750th Anniversary of First Irish Parliament: Statements

I thank Senators for the invitation to come to the House to mark the 750th anniversary of the first known Irish parliament. As Senator Ivana Bacik was instrumental in issuing the invitation, I thank her. I understand she has a number of historical perspectives to reveal to us.

The Parliament in Iceland dating from 930 is regarded as the oldest Parliament today, while the legislature on the Isle of Man which celebrated its millennium in 1979 is regarded as the oldest "continuous" parliament. Considering our shared heritage, Ireland probably also had ancient assemblies at the time in both the Gaelic and Viking traditions. It is great to see the interest this House shows in tracing the foundations of our parliamentary legacy over the centuries and, in particular, the assembly which met in the then important administrative and religious centre of Casteldermot, County Kildare, on 18 June 1264.

All of us will agree that the evolution of public assemblies through representative government to modern democracy in Ireland is a worthy topic for discussion. The 750th anniversary of the first Irish Parliament is an ideal opportunity to discuss some of the many milestone events throughout the evolution of our democracy. I understand we do not have many records from the first parliament, but it marked the beginning of regular meetings of councils and parliaments of the English colony in Ireland. This particular Parliament sought to inquire into the role of the Archbishop of Dublin and the broader question of the division of authority between the church and the state in the administration of justice.

In 1264 pressure from the aristocracy forced Henry III to sign the Provisions of Oxford under which a new form of government, namely, a council of 24 members - 12 selected by the Crown and 12 by the nobles - would be appointed to supervise ministerial appointments, local administration and the custody of royal castles. According to the provisions, parliament was to meet three times a year. Baron De Montfort's Great Parliament held in January 1265 in Westminster is regarded by historians as the first bicameral parliament in English history held under these provisions, but the parliament in Castledermot preceded the English parliament by several months. As we can imagine, these were chaotic times in Ireland, with parliaments composed of Anglo-Irish nobles, bishops and some Gaelic Irish. They were not representative of the people of Ireland. Some Members may be aware of the Parliament of Kilkenny which passed the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1366. These forbade inter-marriage between native Irish and English, as well as more general Irish customs and language.

The areas of influence of the parliaments depended on the fluctuating control and jurisdiction of the British authorities. It was not until the late 14th and into the 15th century that the parliaments become more representative, with increasing and more regular attendance by elected representatives of ordinary people and lower grades of clergy. Sittings of parliaments in Ireland were inconsistent, as was the power available to the people concerned at parliament. During the 16th and 17th centuries there were entire years when no Irish parliaments met. Even in the 18th century, the Irish Houses of Parliament were at a standstill, with the majority of members representing tiny constituencies, effectively under the control of single individuals.

Irish legislation was reviewed and rejected in England before the Irish Parliament had any opportunity to act. This unrepresentative system, largely unconcerned with the needs of the people of Ireland, confronted Henry Grattan when, inspired by the Irish Volunteer Convention at Dungannon and the wider republican movement in Europe and America, he led the calls for real power to be given to Irish parliamentarians. For a short time, the Grattan Parliament sat in the world's first purpose-built, two chamber parliament building in College Green. For all its faults, this chamber gave a glimpse of what might have been. Catholic emancipation was firmly on the agenda and Irish matters were being considered in Ireland. I was delighted to bring forward plans to develop a new cultural and heritage centre in this building recently. The centre will be accessible via the Gandon designed entrance to the College Green buildings on Westmoreland Street. The project will open up part of the former House of Lords. With this new entity, I hope a new generation of Irish people and visitors alike will avail of the opportunity to explore aspects of our Irish history represented in this iconic building.

The achievements of Irish parliamentarians did not stop with the untimely end of Grattan's Parliament. I have long been an admirer of Daniel O'Connell and his great legacy of non¬violence. He used the parliamentary channels available to him. This was pivotal in his achievement in bringing about Catholic emancipation. We can only speculate about the transformation that might have followed if his campaign for repeal of the Act of Union had succeeded and autonomous government had been established in Ireland. The absence of such local and accountable government contributed significantly to the tragedy of the Great Famine and the strife that followed. I am pleased that new plans have been brought forward to commemorate Daniel O'Connell, including the restoration of the staircase in the tower of the O'Connell monument in Glasnevin Cemetery which will open in the coming months.

In our centenary commemorative programme this year we reach the passing of legislation for Irish Home Rule. In association with the Speaker of the Commons at Westminster, this historic achievement of John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party will be commemorated. Building on the work of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Land League, John Redmond and his party finally delivered the Home Rule Act. Too long in coming, passed on the eve of the Great War and incomplete in final form with painful issues unresolved, it was perhaps too late and soon overtaken by events.

Nonetheless, we must acknowledge the work of Irish parliamentarians in keeping the cause of self-determination alive and sustaining hope through some of the darkest periods of our history. It is appropriate that John Redmond's leadership will be remembered with a series of events, exhibitions and lectures to take place this year in Wicklow, Wexford, Waterford, Dublin and Westminster. I think it appropriate also that the restoration of John Redmond's vault in Wexford is being addressed in the context of the centenary commemorative programme.

