We will now hear statements from the party and group leaders. I first call An Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to address the sitting.
Ráitis ó Cheannairí na bPáirtithe agus na nGrúpaí - Statements from Party and Group Leaders
A Cheann Comhairle, a Chathaoirligh, ar an lá seo, céad bliain ó shin, deimhníodh ráiteas dearfa, diongbháilte, misniúil faoi thodhchaí na hÉireann. Tháinig grúpa beag duine a bhí tofa i bParlaimint Westminster, le chéile anseo, i dTeach an Ardmhéara i mBaile Átha Cliath, chun an Chéad Dáil a reachtú.
Ar shlí, is ráiteas siombolach a bhí i gceist. Bhí an Dáil ina Oireachtas gan aon chumhacht ach ó thaobh an tsiombalachais de, bhí sé an-chumhachtach ar fad. Fógraíodh leis an ócáid an nádúr daonlathach a rith mar bhuntréith trí réabhlóid na hÉireann, an luach a chuir sí in institiúidí parlaiminteacha, agus an mhian a bhí ann chun Stát saor, neamhspleách, daonlathach a bhaint amach.
Ba chruinniú dátheangach é, an chéad chruinniú stairiúil sin. Seoladh an chuid is mó de as Gaeilge, agus léadh cuid de na doiciméid as Fraincis, agus ansin as Béarla.
Inniu, cuimhnímid ar fhís de phoblacht shaor, neamhspleách a bhí leagtha amach sa Dearbhú Neamhspleáchais sin, a bhronnfaí cearta agus deiseanna comhionanna ar gach saoránach. Is í an fhís chéanna a threoraímid inniu.
When a small group of people, recently elected to the Westminster Parliament, met here in the Mansion House 100 years ago they changed the course of Irish history. The meeting of the First Dáil was bold, profound and decisive as a statement about the future of Ireland. In some ways, it was more of a symbolic statement. The First Dáil was a Legislature without any power but, as symbolism went, it was incredibly powerful. It proclaimed the essential democratic nature of the Irish revolution, the value that it placed on parliamentary institutions and its aspirations for a free, independent and democratic state.
I believe it is significant that the Declaration of Independence was read out in Irish, French and English. The vision of a free, independent republic was multilingual in its approach and multilateral in its outlook. It was one which sought to "re-establish justice, to provide for future defence, to ensure peace at home and goodwill with all nations and to constitute a national polity based on the people's will with equal right and equal opportunity for every citizen". These are the same principles which guide us today. Much asserted in the message to the Free Nations of the World could be restated by us here today. We share the vision of a confident trading nation which must be open to all nations. Through our membership of the European Union, our role with the United Nations, in peacekeeping and international development, we have turned the dream of Ireland taking her place among the nations of the world into a reality.
I am happy to acknowledge the influence of the Labour movement on the Democratic Programme, and we see it in the assertion that private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare. Today, this is reflected in Bunreacht na hÉireann in Article 43 where private property rights are enshrined but are subject to the common good.
For many at the time, the ideas in the Democratic Programme seemed radical. A Minister in the first Free State Government dismissed it as "mostly poetry". What is striking to me is how successive Governments were eventually able to translate the poetry of the Democratic Programme into legislative and policy prose. That work continues.
Over time, the new Irish State would establish policies as the programme directed "for the care of the nation's aged and infirm, who shall not be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the nation's gratitude and consideration". Health services were established to safeguard the health of the people and ensure the physical well-being of the country, services that serve us well, notwithstanding the many problems. The Poor Laws were abolished and the State pension system and a social insurance system brought in to replace them. Also, through the development of State-owned enterprises such as the ESB and Bord na Móna "the nation's resources", its "mineral deposits, peat bogs, fisheries, waterways and harbours" were developed "in the interests and for the benefit of the Irish people" and remain in their ownership. Although it took many decades and a new direction in Irish economic policy, industries were eventually invigorated and trade with foreign nations revived on terms of mutual advantage and goodwill as the programme foresaw.
