I welcome the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, to the House.
Decade of Centenaries Programme of Commemorations: Statements
I am very pleased to come before the Seanad again to report on the progress of the commemorative programme and the anticipated developments. In our previous consideration, I outlined the principles that would inform the development of the programme. Today, I wish to report on progress and explore some of the considerations for the future.
The year 1913 was a momentous one in Ireland. The established order was directly challenged not only by the continuing Home Rule crisis but also by the assertion of workers' rights in the Lock-out and the suffragette demand for electoral reform. Both the national movement for Home Rule and the resistance campaign in Ulster made preparations for armed action with the founding of the Ulster Volunteer Force, UVF, in January and the Irish Volunteers in November. Between those events, the desperation of workers in Dublin drove them to action that was met with determined suppression. Alongside that, the votes for women campaign continued with protests and demonstrations. Despite the excited condition, one could ask whether anyone could have anticipated how all those issues would be overwhelmed in the next fateful years.
It was with the intention of building an affinity with these troubled times that Century Ireland was launched this month. Supported by my Department, this fortnightly online newspaper is produced in a partnership with Boston College and RTE. At the core of Century Ireland is a collaborative partnership between the major cultural and educational institutions in Ireland. By working so fruitfully together, the various partners are making a range of rarely or never seen material available that will bring the events of a century ago to life. It will present as a continuing stream the news of the centenary period, reporting the headline stories and the off-beat items that sensitise us to the changed times.
The reporting will be supported by a wealth of visual, archival and contextual material to facilitate an understanding of the complexities of Irish life in the years between 1912 and 1923. Change sometimes arrives slowly and without being noticed. Century Ireland will make a special effort to address the less visible but no less significant developments in society. I hope the newspaper will attract a wide readership throughout Ireland and abroad, stimulating interest in the period and encouraging all to join in the commemorations. I was informed by RTE that circulation had reached almost 100,000 in the first week. I am particularly pleased with the use of modern technologies to bring our history to new audiences, especially young people and those without ready access to attend the special presentations at the cultural institutions.
I am grateful to have received the initial statement of the advisory group on commemorations chaired by Dr. Maurice Manning. It emphasises the opportunity that now arises to support and encourage people to engage with their heritage at community and local level. Formal and structured ceremonies will be arranged to commemorate the salient events on their centenaries in the coming years. However, the important element of commemoration is not that historic events are brought to mind but that we seek to enhance our understanding of what happened and the enduring significance of the events for subsequent generations.
Research and education will be at the core of the programme. The initiatives of the universities will be complemented by the development of study modules and resources for schools. The advisory group recently commenced a national consultation process on expectations and arrangements. Following an initial meeting in Carlow, meetings are now being arranged to take place in Cork and Kerry. Meetings are arranged in partnership with local authorities and promoted through local media and the network of local history societies. I am conscious of the essential role of local authorities, schools and the history groups in ensuring the commemorative programme achieves its full potential with wide public participation. County libraries and heritage officers will be at the forefront in presenting and facilitating initiatives.
Although the commemorative programme embraces the totality of our history in the years from the third Home Rule Bill to the emergence of the Irish State, I am conscious of the strengthening interest in particular events and how they should be commemorated, most especially the Easter Rising and the Proclamation of the Republic. This special consideration is not surprising. In a world convulsed by war and with the Home Rule crisis unresolved and deferred, the Irish Republic was born of fire and endured to attract the committed support of the nation. Determined to bring an end to British authority in Ireland that had endured for centuries, it necessarily entailed division with those in Britain and Ireland, especially Ulster, who wanted to preserve the Union enacted in 1800.
The polarisation of communities in Ireland that had been defined during the Home Rule crisis was consolidated and took on an enduring expression.
Notwithstanding this bitter legacy and the memory of the ensuing years of conflict, I believe that we can and should celebrate the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on its centenary in a way that is both sensitive and inclusive.
There is an important distinction to be made between commemoration and celebration. In commemorating the Easter Rising, we would acknowledge the service, sacrifice and achievement of a remarkable group of volunteers, giving expression anew to the aspiration for national independence. This is not done with disregard for the loss of life and destruction consequent on their actions. It recognises the republican movement's belief in the urgent need for forceful and determined action to bring an end to the decline in Irish national identity and well-being. The Easter Rising should not be represented as a spontaneous and isolated military adventure of a type not unfamiliar in the colonial age. It was strongly rooted in the distresses and frustrated aspirations of the 19th century and before. More than simply a resurgence of traditional culture, the Celtic revival is a reaction both to assimilation and modernity. The British Red Cross Association and the St. John's Ambulance assessed the potential of Munster, Leinster and Connacht for war service in 1914 to be based on their having one fifteenth of the population of the United Kingdom and one twenty-eighth of the wealth. It was further recognised that the disparity would be much greater if the measure had been of income rather than wealth.
On the imminent centenary of the Rising, I am confident that all will be able to transcend the sad elements of the history of former times. In this regard, I express my appreciation of the acknowledgement of the republican tradition at Easter by the British ambassador and, more recently, by the Duke of Kent as they laid wreaths at Glasnevin in memory of the personnel of the Rising. I hope that such gestures of reconciliation will inspire all to reflect on the relationships we would build for the future rather than to hold with the divisions of the past.