In 2018 we will mark the centenary of the general election of 1918 and, thereafter, the centenary of the first Dáil in 1919. This election reflects not only the terrible experience of the world war and revolution in Ireland but also the changes of electoral reform. Our programme will continue to examine the parliamentary development in Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State. It is very important that the evolution over many years of our legislative structures is widely known and the deliberative procedures in law-making are understood. In an age of unrelenting media and instant reporting, the legislative processes of consultation and reflection can seem out of date. It is sometimes easy to complain about our painstaking system but care should be taken not to undermine institutions.

Remembering that first Parliament held on this day 750 years ago, we can stand justly proud of our legacy of parliamentary tradition. It is, nevertheless, a fragile and precious legacy, requiring nurturing and respect if it is to continue to serve succeeding generations of Irish citizens. Each generation, each era, brings new challenges, maybe new ways of conducting parliamentary business, but the essence of that business remains the same. We must always be conscious that it is our great privilege to be chosen to sit in these Houses of Parliament and that we are here to represent not ourselves but to represent those people who have elected us.

Again, I thank the House for this opportunity to mark the anniversary of the 1264 Parliament and to reflect on our traditions. I look forward to the various contributions by the Senators. I am sure many others will want to contribute along with Senator Bacik.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Níl aon amhras faoi ach go bhfuil ábhar thar a bheith suimiúil á phlé anseo inniu. Is dócha gurbh fiú, ó am go chéile, dul siar ar bhóithrín na smaointe agus ar bhóithrín na staire. Tá stair an-suimiúil ag an tír seo agus tá an-chuid ceachtanna le foghlaim ón stair. Sin an chúis go bhfuil an t-ábhar seo ar an gclár inniu, chun seo a thógáil suas chun dáta agus chun go mbeidh sé lárnach d'aon rud atá ag tarlú sa tír i láthair na huaire.

I welcome the Minister. I wish to pay tribute to him because he epitomises some of the things I regard as very essential in parliamentary democracy, namely, accessibility and consultation. Those marks are very evident in the Minister, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan.

It is a very interesting subject before us today. When it appeared on the schedule, every person I met in the corridor asked "What is this about?", and we had the same on the Order of Business this morning. There is nothing wrong with that. I had to do a little homework myself just to be brought up to date. It is interesting that it is on this very date - 18 June - 750 years ago that what is now known as the Irish Parliament came into existence. It is true that Ireland has had parliamentary assemblies down through the centuries and right up to Grattan's Parliament, which lasted for 18 years and, to some extent, was seen as an independent Parliament.

Following the 1798 rebellion in Wexford it became evident, from a British point of view, that they had to do something about the Irish situation, and the Act of Union followed two years later. We all know what the Act of Union did to Ireland. It was absolutely and utterly devastating in every sense of the word, so much so that millions of people had to leave this country. As a result, the Irish diaspora today is one of the most powerful elements of the Irish nation, with 70 million people of Irish extraction throughout the world. When one compares that to the number of people still left on the island of Ireland, it gives an indiction that, at times, there may be good in something that may be bad in a given sense.

There is no doubt the Irish diaspora has played an important role, even in the more modern political issues of the Northern Troubles. The Irish diaspora played an exceptionally big role in the United States in being able to get across to President Bill Clinton the importance of the issue which was being discussed. I would also say the same was true of the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. I have always felt that he too, with his own Irish background, took on board in a more serious manner some of the issues which had to be addressed. Even among those who had great desires for the future, I do not believe the people really saw the peace process or the Good Friday Agreement becoming what it did become.

The first real Irish Parliament was Dáil Éireann, where the will of the people was sovereign or, in other words, the people were responsible for putting Dáil Éireann in position. That is why, at all times, we will look to 1919 as the period when the Irish people were given an opportunity to truly represent themselves in a sovereign independent State without any outside interference whatsoever.

With regard to those who questioned me in the corridors of Leinster House as to why this was on the agenda, we can be exceptionally busy, and we are busy at present because of the challenges with which we are faced, particularly economic challenges and so on. However, there is a lot to be learned from history. If we make the same mistakes again that were made in history, then we must take the blame for that. There is so much to be learned from Irish history that I truly believe it is good to have a debate like this.

I raised an issue on the Order of Business and our good Leader, Senator Maurice Cummins, told me to avail of this opportunity to raise it. The issue is in regard to the programme for the 1916 centenary commemoration in 2016. While I am not opening a debate on that here, I would love to see the Minister come back on another day to discuss that with us.

I wanted to take the opportunity to raise a particular issue, which relates to Volunteer Thomas Kent, who is buried in Cork Jail. It is an issue I have raised in the Seanad over the past ten to 12 years. Really and truly, we owe it to his memory and to the memory of all the people of 1916, those who were executed, those who died and those who sacrificed themselves for Ireland. It is not fitting to have his mortal remains lying in Cork Jail. When I campaigned for the forgotten ten volunteers in Mountjoy all those years ago, including Kevin Barry, in order that they would be repatriated, as they were, I still remember the affection and admiration from the thousands of people who turned out to witness that cortege. I must say RTE did a fantastic job on that occasion. I ask that the Minister might put this at the top of his priority list. We have interacted with the family and they are in agreement, so there is really no obstacle to doing this, perhaps in 2016.

