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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 5 Jul 2017

Vol. 252 No. 12

Declaration of Independence Day Bill 2017: Second Stage

I welcome the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, and congratulate her on her reappointment. I think this is her first time in the Seanad since her reappointment to Cabinet.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire, Teachta Humphreys, go dtí an Teach inniu. Is mór an onóir dom ar son Fhianna Fáil, agus Seanadóirí Diarmuid Wilson, Paul Daly agus Mark Daly, an Bille seo a thairgeadh sa Seanad inniu. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le mo pháirtí, Fianna Fáil, agus lenár Seanadóirí go léir as ucht tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille seo.

Ar, tá sé an-suimiúil scrúdú a dhéanamh ar an gcéad díospóireacht sa Dáil. Ba iad na céad fhocail labhartha i nDáil Éireann: "Molaimse don Dáil Cathal Brugha, an Teachta ó Dhéisibh Phortláirge do bheith mar Cheann Comhairle againn indiu."

With those words, Dáil Éireann, an Chéad Dáil, was born. I do not wish to be too parochial but they were spoken by Count George Noble Plunkett, a Deputy from Roscommon North, who was oldest of all elected Members present. The next to speak was Cathal Brugha as Ceann Comhairle, who called upon Fr. Michael O'Flanagan, who said the prayer that formally opened the first public session of the First Dáil. Fr. O'Flanagan was born in Kilteevin just outside my native home of Castlerea, County Roscommon. There are many aspects of the First Dáil on which one could speak, including the fact that Michael Collins and Harry Boland were missing from the first meeting as they were arranging the release of Eamon de Valera from Lincoln Jail. The attendance of Boland and Collins was incorrectly called to conceal their mission to rescue de Valera. I will dispense with the historical anecdotes for a moment to outline the broad purpose of the Bill.

The Bill, if enacted, will formally introduce a Declaration of Independence Day in Ireland ensuring it is formally recognised on 21 January each year. The First Dáil met in the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dublin on 21 January 1919 and asserted the exclusive right of the elected representatives of the people to legislate for the country. During the meeting, the elected Members present adopted a provisional Constitution and approved a Declaration of Independence. Dáil Éireann, a new national parliament for the Irish nation, ratified and gave democratic legitimacy to the Proclamation of Independence made in the Easter Rising of 1916. Cathal Brugha was nominated as Ceann Comhairle and read the Declaration of Independence in Irish. It was followed in French by George Gavan Duffy and finally in English by Edmund Duggan. On that day, the Dáil approved the Democratic Programme based on the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and read and adopted a message to the free nations of the world in Irish, English and French. The following day, on 22 January 1919, a private sitting of Dáil Éireann was held which elected Seán T. O'Kelly as Ceann Comhairle and Cathal Brugha as President of the Ministry. The Dáil also approved the President's nominations to the ministry. They were Minister for Finance, Eoin MacNeill, grandfather of our colleague Senator McDowell; Minister for Home Affairs, Michael Collins; Minister for Foreign Affairs, Count Plunkett; and Minister for National Defence, Richard Mulcahy.

In April 1919, Cathal Brugha resigned and Eamon de Valera was elected President of Dáil Éireann. The British Government decided to suppress Dáil Éireann and on 10 September 1919, it was declared a dangerous association and prohibited. The Dáil continued to meet in secret and Ministers carried out their duties as best they could. The Dáil held 14 sittings in 1919. Of these, four were public and ten private. Three private sittings were held in 1920 and four in 1921. It has always struck me that the meeting of the First Dáil and the Declaration of Independence on 21 January 1919 have not been commemorated to the level they should. In January 2009, in a speech on the 90th anniversary of Dáil Éireann, the then Taoiseach, Brian Cowen said:

Ninety years ago tomorrow, the elected representatives of the overwhelming majority of the people of this island who were not otherwise detained or in flight from the forces of occupation, met in Dublin’s Mansion House with the purpose of asserting the self determination of a sovereign, democratic, Irish Republic. Dáil Éireann — a National Parliament for the Irish nation — ratified and gave democratic legitimacy to the Proclamation of Independence for which the republican vanguard had laid down their lives at Easter 1916.