It has been suggested that the difficulties of current times should have precedence in our consideration, inhibiting the scale and scope of commemorations. I agree that sensitive regard must be had to the challenges we face in restoring order to the public finances and that many people are now struggling to manage their finances. However, the centenary of the Easter Rising is such a significant landmark in our national progress that we must seek to transcend all the issues of the moment and the differences between parties and traditions to ensure the optimal arrangements are put in place for us all to come together in commemoration.
The commemoration of the Easter Rising must not exult in the confrontation, destruction and death that characterised those days in Dublin, accounts of which have endured across the generations in the narrative of the heroic action. The story of the Rising must be told, making use of all available sources and with a sense of genuine enquiry open to new analysis and commentary from unfamiliar perspectives. Issues of recrimination must be left to rest with the passed generations. Our aspiration must be towards a comprehensive consideration of the background, principles and motivation that brings new light rather than heat to the subject and that will enhance our understanding of persons and events.
Similar considerations arise in relation to the commemoration of the First World War. How should we respond now to the catastrophic conflict 100 years ago that brought death and casualties on an unprecedented scale, with more than 50,000 Irishmen killed, and 250,000 taking part in the arms factories in Britain and on the battlefields of France? We should start from remembrance. Throughout Ireland there are families with private memories of lost relatives who passed away without acknowledgement in their communities. This was apparent in the response to the First World War roadshow initiative organised by the National Library of Ireland in the Europeana programme. Privately held records and memorabilia were brought to the library to be digitised for inclusion in a database that can be shared internationally. Public interest exceeded all expectations and a second event was organised in Limerick.
The same abiding commitment has been seen in the dedication of memorials to restore to our consciousness the Irish soldiers who died in the war. Often organised at community and local level, new monuments and publications record the service and losses from Ireland in the terrible war that brought an end to the old order in Europe and the wider world. On the invitation of the council chairman in County Cavan, I was very pleased to participate with Northern Executive Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy, in the dedication of a small memorial in Virginia to the 24 local men who died in the war. The gentle message of acceptance and respect inherent in that memorial testifies to the capacity in commemorations to contribute to the work of reconciliation. The centenary presents an opportunity for us to look again at the extent to which regard for the Irish soldiers of the First World War was affected by the conflict between the Crown forces and the independence movement in Ireland.
Perhaps rooted in the destruction of two world wars and maybe because of events in our own age, concern has been expressed that the commemorative programme should not be dominated by military pageantry. I am confident that most people will agree that the participation of the Defence Forces in commemorations is an important tradition and an important representation of the State on ceremonial occasions. I am confident the Defence Forces will make a very substantial and distinguished contribution to commemorations in the coming years. The Defence Forces will have a special responsibility this year in the centenary of the founding of the Irish Volunteers. The arrangements for this important commemoration in November are nearing completion and will be announced shortly.
A comprehensive programme of commemoration, prepared under the auspices of the ICTU, continues to explore and commemorate the history of the Dublin Lock-out. I have been greatly impressed by the diversity of events and the many contributions to the programme, not only from trade unions but also from local authorities, cultural institutions, colleges, schools and the media. Perhaps most importantly, the One City, One Book programme organised by Dublin City Council shows how our commemorations can reach beyond their original purpose to stimulate interest in history and literature with continuing rewards.
This opportunity to engage with our history through artistic expression is very important. As we seek to relate to former times, there is a special and direct insight to be gained from their artistic output which has endured across the years. Equally, the response of this generation expressed through the arts will be of wide public interest, encourage discussion and be a special part of our contribution to the continuing legacy of the revolutionary age. Having afforded priority in my initial approach to certain continuing projects and new developments with a view to completion in 2016, I would now welcome suggestions with regard to the creative possibilities and special presentations that would constitute an artistic programme to complement the commemorations.
Another great opportunity available to us for this centenary programme is to make full use of new communications technologies to communicate our activities widely and encourage the participation of all interested people at home and abroad. The strong and continuing commitment of the national cultural institutions to the digitisation of collections and archives enables everyone to conduct a research project on any aspect of family, local, cultural, economic, political or military history, thereby making their contribution to the portrait of Ireland in the revolutionary age. Centenary related tourism in Ireland can be assisted by the development of informative smartphone applications and street guides. The Century Ireland project has the capacity to reach out through Twitter and Facebook to bring its content to public attention. I hope that people familiar with these technologies will be proactive in making suggestions of how they can be harnessed to contribute to our activities. I acknowledge today the production of a supplement by The Irish Times, the third of a series on this particular period. It is a fine publication.
I look forward to listening to Senators' suggestions. The last time I was in the House to outline my vision for the decade of commemorations, I got some good ideas. I very much appreciate the interest of this House in considering the progress and potential of the commemorative programme. This House has a major contribution to make in this area.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire inniu. Tá áthas orm go bhfuil seans agam an clár cuimhneacháin a phlé. Is mór an chabhair é an cur i láthair a rinne an tAire anseo inniu. Tugann sé seans dúinn ár dtuairimí féin a nochtadh.