The Democratic Programme also points to where the State has fallen short. Its assertion that "the first duty of the Government of the Republic" will be to ensure that "no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training" reminds us of our ongoing responsibilities to children today. Industrial schools, illegal adoptions and mother and baby homes were a betrayal of those ideals. Although the rate of child poverty in Ireland is only a fraction of what it was 100 years ago, and is falling, we must still do better.
In the first years of the Irish Free State it is interesting to reflect that there were almost half a million pupils in primary schools across the country, but only one in 20 would continue beyond that. Second level education was for the few and third level for the very few. It is no wonder that a Member of the first Free State Senate, William Butler Yeats, called Ireland, in 1928, "the worst educated country in northern Europe". Now, we are one of the best educated. Different Governments over many years made that possible, for example, bringing in free second level education. The result is that this ideal of the Democratic Programme has become a reality for the many. In 2019, more people attend higher education than ever before, with more coming from non-traditional backgrounds than ever was the case in the past.
We also remember that Constance Markievicz was made Minister for Labour not on this day 100 years ago but by the First Dáil nonetheless in April 1919. It is deeply shameful that it took another 60 years before another woman became a Government Minister. As a State, we have been diminished by the absence of women from positions of power.
Today we also remember that 21 January 1919 was also the date of the ambush at Soloheadbeg in County Tipperary, an event that subsequently became seen as the first shots in the War of Independence. In the months and years ahead we will commemorate the struggle that helped us achieve the independence declared so eloquently on behalf of the Irish people in the Mansion House on this day.
A Cheann Comhairle, tugann an ócáid inniu an deis dúinn chun machnamh a dhéanamh ar an saol a bhí ann fadó agus, ag an am céanna, smaoineamh ar an saol atá amach romhainn sa todhchaí. Ba chéim mhisniúil, chróga í cruinniú na Chéad Dála, a dhearbhaigh go raibh tacaíocht mhuintir na hÉireann taobh thiar den chomhlint chun neamhspleachas na hÉireann a bhuachan, agus gur bhain sí a dlisteanacht as sin. Agus muid ag tabhairt ómóis don Chéad Dáil, athdhearbhaímid ár gcreideamh ina hionracas daonlathach, a comhthionól leis an saol, agus aththiomnaímid dá hidéil agus dá fís.
Today is an opportunity for all of us to recall the past and also to look to the future. The meeting of the First Dáil was a bold exercise in democracy, an assertion that the struggle for Irish independence had the support of the Irish people and derived its legitimacy from it. By honouring the First Dáil here today we reaffirm our belief in democratic integrity in concourse with the world and rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of its values and its aspirations.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
Iarraim anois ar cheannaire Fhianna Fáil, an Teachta Micheál Martin.
A Cheann Comhairle, a Chathaoirligh an tSeanaid, a Bhaill an Oireachtais agus a dhaoine uaisle go léir, ba chinneadh suntasach réabhlóideach é, ó phobal ar theastaigh uathu greim a fháil ar a gcinniúint féin, an Chéad Dáil a thabhairt le chéile. Ba bhuaicphointe é i ndiaidh na mblianta fada den athbheochan cultúrtha agus polaitíochta. Ní obair in aisce gan aon tairbhe a bhí ann. Tharraing an cruinniú seo aird an domhain. Céim chun tosaigh a bhí sa chruinniú seo a thug spreagadh do mhórán eile dúshlán a thabhairt don chóras impireachta a raibh smacht aige ar a lán eile ar fud an domhain. Níos lú ná trí bliana roimhe sin, cuireadh tús nua láidir le saoirse agus neamhspleáchas a lorg ar shráideanna Bhaile Átha Cliath agus in áiteanna eile ar fud na tíre. Ba chuimhin le go leor dóibh siúd a bhailigh anseo 100 bliain ó shin na guthanna agus mothú na ndaoine a chaill a mbeatha sa bhliain 1916. Bhí sí mar aidhm láidir iomlán acu fís 1916 a chur i gcrích. Chomh maith leis sin, bhí a dtiomantas á léiriú go raibh athbheochan an chultúir Ghaelaigh cumhachtach agus ag fás. B'shin an fáth go raibh imeachtaí an 21 Eanáir 1919 trí mheán na Gaeilge agus go raibh iarracht mhacánta láidir traidisiún parlaiminteach Éireannach ar leith a fhorbairt.