He continued:

When, in 1998, the people of Ireland voted by a majority, and by majorities North and South, in favour of the Good Friday Agreement, it was the first occasion since the general election of [14 December] 1918, the election at which the people selected the representatives who sat in the First Dáil, that the people of this island had voted on the same day on the issue of their constitutional status.

This has only happened on two occasions in the past 100 years.

I will now deal with the various sections of the Bill. Section 1 is a standard section providing the Short Title and commencement provisions for the Bill. Section 2 deals with the definitions of the terms used in the Bill. Section 3 specifies that 21 January will be known as "Declaration of Independence Day" and it will be celebrated irrespective of the day on which it falls. The section does not propose to make the day a public holiday as understood in the Holidays (Employees) Act 1973.

I look forward to the input of Senators and to hearing the remarks of the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, who is with us this evening. When I first raised in the Seanad the need to formally recognise the meeting of the First Dáil and the Declaration of Independence, I was struck by the genuine messages of support and encouragement I received. However, not every message was positive. Some wanted the day to be made a bank holiday and some said we have too many bank holidays as it is. Some commented it would take away from St. Patrick’s Day, which is our national day, but St. Patrick's Day is first and foremost the feast day of our patron saint. Some referred to the absence of a united Ireland. I was struck by Deputy Ó Snodaigh of Sinn Féin last November in the Dáil when he said:

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 ... The two Koreas, even though they are separated by a wall, have a liberation day on 15 August.

To give credit where credit is due, the first person I ever heard suggest this idea was Eamon Gilmore when, as leader of the Labour Party during the 90th anniversary celebrations in 2009, he said “[M]ay I suggest that we consider making 21 January our national independence day?” In January 2017, Sinn Féin Leader, Deputy Gerry Adams, said on RTE Radio 1:

Yesterday was the anniversary of the First Dáil. Was it commemorated anywhere? Did the State do anything about it? Did RTE do a special programme about it? The only party, that I understand, commemorated that, was the Sinn Féin Party.

No one party should claim ownership or attempt to claim ownership of the First Dáil or the Declaration of Independence. Many of the political figures involved went on to play significant roles in Irish life and included future Taoisigh, Presidents and Ministers. There will always be difference of opinion about how we remember the past but difference is the essence of democracy. We are all here in the Houses of the Oireachtas as successors to those elected to the First Dáil in the election held on 14 December 1918. If we were in full agreement on everything, there would be something wrong. Ideas should be tested and opinions challenged. We should all unite around this one act of national self-determination because the period that follows gets more complex and divisive, with the War of Independence, the Treaty and the Civil War.

A story that illustrates the complex and divergent history of this period can be seen in the events of 100 years ago this month. The Redmond family from Wexford were steeped in the tradition of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Land League and became interwoven with the struggle for Home Rule. Willie Redmond, MP, was killed at the Battle of Messines Ridge on 7 June 1917. One hundred years to the day, in one of his final acts as Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, the then leader of Fine Gael, attended a ceremony to commemorate the Battle of Messines Ridge alongside Britain’s Prince William, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Arlene Foster, and others, including Fianna Fáil Deputy Darragh O’Brien, who is here today and whose grandfather and two great grand-uncles, Robert, Peadar and Eoghan O’Brien, served with distinction in the 1916 Rising in Dublin, the War of Independence and the Civil War as members of the 4th Battalion, Dublin Brigade of the Old IRA. This battle, which started on 7 June 1917, was the first time that the 16th Irish Division and the 36th Ulster Division fought side by side in battle. I understand it was one of two occasions when Protestant and Catholic soldiers from Ireland fought side by side on what was known as the western front. The death of Willie Redmond in June 1917 caused a by-election in East Clare that was held 100 years ago next Monday, on 10 July 1917. Eamon de Valera was elected a member of the House of Commons for East Clare. His grandson, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, serves in the Lower House. This by-election victory, alongside the earlier victories of Count Plunkett in the Roscommon North by-election of February 1917, Joseph McGuinness in the Longford South by-election of May 1917, and W.T. Cosgrave in Kilkenny city in August 1917, created the start of the momentum for the Sinn Féin movement to sweep to electoral victory in December 1918.