I welcome the Minister and thank him for outlining the progress being made in respect of the decade of commemorations. That the commemorations cover such a long period of Irish history underlines how ancient a nation we are. There is not a part of the world where the Irish footprint cannot be seen. Irish missioners travelled abroad where they helped to develop education and medical systems and many Irish people were involved in emerging legislatures throughout the world. We did not colonise any other country, which gives us a special status.
The Minister is correct that commemorations should be about more than focusing on the immediate event. They should help us to understand who we are as a people, establish our national identity and set out our vision for the future and how we will fit into the world context. All of these things are part of our highly diverse story. Interestingly, we have often found out through dialogue and taking a fraternal and human approach that the diversity or division in this country is not as solid as we first believed. The commemorations provide us with further opportunities for taking such an approach.
I am pleased the Minister devoted a considerable amount of his time to the 1916 Rising, which fits into the expectations of most Irish people. It was in that period that we set about establishing our independence and taking control of our destiny. The Proclamation of 1916, while one of the shortest charters of independence in the world, expresses sentiments that remain relevant to this day and shows the foresight of the Volunteers who were working under considerable pressure. I have always been impressed by Terence MacSwiney's book, Principles of Freedom, in which he wrote that we must always look beyond the battle and know, in time, the type of Ireland we wish to establish.
The 1916 Rising can be commemorated in a way that is not divisive. I would be surprised if any country did not commemorate its founding battle or struggle for independence. Examples of this are evident in Britain, the United States and throughout Europe. Such commemorations and the loyalty we ask people to give to the State and nation are expected. I was always somewhat surprised by revisionists because I could never understand the reason they found it necessary to undertake a programme of revision. It is not necessary to do so because people can interpret any event in the manner in which they wish.
I would like the relatives of those who fought in the 1916 Rising to be given a central part in the commemorations. I recall a debate in the Seanad when relatives of the seven signatories to the Proclamation were present in the Visitors Gallery. I felt part of history on that occasion because the names on the Proclamation were represented by their relatives.
It is important also that the commemoration of the 1916 Rising is not centralised. In that regard, I welcome the initiative by The 1916-21 Club. For those who are not familiar with the organisation, it is an all-party club that was established to ensure division would be left to one side. It will launch its national programme in the historical setting of the Rotunda in Dublin on 22 June. I thank the Minister and his committee for meeting representatives of the club to discuss the matter.
We should use every opportunity to build bridges, as we in Comhaltas Ceoltóirí hÉireann have done by holding Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Derry this year. This decision was the subject of considerable debate. Interestingly, some people on the republican as opposed to loyalist side took the view that we should not have an all-island event in Derry until a united Ireland had been achieved. I took a different view because it is my belief that the cultural traditions of this country belong to all of its people. We should underline that our ancient heritage is much more enduring and potent than recent political divisions. The Fleadh Cheoil will demonstrate, as it did throughout the Troubles, that our traditions belong to everyone. Hundreds of thousands of people will attend the event which will boost the morale of the people of Derry.
On the issue of Moore Street, which I have discussed previously with the Minister, the area is a designated national monument and one of our most important national monuments. It is the area to which the leaders of the Rising retreated and signed the surrender. As such, it is similar to the Alamo. To walk into Moore Street and see where The O'Rahilly and others died reminds us of the great sacrifices that were made at that time. If it is not possible to have the national monument properly placed in Moore Street in time for the commemorations in 2016, I ask the Minister to consider making a declaration that a fully developed national monument will be located on the site. Such a monument would encapsulate much of our history and provide young people with a focus with which to connect to this history. At the same time, and I do not mean this in a mercenary sense, it would also be a wonderful tourist attraction. I have seen the benefits of similar historical sites throughout the world.
I wish the Minister well with the work he is doing. It is clear that much thought went into his presentation. It behoves us all to be part of the effort to show that while it was necessary to fight for independence, much bridge-building has taken place in the meantime and should continue in future. Our cultural identity must be central to the commemorative process from now until 1916. Our language and the many other distinctive elements of our culture are our distinctive badge of nationhood and should be at the forefront of the forthcoming commemorations. The first President of Ireland, Mr. Douglas Hyde, who was a member of the Protestant community, was also president of Conradh na Gaeilge and one of the foremost proponents of the Irish language. Our language is a cohesive influence and element. Go n-éirí go geal leis an Aire agus go raibh rath Dé ar an obair.
I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for his ongoing work. He is an extremely energetic and hard-working Minister and we will see the fruits of his labours in the period ahead. In the run-up to the symbolic and poignant 1916 commemorations, I applaud the remarkable array of scheduled events and publications which honour all who played their part during that tumultuous and future defining era. I commend the development, preservation and presentation of historical records by local authorities, which allowed new knowledge about the era to be brought to light.
Unlike the 1966 commemorations, which presented a somewhat monochrome view of history, the centenary commemorations, I am pleased to note, will expand beyond the set-piece events to cover thematic issues such as the treatment of women and minorities. The realities of the historical events are likely to be expanded upon.