When Dáil Éireann met in this place 50 years ago, it honoured the presence of 11 surviving Deputies and heard from President Eamon de Valera, who had so triumphantly led his party to an overwhelming victory in the 1918 general election. While we have no such direct link today to the great generation which established the First Dáil, their influence remains as important as ever. The general election they fought a month previously was a dramatic turning point which was influenced by many factors. Among those factors were the inspiring actions of the men and women of 1916, who had stood for a vision of an inclusive, free and outward-looking Ireland; the impact of a war between empires, which had brought death and destruction on an unprecedented scale; the impact of an historic epidemic of influenza, which ultimately killed 20,000 people here, terrified the population and undermined faith in the State's concern for its people; and of course the extension of the franchise, which allowed working-class men of all ages and women over the age of 30 to vote for the first time. Therefore, our first Deputies were returned by a new and radicalised electorate.
The First Dáil was the assembly of a rising people who were determined not only to achieve freedom, but also to use that freedom to create new possibilities. The documents they adopted during their first sitting spoke of a country which saw itself as part of an international community and of a Parliament which saw the people and their interests as sovereign. They had almost no control over the levers of power, but they had an unbreakable will. The Dáil removed any possible doubt about the objective of what was soon to become a full war for independence. The Irish people sought nothing less than a free democracy. While the First Dáil sought to represent all communities on this island, it was ultimately unable to prevent the sort of partition implemented by dissolving empires irrespective of the division, conflict and permanent insecurity which resulted. As with so many events of those times, Ireland was very much reflecting a broad movement which was seen throughout Europe. In a short few years, seven new states came into being. Among those seven states and their successors, the Dáil is the only parliamentary assembly which has since then continuously been freely elected and has held full legislative power. This is something of which we should all be deeply proud.
The most important ideal we have received from the First Dáil is that democratic republicanism must involve the capacity to evolve and to respond to the needs of today. Nothing could be more disrespectful to the memory of our revolution than to hold that its methods and programme achieved so little that subsequent generations needed to maintain them unchanged. In fact, the great generation which convened Dáil Éireann showed a remarkable commitment to change. The overwhelming majority of them played their role in developing this State, protecting it from fascism and communism and giving it a republican and internationalist constitution. Unlike their counterparts in too many other countries, the members of our revolutionary generation sought co-operation through strong international bodies, especially the League of Nations, the United Nations and the European Union. They proved time and again that nationalism can and should be an open, changing and diverse idea.
Much has been achieved since the Democratic Programme was issued. No one can deny the scale of progress which has been achieved. Equally, the Democratic Programme stands, together with the Proclamation of 1916, as a permanent reminder to us of what we should be working for. It is impossible to hear the demand that "no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter" and fail to understand how our democracy is still incomplete. Given that nearly 4,000 children are without a home, there is much more for us to do. Fianna Fáil believes that 1919 was a moment of great national purpose and one which belongs to no party. We strongly support the non-partisan and non-sectarian manner in which commemorations are being held. We acknowledge the role of the leaders of the other main tradition which emerged from the First Dáil. Of course we are proud of the role played by many of those who founded our party, especially our leader, Eamon de Valera, and the first chairperson of Fianna Fáil, Constance Markievicz. Constance Markievicz is a reminder to us all of the central role which progressive and suffragist activism played in the radicalism which made Irish democracy possible. This is a lesson which was forgotten for far too long.
