I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Molaim go mbeidh an reachtaíocht seo bogtha agus léite don Dara hUair. Is í an fheidhm atá leis an bpíosa reachtaíochta simplí go leor seo ná go mbeidh lá saoire bainc breise againn amach anseo, agus an lá sin dírithe ar meas agus ónóir a thabhirt dóibh siúd as a bhfuilimid bródúil. Bheadh "Lá na Poblachta" mar theideal ar an lá sin. When I have raised this matter previously, as I have done consistently since 2013 when I first drew up this legislation, I have been asked why - cén fáth - we should have another bank holiday. I have explained that I was first moved to make this proposal at the decade of commemorations committee in 2012 when I raised the possibility of a once-off bank holiday in the centenary year of 2016 in celebration of the ideals of the Republic that had been declared on 24 April 1916. Although my proposal received a favourable reaction from most people, it was not accepted by Ministers.
When I investigated whether it would be appropriate to look for an additional bank holiday, I came across a statement made by a former Member of this House, Ruairí Quinn. In September 2006, as his party's spokesperson on enterprise, trade and employment, he made the case for additional bank holidays. He said "with only nine statutory days off each year, the Government should move to introduce two additional public holidays to bring us in line with the EU average of 11." Therefore, I expected to get the backing of the Labour Party when I sought to provide for one additional public holiday. When I introduced a Bill to that effect last year, however, the then Minister, Alex White, batted for the Government and shot down my proposal. As I am not easily deterred, I decided to propose this legislation again. I have not done so to be awkward or because I did not get my own way, but in the light of the tremendous year we have had since Alex White rejected my proposal. There has been a huge outpouring of enthusiasm across the country for what happened in 1916. People enjoyed taking part in local and national events and looking once again at the exact context for and meaning of the Republic that was declared in 1916. One of the most successful projects to be pursued as part of the national programme was the engagement with schoolchildren. I do not think anybody in this Chamber who met schoolchildren who had organised commemorations or attended some of the events that took place when Army officers visited schools would be deterred from saying it was a useful piece of history and nation-building, which is the key part. My proposal is about much more than an extra holiday. I will return to this point.
I learned last week or the week before that my proposal to establish a Republic Day had been selected for debate in the Chamber this evening. The following weekend, I found that, in addition to Ruairí Quinn, I had another supporter in this respect. Brian Hayes, MEP, would be far from a supporter of mine. We continuously clashed when he was a Member of this House. I think I only agreed with him once in the time he served here. Last week he said "additional public holidays" - not singular but plural - "should be granted to acknowledge the sacrifices made during the economic crash." He continued:
As a recovery country with pay restoration dominating national debate it’s time to look at our public holidays. The European average is 11 and we lie second last with 9 public holidays a year. Finland (15), Malta and Spain (14) have a full week more public holidays than Irish workers.
While I agree with him, I do not think it should be just an additional public holiday. Given what we have seen in the last year and where we are today, we should have a new national holiday - Republic Day - on 24 April each year in acknowledgement of the sacrifices of the men, women and children who kept this nation alive for many centuries, those who fought to establish the Republic and the need to implement the republican ideals set out in the Proclamation, which is a seminal document. While I would like that to happen next year, if possible, I am realistic enough to know that it will take time to implement this measure.
I also realise we need to give notice to the business community and everyone else in order that they can plan. Whether it happens next year, the year after or the year after that, I am not pushed. Once it is declared that it will come into effect, it will represent one of the lasting tributes to those involved in the Rising in 1916.
I have said as much in the explanatory memorandum to show this is not simply once-off legislation. In the explanatory memorandum I have stated that the purpose of the Bill is to have a national holiday designated in law as Lá na Poblachta. The idea is that on this day there would be a series of events marking the sacrifices of the Irish men and women in the pursuit of the independent Irish republic and in recognition of the central role played by the 1916 Proclamation in encapsulating the ideas of Irish republicanism. Lá na Poblachta would be designated as 24 April each year and would be a public holiday. A programme of events would be held in each county.
