Public Holidays (Lá na Poblachta) Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]

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.

When this Bill was originally brought forward in October of 2015, preparations were under way for the Ireland 2016 centenary programme. Now, one year on, we are in a position to assess the commemorations to date, and to consider whether introducing an additional bank holiday on 24 April every year is necessary or advisable. My view is that it is neither. The response and engagement from members of the public to the Ireland 2016 centenary programme over the past year has been unprecedented - 2016 will be remembered as a special year in our shared history. We have celebrated the centenary of the events that led to the birth of our sovereign nation. We have honoured the courage, idealism and dignity of those who gave their lives so that the dream of self-determination could become a reality. We have reflected on our journey over the past 100 years since the 1916 Easter Rising to imagine our legacy for future generations.

We have revisited our past and embraced its complexities and nuances with maturity and an understanding that there are many different views on the events which took place. This culminated in more than 3,500 events being held across the country and another 1,000 internationally, all made possible through community spirit and engagement.

The Ireland 2016 centenary programme has been the highlight of the decade of centenaries programme which focuses on the significant centenaries occurring over the period 1912 to 1922. It was developed following extensive consultation with a range of stakeholders, including the expert advisory group on commemorations and the all-party consultation group on commemorations, where all views regarding the events of 1916 were heard and considered. I am currently considering the steps necessary to re-establish the all-party consultation group. There was also a broader consultation process, which included active engagement with local authorities, schools, universities, business and voluntary organisations, arts and cultural institutions, historical societies and others, to inform, to stimulate debate and discussion about 2016 and to come up with ideas. We held a total of 84 public consultation meetings right across the country. It resulted in a rich diversity of inclusive programmes and events which ran throughout 2016 to commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

Throughout these consultations, the idea of introducing a public holiday to take place on 24 April in each calendar year was not identified as a priority, nor was it recommended by the expert advisory group on commemorations or the all-party Oireachtas group on commemorations. While a proposal to introduce an additional bank holiday is bound to draw populist support, something of which I am sure Sinn Féin is very aware, our job as public representatives is to consider the wider implications of such a move, and in particular, the additional costs for businesses.

There are significant economic costs associated with the introduction of a new public holiday in terms of lost national output both in relation to the private sector and in the delivery of public services. We are not talking about small change here, it is estimated that an extra bank holiday would cost anywhere between €250 and €400 million. Ireland has nine official public holidays, each of which marks a special date or event. A preliminary analysis has been undertaken by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation of the direct and indirect costs and benefits for employers and employees arising from an extra bank holiday. It estimates that the total potential loss in productivity for an additional day’s public holiday would be approximately €396 million. This covers the public and private sectors, and takes into account those sectors which are expected to remain open for a public holiday, those which have a choice and those which are forced to close. In all scenarios, there are extra costs for businesses.

The Small Firms Association, SFA, has voiced its opposition to any proposal at this point to introduce an additional public holiday. The group estimates the cost of an additional public holiday to private sector employers to be a minimum of €250 million. Labour costs are the biggest concern for small firms in striving to maintain their competitive position, particularly in light of the currency fluctuations we are experiencing since the Brexit vote. In addition to the direct cost of paying employees for the public holiday, private and public sector employers face additional charges in giving premium payments to those workers who do work on the public holiday. Now is not the time to be heaping additional costs on small businesses, particularly when we are all trying to deal with the unpredictability of the Brexit era.

I also have concerns about the ambiguous language used in the Sinn Féin Bill about the remit of the proposed Bord Lá na Poblachta. The Bill refers to "those who, during the centuries of occupation of Ireland by a foreign power, gave their lives, and liberty to pursue the freedom of the Irish nation". Furthermore, it asserts: "In promoting, encouraging, co-ordinating or funding the events referred to in subsection (3), An Bord shall ensure that such programme of events will include events to take place in each county of the thirty two counties of Ireland and shall have no cover charge". This Bill appears to seek to provide a remit for Bord Lá na Poblachta across the island of Ireland, which would not sit either within the Constitutional framework or within the inclusive principles adopted by Government for the decade of commemorations. This proposed remit is not linked to the period of the Rising or the decade of commemorations.

My Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have liaised extensively with the authorities in Northern Ireland, as well as with local councils, civil society and community groups to help to ensure that this year’s commemorations were both respectful and inclusive and sought to strengthen peace and reconciliation. The Ireland 2016 centenary programme, for instance, included a series of events to commemorate the Battle of the Somme.

I believe the inclusive approach we took this year helped to foster new understandings, rather than sow fresh divisions. We described the centenary programme as an invitation, it was never a question of forcing people to get involved, but rather encouraging as many people as possible to explore our shared history. It is very important that the State takes a balanced approach in negotiating this complex territory and in my view this Bill could significantly undermine this approach.

The establishment of a new public body, Bord Lá na Poblachta, to organise events on the proposed bank holiday, as set out in this Bill, would also give rise to additional administrative and operational costs. I fail to understand why the development of a new quango would be necessary in any event. The experience of this year’s 1916 centenary commemorations has shown how the public service was able to come together effectively and collaboratively to deliver a significant programme of major events, without the need for a new bureaucratic entity.

In addition, the role of local authorities in delivering the Ireland 2016 centenary programme cannot be underestimated. County councils nationwide each developed their own Ireland 2016 plan, helping to deliver more than 3,500 events across the country throughout the year. The local authorities were invited by me to be part of the commemorative programme before any plans were launched and that goes back as far as November 2014. I did not want the commemorations to become Dublin-centric. They belonged to the people and I wanted them to take place in every county across the country. I acknowledge and thank the local authorities for engaging with their communities because they were the key that opened the door to communities so that the citizens of Ireland could be part of our commemorative programme. They all came up to the mark and we had a tremendous commemorative event across the country. It was very inclusive. Furthermore, primarily through our embassy network, more than 1,000 events have been held in over 100 cities around the globe, ensuring our commemorative programme has had a very significant international dimension.

Over the past year, I have been deeply moved by what I have seen and experienced across the country by the idealism, love of country and pride in community, the power of volunteering and our great hope for the future in spite of the difficulties that we have encountered. The schools programme was also a huge success, as children engaged with their history and now understand the true meaning of the Irish flag and all that it represents. I come from a Border county where the Irish flag was often used as a symbol of division when in fact it is a symbol of unity and peace. We did not need an additional public holiday to drive that public engagement or to create an additional space for the unprecedented level of public participation that we experienced.

The existing bank holiday, on Easter Monday, was shown to provide an appropriate opportunity for a major public celebration to mark the end of the commemorative events, which took place over the Easter weekend. The core events of the 1916 centenary programme took place around that weekend, as they traditionally do, rather than on the calendar anniversary of the Rising in 1916. On Easter Monday of this year, some Members may have joined the 750,000 people who came onto the streets of Dublin city centre to participate in Reflecting the Rising, a collaboration between my Department, RTE, Dublin City Council and numerous other partners. I have to say that it was an incredible day. The atmosphere around the city was electric.

I now intend to examine proposals to develop similar public gatherings on an annual basis, which would extend beyond Dublin, for 2017 and beyond. These gatherings would utilise the existing bank holiday to create a multi-location event, with maximum public benefit.

Perhaps the most significant learning from this centenary year has been the power of community. Local communities have shown that they have an extraordinary capacity to come together to achieve great things when the right structures and supports are put in place. The centenary year has provided a focus for a widely shared desire to talk about Ireland, our identity, our hopes for the future, and our project of creating a society that exists for all our citizens in which all people believe themselves to be equally valued. The rich programme of events developed as part of the Ireland 2016 centenary programme has encouraged immensely valuable conversations throughout the year about citizenship, culture and identity. I am firmly convinced that in the coming decades, arts and culture will play an increasingly important role in our personal lives, in our society and in our economy. Now is the time for us to harness the energy and enthusiasm created by our centenary and channel this into future endeavours.

To this end, I am actively working on a significant legacy programme, which will encompass our arts and cultural sectors, with a specific focus on increasing cultural participation in every county right across the country. I believe that is a much more appropriate way to build on the success of the 2016 commemorations for the benefit of all of our citizens.

Ba mhaith liom ar dtús báire mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leo siúd a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht seo athuair. Is aisteach an rud é, ach is iad na pointí ceanann céanna iad roinnt de na pointí a tháinig suas inniu is a tháinig suas anuraidh nuair a bhí an cheist seo os comhair na Dála cheana.

