I intervene in this debate solely to correct certain misstatements made here, re-echoing similar misstatements which have been made outside the House, on the subject of the cenotaph on Leinster Lawn. These statements and the propaganda which is being disseminated outside may have an effect calculated to do something which this Government certainly does not intend and with which they have been charged, namely, of formenting the resurrection of the old civil war bitterness and quarrels. For that reason, I intervene here to-day. I propose calmly to tell the House and the public the facts in connection with the erection of the cenotaph on Leinster Lawn-the real facts, and not the distorted accounts that have been given here and outside.
Deputy Colley here to-day stated as follows:—
"The erection of the cenotaph is going ahead. Immediately the Government took office they saw to that. In fact, it looks like a deliberate attempt to try to recreate the whole civil war spirit."
He repeats that statement again about recreating the whole civil war spirit and he then goes on to refer to a remark that Deputy Cowan is stated to have made some time ago; he, Deputy Colley, states as follows:—
"Deputy Cowan made a remark some time ago that the erection of the cenotaph on Leinster Lawn was the result of a decision by the Fianna Fáil Government. So far as I am aware all that the Fianna Fáil Government undertook to do was to replace the previous temporary memorial which had been taken down as dangerous and which was put up by the former Government. They did not undertake to build an elaborate monument such as that which is being put up at the moment. I want to correct a belief which apparently Deputy Cowan holds about that matter."
I want to correct the statement that was made by Deputy Colley, and to show that it was unfounded and untrue. In fact, I want to give the facts to the House. A temporary cenotaph was erected in memory of the late Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins on Leinster Lawn in August, 1923. Some Deputies may remember the form which this cenotaph took. It comprised a central cross and two large pylons, to which medallions, in plaster, of Messrs. Griffith and Collins were affixed. The cenotaph was designed by Mr. George Atkinson, and the medallions were the work of Mr. Albert Power. The erection itself was of timber framing covered with expanded metal lathing and cement. In August, 1928, a medallion of the late Mr. Kevin O'Higgins was added to the cenotaph. The intention, at the time of the erection of that cenotaph, was that it was to be merely temporary, and that it should be replaced in time by a permanent memorial. When the medallion of the late Mr. Kevin O'Higgins was being affixed in August, 1928, it was discovered that the timber framing of the cenotaph was covered with mildew and steps were then taken to ventilate the interior so as to minimise the risk of dry rot. The life of the structure at that time was estimated at five years. Cracks in the structure were observed towards the end of 1935 and, following inspection, the principal architect of the Office of Public Works recommended that it should be removed at the earliest opportunity.
The then Taoiseach, the present Leader of the Opposition, acting very properly, consulted with the Leaders of the Opposition, and having so consulted, he announced on the 15th August, 1939, that in view of reports by the Commissioners of Public Works that the temporary cenotaph was in imminent danger of collapse, it had been decided to take it down and replace it, as was originally intended, by a more permanent memorial to Messrs. Griffith, Collins and O'Higgins, and that the new memorial would be erected on the same site as soon as a suitable design had been prepared and approved.
I want to draw the attention of Deputies to this fact that so far back as 1939 the last Government took a decision to erect a permanent memorial. They very properly took that decision and took the necessary steps in regard to it. The temporary cenotaph was accordingly taken down, the three plaster medallions having been removed intact and stored away. Following on that decision by the last Government, they had plans prepared for the erection of a permanent memorial. A sketch design for the permanent memorial was prepared by Mr. H.G. Leask, Inspector of National Monuments, Office of Public Works. When submitting this design to the then Government, the Commissioners of Public Works made these observations:—
"On the whole, the design seems to us to be in keeping with the suggestions that were made and with the surroundings. It may be considered, however, that the seats shown on the front are liable to detract from the dignity of the memorial, unless they are indispensable as ‘breaks' in its face. The carrying down to near the base of the borders of the plaques might perhaps be considered also."