Bhí Éire sa bhliain 1919 difriúil ar fad i gcomparáid leis an tír atá againn faoi láthair. Bhí cuimhní maoithneacha láidre faoi bhlianta an Ghorta, an t-ocras agus díshealbhú. Bhí tionchar ollmhór ag na himeachtaí stairiúla seo ar ár gcoinsias agus ar ár gcuimhne náisiúnta. Gan amhras, bhí dúshlán ollmhór roimh an athbheochan. Is cóir agus is ceart dúinn cuimhneamh ar an dul chun cinn tábhachtach a tharla nuair a tionóladh an Chéad Dáil chun dearbhú a thabhairt do chearta náisiúnta agus féinmhuinín na tíre. Bhí - agus tá fós - an cruinniú seo mar phointe cinniúnach i stair ár dtír.
Cloisfimid anois ó cheannaire Shinn Féin, an Teachta Mary Lou McDonald.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Táim lán-sásta labhairt ar an ócáid stairiúil seo - comóradh 100 bliain an Chéad Dáil. One hundred years ago in this very room, revolutionary Ireland found its parliamentary voice. Deputies gathered with a unity of purpose in the cause of equality, independence and freedom. An eyewitness to the day, Máire Comerford of Cumann na mBan, said of an Chéad Dáil that "never was the past so near, or the present so brave, or the future so full of hope". It is an honour to follow in their footsteps by sharing this room today with elected representatives from across this island, including the counties of partitioned Ulster - of Antrim and Down, of Derry, Fermanagh, Armagh and Tyrone.
Today we are whole.
After so much hope, the vision of the Democratic Programme and the First Dáil was lost to British repression, civil war, partition, conflict and the establishment of two conservative states, North and South. The Ireland of today is not the Ireland promised in the 1916 Proclamation. This is not the Dáil of the Democratic Programme because Ireland remains divided, broken.
The tenements have gone, but tenants live in fear of eviction. Children no longer go hungry in the poorhouse but now in hotel rooms, unseen and forgotten. The lockout bosses are gone, but workers’ rights are eroded and a job is no longer a guaranteed route out of poverty. There are those who believe that homelessness is acceptable, that poverty is inevitable and that partition is permanent. I reject those views. Our forebears 100 years ago rejected those views , the generation that entered this room and said to the British Government that its empire is ended and this is our nation.
We come not just to recriminate about what could have been, but to plan for what can be. Let me say that this is the time to realise the promise of that revolutionary generation. We should not come here to genuflect to the past but to stand with all those who came before us.
Is trí Ghaeilge a ritheadh imeachtaí na Chéad Dála 100 bliain ó shin. Tharla sé seo mar gur bhain an chéad chruinniú na Dála le níos mó ná Stát a bhunú: bhain sé leis an náisiún. Uirlis pholaitiúil leis an náisiún a chur chun cinn a bhí i Sinn Féin agus chuaigh sé i bhfeidhm ar i bhfad níos mó ná a bhallraíocht féin. Bhí forbairt ag teacht thar ghluaiseacht na gceardchumann agus ar ghluaiseacht chearta na mban ag an am sin. Bhí Cumann Lúthchleas Gael agus Conradh na Gaeilge ar thús cadhnaíochta maidir le slánú agus caomhnú an Gaeilge agus 100 bliain ar aghaidh, tá an Ghaeilge faoi bhagairt fós. Caithfimid níos mó daoine a spreagadh chun an Gaeilge a úsáid ina saol, ar fud an oileáin, ó Thuaidh agus ó Theas.
Independence alone is not enough. To paraphrase Connolly, it is not just about changing the flag over Dublin Castle. Ireland, North and South, is changing and we have before us the opportunity to build a new united Ireland in which all can find a home and in which the sick are cared for, an Ireland of the safety net and the helping hand, an Ireland of equal rights, equal opportunity and shared prosperity, a free and sovereign nation among the nations of the world. Standing here 100 years on, the past has never been so near, the present so crying out for bravery and the future so filled with challenge and with hope.
