My objective in approaching the development of the State Commemorative Programme for the years from 2019 – 2023 is to ensure that, in remembering this complex period in our history, which includes the Struggle for Independence, the Civil War, the Foundation of the State, and Partition, we promote a deeper understanding of the significance of these events, which accepts that the shared historical experience of those years gave rise to very different narratives and memories. It will also take account of sensitivities across communities in Northern Ireland and continue to recognise that very different perspectives persist on many of these events.
The commemorative programme will be respectful, measured, inclusive, and authentic, and will comprise four broad thematic strands:
- A State Ceremonial Strand which will comprise a limited number of State-led commemorations focusing on themes of remembrance and reconciliation and on the commemoration of all of those who suffered and who lost their lives during this period.
- An Historical Strand which will comprise a rich and diverse range of activities designed to encourage authentic historical enquiry about this period and promote the use of primary archival sources. Initiatives will be developed in collaboration with State partners, National Cultural Institutions, institutions of learning and other stakeholders.
- A Community Strand, which will involve a collaborative approach – similar to that adopted for the 1916 centenary commemorations – between the State, local authority network and community organisations, including in Northern Ireland where appropriate.
- The Creative Imagination Strand, which will continue to encourage artistic and creative expression in remembrance of the significant historical events of the period from 1919 to 1923 and all of those who lost their lives.
One of my key priorities over the coming months is to advance plans under each of the four strands and build collaborative relationships with key stakeholders, with a particular focus on local authority engagement. In bringing forward plans to mark the significant historical events that took place between 1919 - 1923, my approach will continue to be informed and supported by the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations and developed in consultation with the All-Party Consultation Group on Commemorations. As matters stand, and in line with the advice of the Expert Advisory Group, there are no State-led commemorative events envisaged for the period to end-June 2020 (12 months time) under the Decade of Centenaries initiative.
On 21 January the centenary of the convening of the First Dáil was commemorated, with a diverse programme, including a ceremonial event, led by the Houses of the Oireachtas. On 20th January, I represented the Government at a community-led commemoration to mark the centenary of the Soloheadbeg Ambush. I approved a grant allocation of €10,000 to assist Tipperary County Council in supporting the local commemorative committee and wider community in developing their plans for this event, in recognition of the significance of the Soloheadbeg Ambush as the generally accepted first action in the Struggle for Independence.
I believe that local authorities have a significant role in encouraging appropriate and authentic citizen engagement, debate, and analysis, which is sensitive to the local context. My aim is to provide a supportive structure that ensures that the, often deeply personal, historical events are remembered at county and community level in a respectful, measured, and non-partisan manner
Under the Community Strand of the commemorative programme for the coming period, I am encouraging a collaborative approach – similar to that adopted for the 1916 centenary commemorations – between the State, local authority network and community organisations.
Earlier this year, I approved a funding allocation of €10,000 for each local authority to support their commemorative programming in 2019. In recognition of the very important role that local authorities have played to date, and will continue to have, my Department hosted a special Decade of Centenaries forum for the authorities on 13th March. This event offered an important and timely opportunity to share their learnings to date with each other and also share their views on how they plan to navigate the period ahead. Funding allocations for local authorities over the coming years will be considered as part of the annual estimates budgetary processes.
I am aware that local authorities have already given significant and thoughtful consideration as to how they will plan for commemorations at county and community level in 2019 and over the remainder of the Decade and the authorities have shared their plans for 2019 with my Department.