To come back to the matter under discussion, and the point on the importance of learning from history, I believe we should always be reforming legislators. In regard to this House, there are opportunities that we can use to bring about reform. Our history is multifaceted and colourful in many ways.

At the same time, if we are really learning, we must ask why this House has not been used as a forum for people in Northern Ireland to speak. We should change the rules so they can be represented here. If we do that we will not only commemorate the past but celebrate it. It would be lovely if people of both traditions from Northern Ireland could be part of proceedings in this House, rather than merely read the official record subsequently. When the Orange Order made a presentation here it was said to be mould-breaking. The representatives were open in their views and apologetic for some things that happened.

I believe the severity of the Whip should be reduced in this House, even if this does not happen in the Dáil. We should have free votes to allow people to express themselves freely rather than say what the Whip wants. This should not apply on all issues but if it can be done in the House of Commons it can be done here. If we want to commemorate what happened 750 years ago in Castledermot we should try to go further. In 750 years, when people look back on what we did in this House they might see that we tried to create a link between the present and the past.

We will not care what they say in 750 years.

We will not be here in 750 years.

Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí Seanad Éireann ar an lá stairiúil seo.

Today is a special and historic day for our country as it marks the 750th anniversary of the first known Irish Parliament. It met on this day in 1264 in Castledermot, County Kildare, as the Minister noted. The Normans were the first to give Ireland a centralised administration and many of the systems under which we still operate, including our legal system and courts of law, survive from that time.

The first Irish Parliament was the pre-Union Parliament that operated for over 500 years. During that time much happened, as we know, including colonisation, Brehon law, the Nine Years War, the flight of the earls, the plantation of Ulster, the invasion of Cromwell and the penal laws. At the beginning of the 18th century most people in Ireland lived off the land, which was predominantly owned by powerful landlords and the Church. In Ireland at that time most land owners and senior officials were of a different race and religion to the general population. Around 1700 most of the social elite were first generation English settlers or descendants of English people. There was extreme division in Irish society and the normal Irish citizen had no political rights.

Towards the end of the 18th century the Irish nation was mentioned for the first time and recent Protestant settlers and converts to Protestantism led the way. They were known as the Protestant ascendancy and were known to be highly aspirational. Companies of volunteers were established and in 1782 Grattan's Parliament began work towards political reform in the form of Catholic emancipation. Real revolution came with Wolfe Tone, the United Irishmen and the 1798 Rebellion.

Grattan's Parliament lasted just 18 years. The Act of Union of 1800, which came into operation on 1 January 1801, created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and united the Parliaments of the two kingdoms. From then until independence in 1922 Irish Members of Parliament held seats in the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which had its seat at the Palace of Westminster.

In the aftermath of the Easter Rising of 1916, Sinn Féin, the party founded by Arthur Griffith in 1905, was recognised and grew into a nationwide movement. Abstention from Westminster and the establishment of an independent Irish Parliament had long been part of Sinn Féin's policy. The party contested the general election of 14 December 1918, which was called after the dissolution of the British Parliament, and swept the country by winning 73 of the 105 Irish seats. Acting on the pledge not to sit in the Westminster Parliament but to instead set up an Irish legislative assembly, 28 newly elected Sinn Féin representatives and constituted themselves as the first Dáil Éireann. The remaining Sinn Féin representatives were either in prison or unable to attend for other reasons.

The first Dáil met in the Round Room of the Mansion House on 21 January 1919. The Dáil asserted the exclusive right of the elected representatives of the Irish people to legislate for the country. The Members present adopted a provisional Constitution and approved the Declaration of Independence. The Dáil also approved a democratic programme based on the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and read and adopted a message to the free nations of the world. The following day, 22 January 1919, a private sitting was held which elected Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh as Ceann Comhairle and Cathal Brugha as President of the Ministry. The Dáil also approved the President's nominations to the Ministry. Cathal Brugha resigned and Éamon de Valera was elected President of the Dáil on 1 April 1919.

Following the outbreak of the War of Independence in January 1919, the British Government decided to suppress the Dáil and on 10 September 1919 it was declared a dangerous association and was prohibited. The Dáil continued to meet in secret and Ministers carried out their duties as best they could. In all, the Dáil held 14 sittings in 1919 and of these four were public and ten private. Further private sittings were held in 1920 and four were held in 1921 while the formal Government of Ireland remained with Westminster.

In an attempt to settle the Irish question the United Kingdom Parliament passed the Government of Ireland Act in December 1920. This Act created a separate state of Northern Ireland consisting of the six north-eastern counties of Ulster. It proposed separate Parliaments for the North and South. On 24 May 1921 elections were held for the return of Members to serve in the new Parliaments. At a private sitting of the Dáil on 10 May 1921 the Sinn Féin representatives who refused to accept the British concession of a Parliament for southern Ireland adopted a resolution declaring that the parliamentary elections that were to take place should be regarded as elections to Dáil Éireann.

All Sinn Féin candidates in the Twenty-six Counties were returned unopposed and took 128 of the 132 seats. The remaining four seats were filled by Unionists representing the University of Dublin, Trinity College. Continuing in the footsteps of their predecessors, Sinn Féin Members constituted themselves as the second Dáil, which held its first meeting on 16 August 1921 in the Mansion House. The inaugural meeting of the Parliament of southern Ireland was held in Dublin on 28 June 1921 but as Sinn Féin refused to recognise the Parliament only four Members of the House of Commons from the University of Dublin and 15 Senators attended. The Parliament met for a brief period and then adjourned.