There is no plan to designate independence day as a public holiday but if we pass this legislation, it will allow schools, public bodies and community groups an opportunity to commemorate this hugely important day in an appropriate way. It would allow members of the diaspora, like my sisters in New Zealand and America, to celebrate this historic day. There are different views on how to commemorate our history. The 1916 centenary celebrations, from the national events to the individual events hosted by each local authority, were uplifting and educational.

It helped create awareness about the events of the 1916 Rising and the impact that it had on our country. A new generation of Irish people have been introduced to the story of 1916. This Bill is another step on this journey and it recognises the truly historic meeting of the First Dáil and the Declaration of Independence.

I thank Senator Swanick. Before I bring in our next speaker I would like to welcome Deputy Darragh O'Brien, a former Senator, who was the leader of Fianna Fáil in the Seanad during the last term. He is very welcome to the House. We had two former Senators present during our last debate as the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy was in the Chamber while Deputy Pearse Doherty were in the Gallery. The Deputy is very welcome back to the House.

I welcome my constituency colleague, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, back to the Seanad. I congratulate her on being nominated to Cabinet again and I wish her well for the future. I would also like to be associated with the words of welcome to my colleague, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, with whom I served here for five years.

I am honoured to second the proposal on the Declaration of Independence Day Bill 2017. I compliment my colleague, Senator Swanick, on putting this Bill together and on his very comprehensive and informative contribution here this afternoon. As we are all aware, the first meeting of Dáil Éireann took place in the Mansion House, the residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, on the afternoon of 21 January 1919. The session lasted a mere two hours but they were two of the most momentous hours in Ireland's history. The momentousness of the day was not lost on our friends across the globe. Newspapers reported that special journalist delegations came from the United States, Canada, France, Belgium and Spain to witness the opening of the Dáil. This demonstrates how closely Ireland's struggle for independence was being watched by foreign nations throughout the world.

During its meeting, the First Dáil asserted the exclusive right of the elected representatives of the Irish people to legislate for this country. The Members present adopted a provisional constitution and approved a Declaration of Independence. By doing so, the Dáil asserted a continuity of objectives with the leaders of the 1916 Rising, which we celebrated only last year, in setting up a separate parliament, government and republic. It is only right and fitting that we extend formal recognition to 21 January 1919. The Declaration of Independence Day Bill seeks to do just that.

As outlined by my colleague, Senator Swanick, in his contribution, independence days are recognised by countries across the globe. The Senator mentioned some of them. Yesterday, 4 July, was one of the most popular of these holidays, namely, Independence Day in the United States, which is celebrated across that country and is as big a day of celebration as Thanksgiving or Christmas. Prime Minister Trudeau, who visited this country in recent days, celebrated Canada Day on 1 July. This year, Canada celebrated its 150th birthday. One only needs to look on social media to see the good wishes sent from its expatriates across the globe to know what an important day it is for all Canadians, at home and abroad. I concur with what my colleague has said in respect of this particular Bill and I suggest it would mean the same to our people at home and abroad. Bastille Day is celebrated on 14 July, which is the French national day and which is traditionally considered a symbol of the French Revolution. It commemorates the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a turning point of the French Revolution, and celebrations are held throughout France. It is also their biggest national holiday, celebrated by French people throughout the world, as well as at home. The independence day of Belgium is celebrated on 21 July, the day the nation attained its freedom from the dominance of the Netherlands in the year 1831.

If passed, this Bill would see 21 January designated as Declaration of Independence Day, a right and fitting commemoration of this hugely important event. I am aware and very much welcome that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is working hard on a programme and series of events to commemorate this date. This programme is currently in the planning stages. This Bill takes it one step further and enshrines this date in law as a national day of independence. As my colleague, Senator Swanick, has stated, this Bill does not provide for a public holiday but it will provide the opportunity for schools, community organisations and public bodies to commemorate this hugely important event in an appropriate fashion.

In addition, it is worth noting that 2018 represents the centenary of a number of political developments and events. It is the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 and the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918. It is also the centenary of the 1918 general election itself, which was held on Friday, 14 December 1918. I also welcome the proposed and fitting commemoration of these events.