In light of the recent amnesty granted to Irish Army veterans who joined the allied forces in the Second World War, I hope the 2016 commemorations will recognise and acknowledge the diversity of traditions that see both Home Rule and British Army heritage within a large number of Irish families. I believe these centenaries provide an excellent opportunity to ensure all traditions are treated with respect and understanding.
As Government spokesperson on arts and culture in this House, I commend the investment, totalling €1 million, by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in the online visual newspaper of the revolutionary period, Century Ireland, which the Minister has already mentioned and which was launched earlier this month. The funding is testament to the Department's commitment to bringing this most pivotal point in our history and heritage to life in a fresh, innovative and exciting manner. What is wonderful about this publication is that it seeks to respect the complexity of Irish historical experience, while affording a clearer understanding of the context in which the series of events took place. It must be remembered that between the years 1913 and 1923, in particular, Irish society was transformed by the Dublin Lock-out, the Suffragette movement, the ever-strengthening assertion of civil and democratic rights, industrialisation, the progress of the organised labour movement and by education and the pioneering advances of science, all of which established the foundations for the very progressive society we enjoy today. Meanwhile, the involvement of Boston College in this project prompts us to remember the diaspora and the friends of Ireland around the world who will wish to share in our commemorative programme and will be further encouraged to visit our shores. It will continue the efforts of The Gathering in this regard.
Tourists are not just enticed to come here by our striking scenery. I concur with Senator Ó Murchú's comments regarding our culture. The fact that we are so rich in culture and heritage, along with our scenery and our personality as a people, is what is attractive to tourists. I am particularly pleased that in addition to the collaborative partnership of Boston College and RTE, the national cultural institutions have been joined by Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane Gallery, which last year opened its excellent exhibition of portraits, Revolutionary States: Home Rule and Modern Ireland. Dublin City Library and Archives, University College Dublin, NUI Galway and the Dictionary of Irish Biography also contributed greatly.
Century Ireland will no doubt stimulate a renewed interest in the revolutionary period and I am delighted to see the use of new technologies to bring our history to new audiences, especially the younger generations and those who cannot easily access the special presentations at the various cultural institutions. Moreover, I also welcome the bringing forward of proposals outlined by Mr. John Kennedy of the Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht on the military service pensions archive, a collection of statements that have the capacity to transform our understanding of revolutionary Ireland. I understand the Government has indicated its willingness to publish material without censorship, save in very rare cases where the safety of surviving individuals might be put at risk. This is very important and I welcome it. It is an excellent idea to allow access to this information online for free and also at a dedicated facility that would provide a legacy for the centenaries which would be widely used and appreciated.
I am particularly pleased that all of our cultural institutions and local authorities are playing such an important role in the commemorations. The continuation of the National Library of Ireland's Europeana First World War collection road show is an excellent interactive idea, giving families the chance to contribute artefacts and stories relating to the First World War to a pan-European exhibition.
It is of the utmost importance that the younger generations, in particular, are encouraged to engage with their historical heritage. I hope this will continue at community level in schools and community groups. I look forward to attending many of the upcoming events to commemorate the most transformative of eras in our nation's history. I commend the Minister for his work.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach. I welcome the Minister to the House today and thank him for giving us a further insight into his vision and plans for this series of commemorations over the next while. I also congratulate the Minister, in particular, for the Century Ireland project, which is a unique and brilliant way to begin the debate on commemoration. It is wonderful to see the Department leading that, in collaboration with Boston College and RTE.
The Minister spoke passionately about his role and responsibility in this area almost a year ago when we discussed this topic in the Seanad. I would like to add a few thoughts of my own to this debate today and, in particular, to advocate for the role of the living artist in participating in these great events of remembrance that are upon us. To quote the President in a speech he gave a year ago in New York:
We are now in a time which needs new myth-making, including a myth for our Irishness and I believe that this involves both the ethics of memory and the courage of imagination. What should we remember, and how, what might we come to know, imagine, dare to hope and offer such an Irishness for new times as would be authentic and sustainable?
The Minister is asking for this and I commend him for that. The Minister has set out a sense of the infrastructure of how we might commemorate and remember what has happened over the next decade. The participation of our communities, including our artists, in that is to be warmly welcomed and supported.
President Higgins's challenge to all of us is to use the act of memory and remembrance as a way to construct a new vision and a new imagination for our communities and our society. The challenge we have is not so much about commemorating the past but how to use our memory, both actual and fictional, to inform our future. That could be the Minister's legacy in the years to come. We have a wealth of knowledge through our national and local archives about what happened and I congratulate the Minister for supporting various online initiatives in this area. However, we need to use this more to explore the challenges and, through our artists, debate the values of a renewed Ireland.
As I mentioned in a similar debate last year, memory has politics. There is a healthy tension between memory and fact. To tell the story of the Lock-out, the 36th Ulster Division of the British Army, the 16th Irish Division of the British Army, the uprising of 1916, the War of Independence or the Civil War we rely as much on great literature as we do on historical facts. The play by Frank McGuinness, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, has as much impact as any archive or history lesson. The same is true of the great play by Sebastian Barry, A Long Long Way or, indeed, Sean O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars. I am not in any way diminishing archives, exhibitions or museums as valid forms of remembering but simply arguing that good art or good writing can also serve history. Memory and art will not neutralise emotion or injustice and that is the crux of the challenge of this centenary of commemoration. The Minister has called on us to respond to that challenge.