Following the truce between Britain and Ireland in July 1921, which led to the suspension of the War of Independence, peace negotiations between the two countries were initiated. This culminated in the signing of articles of agreement for a treaty between Great Britain and Ireland on 6 December 1921. The Treaty provided for the establishment of the Irish Free State with jurisdiction over 26 of the 32 counties.

After a bitter debate which began on 14 December 1921, the second Dáil approved the Treaty by 64 votes to 57 on 7 January 1922. Éamon de Valera resigned as President on 9 January 1922 and Arthur Griffith was elected President on 10 January 1922. In accordance with the terms of the Treaty, a meeting of the Members elected to sit in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland was held on 14 January 1922. The meeting, which was attended by the pro-Treaty Members of the Dáil and the four Members for the University of Dublin, formally endorsed the Treaty to set up a provisional Government under the chairmanship of Michael Collins to administer the Twenty-six Counties pending the establishment of the Free State Parliament and Government. The provisional Government and the Government of Dáil Éireann, which was not recognised by Britain, existed in parallel and with overlapping membership. Following the death of Arthur Griffith, President of the Dáil, on 12 August 1922 and the death of Michael Collins on 22 August, William T. Cosgrave became both President of the Dáil and chairman of the Government.

Article 12 of the Irish Free State constitution states:

A Legislature is hereby created, to be known as the Oireachtas. It shall consist of the King and two Houses, the Chamber of Deputies (otherwise called and herein generally referred to as “Dáil Éireann”) and the Senate (otherwise called and herein generally referred to as “Seanad Éireann”).

I am deeply honoured to be a Member of Seanad Éireann on this historic day.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. It was a great day on 18 June 750 years ago when Parliament was instituted. The alternative, as my schoolteacher used to say, was robber bands - except that he pronounced it "rubber bands", leaving us to wonder what on earth were these rubber bands to which the alternative was Parliament. I am glad that we are here. It is a terrific occasion. The last time the Minister came, it was to honour Seamus Heaney. It was one of the finest sessions we ever had, with the tributes and the poetry.

That volume of the Seanad's proceedings must be one of the most poetic that one will find in a Parliament anywhere. The words of Henry Grattan come to mind when he achieved legislative independence in 1782:

I found Ireland upon her knees, I watched over her with a paternal solicitude; I have traced her progress from injuries to arms and from arms to liberty. Spirit of Swift! Spirit of Molyneux! your genius has prevailed. Ireland is now a nation!

As the Minister has said, what a pity it is that that did not last. It was a major disaster for this country.

Grattan's Parliament was endorsed by the Parliament of Great Britain in an Act of 1783, which states:

... the said right claimed by the people of Ireland to be bound only by laws enacted by His Majesty and the Parliament of that Kingdom, in all cases ... shall be, and it is hereby declared to be established and ascertained for ever, and shall, at no time hereafter, be questioned or questionable.

But a negotiation that we thought was to last forever did not last longer than 18 years. The great parliamentarian and the Minister's fellow county man, Daniel O'Connell, speaking in Drogheda in June 1843, said:

I want to make all Europe and America know it - I want to make England feel her weakness if she refuses to give the justice we require - the restoration of our domestic parliament.

In that period, our contribution to parliaments has been immense. I think of Burke, Butt, Redmond, Parnell, O'Connell, Henry Grattan and Thomas D'Arcy McGee in Canada. We are good at parliaments, and we should never forget that. I am glad that in the centenary celebrations the parliamentary tradition is being honoured by the Minister. The bullet at Sarajevo that killed the archduke also killed Home Rule for this country, and we could have achieved through Parliament much of what caused so much trouble and violence afterwards. I am glad that Redmond is being honoured in our celebrations.

Sometimes in the Parliaments they enjoyed themselves, no one being better at that than Boyle Roche, the MP for Tralee. I think Senator Ned O'Sullivan continues some of his traditions. Roche had great sayings and was the master of the mixed metaphor, including "Half the lies our opponents tell about us are untrue," "The cup of Ireland's misery has been overflowing for centuries and is not yet half full," "The only thing to prevent what's past is to put a stop to it before it happens," and "Mr. Speaker, I smell a rat; I see him forming in the air and darkening the sky; but I will nip him in the bud." That was a great tradition of Kerry wit which Senator O'Sullivan brings to the House. He said the other day that one should always quit when one is behind, which is probably just as beneficial as quitting when one is ahead.

In recent times, I have been delighted to see Parliaments reinstated in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff. That is a wonderful development. I compliment our Sinn Féin colleagues, the DUP, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party on making Parliament work in a society which was traditionally one of violence. I commend the Leader on his reforms here and on the distinguished speakers whom he has invited. I commend him on today's commemoration and on inviting the Orange Order here. I commend Senator Bacik on her part in it, too. I commend also the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, through which citizens can relate to what goes on here.