Let us not wait another 100 years. Let the Government convene an all-Ireland forum to build for unity and to plan for unity because we now have a peaceful and democratic pathway to a new and united Ireland, an opportunity that was not afforded to the First Dáil or to generations since. Now is the time to start the last leg of that journey, to build a truly national democracy and a truly national parliament, a republic worthy of the name and of the sacrifices of all who came before. Tá bealach síochánta, daonlathach againn anois Éire aontaithe a bhaint amach, deis nach raibh ar fáil do bhaill na Chéad Dála ná do ghlúin phoblachtánaigh eile. Tá sé in am anois an tír a aontú agus ní mór dúinn reifreann ar aontacht na hÉireann a bheith againn. Caithfimid é seo a dhéanamh agus caithfimid Éire nua, aontaithe a bhaint amach.
We stand again on the threshold of the future. It is now for us to meet the challenge set by an Chéad Dáil and to finish the journey to full Irish democracy and freedom. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
I call on the leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Howlin, to address us.
Is pribhléid dom, mar cheannaire Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre, labhairt anseo inniu. Ireland is one of only a handful of countries that have sustained a democratically elected Parliament, uninterrupted, for a century. I am proud of the role that Labour has played to improve the lives of working people, from the very outset of the First Dáil through to the present day.
The majority of socialists and trade unionists who founded the Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour Party in Clonmel in 1912 believed that Irish independence was necessary to bring about a people’s government that would address the extreme squalor and deprivation of early 20th century Ireland, but Labour’s support for independence was not agreement with the myth of ethnic nationalism. It was a recognition that a government here in Ireland was much more responsive to the people’s needs than one in London.
The 1918 election used the first past the post voting system. Labour did not stand candidates, despite winning 43% of the vote in a 1915 Dublin by-election, because it would have split the vote. Labour’s decision opened a pathway for the pro-independence national movement to compete head to head with the old Irish Parliamentary Party, resulting in a sweeping and unambiguous public endorsement of Irish independence.
After the election, the leader of the Labour Party, Thomas Johnson, was asked to write the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil. The socialism of Tom Johnson’s Democratic Programme is evident from what we have already seen today in its vision of the State’s role in the economy, designed to bring all wealth producing processes to serve the whole people. It proposed an end to hunger and the lack of shelter, and the development of what became our social welfare system. We have a ways to go yet. The Democratic Programme was the plan to combat poverty and to share wealth equally in this new nation.
In the First Dáil, women were finally emancipated to the extent of standing as candidates and some women were given the vote, although it was not until 1922 that women got the vote on the same basis as men. That advance for women’s political rights was testament to the struggle of socialist suffragettes, including Tom Johnson’s wife, Marie, who actively campaigned for recognition of the rights of women, including their full political rights as candidates as well as voters. That campaign continues today as political equality for women remains incomplete.
Labour’s Democratic Programme underlined our commitment to the pursuit of progressive, socialist policies through democratic means. With the achievement of a democratic and independent Irish Parliament, Labour rejected the path of violent nationalism. In later years, Labour provided the official Opposition in the 1920s Dáil, strengthening Ireland’s fledgling democracy. In the 1930s, Labour facilitated the peaceful transfer of power between the parties split by the Civil War. Throughout the 20th century, Ireland’s Democratic Programme, written by the socialist Englishman Tom Johnson, has provided a vision of decency, justice and equality that continues to inspire us to this day. This weekend, after a year of public meetings and consultation, Labour unveiled a new democratic programme, which renews and continues the original work of Tom Johnson, and sets out how we will continue to seek to achieve his and Connolly’s vision of democratic socialism in Ireland. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
I call on Deputies Paul Murphy and Boyd Barrett to address us.
"If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain."
So James Connolly warned us and, unfortunately, when we look at the gross inequalities in our society today, the housing crisis, low pay and precarity, he is vindicated. The revolution he stood for remains unfinished.