That is the key difference from other public holidays. This would not be simply a day off. This would be a day off when people would be encouraged, forced or whatever it takes for people to see around them the ideas of the republic. There would be advertising encouraging us to reflect on what citizenship and equality mean and on what the sharing of our mineral resources means. Another question on which to reflect would be what it means to be patriotic in this day and age. These questions are sometimes forgotten when people are looking through the prism of finances. It is right for people to look through that prism, because they have to survive. Equally, however, we have to step back and think about what type of society we want to create, how it will be created and how we will achieve that. Furthermore, we should reflect on how we will ensure that when we pass over, we leave behind a legacy of which our children and grandchildren can proud. I want them to be able to say we taught them a great deal about how to be good citizens of an Irish republic. I want them to be proud that the Irish nation has stood the test of time. The idea is that at least for one day in the year that would be the subject of the concentration of all our resources, thoughts and initiatives. People should reflect on those issues throughout the year as well, but if we could concentrate on that day or week this would be a success.
With that in mind, the Bill does not simply designate a single day as a bank holiday. It proposes the setting up of a board for Lá na Poblachta, the provisions for which are set out in a similar way to that of other boards. The model was taken from previous legislation dealing with how State boards should be run and it would ensure every county would run activities, the funding for which would come from the Exchequer. However, funding would not have to be limited to that source; it could also come from local councils. Local authorities played a tremendous and heroic role in this year's commemorations. In many ways they rescued the programme around the centenary events by putting their hearts and souls into it. Every community in the country ran events celebrating and commemorating what happened in that seminal week in 1916.
We are still, theoretically, in the middle of the decade of commemorations. It is rather strange that most of the events around 1916 and what happened in that year are now at an end. There has been no mutterings thus far about the rest of the decade of commemorations. This Bill would be ideal in that regard. It would focus minds on the fact that we are in a decade of extraordinary centenaries in terms of State events that occurred after 1916 which shaped the history of where we are today on this island and the history of the tan war, the Civil War, partition and everything that came afterwards.
Officially, the decade of centenaries was to run from 2012 to 2021. I am one of those who continues to argue that the decade of commemorations should cover one of the key aspects of Irish history which has not been looked at properly, the Civil War. Until we reflect on that maturely as a society, the poisoned legacy on this island will continue to impact on our politics and on society as a whole. This Bill is a way to move in that direction.
I sat on the last decade of commemorations committee. In fact, I was on the first committee set up by Bertie Ahern in 2006. At the time, the State belatedly decided it would celebrate 1916 again and it set in train a State commemoration programme in March 2006. The State had ignored the sacrifices and events of 1916 since it banned commemoration from 1976 onwards. That was regrettable and a self-defeating move at that stage. Since 2006 there was only a limited number of meetings until eventually the last Government, in fairness to those involved, started to take seriously the fact that the public were going to hold events regardless of whether the State funded them.
The State's first attempt at a commemorative programme was shambolic. Thankfully, those involved saw it for what it was and put in place someone who could deliver a programme or who could at the least co-ordinate and pull together the various strands. In John Concannon, the Minister had a tremendous aide when the programme was eventually put together. I congratulate him and the Minister on the programme the Government helped to put in place. I congratulate all the councils throughout the country on their work. In particular, I congratulate all the voluntary groups who got involved. They sometimes managed to get money from local councils; at other times they did not and did not ask for it. Regardless, they put on a programme of which they should be rightly proud. That pride would be reflected every year if this legislation were passed.
There might be flaws in the Bill - I am not a draftsperson. Minor or major changes might be required on Committee Stage. However, I am calling on Government, the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil to at least not oppose the Bill. They should embrace it, row in behind it and put it to Committee, where we can tease out all the eventualities and whether it is appropriate. I believe it is appropriate. I have support from the former Deputy, Ruairí Quinn, who wants more public holidays. I have the support of Mr. Brian Hayes, MEP, who also wants additional holidays. Here is a way of doing that and doing it quickly because the legislation is before the House today.