Have I worries? Yes, I do. The Executive is far too powerful in Ireland and seeks to dominate the Parliament. We see instances of this all the time. It was a mistake to abolish democratic elections in Gaeltacht areas. It was a mistake for the Government to try to abolish this House and not to accept its recent decision on the composition of the banking inquiry committee. We are going to do a good job anyway, but sometimes the Executive has to have more respect for Parliament. I agree with speakers who have said that the Whip tradition demeans Irish politics. Could we not have even 2% or 3% of votes where people are allowed out from the scourge of the Whip?

We have to be wary of the undermining of Parliament by budget-maximising bureaucrats, many of whom bristle when one tries to call them to account in this House of Parliament. We have to resist that. We are not dealing quickly enough with the well-funded lobbyists, the termites, who undermine Parliaments everywhere. Why are there far more lobbyists in Washington than parliamentarians?

We have to be vigilant for Parliament. It is a precious flower. It is a major gift to the better ordering of society and the alternative to robber barons. Elections, as we find out from time to time, bring us back in touch with the electorate. This is a great day. We are talking about a tradition that extends through Henry Grattan, Edmund Burke, Daniel O'Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and Isaac Butt. It is a terrific tradition and long may it continue. I thank the Minister for addressing us today.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, to the House. He is as welcome as always, and he is particularly welcome today on this auspicious date, the 750th anniversary of the first recorded sitting of a Parliament in Ireland, on 18 June 1264. That date is particularly auspicious because it was the first Wednesday after the feast of the Holy Trinity and, interestingly, the 750th anniversary occurs on the same day and religious calendar date.

I welcome my many distinguished visitors in the Gallery and in the Distinguished Visitors' Gallery, who are here specifically for this debate. I apologise that we had to delay the start of the debate due to the workings of Parliament, about which others have spoken. We have distinguished visitors from Trinity College, who have a particular interest in the history of parliamentary democracies, but also members of the Castledermot Historical Society in County Kildare, who are very welcome. However, I should single out one of the guests, Assistant Professor Paul Horan, a colleague of mine in Trinity in the School of Nursing and Midwifery who instigated this commemorative debate today. Paul e-mailed me some time ago, bringing to my attention the fact that this year marked the 750th anniversary of the first parliamentary sitting. I met Paul, we spoke about it, and I did a bit of research into it. I checked the Oireachtas website and found to my surprise that it states:

The earliest known Irish Parliament for which there is a definitive record met on 18 June 1264 at Castledermot in County Kildare.

So it was already noted on the Oireachtas website. I then brought the proposal to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in this House and got unanimous support. I thank the Leader for arranging the debate on the foot of the CPP's agreement. It is important that we mark important historical dates with commemorative debates such as this.

The Minister has been to the fore in ensuring we have appropriate commemorative ceremonies in this decade of centenaries. While 750 years goes back much further than any of the other events we are marking in this decade, it is important we commemorate it and I thank the Minister for taking the time to be with us.

It is also important to mark particularly important dates in the history of parliamentary democracy in Ireland. In December 2008, shortly after I had been elected for the first time, I arranged an event to commemorate the first election in which women had the right to vote and were elected, the election of December 1918 to which others have referred. It was a very significant election in many ways in Irish history, but was also significant because it was the first time women had the right to vote and a woman was elected to either the British or Irish Parliament. I refer to Constance Markievicz, the first female MP and TD. We marked the election with a photograph in the Dáil Chamber of all the women still alive who had ever been elected to either House of the Oireachtas. For guests who have not seen it, the photograph is on display in the corridor of Leinster House. That was the 90th anniversary of the 1918 election and I very much hope that when we come to the centenary of the election we will mark it as an important date for women as well as in general Irish history.

Although there is no photograph or visual image of the parliamentary gathering 750 years ago, thanks to the great work of Paul Horan we have a good deal of information about it. I am grateful for the recording by the archbishops. There is a record of the meeting on 18 June 1264 in the Liber Niger, the Black Book of Christchurch, which is the register of the key diocesan archives of Dublin and Glendalough from the 12th and 14th centuries, normally on display to the public in the crypt of Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin. We are very fortunate that the record exists because with the destruction of so many ancient State records in the blowing up of the Public Records Office in the Four Courts in June 1922, we lost a great many records of such early gatherings.

An article by Mr. Horan in the current issue of History Ireland provides the background and a summary of the material in the diocesan register. He writes about his interest in this coming from his family connection to Castledermot in County Kildare. He then describes what the document says about the gathering. I have the record from the archbishop's register. I will not trouble colleagues with the Latin version. The English translation says, "The 1264 June 18 inquisition at the parliament of Tristledermod [as it was then called] Wednesday after the feast of Holy Trinity, 48, Henry III before Sir Richard de La Rochelle, Chief Justice of Ireland." It goes on to list the 32 members present. Others have spoken about these people, who were described as knights and jurors and also included the Bishop of Meath and Treasurer of Ireland, Hugh of Taghmon, the Chancellor, the First Baron of Trim and various others. These were key officials, magnates of State and land-owning knights. It goes without saying, at that time, that they were all men.