We should not be worried if one side appears to hijack a centenary celebration over another, providing that there is a multiple of those voices. In that sense, I absolutely agree with Senator Ó Murchú's advocation of a celebration of 1916. In the Minister's own speech, he spoke quite poetically about the need to celebrate the Rising. He said that the story of the Rising must be told, making use of all available resources and with a sense of genuine inquiry, open to new analysis and commentary. That is where contemporary artists, be they playwrights, painters, visual artists or film makers, can respond in a way that we in this House cannot.
We have examples from the past where the Irish Government either controlled a commemoration too rigidly, as in 1966, or ignored it, as in 1991.
We should be confident that no one can control memory. In this instance I again congratulate the Minister on his statement. A subjective understanding of historical events should sit side-by-side with an objective explanation - we need both. I quote Professor Richard Kearney of Boston College, who has written a brilliant paper on the ethics of memory:
This ethical task of testimony is not simply an individual responsibility. It is also a collective one. Here, it seems, the ethical debt to the dead joins forces with the poetical power to narrate. And we recall that the two modes of narrative - fiction and history - share a common origin in epic, which has the characteristic of preserving memories on the communal scale of societies.
What I am saying is that the poet or writer of fiction is just as important as the historian in how we might make sense of commemoration or make sense of our history to look towards the future and the value of the future. This is where artists are best placed to address narrative and memory through critical imagination. Memory not only illuminates, it also illustrates and part of that illustration is the use of images to strike, in the sense of striking home, the horror of evil and the grace of goodness.
I had a deeply profound and confusing experience two weeks ago when I visited the battlefields of the First World War in Ypres and the Somme for the first time. I knew through my limited historical knowledge what had happened in the First World War. I knew about the Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination on 28 June 1914. In our history lessons we were swiftly moved on to the League of Nations and the peace conference in 1919. However, we were not necessarily told about the role of so many Irish - North and South - fighting in that war and their reasons for doing so. In a way there was a kind of an embarrassment and a misunderstanding over why these young men went to fight in the war. We need to be told that story.
We certainly know about the 36th (Ulster) Division from Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, but we do not know about the 16th (Irish) Division, the Royal Munster Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Rifles or the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and how the 36th (Ulster) Division and the 16th (Irish) Division fought together shoulder-to-shoulder in the trenches. That is a great image for us. We speak about the Good Friday Agreement and communities, but working-class men from Dublin and working-class men from Belfast together fought.
That is part of history that I was not taught and I look to the Minister to consider how history can be used through schools. Certainly those in my generation - people in their mid to late 40s - were not taught that through F.S. Lyons's course. There is a generation that needs to be reminded. For me it is profound to know that 80,000 people were not conscripted but volunteered in the first year to fight in the First World War and I imagine that the main reason was to escape poverty. They joined the army not necessarily because of any nationalistic or imperialistic reasons but to escape poverty. The fact that the Lock-out had occurred the previous winter had much to do with it. Our commemorations can look to how history can unravel certain myths that might not be as true.
We also need to consider the Civil War where more Irishmen were killed by each other than were killed by the Black and Tans during the War of Independence.
I agree with the Minister and commend him on his speech. I am sure the Seanad would support the Minister in providing funding to contemporary artists, writers, actors, playwrights, painters and sculptors to encourage them to make sense of history and memory in order to help to challenge us as a nation to create new myths of Irishness for the 21st century.
Before I call Senator O'Keeffe, I acknowledge from my homeland in west County Cork some students from Rossa College in Skibbereen and their teachers. It is a long journey up and they are very welcome to Seanad Éireann.
I extend the same welcome to those who have made that long journey. I thank the Minister and welcome him to the House. As others have said, it is a good start. It is great to hear about the Century Ireland project, which is a thoughtful and good place to start what will be a very intense period of commemoration and thought-provoking memories for many people. It is also good to see the harmony in this House, as we talk about this. Some people may have feared that these commemorations might become somehow divisive, but I do not believe that will be the case. We in this House have a role to play in ensuring that does not happen.
I wish to start with the story of a Dubliner, George Gibson, who was sent out to buy tea, sugar and butter for his mother. Instead he put the money on a horse and lost. Instead of going home, he ended up enlisting in the British Army - in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He ended up at the second Battle of Ypres, where for the first time the Germans used poison chlorine gas on a large scale. George was gassed and his eyesight damaged. He was invalided out like many others. However, George was well enough to be shipped back to the front just in time for the Battle of the Somme, where he served as a stretcher-bearer because, of course, his eyesight was not good enough to fight. He was injured again with shrapnel and was shipped back to the UK. He ended up going back to thing he perhaps loved most - working for a bookie's shop in Liverpool.