For working class people the struggle for independence was bound up with the struggle to end the grinding poverty they faced. The labour movement could and should have placed itself at the head of the struggle for national and social liberation and in so doing united the working class across this island, Protestant and Catholic. The potential for that was seen just days after the first meeting of the Dáil with the engineers' strike in Belfast, when 60,000 workers went on strike, effectively taking control of the city. On May Day of that year in Belfast, 100,000 Protestant and Catholic workers marched together. The winning of power by workers and peasants in Russia in October 1917, led by the Bolsheviks, inspired people around the world, including in Ireland. Here, in the Mansion House, in February 1918, a crowd of 10,000 gathered to celebrate and show their solidarity with the Russian Revolution. The tragedy of this period of Irish history was the refusal of the labour leaders to unite the working class in the struggle for socialist change. Had they done so, we could have seen the defeat of imperialism and capitalism in Ireland and prevented the partition of this island, what Connolly warned of, the carnival of reaction. For the Socialist Party and Solidarity that is the key lesson for today: the working class must wait no longer.
As the radical demands of the Democratic Programme remind us, the Irish revolution was not just a guerrilla struggle of a minority to change the colour of the flag, it was a massive social upheaval of men, women, working people, the poor and the downtrodden to demand an end to deprivation and poverty, to secure the right to housing for children, to share out the wealth of the nation in a fair way and to subordinate the rights of property to the needs of the people.
This morning on the street in Dún Laoghaire, I met a woman who is a medical doctor who, along with her sick husband and her child, has been in emergency accommodation for the past two years. She should be working in our hospitals, helping to alleviate the waiting lists and the trolley crisis instead of suffering that plight along with thousands of children, many thousands of other men and women and hundreds of thousands who cannot afford their own home or extortionate rents.
The modern inheritors of the Irish revolution and the democratic programme are not primarily the people in this room. They are the people who took to the streets to fight water charges, the people power movement that achieved marriage equality and repealed the eighth amendment and the people who have been on the streets in recent weeks demanding the right to housing and to end the scourge of homelessness. They are the nurses who will be on the picket lines, on strike, demanding fair pay and equality for mostly women workers in order to address the desperate, deplorable, shameful crisis in our health service. If we want to honour the revolutionary tradition and the ideals of the Democratic Programme, we must end the scourge of homelessness and the housing crisis, we must give rights to working people, we must share the wealth in our society, we must end the shame of the trolley crisis and people waiting on hospital lists for weeks and months for desperately needed operations. That should be our tribute to the Irish revolutionary tradition.
We will now hear from Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan on behalf of the Independents 4 Change group.
The press in 1919 wrote of the tomfoolery of the Sinn Féin parliament in Dublin, the "stage play at the Mansion House", a "futile and unreal" event which, if it were to be taken seriously, could be viewed as a momentous one. It was a momentous event: Ireland coming out of the shackles of 800 years of colonial domination, declaring independence, a Democratic Programme in accordance with principles of liberty, equality and justice for all; a first Dáil that went on to make progress in setting up working Departments, progress in local government, progress in finance by raising a national loan and in administering justice. The most significant outcome was the start of 100 years of uninterrupted democracy. Ireland did not experience the chaos, conflict and devastation suffered by so many countries, which still do today, when they too escaped from colonial domination. The Democratic Programme promised so much for children and the poor, the natural resources of soil and seas for the people, the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of their labour that it appeared the social revolution was coming, along with the political one, especially when the programme averred that all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare.
What has happened? We know the housing and homelessness reality. How many did we pass on the street on our way here today who were begging or sleeping there? How many did Brother Kevin feed today at the Capuchin Day Centre? We know the inequalities and difficulties in our health system, and we have many examples of those who have been left behind in the intervening years, those with disabilities, physical and intellectual, the travelling community, migrants, refugees, those who have been waiting years for justice and we see the way we have been dealing with our environment and animals.
There are ironies too. Countess Markievicz was Minister for Labour but how many years was it before there was another woman Minister? How many years before all the inequalities relating to women were really addressed? Ioróin eile, we know about the Dáil proceedings and the commitment to Irish. De réir a chéile, ámh, bhí sé soiléir nach raibh an Rialtas ag an am sin dáiríre faoin nGaeilge. Cur i gcéill a bhí i gceist i gcónaí i rith na mblianta agus tá an cur i gcéill fós ann anois. Another irony is the loss of history as a core subject on the junior certificate curriculum. Unless it is addressed, there will be young Irish people leaving school without having learned about the events we are commemorating.