The inquisition was about the conduct of Archbishop Fulk de Sandeford and, as Mr. Horan wrote, sought to adjudicate on the matter of the rights of the archbishop as against those of the then Lord of Ireland, Prince Edward, son of Henry III. There was an interesting footnote that at the time Henry III and his son were prisoners of Baron Simon de Montfort, who subsequently summoned the first parliament of elected members in England in December 1264, some months after this first parliamentary sitting in Ireland. Yet again, we beat the English to another important historic date. Not only did we elect the first female MP, but our parliamentary sitting predated the first one in England.

The inquisition was about whether the church, that is the archbishop, or the State, in the form of the English king's representative as Lord of Ireland, could hold courts and exercise justice. It was a classic church-state struggle as to whether the archbishop, in his time "took arbitrarily to the loss and prejudice of the Lord Edward and his liberties". It goes on to say the archbishop had pleaded in his court "all pleas of the crown". It appeared that the archbishop had been taking it on himself to deal with matters that should have been matters of state. This brings us to a very contemporary theme of church-state relations, the state allowing the church to take on many aspects of governance the state should have been taking on.

Many have spoken about the history of the struggle for independence in Ireland, Home Rule and the subsequent events in 1916. Since the emergence of the Irish State in the 20th century we have seen a continuing tendency by the State to allow a different church, the Roman Catholic Church, to take on the mantle of a "shadow welfare state", to run our education, health care and social provision institutions to the great detriment of the people of Ireland. There was also great benefit and I do not underestimate the immense work religious orders did in carrying out the work the State should have done. However, the system lacked the democratic legitimacy and accountability to Parliament that institutions of the State would have. Overall it has meant our Republic has not been as strong as it should have been.

We are remedying this, and the debates we have had in recent years about the Magdalen institutions and mother and baby homes have been very important. It is also very important that our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, although this can only truly be exercised in a republic where we have genuine separation of church and State, where no single religion is elevated above others. Reading the record of 750 years ago reminds one that plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

I am delighted to welcome the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, to the Chamber and commend him on a very interesting paper he presented to us. I also welcome our distinguished guests and members of the Castledermot community. I know it well and have a brother-in-law living there. It is a source of pride to them to have an association with a key event in our history. Although I studied history, the event is not famously well known, and it is no harm that it should be elevated and highlighted here. The word "parliament" comes from the French word "parler", or, in its modern corruption "parley", to talk. Prehistoric man's idea of democracy was that the person with the biggest club was the boss and every conflict was resolved by seeing who could knock the most heads.

They are still at it.

Somewhere along the line it was decided that talking was better, jaw-jaw, not war-war. Early democracy began in ancient Greece. The Minister, Deputy Deenihan, is a great student of Greek, and remembers much more of it than I. It was the Greeks who perfected representative democracy with their assemblies, and that was continued into ancient Rome with its senate. Although we criticise the British for much, British parliamentary democracy is the foundation on which most representative democracies and parliaments have been based ever since, and we should give them credit for that. That was continued and adapted in countries such as the USA, which had its own very interesting experiment in democracy and is now probably the biggest democracy in the world.

Ireland's experience with parliamentary democracy is conflicted because we were never in a position to talk just among ourselves. Over our heads was constantly a sword of Damocles, or a big club, and it is still there in the form of the country with the biggest nuclear missiles. Democracy is very fragile, and must survive in an atmosphere where people will resort to other means. We have seen this in our country up to very recently. Where there is no parliamentary democracy there is a vacuum, and chaos follows. That is why it is so important to us to protect and preserve our democracy. Our experience was shadowed. Despite all the wonderful work of "Grattan's Parliament" by Henry Flood, William Molyneux and Jonathan Swift, when it suited the British to put an end to it with the Act of Union 1800, it was kaput. Bagairt, bréaga agus breab was what we learned at school. Britain closed the Parliament down by means of threats, lies and bribes. That is how our Parliament voted to dissolve itself.

Only Daniel O'Connell was able to fill the ensuing vacuum, and thank God he did.

It is hard to imagine what would have happened in this country for that 50 year period when he was virtually the voice of Ireland. Then there was Parnell, Redmond and all those great parliamentarians who fought a great fight, once again, under circumstances where they could only go so far because Gladstone agreed to bring in the 1886 Home Rule Act which would be very important had it gone through at the time and might have obviated some of the many problems that occurred in the North later. His own party rebelled because it did not suit certain sectors. Once again, Ireland's interests, even though represented properly and democratically in parliament were overthrown in the vested interests of what the British saw was good for Britain. Right through until modern times we have had that.

Parliaments do not always guarantee democracy. We have seen where parliaments have been used to subvert democracy. I got into trouble last week for mentioning a certain gentleman from Germany. The Nazi party was democratically elected, admittedly it did not have a majority. It had something of the order of 30% of the poll and got into government legitimately but was not in five minutes when it started to subvert that parliament and eventually set fire to the parliamentary building, the Reichstag, and moved on. We must always remember that we are privileged to be in parliament. We in this House had to fight a very hard battle to preserve this particular Parliament.

I commend my colleagues opposite who supported the Opposition battle because the loss of the Seanad would have been a very serious loss to democracy. We had a little incident last week where democracy was fiddled around with too much for my liking. All in all, this is a happy day. I will finish on a happy note. The Minister, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, is doing a tremendous job. I echo the sentiments expressed last week by our colleague, Senator Tom Sheahan, who expressed the hope that when this dreaded reshuffle takes place, we in Kerry will not be left without our captain on the field.