I would like to address first the issue the Minister addressed, that is, the huge success of this year. It has been a year in which people could show great pride in their country and what it has achieved over 100 years and look at the mistakes made but also at the totality of a country transformed from the world about which we all learned that existed in the period leading up to the Rising. We were able to commemorate sustained peace over a long period, a Constitution that we, the people, own and that can only be changed by the people, which is unusual even in the modern world, and a country where, in the main, everybody accepts that the way to change things is through political dialogue. It is a very different world from that faced by this nation back in 1916.

The second point is that it was a people celebration. There were fantastic State commemorations. Easter Sunday was a very important day but throughout the year in every parish in Ireland, people commemorated and celebrated the Rising and its aftermath in a dignified, community-based and inclusive way.

I was very fortunate to get an e-mail last autumn from the grand-niece of the officer who arrested and took the surrender from the 3rd Battalion offering to make available her grand-uncle's collection of five scrap books to do with his connection with the 3rd Battalion Old IRA. It is a fantastic legacy. This is a British soldier who fully appreciated the cause he had been fighting against and who, in 1938, gave back the field glasses he had confiscated, through Neville Chamberlain, at the conclusion of the agreement of 1938 and who, as early as 1948, came here with his wife and daughter on an invitation from the 3rd Battalion Old IRA to attend an event at which he was the guest speaker. Some of the correspondence is very interesting. It talks of reconciliation. In one letter he told them to have their fiery speeches first and he would come in later. They wrote back immediately saying that he was their guest speaker, they did not care whether he was an after dinner speaker and that they wanted him to be their special guest. He came here again in 1966 for the 50th anniversary and was present in Boland's Mills with my grandfather, Éamon de Valera, who was President at the time. In 1967, in what I believe was one of the most interesting acts of reconciliation in a time when we did not think all this was going, and perhaps do not fully understand everything that was going on in this regard, the 3rd Battalion made this British officer an honorary member, sent him a fantastic certificate and told him he was now an honorary member of the 3rd Battalion Old IRA but that he did not have to give up his loyalty to England or swear an oath of allegiance to the Irish Republic.

That man's grand-niece attended the commemoration at Boland's Mills on Easter Monday. We made an exhibition out of a fraction of the material she had, and the welcome she received from the families of those who had fought in 1916 would warm one's heart. Occasions like that were the kernel of what our commemoration was about. I hope in the coming seven or eight years that kind of spirit will prevail.

Our Proclamation is striking in admonishing us to be oblivious of the differences carefully fostered that has separated a minority from the majority in the past. The first part of it must be the most misquoted sentence in Ireland because it refers to the children of the nation, and it has nothing to do with children in the pedagogic sense. Basically, it tells us to reconcile with all people on this island, put difference behind us and accept difference, which is much more important.

Regarding the specific proposals in the Bill, first, for as long as I can remember, people in this country have celebrated the Easter Rising on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, irrespective of what time in the six-week window it occurred. I do not expect that to change in the future. Even though Easter fell very early this year, and being March there was a risk of cold weather, the Government was right to stick with Easter Sunday for the commemoration because in the minds of 99% of the people, Easter Sunday is the Easter Rising. We call it the Easter Rising.

Second, on a practical level, and the Minister has dealt with the issue of cost and so on, if we were to make a holiday of 24 April, we would have a guaranteed holiday on 17 March, 24 April and a holiday somewhere between 1 and 8 May, depending on when the first Monday of May fell.

On top of that, there is the roving official holiday of Easter Monday which could fall on the 23rd, the 24th or whatever, which would mean that there would be two bank holidays on top of each other and there would have to be another bank holiday. Therefore, the practicalities and the distraction of moving Easter commemorations of the Rising away from Easter Sunday would be wrong.

The point is made that we have fewer bank holidays. Definitely, we have fewer public holidays, probably two less than the average. In this country most people think Good Friday is a public holiday, but it is not. Maybe we should count that as a de facto public holiday when we are making comparisons. Few work on Good Friday if they are not in the hospitality sector. All the pubs are closed even though they try to be open.

I propose, in recognition of the centenary year and in recognition of the importance of the Rising, that we would designate Easter Monday as Lá na Saoirse. I am purposely not using "Lá na Poblachta" because for some that might be emotive in the negative sense but all are happy and comfortable with the idea of independence. It would be symbolic, particularly as the Rising started on Easter Monday, to make that day Lá na Saoirse and to remind people every year of the importance of that day.