In conclusion, I again commend my colleague, Senator Swanick. This is important legislation and an important commemoration of a landmark in our history. While I accept that we are as yet only a Twenty-six Counties nation, Senator Swanick's point is very relevant. I look forward to a Thirty-two Counties Irish republic some day in the very near future, but the fact that we are not yet a Thirty-two Counties republic does not prevent us from commemorating this important landmark in our history.

In this decade of commemorations, it is important that we recognise all those events which have contributed to the formation of the Ireland we know today and 21 January 1919 certainly was a pivotal day in modern Irish history. I thank Senator Swanick for his work on this Bill. We in the Fine Gael group will not oppose the passage of the Bill through this House.

The first meeting of Dáil Éireann took place not far from here, as others have said, in the Round Room of the Mansion House. The Members of that Dáil had been elected in the 1918 Westminster elections. The area which now forms the Roscommon-Galway constituency had representation of some note in Count Plunkett, Harry Boland and Liam Mellows, each of whom played an important role in our quest for independence. Those Members, as democratically elected representatives, asserted an exclusive right to legislate for the country. As we approach the centenary of this important event, it is fitting that we seek to recognise the date of 21 January as a Declaration of Independence Day.

It is my belief that the centenary of the first sitting of the Dáil in approximately 18 months' time must form the cornerstone of the second half of the decade of commemorations. I strongly commend the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, on the great successes of those commemorations which have taken place so far. I am well aware of the energies she has invested in making those events a great success and of the leadership which she has shown. I know the Minister will continue to adopt the inclusive, open and consultative approach that has worked so well to date. The success of the Ireland 2016 programme is a key example of how we should mark those events of great significance in our past.

That the 2016 programme saw more than 3,500 events take place throughout the country and more than 1,200 events abroad shows that it was successful in taking our history to a whole new audience and a new generation of young Irish people in a way that was both interesting and engaging.

The decade of centenaries represents 100 years since what was arguably one of the most eventful periods in the history of our nation, and key to our marking of the centenary of 21 January 1919 must be the stories of those Members of the First Dáil. Many of them made very real sacrifices to take their seats on 21 January 1919 and it is only right that those sacrifices are acknowledged.

Those stories of the personal struggles and sacrifices help to give us a greater understanding of what the campaign for Irish freedom meant to those people. It is arguable that it is those personal stories which help to bring the events themselves to life for modern generations. The series of commemorations which have taken place to date have been very successful in telling those stories and I encourage the Minister to ensure that is a key focus for the events to come. We need to tell the stories of people like Count Plunkett, Harry Boland and Liam Mellows.

The fact that this Bill does not propose the date to be made a public holiday is positive in the sense that it means the economic impact of this designation will be minimal and will allow us as a country to commemorate the sitting of the First Dáil properly. It will pave the way for schools, public bodies and community groups to mark this event in an appropriate way. Fine Gael Senators are happy to support the passage of this Bill through the House to ensure the anniversary of 21 January 1919 will be afforded the recognition it deserves into the future. It is the lessons of the past that must guide us into the future.

I warmly welcome the Minister and congratulate her on her reappointment. I agree with the sentiment of the previous speaker who spoke about how we celebrated 1916. There was a great political maturity about how we did it and that is why it was so successful, because the narrative was discussed and the engagement was through arts, music and all the great things we have in this country of which we are proud. We celebrated and interpreted that through various interactive media and it worked. We celebrated the event and our diversity. There was an acknowledgement of our different cultures and traditions and respect for them. It was terribly important that we acknowledged and respected the diversity of the island of Ireland, its often troubled history and how we have coalesced. There is a greater political maturity about how we do our politics both here, in the North and on the island of Ireland. I always tend to emphasise all the great things on the island of Ireland, be it agriculture, commerce or anything else, because that is really our strength. The more we identify what unites us the less significant or relevant are the issues that divide us.