As that was happening to George, his brother, Richard, while he did not go shopping, also enlisted with the Irish Citizen Army. He thought he was going on a parade and going on to Fairyhouse - it is clear that horses were a big thing in their house. Instead he found himself in the GPO on Easter Monday 1916, aged 18 with his shotgun. He was also wounded just like his brother, trying to escape to Moore Street with the O'Rahilly, his commanding officer, who was, of course, killed in that event. Richard's was a serious wound - a bullet from a Lewis machine gun lodged in his shoulder, which was no joke in 1916. He was shot right outside Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street. He could not fight further and was subsequently incarcerated in Kilmainham and in other prisons, and ended up in Frongoch where he met Michael Collins.
The two wounded brothers, George and Richard, came together again during the War of Independence, working for Michael Collins. Richard was setting up a bookie business in Dublin, and he and George, still in the UK, used their work on the racecourses and bookies' offices as cover for carrying messages around the UK and delivering them at racecourses where, of course, crowds of people would be gathered and they would be less noticed. They were able to pick up intelligence there and send it back to Dublin.
People such as Richard and George should be our touchstones as we try to work out how to commemorate the events of what historian Eric Hobsbawm famously has called the age of catastrophe - that terrible time between 1914 and 1945. They remind us that real people - men and women, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers - are at the heart of all these big events, including the Lock-out, the First World War, the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. Real people need to be remembered for who they were, not for who we think they were or for what we imagine they were.
I do not believe that Richard and George ever thought then that they should be commemorated or that people would discuss them nearly 100 years later. That is the very point - they were of the now back then and they did what they thought they should do. They were not showmen and were not trying to create legacy. They were not positioning themselves somewhere in the hope of being important. They did what they thought was right - although perhaps George might be described as taking the scenic route to doing the right thing. These two young men are at the heart of what we want to commemorate. While their story is a classic one of brothers apparently fighting on opposite sides, the truth is, of course, somewhat different. The devil is always in the detail - not just the top line.
Commemorating these events, as we are 100 years later, we must be careful and considered, and observe the complexities of the stories as shown by Richard and George. We need to observe the facts, avoiding the cheap, reductionist, headline style of commemorating which is attractive because it feeds a quick narrative about important events and expands their importance.
Of course, we choose to commemorate these events because it is an important part of defining who we are as a people and who we think we are. It is part of the process of identifying ourselves, believing in ourselves and understanding our place in the world. I believe Senator Noone referred to the 50th anniversary celebrations. I have here a photograph of Richard Gibson at that commemoration. I believe somebody used the word "monochrome" and the photograph is monochrome.
He was presented with this to show he had been in the GPO in 1916. It is a beautiful piece of work. Perhaps the National Library of Ireland road show of the Great War could be repeated or extended. These are the types of valuable things people have in their homes. It is a beautiful piece of handmade work to commemorate that event. We have moved on 50 years and we are now more distanced. As stated by the Minister, we now have a greater capacity to inquire and be fresh in our approach to these events.
I attended the very interesting lecture in the National Library last night by Professor Conor Gearty, during which the Minister also spoke. Professor Gearty spoke about the power of testimony - the affidavit and sworn memories people have - and the interpretation of events many years later. Rosemary Joyce, a professor of anthropology at the University of California Berkeley, has spoken about these public ceremonies fixing in our minds a common account of what happened regardless of whether or not we were there, which account embodies attitudes and perspectives as well as facts.
No tragedy is immune to being taken up in a political narrative. The danger is how they are re-interpreted. Historians, much like lawyers and politicians, have a way of framing history and of creating a narrative argument. They will always be affected by the time and place of their construction. Some may, perish the thought, be affected by a desire to create a wave, make a name for themselves, build a personal reputation or simply make money. At the very good commemoration conference held by Queens University Belfast at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham the historian Jay Winters warned us to beware of historians determining our public memory. He likened commemorations to a cathedral for secular societies, where sacred questions - those about the nature of love, life, death, comradeship and sacrifice - are asked and sometimes answered. It is because of these great emotions, love, life and death, that we run the risk of clouding our commemorative process with the sentimental glorification of events in a manner which would cause people like George and Richard to squirm if they could see or hear it. It is not only people in Ireland who worry about how to commemorate such events. There is a whole business of commemoration, sociological and psychological studies, advisors, consultants and bandwagon jumpers.
In the UK, there is some controversy at the moment about Prime Minister David Cameron's remarks comparing the commemorations for 1914 to those of the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations for the Queen and calling for them to be about stressing the national spirit. Some well-known actors and personalities, such as Jude Law, Vanessa Redgrave, Ken Loach, want the First World War commemorations to be used to stop current wars and to remind people of the brutal loss of life in terms of the 16 million who died and the 20 million wounded rather than as a commemoration of national spirit. The debate about how we commemorate and what we want goes on.
Let us step carefully. Let us ensure we account for the different views. The Minister has indicated that this is what is being done. We want local authorities, schools and communities to be part of the commemorations. Do we want to learn from the memories and accept all the lessons? Are we ready for this? Do we want to applaud all of it or acknowledge the mistakes? If so, how? Let us not glorify what was not glorious. Let this very important decade of events be about restoring the humanity of those events, the reality of them and the people who fought and died. Richard Gibson never glorified his own contribution. He would tell his grandson Paul about the day he was shot: "How did it feel? What did I do? I did what any good soldier would do son, - I lay down and passed out!" His other great line on the events leading up to Easter 1916 was very simple: "Don't volunteer". His brother, George, lived out his life in Liverpool with his family. He even became an Everton supporter. We will remember Richard - Dick to his family and friends - as the man who smoked a pipe, lived in Stoneybatter, liked the occasional glass of whiskey and was called Daddy by his daughter Catherine.