This commemoration also reminds us of the importance of protecting our independence, sovereignty and neutrality. It is interesting to read how previous commemorations were used to control the historical narrative and as political tools. As we approach the commemorations of the War of Independence and the Civil War, difficult times, with Irish killing Irish, there is a need for reflection and conversation, and perhaps an opportunity for the arts to lead that reflection in the way the Abbey Theatre did at the beginning of the decade of centenaries with its Theatre of Memory and Theatre of War symposia.
Progress has been made since the first meeting of the First Dáil. Ireland has taken her place among the nations of the world and is respected. I am glad I am an Irishwoman, living in Ireland and not in any of many other countries. I am glad we have a President who does not want to build walls between communities and people but – there are buts – fadhbanna, deacrachtaí agus dúshláin, which mean that we need a new vision, one that moves away from complacency and conservatism, away from measuring everything in economic terms, from the rhetoric of idealism to realising the ideals and principles of social justice and fairness, as set out in the First Dáil that we are commemorating and making them the reality of life in Ireland, realising the sustainable development goals.
The Oireachtas has to lead the way. We have to challenge ourselves on the kind of Ireland we want. That means a different, better vision, more wisdom, a better awareness of those who struggle and a real concern for humanity, a true commemoration of the First Dáil. Comhghairdeas do gach éinne a bhí ag obair go dian dícheallach i dtreo is go mbeidh an comóradh seo againn inniu.
Anois we will hear from Deputy Mattie McGrath on behalf of the Rural Independent Group.
A Cheann Comhairle, a Chathaoirligh, a Thaoisigh agus a chairde go léir, táimid bailithe anseo inniu sa seomra stairiúil seo i dTeach an Ardmhéara chun ómós a thabhairt do na laochra go léir, fir agus mná, a bhí sásta gach rud a dhéanamh chun saoirse na hÉireann a bhaint amach, ní dóibh féin ach do dhaoine eile.
It is my great privilege to speak here today on behalf of the Rural Independent Group as we gather to celebrate and recall the first meeting of Dáil Éireann. It is an even greater privilege for me to serve the people of Tipperary in Dáil Éireann 100 years after the momentous events of Soloheadbeg, which were so honourably commemorated inné and inniu freisin, and indeed I compliment the organising committee of the same event.
It is indeed an honourable history, born of a struggle and long-endured sacrifice by countless people. It was a moment at which we chose to define ourselves by embracing an international, outward-looking vision of democracy. We managed to do so while losing nothing of the distinctiveness and value of our Irish heritage and culture, as the Declaration of Independence, Forógra na Saoirse, adopted by Dáil Éireann at its first meeting made quite clear: "We claim for our national independence the recognition and support of every free nation in the world, and we proclaim that independence to be a condition precedent to international peace hereafter".
We know that the historical context of this Declaration was the devastation of the First World War, in which the lives of millions had been annihilated and it is estimated that at least 40,000 Irish soldiers lost their lives. Despite this catastrophe, our leaders at the time were men and women who were deeply confident and hopeful about the future. That was born from an intimate knowledge of the Irish people and the strength of their character. That strength and resilience are still there in spite of all the trauma we as a people have endured: the dark tragedy of the Northern Ireland conflict, the collapse of the economy and the ongoing scandal that is afflicting hundreds of thousands of families with respect to health, housing and financial persecution. It is on occasions such as these that we need to reassess how much we have achieved in terms of the original and inspiring vision proclaimed during the exciting times of an Chéad Dáil.