There are two major objections to the setting up of the board. When my party was last in government, there were complaints week after week on all sides of the House that there were too many quangos. Even though some of these bodies were not even costing €50,000, all we ever heard was there were too many quangos. It is funny how short our corporate memory is. The second objection, and one of the fundamental reasons I would object to setting up an independent board, is that I am not one who has been hugely in favour of taking the power of decision away from those of us who stand for election and are elected by the people.

The arrangements put in place were good, with the all-party Oireachtas committee and the expert committee, and I would ask the Minister to move urgently to reinstate the all-party Oireachtas committee in order that we can plan for 2017, 2018 and 2019. To me, the centenary of 1919 will be huge because it was the founding of our democracy. That is why the five pictures are in the front hall of Cathal Brugha, who was first President of the First Dáil, Eamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins and W.T. Cosgrave. As the centenary of the founding of this Oireachtas or Parliament, I believe that will be a huge year.

Therefore, I would hope that arising from this debate the Minister might give consideration to my idea of designating Easter Monday as our independence day, if the Minister wants to call it that, and that furthermore she would reinstate the all-party Oireachtas committee, keep her expert committee, which if it needs refreshing, so be it, and that we would plan in the same meticulous way the community and national involvement in commemorating the years 1917 to 1920, inclusive. If we do that, the debate that has been sparked here today by Sinn Féin, which I credit it for doing, will certainly have had a good effect even if I cannot go along with another board and the taking of control over another facet of our life away from the politicians out to an independent quango.

Like all speakers here today, I feel a real sense of pride at the way we have celebrated Easter 1916 this year and I commend the Minister and everyone involved because it was a job well done. It brought back a sense of national pride and celebration of what happened 100 years ago, that moment, that inspiration, that violent spark for the establishment of our freedom as a republic. I would have to agree, not on the reasons of cost but largely for two reasons, the first of which is practicality, that the date would be inevitably, as next year, cheek by jowl with two other public holidays, and that would make it impractical to have a further holiday in that period.

The second reason I would oppose it is there is a better alternative, even though I believe there is a case for an additional public holiday. The case best lies for a public holiday on Lá Fhéile Bríde, 1 February each year. The Minister will not be able to decide or look at that here, but maybe in her response she might give her view as to how that might sit as a public holiday. It seems to me that if we are to have an additional day, the case for which is well made by Deputy Ó Snodaigh, as with the former Deputy Ruairí Quinn previously or Mr. Brian Hayes MEP, surely to celebrate that feminine tradition in Irish life is what we should turn to.

There are a range of reasons for this. I could think of good practical reasons for it. The longest gap between our holidays is in that period between St. Stephen's Day and St. Patrick's Day, which is two men on either side. That long period without a holiday could well be and rightly interspersed with a break around 1 February each year. What it would also do-----

What about St. Valentine's Day?

St. Valentine's Day is not a public holiday. I accept St. Valentine's Day has a connection to this city. Is St. Valentine's heart not in the Carmelite church on Whitefriar Street?

However, St. Brigid is the core patron saint to our country. It is not only a Catholic or Christian tradition, although Brigid is someone who is revered, not only in Ireland but in Wales, I understand, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, in the Anglican tradition here as well as the Catholic tradition, but also she is wider, broader and bigger than that because she brings us back into prehistory to the festival of Brigid, a Celtic goddess, and also the feast day of Imbolc, that celebration of the arrival of spring that goes back into history. It makes sense for us to celebrate the arrival of spring, the turning of nature, the return of life, the return of light, and that is something we need to get back in touch with. We need to get back in connection with the traditions and the culture of our country and there is no stronger tradition or culture than Bríd or Brigid's.

It is important for us to recognise our feminine tradition and side. I would go the whole way. I would have female priests tomorrow no matter what the Pope thinks. We have a lot to do in here. We are still under-represented when it comes to women. The mechanism we introduced to increase the number of women in here has been a hugely progressive step but it is not going far enough. Our country will be far stronger and far better when we celebrate and follow our feminine side, and listen and involve. Why not then start by recognising our great patron saint, Bríd, as well as our other? Why do we merely celebrate Patrick and forget about Brigid?