I commend Senator Swanick and I also commend Senators Diarmuid Wilson, Mark Daly and Paul Daly, who are the co-signatories of his work. It is very simple legislation and one has to ask why it did not happen long ago. It is quite extraordinary that here we are doing this simple little thing to mark a significant event all this time later. When I first heard about the Declaration of Independence Day, I said I would oppose it if it was intended to be a bank holiday. I thought of IBEC and all the other bodies. People are working hard in this country to keep business, commerce and the economy going and I do not support any additional bank holidays. That is a personal view which I wish to share. This island needs to prosper and we need the economy to be strong. We need working days and, quite frankly, people working. However, when I read more about it, I realised that what Senator Swanick is attempting to do is to recognise the meeting of the First Dáil and the Declaration of Independence made on 21 January 1919 and to provide for a Declaration of Independence Day to be held on 21 January annually.

I fully support the proposal but it is important we do not just say we are having a day to celebrate the Declaration of Independence and that we go one step further and start here in the Houses of the Oireachtas, because we are here because many people made great sacrifices in the early days. We know about the British Government's attempt to suppress the early Dáil and the difficulties surrounding it. There must have been enormous difficulties for people who had to come out publicly and seek to establish Dáil Éireann. It is important there is a multifaceted approach and activity in order that it is a meaningful day for politicians in the Houses of the Oireachtas in terms of how we celebrate and recognise the importance of that day, but also in schools, the arts and culture. We can do in a smaller way what the Minister did to commemorate 1916. It does not have to be all razzmatazz. It can be a simple and appropriate part of a day where we acknowledge our past and our history and why we have the Houses of the Oireachtas. I support the Bill. I am delighted Fine Gael supports the Bill. There does not seem to be any divisiveness on the issue. I hope it will go well. I again thank the Minister.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a bheith linn fosta. I thank the Minister for joining us for this important discussion. I am very happy to support the Bill and I commend Senator Swanick on it. I apologise to him for missing his contribution at the start of the debate as well as that of the seconder, Senator Wilson.

I am happy to support the Bill because it recognises a seminal moment, among many profound moments which have been outlined by previous speakers, in our country's long struggle for independence. Senator Wilson referred to it, and it will come as no surprise that I would equally refer to the unfinished business of independence in its truest sense as outlined in the declaration. I am conscious of not being confrontational because the Bill is important and there is nothing to prohibit us from reflecting on the revolutionary era, the First Dáil and the Declaration of Independence, and doing everything that Senator Boyhan outlined in a proactive way but doing so in a way that we do not just learn but recommit and rededicate to the spirit and aspirations set out in it.

When I was on my way to the Chamber for the debate, a quote from Pádraig Pearse came into my head which I will paraphrase: we the volunteers go out not for some of Ireland but for all of Ireland. The 1919 Declaration of Independence was a watershed event, as was the 1916 Rising and the Tan war which followed on foot of the independence declaration. Those momentous events and years from 1916 until the end of the tragic Civil war in 1923 shaped and continue to shape the politics of Ireland. Those who fought and died in that period did so for the independence of Ireland - all of Ireland. They did not see partition as we know it. The authors of the declaration clearly set out its ethos, philosophy and mood in the long tradition of Irish nationhood and in the long tradition of the international and national understanding of the word "nation". It is this notion of "nation" which those seeking independence draw from today. The 1919 declaration set the intellectual, democratic and territorial basis of the Irish nation in a manner which allowed it to evolve as society evolves. As a benchmark and a reference point, the declaration stands the test of time because it is based on the most important and intrinsically indispensable ingredient, namely, the democratic will of the people. The will of the people who elected the First Dáil was very clear.

The declaration addresses itself many times to the will of the people, directly and indirectly, and I will quote a section from it to illustrate its importance:

And whereas the Irish people is resolved to secure and maintain its complete independence in order to promote the common weal, to establish justice, to provide for future defence, to insure peace at home and goodwill with all nations and to constitute a national polity based upon the people's will with equal right and equal opportunity for every citizen.

In preparing the declaration, they drew from and were inspired by the previous seven hundred years of resistance to what the declaration called "foreign usurpation", which the declaration defines as "English rule in this country". To this day, all of us in this Chamber and outside it, admittedly in different forms, continue to wrestle with English rule in this country.