I welcome his daughter Catherine, Kay, here today with her husband Des Murray who are my mother and father-in-law. I want to pay tribute here to Dick and George and to remember them because above all else, above the national good, the great tradition, the history, the monuments and the solemnity, they were part of a family. Remembering them sustains the living. That ultimately is why this decade matters. There are other events that will be commemorated at this time, including women getting the vote in 1918 and the millennium of the Battle of Clontarf in 1044. The Minister would of course be disappointed if I did not mention 2015, the 150th anniversary of the birth of W.B. Yeats, former Senator.
As outlined by Senator Mac Conghail, this is an opportunity to support living artists and writers who will re-interpret the past and illuminate the present and in so doing commemorate those great people like Richard and George.
I, too, welcome Senator O'Keeffe's mother and father-in-law to the Visitors Gallery. The next speaker is Senator Barrett, whom I understand is sharing time with Senator Norris.
Yes and Senator Norris will speak first if that is agreeable.
Is that agreed? Agreed. The Senators have four minutes each.
I will take only three minutes. I thank Senator Barrett for so generously sharing his time with me, in particular for allowing me to speak first. I compliment Senator O'Keeffe on putting a human face on these events, which is often a difficult thing to do.
I come from a slightly different background to many people in that on my mother's side I come from an old Gaelic Irish family who were comfortable and proud to be British and Irish and saw no contradiction in it.
You cannot beat a Fitzpatrick.
Senator Norris without interruption please.
I agree with Senator Mac Conghail that the arts can play a significant role with regard to the 1913 Lock-out. The RTE broadcast of Barry McGovern reading Strumpet City was immensely powerful. I am glad that the Minister has stated that this will be a diverse commemoration. I recall with horror the 1966 celebration, which was a grotesque, triumphalist celebration from which anybody who was not quite heterosexual, republican and Roman Catholic, was ruthlessly excluded.
The visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth II was a tribute to the Nationalist element of our population. It was a remarkable event, one welcomed by people here. For this reason, it is important we ensure the commemorations are diverse. I welcome the use of the word "commemoration". I also welcome that a former leader of this House, Dr. Maurice Manning, is involved. When it comes to 1916, I wonder how much we have to celebrate. It gives us an opportunity to take stock of our once again being victims of a rigid economic theory being applied willy nilly in this country from an imperial centre. We currently have soup kitchens, evictions and rack-renting in the sense that people who dare to improve their property now have to pay a higher price. We have lost our independence, financially and otherwise. It is time for us to stock-take.
I hope the Minister will be involved in political life in 2022-----
-----not only because of the anniversary of the Civil War but because it will be the 100th anniversary of the Seanad. It would be damaging for our entire cultural and political life if the Seanad were abolished.
Reference was made to President Michael D. Higgins. This House was good enough for our current President, former President Mary Robinson, who was one of our greatest Presidents and should be good enough for the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, also.
I am inspired by my good friend, Senator Paul Coghlan. I was too bashful to mention the Fitzpatrick-Mac Giolla Phádraig families. In terms of celebrations and The Gathering and so on, we should take on board the clan idea. There are many hundreds of thousands, perhaps, millions of people who have great Irish names such as Fitzpatrick, Doyle, Deenihan, Barrett, Coghlan and O'Keeffe. Let us invite them to this House and celebrate. Who knows what glorious things we will dig up? Let us celebrate something of which even His Eminence, Pope Francis, may be unaware, namely, the existence of the Irish Pope.
I doubted that I could be correct until I read on the GAA website that Pope Pupeus abdicated because he had to play a hurling match on the Aran Islands. According to an article by the former editor of The Irish Times, Conor Brady, he was from County Laois and was among the ancestors of the Mac Giolla Phádraig clan. He was educated at Clonenagh monastery and went around with his great friend, St. Enda, until the latter became homesick and came back. They were so impressed by Benedict's holiness that they elected him pope, but after the departure of St. Enda, he became so homesick that he returned after only three days. He was never officially crowned but he is a pope. We should make a meal out of that because it is a bloody good story. It is every bit as good as the bleeding statues.
I welcome the Minister, who was nominated to the Seanad by Garret FitzGerald. A previous Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, nominated President Michael D. Higgins to this House. The Seanad will be playing a big role in the celebrations the Minister is organising.
Muckross House and the RIC barracks in Caherciveen, in the Minister's home county, have been restored as part of a heritage project. Both places would have been regarded as Unionist in the past but they are also part of our heritage, and the Minister is well placed to represent them. His fellow county man and friend, Seán Kelly, helped to foster unity in sport in this country by allowing rugby matches to be held in Croke Park. County Kerry is leading by example in this regard. These commemorations should be honoured equally in the Glens of Antrim, Derry, the Mournes and every other part of the country. We have to emphasise the inclusiveness to which the President referred. I am reminded of the wonderful photograph from Oldbridge, along the River Boyne, of the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and the Rev. Ian Paisley as they commemorated a piece of Irish history.