This was a remarkable woman, a huge, fantastic and obviously spiritual leader in the historical analysis, and it is historic. The annals are there recording her life in the 5th and 6th centuries. She was an adviser to Brendan the Navigator and to Kevin. This woman was an appointer of bishops. She was a leader. She had 13,000 women and monastic settlement men following her order, but she was also a brewer. She was also a dairy woman extraordinaire. She was also a healer. She was also a midwife. She was even, it appears, if one believes the archeological analysis, there to remove an unwanted pregnancy at a most difficult time.

This is a woman who could speak for many women and men in our country if we had a holiday to mark her name, and it would mark that critical point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

Having a public holiday at that time would give us a sense of hope. We live in a difficult climate as this country is so far North that it is dark in the winter. I do not know what the other Members think of this but when the clocks went back at the weekend and winter is arriving, there is a sense that it is tough. Our position is at a very far northern latitude. No wonder it was deep in our tradition to celebrate the arrival of spring. That is what we would do if we had Lá Fheile Bríde as a national holiday. When we look into it that makes sense. Certain other factors connect with it. In the United States, Abraham Lincoln signed the Act abolishing slavery on 1 February 1865 and 1 February is their national freedom day.

A public holiday on 1 February here would fall at just the right time of the year. The long winter period is the hardest. To have a public holiday at this time would allow us to take a break at that difficult time when we are getting through the winter blues and we are starting to think of the arrival of spring. Everyone thinks it does not feel like the first day of spring on 1 February but it is. It starts to prepare us for the return of the sun and return of the growth of the grass. For that reason alone, it would make sense to mark it by having a public holiday.

I put this serious suggestion to the Minister and she as a female Minister might consider it. She might bring the proposal to her Cabinet colleagues and tell them that it might be worth the economic cost. It might give us a period of reflection. As I understand it, the ancient tradition of Imbolc goes back to the Hill of Tara and the stones there record that particular day and time as being important. In the Minister's area more than anyone else's, it goes to the core of our connection to the earth, to creation and to our feminine side. For all those reasons I earnestly put forward the proposal that we create a new national holiday, but it should be on 1 February not at the end of April, which is very close to our May holiday and Easter holidays where we are already well served in terms of celebrating national days. Let us increase the number of public holidays from nine to ten and by going to ten let us celebrate our feminine side.

I congratulate Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh on introducing this Bill again. As he said, it was put forward in the past. I agree with some of the Minister's contribution around the series of events that have taken place this year. The sense of national pride which many of those commemorations brought out was evident to see across the country. That is something we need to foster and expand and we need to do it in an inclusive manner. Nobody is arguing about that. For the Minister to suggest - perhaps it was intentional or it may have been the way it came across in her contribution - that a Bill which is being put before this Chamber to designate a day as Lá na Poblachta would be divisive and would undermine the series of events that have gone on this year is at best naive. It is probably calculated because she spoke about inclusivity, reaching out a hand and making sure everyone has a say, but then she went on to criticise the Bill and some of the language in it.

I will refer to some of the language in the Bill because the Minister referenced this. Regarding the proposed board, five functions are outlined for it in the Bill, but in her contribution the Minister conveniently added functions 3 and 5 into one function. For the purposes of clarity, I will quote Part 4, section 5(3) and we can see with what part of it the Minister does not agree. Section 5(3) states:

The function of An Bord shall be to annually promote, encourage, co-ordinate and fund a programme of events, in commemoration and appreciation of the contribution made to the Irish nation by those who, during the centuries of occupation of Ireland by a foreign power, gave their lives and liberty to pursue the freedom of the Irish nation. It shall also seek to raise awareness and promote discourse, analysis and understanding of the ideals and aspirations contained in the key revolutionary documents and events leading up to the declaration of the Irish Republic at the GPO on Monday 24th April, 1916.