This Bill gives us the opportunity to pay homage to and connect the Declaration of Independence in 1919, and its philosophical imperative almost 100 years ago, with all the people of the nation. If we do not take it, we stain the declaration and do a great disservice to the people who authored it. It is good that we are proposing to do this formally and annually. That is an important aspect of the Bill.

I believe it would add to the importance of the Bill if a public holiday were to accompany it. While I respect and accept at face value the points made by previous speakers, I do not necessarily believe that a bank holiday would be of great detriment to our economy. If we were to plan it right, do it correctly and do all of the things we spoke about, it could bolster the economy. Perhaps that is something on which we could engage with the proposers as this legislation proceeds.

As I listened to other speakers it occurred to me that to show that Members of this House are taking our responsibilities seriously, it would be a small and symbolically important step if we were to display copies of the Declaration of Independence and the democratic programme of the First Dáil in the House-----

-----not just to show them to visitors and guests, be they from schools, community groups or other countries around the world, but as a visible reminder to us of the ethos and responsibility that has been handed down to us from that great and truly national gathering in 1919. It is a positive reminder of what we should do as elected representatives and of the work and challenges that lie ahead of us and remain unfinished.

I thank the Minister for attending the debate. It is an important discussion. I welcome the Bill, commend the proposers and I look forward to working with them on it.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I commend Senator Swanick on this simple and relevant Bill. I also commend Senator Wilson who was instrumental in bringing it forward. I support the Bill. I listened to Senator Ó Donnghaile and, in fairness, he is always very proactive. It would be a nice idea if we could run with this Fianna Fáil Bill on both sides of the Border. When the Parliament next door gets up and running, and agrees terms and conditions, hopefully we might get to progress it further. Certainly, it would mark it as a very relevant Bill if that could happen. I realise it would not be simple and would probably be a great challenge, but stranger things have happened. I appreciate the Senator's nice comments on it and it would be an extra feather in our cap if that could happen.

The Bill shows the relevance of the Seanad and how it is working in its intended format. I pour scorn on the elitists who wish to fill the Seanad with their own peers and personalities. This example has shown how the hard work of Senator Swanick has paid off. As the Minister is aware, most legislation at present is being initiated in the Seanad, where the balance of power is a little more straightforward to get anything done. Some very relevant legislation is coming through the Seanad. I again commend Senator Swanick on his good work and godspeed with the Bill.

I am in the unusual position of having to leave the Chair in order to speak briefly on the Bill. I thank Senator Wilson for taking the Chair to let me do so. I wish to add to the contributions of the Senators on Senator Swanick, the sponsor of the Bill. It is a simple yet effective way of highlighting the day. If one asked many schoolchildren and even adults when the Dáil first met and what day would be called independence day, they would not necessarily know the date. It is timely that this is being brought forward in July 2017 to give the Houses of the Oireachtas the time to deal with the legislation, rather than having to consider it in November 2018 in time for the centenary two months later. None of us will be around for the 200th anniversary, unfortunately, so I greatly appreciate Senator Swanick outlining the reasons for the Bill in his detailed contribution. I listened intently to all the contributions and all Members spoke in favour of the Bill, so everybody appears to be on the same page. I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments. Let us hope we can get the Bill through both Houses of the Oireachtas and see it take effect in time for January 2019. Again, I thank all Senators for their contributions, and particularly Senators Swanick and Wilson.

I thank the Senators for their good wishes and I look forward to working with them in my new role. I commend Senator Swanick for bringing forward this Bill, as well as my constituency colleague, Senator Wilson. It takes time and effort to prepare legislation and I appreciate the work the Senator has done. I am also pleased to advise the House that the Government will not be opposing the Bill.

The convening of the First Dáil on 21 January 1919 will be one of the key historical events to be marked by the State in 2019. The first meeting of Dáil Éireann took place in the Round Room of the Mansion House on the afternoon of 21 January 1919. The elected Members present at that meeting asserted the exclusive right of the elected representatives of the Irish people to legislate for the country, adopting a constitution and approving 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 Bill before us proposes that a formal State recognition of the Declaration of Independence shall be made, with the designation of 21 January each year as "Declaration of Independence Day". I am of the view that an event to mark this momentous occasion in our history is appropriate.