I would not like to get between three Kerry men and disagree with any of them. I am delighted the Minister, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, came in for the debate. I was criticised on the Order of Business this morning for making such statements on the Order of Business but I am happy I did so. We have had some very interesting comments from the Members who have contributed.

Senator Ivana Bacik stole my thunder totally in respect of Mr. Horan's paper and the historical facts in respect of the parliament. As has been stated, the first recorded sitting of the Irish Parliament is a unique milestone in the history of national and international parliamentary democracy. It is only right that it is marked in some way and I am delighted that we are able to do so here today in the Seanad.

Today, 18 June 2014, marks the 750th anniversary of the first documented sitting of the administrative gathering calling itself "parliament" in Ireland, of which an original record on manuscript still remains accessible. The first meeting took place in Castledermot which was known at the time as Tristledermod, as has been stated, and this sitting predates the first sitting of De Montfort's bicameral parliament in England by seven months and two days. This pre-Union version of the Irish parliament continued to sit for about 500 years. The Houses of Parliament, Lords and Commons later met in the first purpose built parliament house in the world on College Green in Dublin, which was constructed between 1729 and 1739.

I read with interest the Minister's paper. As a Waterford man, I am proud to say that John Redmond represented Waterford for so many years and the Redmond family up to the 1950s. I am glad his memory is being commemorated in such a way. It is my belief that both parties after Sinn Féin, both anti-treaty and pro-treaty parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, attempted to write out the Irish Parliamentary Party from history. It is fitting that John Redmond and the Home Rule party, the Irish Parliamentary Party, should be commemorated. It saddens me when I go to Westminster and see a bust of John Redmond that we do not have such a bust of him in this Parliament.

We have one of Parnell but we need to do more to commemorate the Irish Parliamentary Party.

In accordance with the Order of Business I have to call the Minister at 1.25 p.m.

May I extend it for five or six minutes?

Two other speakers have indicated they wish to speak.

May we extend the debate for ten minutes? I am aware the Minister had an interview.

We are happy to agree with the Leader.

Is it agreed to extend the sitting by ten minutes? Agreed.

Will everyone get in?

I will conclude in one minute. It was unfortunate, as the Minister has stated, that on having Home Rule passed we had the intervention of the Great War and many items were unresolved. Were it not for the intervention of war, John Redmond would probably have been the first Prime Minister of Ireland but things obviously intervened in the meantime. I am glad the decade of commemorations is commemorating so many great events but as a Waterford man I am pleased John Redmond's memory is being commemorated as well as that of the whole Irish Parliamentary Party and their efforts to keep the issue of self-determination on the agenda in very difficult years.

Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire. Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil díomá orm go bhfuil muid ag plé na ceiste seo inniu. Cé gur ceist thábhachtach í, ní dóigh liom go bhfuil sí chomh h-ard sin ar liosta na dtosaíochtaí againn. I believe we are doing ourselves no favours in the Seanad by scheduling items such as this. I do not think it is as high on the list of priorities as other issues on which we have called for debates. What are we marking with these statements? It is an obscure event that happened 750 years ago which, I believe, is wrongly described as the first Irish parliament. There was no such thing. It was a meeting of the English colonisers who occupied the shrinking Pale, a century after the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland. These were the descendants of the robber barons and their followers who attempted to grab Ireland for their own profit and for the English Crown. A century later, in 1366, they would hold another so-called parliament and try to impose the Statutes of Kilkenny, a medieval form of apartheid, designed to hold back the Irish language and Gaelic culture which was undermining their colony, because many in the Pale had, by then, begun to regard themselves as Irish and preferred Irish ways and Irish laws to those imported from England.

No disrespect to the people of Castledermot, but I believe the attempt to elevate this event in 1264 is a poor effort and unhistoric. Yet, the Seanad has had no statements on the centenary of the 1913 Lock-out. It has had no statements on the founding of the Irish Citizen Army, the founding of the Irish Volunteers and the founding of Cumann na mBan, all of which occurred in the past year. We need to do our business better here and they should have been commemorated properly. We should never forget that it was the plain people of Ireland through centuries of the struggle and endurance, to which we owe our freedom, and not some land-owning aristocrats who people would seek to honour today. The bottom line is that there was no democracy in Ireland until the Irish people took it for themselves.

The real and pressing issue we should be discussing today is reform or the lack thereof of our political system. In October 2013, the Government's referendum proposal to abolish the Seanad was rejected by the people. However, all participants and parties involved in the referendum campaign were clear in saying that the Seanad, in its current form, is elitist, undemocratic and unacceptable. The result cannot be viewed as a vote to return the Seanad in its present form and piecemeal reforms are not enough. It should be fundamentally redesigned to better serve the people. The Seanad must become a fully inclusive, representative and accountable institution. This requires direct election by way of universal franchise for all Irish citizens on the same day as the Dáil vote, Northern and diaspora representation, 50% women members and representation of marginalised minority groups within Irish society. For the Seanad to truly fulfil its potential of acting as a balancing function in the Oireachtas, its powers must be increased and it must also have a distinct and complementary role and functions that do not merely replicate those of the Dáil in a weaker form.