I am not sure what the Minister's issue is with that function. The Minister conveniently mentioned function 5, which states: "In promoting, encouraging, co-ordinating or funding the events referred to in subsection (3), An Bord shall ensure that such programme of events will include events to take place in each county of the thirty-two counties of Ireland and shall have no cover charge." I know what her issue is with that. It is that she looks at the country through a partitionist prism, which is a Twenty-six Counties prism. In her contribution she said: "I am actively working on a significant legacy programme, which will encompass our arts and cultural sectors, with a specific focus on increasing cultural participation in every county right across the country". That is where I would differ with the Minister. For me, my country is Ireland, all Thirty-two Counties. It is quite clear that the Minister's country is the Twenty-six Counties State. That is why there are differences of opinion when we talk about having events throughout the country. We include everyone. That includes our Unionist and loyalist brothers in the Six Counties. We are not excluding them but the Minister seems happy to exclude them in her proposals to work on a legacy programme, which will be a Twenty-six Counties, as opposed to a Thirty-two Counties, based legacy programme. It is a bit rich to talk about being inclusive when she takes a partitionist view when it comes to our shared history.

The Minister mentioned the cost involved. I will quote what she said because it is important. She stated: "While a proposal to introduce an additional bank holiday is bound to draw populist support - something about which I am sure Sinn Féin is very aware". That was a low remark because anyone who knows anything about the history of our party would be aware that we are certainly not trying to introduce a public holiday to commemorate 1916 as a populist move because for many years, when parties like the Minister's party failed to commemorate 1916, we were commemorating it year after year. We were commemorating the Proclamation and the values and vision of those who gave their lives in 1916. It is not fair to say we are doing this for populist reasons because if that were the case, the likes of the Minister's party would have been doing it since its foundation.

The Minister went on to state: "Our job, as public representatives, is to consider the wider implications of such a move and, in particular, the additional costs for businesses". Again, that is where the difference in the ideology comes. We do not look at this issue simply in terms of costs. We look at it in terms of what it can bring to citizens across this island, not the Twenty-six Counties but all Thirty-two Counties. I find it insulting that the Minister tries to shoot down a Bill on the basis of costs yet she was the one who defended a court case in regard to the Moore Street buildings taken by a citizen who wanted to designate the entire battlefield area as a national monument. The Minister defended the State's analysis of that and despite being defeated in that court case, she then decided to appeal it.

It is very two-faced for the Minister to talk about costs when she is quite prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of euro of taxpayers' money on the Moore Street development. She cannot have it both ways. She cannot talk about the legacies of 1916 and at the same time be happy to see the battlefield area around Moore Street being turned into a commercial development. She wants to save three houses, but people have seen through this.

In recent years Ireland has become a very multicultural society, something I welcome. We have seen people from many cultures come to our shores and the generosity of the Irish people in making them part of our community. We have seen examples of all of the values contained in the Proclamation about treating everyone equally. For all his faults, the former Minister for Justice and Equality, former Deputy Alan Shatter, introduced a very good initiative in having citizenship ceremonies. He almost made them a day of culture. It was an opportunity for individuals who were new to our shores to not only gain citizenship but also to learn some of the history of how we had developed as a nation. Many of these events were based on the Proclamation, the declaration of independence and the democratic programme. As we continue to grow as a nation and see more people come to our shores from different cultures, backgrounds and traditions, it is important for the individuals concerned to understand Irish history, culture and traditions. Many values within the Irish psyche come from the democratic programme and the 1916 Proclamation, among others.

I am disappointed but not surprised to learn that the Minister will oppose the Bill. When one strips away all of the rights and wrongs, the two of us come to the legislation from very different ideologies. We come to it from a 32-county basis of inclusivity, whereas the Minister comes to it with a Twenty-six Counties partitionist mindset. It is no wonder we will never meet on this issue.

I have listened to the arguments made by Deputies on the draft Bill. However, I remain convinced that the proposal to introduce an additional bank holiday on 24 April every year is neither necessary nor advisable. The Ireland 2016 centenary programme has met with widespread support across the political, academic and community sectors. It has engaged communities at home and abroad in an unprecedented way and the benefits at community level and nationally cannot be underestimated. Its inclusive nature has enabled citizens to examine our history and encouraged them to consider the future of their communities. The local authorities developed their own individual programmes based on the national programme and this has encouraged active citizenship at local level and leveraged economic benefits across the country. The commemoration of the 1916 Rising, the historical moment which the State recognises as marking the birth of this sovereign nation, traditionally takes place over the Easter bank holiday weekend. In 2016 it saw over 1 million people on the streets of Dublin for a series of commemorative, reflective and celebratory events which were a great source of pride for all citizens. Feedback from members of the public and the media clearly indicated the very positive engagement of the general public with the commemorative events, as well as the extent to which citizens had felt a great sense of national pride and respect during this historic time. Easter Monday saw the largest public history and cultural events ever staged in Ireland, with more than 500 free talks, debates, exhibitions, music, theatre and other performances across a number of venues and zones in Dublin city centre. It was clearly demonstrated this year that the Easter Monday bank holiday could provide the appropriate space for a major public celebration to mark these significant and important commemorative events. Throughout the consultations on the Ireland 1916 centenary programme, the idea of introducing a public holiday on 24 April was not identified as a priority, nor was it recommended by the expert advisory group on commemorations or the all-party Oireachtas group on commemorations. I am looking at the steps necessary to re-establish the all-party consultation group on commemorations.