The Houses of the Oireachtas are planning a programme of events to mark the centenary of the first meeting of the Dáil in 2019. With regard to the suggestion that the Declaration of Independence be displayed in the Houses of the Oireachtas, that is an idea the Oireachtas committee that is planning the events to mark the centenary could consider. The appropriate commemoration of this period of our history is also under consideration by the expert advisory group on commemorations and will also be a matter of interest for the all-party group on commemorations which I intend to re-establish shortly.

In terms of the longer-term commemoration of this event, the views of both the expert advisory group and the Oireachtas all-party group on commemorations can feed into consideration of the Bill as it progresses through the Houses of the Oireachtas. I note also that the Bill does not propose that a new public holiday be introduced and, therefore, would not result in the significant economic costs associated with the introduction of a new public holiday in terms of lost national output in the private sector and in the delivery of public services. Indeed, when previous Private Members' Bills were brought forward which proposed the introduction of a new public holiday, it caused significant concern in the business community due to the serious impact such legislation would have on our SME sector in particular.

There are many different perspectives and views on the events and personalities that should be commemorated by the State over the remainder of the decade of centenaries and on how all those whose lives were affected by those events should be appropriately remembered. The Government's expert advisory group on centenary commemorations summed up this approach well when it stated that the aim of the commemorations should be to broaden sympathies, without having to abandon loyalties.

At all times the Government has been supported in its plans by the guidance and advice of the expert advisory group on commemorations and the Oireachtas all-party consultation group on commemorations. The expert advisory group's statement of principles for the second half of the decade of centenaries will be a key resource in framing the Government's commemorative programme over the next five years. I extend my appreciation to Dr. Maurice Manning, chairman of the expert advisory committee, and to the committee for its assistance to date. The knowledge, experience and guidance of such a committee have been an invaluable support to the State's commemorative plans throughout the decade of centenaries.

I am very grateful also for the commitment and input of the members of the Oireachtas all-party consultation group on commemorations. I intend to put in place the practical arrangements to reconstitute that group very shortly. The work of that group is complementary to the work of the expert advisory group on commemorations and is significant in ensuring we will be able to reflect in an inclusive, appropriate and respectful manner on all the major historical events to be commemorated over the remainder of the decade.

I assure the House that the Government will continue to mark significant events throughout the decade of centenaries and the State's commemorative programme will be based on the inclusive, open and consultative approach that has been the hallmark of the decade of centenaries commemorative programme to date. This includes the Easter commemorations ceremonies to mark the Easter Rising and events to mark the progress of the First World War. For example, last month I attended commemorations of the Battle of Messines Ridge at the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines, which were jointly led by the Governments of Ireland and the UK, in partnership with the Mayor of Messines. Together with the Minister of State with responsibility for defence, Deputy Kehoe, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, I laid a wreath at the grave of Willie Redmond.

The State also marked the centenary of the death of the poet, Irish Volunteer and soldier, Francis Ledwidge, with a moving ceremony in his birthplace in Slane, County Meath. This weekend, I plan to attend the National Day of Commemoration ceremony in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, as well as the annual Royal British Legion commemoration and wreath-laying ceremony at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in lslandbridge, which commemorates the men and women from the island of Ireland who fought and died in past world wars.

I strongly believe the same open and honest approach which we used for last year's successful 1916 centenary commemorations, which allowed all narratives to be heard, will ensure we can reflect appropriately on all the major historical events as they unfolded. The 1916 centenary commemorations were inclusive, respectful and appropriate and sought to strengthen peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. The Ireland 2016 centenary programme met with widespread support across the political, academic and community sectors. It has engaged our communities at home and abroad in an unprecedented way and the benefits at community level and indeed nationally cannot be underestimated. The inclusive nature of the programme has enabled citizens to examine our history and has encouraged them to consider the future of their communities. It gave people scope to think about the events of 1916 and its legacy in a way that is personal and meaningful to each individual.

The close collaboration and engagement between Departments and other stakeholders will continue in order that significant events and themes for commemoration over the next five years are marked with respect, sensitivity and openness.

Debate adjourned.