Ceisteanna — Questions. - Civic Honours List.

Michael Finucane

Ceist:

7 Mr. Finucane asked the Taoiseach if he will consider a civic honours list to acknowledge people who have made a major contribution to society. [15156/98]

Currently there are a number of honours which can be bestowed on individuals by educational and cultural institutions, local authorities and Government Departments and agencies. The issue of a State honours system has been mooted many times in the past but there has never been all-party support to sustain its development from a fledgling idea to an actual system of honours.

As we enter the 21st century it is now appropriate to examine the issue and to show our maturity by possibly putting in place for the millennium a system to properly honour those in society who have made a fundamental contribution and not to leave it to other countries and organisations to do it for us.

However, the overriding concern must be that this be done on a non-party political basis and I intend to write to party leaders in the House asking for their views on how we should proceed. If there is support for the idea across a majority of parties, I would then be happy to examine the matter in greater detail.

I welcome the Taoiseach's reply. It never struck me more forcefully than when Limerick County Council made a presentation to Dr. Ed Walsh, a colossus on the education stage, that there should be a national recognition system to honour the great contribution people like him have made to society. I tabled the question for that reason although it was raised before. I am pleased with the Taoiseach's response that it is being considered.

I will write shortly to party leaders and I ask them to consider it. I understand the difficulties having read extensively from the file on the subject. This has been debated for 68 years; the first memorandum is dated July 1930. The issue dates all the way back through various Taoisigh to the days of the Executive Council.

It is a pity we do not have a system. Many Irish people are now the beneficiaries of honours of one kind or another in other jurisdictions, yet we have no adequate means of recognising them here. There are the Gaisce presidential awards which perform a useful function in a specific area, but they do not relate to the question tabled by the Deputy. I would like to make another attempt. Deputy John Bruton has been positive about it in the past but I do not know the Labour Party's view. It is worth examining to see if we can devise something.

As the former Lord Mayor of Dublin, the Taoiseach will be aware that granting the freedom of the city requires consensus and keeping the number of awards small and that that is what makes it a success and acceptable. Does he agree that, if there is to be a national honours system, the same two criteria should apply — that there should be consensus across the political divide and it should be kept to a small number of persons — to make it respected and worthy? He is aware that granting the freedom of the city of Dublin is something which is handled with delicacy and only given on rare occasions. A similar approach needs to be adopted with the honours system and I hope the Taoiseach agrees with that sentiment.

I have no difficulty with how narrow the system should be but it seems there are many who do a great deal of work for the country, be they officials, sports people or people involved in agricultural, business or cultural activities.

Having read the file from a historical perspective to see what happened on previous occasions, the honours system was always compared with one in another jurisdiction. On at least six occasions when it was examined between 1930 and 1960, Taoisigh said it sounded like a good idea and that the analysis was excellent but that it was the wrong time to introduce it. Each time they were looking at the honours system of another jurisdiction and that is why they avoided it, and this included five former Taoisigh.

Without pre-empting anything, we should attempt to find an Irish system which would reflect the unique nature of our society. If that can be done collectively, a good system could be introduced which would recognise the contribution of people over the years.

The Order of St. Patrick.

I welcome what the Taoiseach said and I await his letter. To facilitate its drafting, I inform him that the Labour Party is opposed to anything remotely close to the British honours system which is royal and monarchical and an extension of the court of privilege and patronage. If the Taoiseach is thinking of an Oireachtas system of honours along the lines of the system of allocation and decision making which prevails in Dublin City Council of which he was and Deputy Mitchell and I are members, I would be open to its consideration. We are strongly of the republican tradition that there be no scent or sense of it being conveyed on a family. As the Taoiseach will know from having read the file, opposition to an honours system in the past arose out of the sense that it conveyed some kind of quasi-aristocratic benediction on the recipient. However, we have now come of age and can examine it with the self-confidence of the time. I await the letter from the Taoiseach which I trust will be in tune with what I have articulated.

I thank Deputy Quinn for his remarks. Needless to say, I would not endorse any system similar to what he said he would oppose.

The Earl of Drumcondra.

However, I still believe we should examine some system of reward. Many republics have honours systems, some of which fall within the confines of what he outlined and others which do not. If we make an effort, it must be possible for us to find a system which has a unique Irish flavour to it, despite the fact that 68 years and ten attempts have failed to achieve that result.