Can we really say that the commitment to democracy is still as strong as it should be at an institutional level? It is hard to see how that can be the case when we have seen the abolition of the local democratic structures such as town and borough councils, and indeed the blatant closure of post offices and Garda stations in rural Ireland. These are not democratic luxuries unrelated to the high romanticism of our early history. The First Dáil had a clear vision that the people were at the heart of the democratic process. We have certainly moved away from that, in practice if not in theory. For all our modern means of communication a significant number of our citizens feel disconnected from the State and unheard by those in power. At the local level contact is being made more and more difficult, while at national level the perception is growing that the Dáil itself, more than 100 years later, has lost the nobility of the original vision and is little more than an exercise in rubber-stamping the decisions of the Executive.
Our Declaration of Independence, Forógra na Saoirse, makes it quite clear, stating; "the elected Representatives of the Irish people alone have power to make laws binding on the people of Ireland, and that the Irish Parliament is the only Parliament to which that people will give its allegiance". Even if that has been legitimately redefined with our accession to the European Union, there is still a sense in which that principle is being ignored or diminished somewhat. Our Parliament is too often cajoled or indeed pushed, however diplomatically, into adopting positions formulated by international bodies or even other national parliaments that seem to pay little or no heed to democratic sovereignty or autonomy. It is my fervent hope that we never forget this most important point. We are the servants of the people, na Teachtaí Dála. Let us work to recapture some of the truly and authentically democratic spirit of that great and glorious Céad Dáil.
I now call on Deputy Róisín Shortall on behalf of the Social Democrats and Deputy Eamon Ryan, leader of the Green Party.
A Cheann Comhairle, 100 years ago on this day, in this place, the Members of the First Dáil gathered together to build a new Ireland. This was not merely an act of rebellion but also an act of creation. It was not enough for our forebears to throw off colonial rule. They wanted to build, for the first time on our island, a State that would be governed for and by all of the people. As their final act on that historic day, they passed the Democratic Programme, a social democratic programme, a promise to build a new and fairer nation for their children. We are their children. Our children are their children too. That first Democratic Programme was not a heady, unrealistic statement of a revolutionary Government. It was a visionary blueprint for a progressive new State.
As others have said, the Members of the First Dáil declared that their first duty as elected representatives of the State was to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of all children of this country. They promised to eradicate poverty and, critically, to use the country's wealth and resources for the benefit of all its people. Regrettably, we do not live in that Ireland yet. Over the past 100 years, we have taken bold steps towards achieving it, but there have been many backward steps also. Time and again, we have reneged on our responsibilities to recognise our children as full citizens and to vindicate their rights to achieve their full potential. Here, today, we must commit ourselves to the vision of our founders. Redoubling our efforts to the building of a fair and inclusive Republic is how we can best honour the founders of this State and, more importantly, the people of today's Ireland, whom we serve.
We are here as Teachtaí Dála and as Seanadóirí to commit again to represent, to the best of our ability, the will of all our people, recognising the equal right and equal opportunity for every citizen and reaffirming our duty to provide for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of every child, thus promising in our different programmes to protect them from hunger, homelessness and cold and investing everything in their education and training so that they can think big and provide for their tomorrow. We need to invest everything to give a sense of hope, for this next generation is coming of age in a world in turmoil. To our west, the American constitutional system seems to have lost its very equanimity. To our east, the mother of all parliaments is split on where it wants to be in the world. From the south, we see desperate people clinging to threadbare rafts as they flee their homes. To the north, we know the ice sheets are melting as the very fabric of the natural world is torn apart. What dreams can be woven with such fraying cloth?
Perhaps it helps that we are still that "last outpost of Europe", a gateway at the cutting edge of the Atlantic. Perhaps we can still live up to what JFK saw as our unique opportunity: to provide a beacon of hope for a future of peace and freedom in our world. If we want to fulfil that role, then our message to the other free nations of the world on this, our birthday, should be clear and simple. We will do everything in our power to achieve the 17 sustainable development goals which we have agreed already in the United Nations. If we meet those goals, we will be that "isle of destiny". Our hour will come again, when we have both the obligation and the opportunity to bring some good news to the world. Síocháin ar fud an domhain - that should be our republican aim today, knowing that our independence and welfare are guaranteed when we recognise the independence of all the nations of this world.