The introduction of a new public holiday would, undoubtedly, result in significant economic costs to employers and the Exchequer and could potentially impact adversely on the delivery of public services. This is not the time to heap additional costs on businesses, particularly when we are trying to deal with the unpredictability of the Brexit era.

I say to Deputy Eamon Ryan that I am all for women and supporting their role. I am pleased to say that in the past few months I have been able to appoint three very capable women as chairpersons of three cultural institutions. I agree with the Deputy that we need more women involved. He also talked about having more women involved in the church. I am glad to say that in the church I attend they are very much for women who are preaching just like everybody else. More importantly, the proposals contained in the Bill are not in keeping with the inclusive, respectful and measured approach adopted so far for the centenary commemorations this year which has sought to strengthen peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. I assure the Deputy that I am not divisive in any way. Throughout the commemorations I was very clear that I wanted them to be inclusive and respectful. The centenary programme included activities organised on an all-island basis. We had the all-island competition for schools, while a number of cross-Border and all-island events took place. Rising to Reconciliation was an event held in Belfast recently. I attended some events in the North and was very pleased to do so.

In the past few months my Department has been placing special emphasis on the re-imagine phase of the Ireland 2016 centenary programme to consider the long-term legacy and build on the momentum and very positive public response to the programme to ensure the positive learnings are harnessed and built on for the future. To this end, I am actively working on a significant legacy programme which will encompass the arts and culture sectors, with a specific focus on increasing participation in cultural events in every county. That would be a much more appropriate way to build on the success of the 2016 commemorations for the benefit of all citizens.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leo siúd a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht seo athuair. Is aisteach an rud é, ach is iad na pointí ceanann céanna iad roinnt de na pointí a tháinig suas inniu is a tháinig suas anuraidh nuair a bhí an cheist seo os chomhair na Dála cheana.

Some of the points made in the debate about having an additional bank holiday are interesting and would probably be more appropriately teased out on Committee Stage if the Government or Fianna Fáil do not oppose the legislation. Deputy Eamon Ryan's proposals are interesting. As I said earlier, former Deputy Ruairí Quinn and former Deputy Brian Hayes, now an MEP, talked about additional public holidays, not just one.

Ireland has nine public holidays and the average in Europe is 11 days. Many countries have substantially more than that.

I will respond to the comments from the Minister after responding to the proposal from Deputy Ó Cuív. His proposal does not address the shortfall in public holidays. Changing the name of an existing public holiday does not address it, but it would have been better than anything else. Given that his party has been in government most often since the founding of the State, I do not know why it was not done in that period. However, it would not address what I am suggesting.

The Minister's comments were quite disingenuous and contradictory across the board. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien has commented on some of them. It is disgraceful to say that this was not raised in the consultation. It was not raised in the public consultation events but in the key consultation forum. I raised it first in 2012 and in each year since then up to this year. I am a member of the public. Others have sent in submissions, not only to me but to other Deputies, seeking this over many years. It is disingenuous to say it was not raised just because it does not suit the Minister's agenda or narrative on this.

It is also contradictory to speak about all the events that were held in the Six Counties and then criticise my Bill for providing for a board that would organise events on a 32-county basis. In case Members did not read the Bill, and this deals with the point Deputy Ó Cuív raised, one of the reasons for establishing a board is that a future Minister with responsibility for arts and heritage could not be accused of being party political. The board would take it out of the hands of political parties and, in some ways, out of the Minister's hands. The board would be appointed by the Joint Committee on Arts, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, it having a special interest and expertise in these matters. It is not a case of me picking it.

