged himself into the lane and managed to prop himself up against a rear doorway of Kelly's shop at 25 Moore Street. He managed to write a last letter to his wife before slipping into unconsciousness. A reproduction of the letter now adorns the wall of the building opposite the side of 25 Moore Street (on Sackville Lane - now O'Rahilly Parade) where he died.
Just as the Leaders signed their own death warrants when they signed the Proclamation, in leading the charge from the GPO the O'Rahilly showed the same courage when he faced almost certain death. This is not just a place; it is a place where real people and real events shaped our history. That is part of the reason the preservation in Moore Street needs to go beyond the four buildings that make up the national monument.
The tone of 2016 commemorations need to be different. We need to both look back and commemorate the events in the present and, just as importantly, look forward. We need to capture the values that were outlined in the first democratic programme and build towards a real republic, look forward to the kind of republic we want to build, what the values should be that underpin it and what steps we need to take to achieve that aim because it is not just sovereignty that the men and women of 1916 aspired to; it was an independent republic where our citizens are equal and where our aim is to ensure all our people can live a dignified life.
I refer back to my own experience in 1966 when I was in primary school in Goldenbridge, which was just across the road from Keogh Square in Inchicore. The buildings were simply known locally as the barracks. It was the old Richmond Gaol where those who were picked up in the surrender and, indeed, those who were subsequently rounded up were brought, and for most it is where they departed from for English prisons, including my own grandfather who was sent to Stafford Gaol and then on to Frongoch interment camp in Wales. In 1966, the barracks was one of the last refuges for those, mostly families, who were homeless. Many of the windows had no glass, it was dirty and rat infested and poverty was endemic. The girl who sat beside me in school lived with her family in the barracks. While she was someone who carried herself with real dignity, there was no dignity about where she lived or how she lived. It was such a terrible irony that such poverty and deprivation could have existed in this of all places.
The commemorations were happening against that backdrop. Indeed, many of the city slums still stood in 1966 a stone's throw from O'Connell Street and the GPO. Just as 1966 was a marker in time about our social development, so will 2016. Surely 100 years after the Rising, the right to shelter should be a given. Surely that is one thing that should not mark the memories of primary school students in decades to come but it seems, unfortunately, it is destined to be for those who are currently experiencing homelessness, including many children. My own observation of Keogh Square as a youngster was life shaping and it certainly shaped my political opinions and outlook. It is part of why I find it totally unacceptable that the number of children who go to bed hungry is increasing and 140,000 children are living in deprivation in 2015, a number that has unfortunately doubled over the past five years. A poor child has a greater chance of being a poor adult. We cannot continue to allow this to happen. The litmus test of cherishing all the children of the nation equally must be given real meaning.
The legacy of 2016 must capture many things. First, the commemorations must be fitting. Second, the opportunity to conserve important buildings and places must be taken. The works on the Four Courts, the GPO and Kilmainham Gaol are good examples but the Moore Street battlefield site should be included. Third, it will be essential that we take stock and use the opportunity to build towards the kind of republic that we have never managed to build but which I believe can ultimately be achieved. Moore Street was a living street in 1916 and it can be again. It can live comfortably with being a battlefield site that is both an historical site and a living street. It will take a little imagination but we should not allow this opportunity to pass. If people review the papers in 50 years' time and see that some of us aspired to have the site preserved in context, they will look back and wonder, if we do not take the opportunity now, what value we placed on the events of 1916.