To best represent the general public interest and reflect the priority of public accountability in decision-making, the Seanad should also act as a forum for dialogue between the many interests in Irish society, ensuring the inclusion of those sectors with less power and influence. It should use public consultation and deliberative democracy for enhanced citizen participation. The Seanad should also include the representation of regional interests on a non-population basis to redress the power and balance for those currently marginalised by reason of residence in the North, the west, Gaeltacht areas and the diaspora.

Sinn Féin believes in one person, one vote and the universal franchise. We need a properly reformed Seanad that is democratic, accountable and egalitarian and works in the best interests of good governance. Piecemeal cosmetic change reinforces elitism, to which we need to bring an end. Extending the vote to everyone is the first step towards real reform. We need a parliamentary system that is genuinely accountable and transparent.

It is also important to note the anti-democratic contraction of local government under this Government, with part-time councillors covering large areas, a significant reduction in the number of councillors and the removal of decision making from local communities, which is a retrograde move. The community and voluntary sector has seen savage cuts. However much we may wish to delude ourselves today with this nonsensical debate, the fact is that we have yet to create a free Republic in which all people are treated with respect and dignity and where justice and equality are embedded in the body politic.

The Minister is welcome. According to Senator Barrett, the Minister last attended the House when we commemorated Seamus Heaney's great contribution to this country. That day was a momentous one, as it was the day before the Seanad referendum. Seamus Heaney played no small part posthumously in retaining the Seanad, as other Senators have mentioned. I support Senator Ó Clochartaigh's comments. We must move to use the mandate given by the people to reform the House so that everyone in Ireland can vote on its Members.

Today marks the 750th anniversary of the sitting of the first Parliament in Castledermot. As Senator Bacik mentioned, it predated the first sitting of De Montfort's Parliament in England by seven months and two days. That is not bad. There is nothing new about parliamentary assemblies in Ireland. The Normans, who began settling Ireland in 1169, were the first to give it a centralised administration. Our legal system is, in large measure, inherited from them. So, too, is our Legislature, which is directly descended from the Parliament that developed in medieval Ireland.

The Minister stated that the first Parliament was not representative of the people of Ireland, but it developed incrementally and covered citizens of the lordship of Ireland based on Norman laws and English practices. In 1217, the Magna Carta was extended to the Great Charter of Ireland and membership was based on fealty to the king and the preservation of his peace. The fluctuating number of autonomous Irish Gaelic kings were outside the system. They had their own local Brehon law and taxation arrangements. To be fair to the Irish people, we had to fight to develop our local system until we achieved the independent Dáil and Seanad Éireann after 1921.

I am not bemoaning the lack of a monarchy, but I am concerned about the demise of democracy and the rise of some autocratic tendencies during this Government's term. Four people ruling over the Cabinet is not constitutional. The Taoiseach's tampering with the selection of Senators to the banking inquiry was an undemocratic move. We need to be careful and avoid supporting such behaviour. We are fortunate to have a democracy. I could echo Senator Bacik's words of plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The 1297 Parliament held in Dublin was noteworthy for a number of reasons. It is the earliest Parliament from which substantial legislation survives and many consider it our first real Parliament because representatives were sent by the shires and provinces of Ireland with the full power to speak and decide for all and its legislation was fully binding.

Some Senators have been sent to this House, but Senator Bradford and I have no formal speaking time unless time is left over.

The Senators are doing a good job of it.

Yes. We must regularly beg our neighbours on this side for speaking time. I tabled my first Bill last week but will receive no Private Members' time. We have to say-----

The Senator got the Bill through.

Hold on one second, as this is an important point. We were elected to the House.

The Senator's time is up. I must call the Minister.

We must respect that privilege. I ask the House to reconsider.

The Minister has to respond.

There is value in commemorative events.

I am summing up. It is nice to compare and contrast to see how much we have improved or, in some cases, disimproved. Let us not be afraid-----

The Senator is ignoring the Chair.

I must call the Minister now. He has five minutes to conclude.

Let us not be afraid of some criticisms. I look forward to the Minister's summation.

I thank Senator Bacik for arranging this useful discussion. The anniversary is of such historical significance that it is appropriate that we mark it. Generally, discussions such as this cannot be held in the Dáil, which is why the Seanad is so important. A number of Senators used the opportunity to make other points, but we are discussing parliaments and democracy and that is what democracy is all about. I welcome the recent development that has seen all graduates of third level institutions afforded the right to vote for the Seanad.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh mentioned that we did not hold a similar discussion to recognise the establishment of the Volunteers or Cumann na mBan, but we did. I attended the Seanad for those statements, which were open to everyone. It was a good debate on the commemorations programme. I found it useful, as I was influenced and better informed by it.

I thank those Senators who contributed to this debate - Senators Ó Murchú, Brennan, Barrett, O'Sullivan, Cummins and Ó Clochartaigh. In particular, I thank Senator Bacik for ensuring this debate was held. I welcome our guests, members of the Castledermot Historical Society, as well as our academic friends who influenced this debate. They may not derive much contentment from it, but the fact that the matter was discussed will be recorded for when future historians consider its historical significance when we come to the event's millennium. We can always say that it was discussed in the Seanad 250 years ago.

Sitting suspended at 1.40 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.