With regard to the costs associated with setting up a board, in this case the Minister has full control of remuneration, terms and conditions. The Minister could set the remuneration at zero. I did not provide for any remuneration. As to the cost of the events, that was based on setting up a ciste for running the events. If the money is not there, it cannot organise them. The advantage is that it has to do something. It could encourage others. The events would not preclude other organisations, political parties, heritage groups or councils from organising their own events. The key part is to try to ensure that what we have gained this year will continue. The enthusiasm regarding the Proclamation and the Tricolour and the explanation and understanding of the origins of the State and our history among young people today, based on a short period of time, has been substantial. The nation will benefit from that. The understanding of the roles and responsibilities of citizens could be taught and encouraged.

In addition, the board is not limited to having marches, parades or lectures. I specifically set out to ensure that the board would have events which would reflect Irish society as a whole, through art, historical and community events. It provides that it must have sub-committees to ensure that people who have ideas could share them. People want to share their ideas, and when they are shared the ideas hopefully can gain traction and be delivered on.

It is a little disingenuous to say that I am being populist. I am no such thing. I did not invite the masses to the Visitors Gallery or seek to have this legislation lauded from the hilltops. When I first mentioned it to the advisory group some of those who the Minister said never raised it in fact supported it at that group. The former Senators Maurice Manning and Martin Mansergh supported the idea of at least a one-off bank holiday this year and said there was merit in the proposal, yet it is shot down as if that never happened. The problem is that the Minister did not attend that meeting, because a former Minister attended. I can understand that she might not have a recollection of it. However, it was a key point and there was a discussion on it at the meeting. I have been a member of a commemoration committee in the Oireachtas since 2006 - I am probably the longest serving member of it - so I have at least some understanding of what was planned, when plans were shared and what the ideas were. Hopefully, I prompted many of the ideas and events, along with others, by putting ideas forward in the ten years I sat on the committee and gave of my wisdom, if one wishes to call it that.

We do not have a national patriotic or independence day similar to other countries. It is not necessary to have full independence to have such a day. Cyprus, for example, has an independence day even though it is partitioned. Canada has an independence day which it celebrates on 1 July, and it was the Fenians who caused that independence. The two Koreas, even though they are separated by a wall, have a liberation day on 15 August. It would be appropriate for this country to have such a day. The idea is that the day could be used. It would not be a day just for a bit of fun but to try to concentrate minds on citizenship. I have been very critical of the United States and its actions around the world, but look at the way it uses 4 July to revive patriotism and inculcate in its citizens an understanding of what its independence means. Some parts of its community, such as the Native American community, reject that independence altogether, but it is a day when everybody can debate whether it is good, bad or indifferent. We do not have such a designated day.

It was also a little disingenuous of the Minister to quote what ISME had to say, when it is obvious from the figures that we do not have enough public holidays. I have acknowledged that there is a cost, but there is also a benefit. Usually, more money is spent on bank holidays and businesses benefit from that. If there is a series of events in towns and cities, that will not prevent the shops from opening. The owners will have to pay additional money to have the staff work on those days, but they benefit from those days. Ask any business owner in Dublin city centre whether they benefited from the programmes that were organised by the State. The other point is that studies show that people are more productive when they are happy. People are happy when they have a bank holiday. The next day they are happy in their work and probably more productive.

They could take a sick day.

That is a different issue. Brian Hayes MEP commented that given what people have been asked to do in recent years and the additional productivity forced on them for the same wages, it is about time we started to consider giving something back. I agree with him in that regard, but that is not the reason I am seeking this. I have a different reason. We are only half way through the decade of commemorations and this would be one of the lasting legacies from it.

Gabhaim buíochas leo siúd a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht seo. Is trua liom é nach bhfuil an dá pháirtí mhóra sa Teach sásta ligean don phíosa reachtaíochta seo dul os comhair choiste ar a laghad. Bheadh sé go maith dá dtarlódh sé sin mar bheadh muid in ann leanúint leis an bplé seo agus iarraidh ar leithéidí ISME agus iad siúd teacht os comhair choiste agus na pointí a ardú linn, seachas a bheith ag diúltú dóibh anseo. Caithfimid plé a dhéanamh ar an bhfáth go bhfuil Éire thíos leis ó thaobh laethanta saoire bainc de i gcomparáid le tíortha eile insan domhan.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 10 November 2016.

The Dáil adjourned at 7.10 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 8 November 2016.