Other matters were then taken into consideration in connection with this design and views were expressed as to its suitability and as to the conformity of the design to the surrounding buildings. Mr. Leask then prepared a revised design in the light of the views that had been expressed. The former Government, on the 7th August, 1940, accorded provisional approval to the revised design and directed that the revised design should again be submitted to the Opposition for their approval. Owing to the conditions created by the emergency, it was not possible to continue with the work of the erection of the memorial and, accordingly, it was postponed. On 16th September, 1947, the matter was brought to the Government on a memorandum submitted by the then Taoiseach. Regarding this memorandum, it was decided:—
"(1) That the Minister for Finance should give directions for the preparation and submission to the Government of a new sketch design of a monument in the form of a column or obelisk, including provision for a cross and for portrait plaques of the late Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins and Kevin O'Higgins; and
(2) that the new sketch design when approved by the Government should be discussed by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach with representatives of the Fine Gael Party who should be informed by the Parliamentary Secretary that the Government is prepared to have a monument, in the approved form, erected on Leinster Lawn."
The original design by Mr. Leask was not in the form of an obelisk. It was in quite a different form, and if Deputies are interested they can see a photograph of the sketch. The design by Mr. Leask as prepared for the Government on a memorandum submitted by the Taoiseach was changed to a column or obelisk, to the form in which it will stand in Leinster Lawn. The then Taoiseach, acting perfectly correctly and with great courtesy, submitted it to the Fine Gael Party. I myself saw it with General Mulcahy. General Mulcahy on the 7th July, 1940, wrote to the Taoiseach as follows:—
I have examined the plans for the cenotaph memorial on Leinster Lawn left with me on Wednesday last, the 2nd July. They have also been seen by some of my colleagues. We approve of the plan bearing date 1/5/'40, and marked that the words ‘showing new scale'."
It was in July, 1940, that the sketch plans were submitted to General Mulcahy. They were Mr. Leask's plans. By this letter of the 7th July, 1940, we approved of the Leask memorial. Subsequently, as I have stated, on the 16th September, 1947, the Government decided not to go on with these plans, but to have a new sketch design of a monument in the form of a column or obelisk, including the provision for a cross and for portrait plaques. These were then to be submitted to General Mulcahy and to my colleagues and, in fact, were submitted. That having been done, the architects of the Board of Works were directed to proceed with the making of designs for a column or obelisk.
The preparation of the new design was delayed in the Office of Public Works owing to the pressure of work on the architectural staff of the office. Mr. Raymond McGrath, the principal architect, then submitted plans, and, in the meantime, the change of Government had taken place. Mr. McGrath submitted plans to me and to my colleagues following this decision for the erection of a column or obelisk. We approved of the present column or obelisk, with some changes and additions.
It will, therefore, be seen that Deputy Colley has done something which might be a great public disservice, and which could have caused very great bitterness, had I not taken the opportunity here to-day to correct it.
So far from endeavouring in any way to foment the feelings or the spirit of the civil war or to revive bitterness, the whole policy of this Government, and the real reason for its foundation, has been to put an end to that bitterness and to this personal strife. There was never the slightest intention, in connection with the erection of this memorial which was decided upon as far back as 1939 by the previous Government, to revive the old bitterness. That allegation has been made to mislead people, decent people very often, into the belief that we were doing something to resurrect the old bitterness of the civil war by proceeding with the plans for the erection of this memorial to Griffith, Collins and O'Higgins. Nothing was further from our minds. We continued, as I have said, the plans that had been formulated by the last Government. They were slightly changed but they would have probably been changed if we had never come into power. A column or obelisk was what was decided upon by the last Government. That column or obelisk is going up now with some slight changes in its design, merely from the point of view of bringing it more into conformity with its surroundings.
Much propaganda has been made in regard to the project for the Garden of Remembrance. Deputy Colley, in a most unworthy speech, said that we were reviving the civil war spirit because we had not proceeded with that project and because we were proceeding with the memorial on Leinster Lawn. I hope I have convinced him that that is not so. In fact, his statement was a deliberate attempt to revive the old civil war spirit. The Deputy went on to say that Deputy Cowan was under a misapprehension and that he wanted to correct it. I have now shown that Deputy Cowan was correct in his statement and that it was Deputy Colley who was incorrect.
Deputy Colley said that his colleagues had not undertaken to build an elaborate monument such as that which is being put up at the moment. I have now shown that we are continuing in sequence what was done by the last Government. I want to emphasise that for people in this House who are open to conviction and to a decent reception of the truth and for people outside as well, so that there may be an end to this controversy which has been conducted in the columns of the Press to the effect that this was being done to revive the bitterness of the civil war. This Government never had any intention to abandon the Garden of Remembrance. So far as they are concerned that project is going ahead and will go ahead as soon as the Minister for Health says that he does not require these grounds any longer for the use to which they are at present being put.