Senator Ó Murchú spoke about Douglas Hyde, who in 1931 was asked by students of the TCD historical society to be president of the society. He said he would do it on condition they first asked Edward Carson. Here we see the first President of Ireland nominating a leader of the Ulster Unionist Party for an important post in the history of student societies. We should include parliamentarians like Butt, Parnell and Redmond, who took arduous journeys to confront the majority in Westminster on behalf of the Irish people. Of course, Daniel O'Connell took an even more arduous journey in his time. They are all part of what we are commemorating. There is a strong Irish parliamentary tradition. A new book on Edmund Burke was launched last night.
Our historic buildings are in much better condition compared with our last decade of commemorations. Dublin Castle has been splendidly restored, as has the Royal Hospital and, most recently, the museum building in Trinity. They are part of our heritage. Senator Mac Conghail referred to music and the arts. These should not be divisive. There should be no bitterness or dwelling on sadness. As Senator O'Keeffe has noted, we certainly should be determined to ensure there are no more wars. We should celebrate spontaneity, generosity, warmth and the best of this wonderful country.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is nice to hear my good friend and colleague, Senator Barrett, mention the famous buildings in our history, including one that is close to my heart and that of the Minister, namely, Muckross House. In welcoming the Minister and thanking him for his overview, I also commend him on the work he has done to mark the important anniversaries of our history. In particular, I praise the work of the all-party group on commemorations, which the Minister chairs, and the academic advisory group chaired by Dr. Maurice Manning and ably assisted by Dr. Martin Mansergh. They are taking exactly the right approach on the commemorative programme. I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Manning, Dr. Mansergh and John Kennedy in the not so distant past. Many ongoing initiatives are worthy of mention but I was particularly impressed by the way in which the Century Ireland website, which was recently launched, sets the benchmark for the kind of accessible historical resource that will serve us well over the decade. I thank the Minister for supporting this project.
As the Minister is aware I have the honour of serving on committee A of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which last year produced a report on the decade of commemorations. We spoke to key individuals and organisations involved in commemorative activity and I believe that the report we produced is balanced and sensitive. The Minister generously acknowledged this in a fine letter to the committee. He also acceded to our request for a meeting with him, and perhaps we can arrange one after we visit Belfast next month. We noted in particular how commemorative activity in Northern Ireland can be a key part of the process of reconciliation. The work of Belfast City Council's good relations committee and the recent exhibition, entitled Shared History, Different Allegiances, was of an extremely high standard. We noted, too, the particular importance of commemorating the First World War in the east-west element of commemorations. The events of the decade affected all the people of these islands and shaped relations between Britain and Ireland for the ensuing century. The attendance of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste at Remembrance Day ceremonies in Northern Ireland was a moving and historic gesture towards a shared remembrance of the past.
Many people consider remembrance or commemoration of the past as dangerous because they think it might open up old wounds or enflame old antagonisms. It is true we must remain vigilant against those who would exploit the anniversaries for negative purposes, but the decade of commemorations also represents a vital opportunity. By learning more about our past and the history of all the people of this island, we learn more about ourselves and, more important, we learn more about those of other communities and traditions, allowing us to put ourselves in their shoes and gain a better understanding of their perspectives.
We do not have to agree about everything. For some of us, the Easter Rising is the central event of the decade. We can hold this belief proudly and unapologetically. However, that does not mean we can fail to acknowledge the alternative views legitimately held by others. The centenary of the Ulster Covenant was of particular importance to the Unionist community in Northern Ireland and it is important to acknowledge that. I was very pleased to see the First Minister being invited to Iveagh House last year to deliver the Edward Carson lecture in that context.
While much valuable historical research will be carried out over the course of the decade, if commemorations are to be truly successful, they must capture the broader imagination of the public. The past is too important to be left solely to the historians, vital though their role may be. I hope local community initiatives will have a central place in the Government's programme for the decade. The Minister has indicated he will encourage this in every respect.
Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. This is an opportunity to discuss what has been dubbed the decade of commemorations, that is, the collection of significant commemorations we will observe in the years to come, from the formation of the UVF last year through 1916 and up to 1923 and the ending of the Civil War. The Government's advisory committee of academic and other experts, chaired by Dr. Maurice Manning, and a group comprising senior officials from relevant Departments are planning the State's centenary programme and advising the Oireachtas committee. A similar group has been established in the Assembly under the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, which is headed by the Sinn Féin Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín.
While the establishment of the Oireachtas committee is welcome, I must put on record my dissatisfaction with the manner in which it is conducting its business. It appears that the committee has not achieved a great deal. It has held discussions and meetings but it has not produced many concrete plans. Even with the best will in the world, the Government has not provided the resources to allow it to do anything considerable or worthwhile. It has no real budget. It is highlighting and endorsing events and, to some extent, tying into them, but it is not supporting them in any tangible way and it is certainly not providing any resources.
Later this year sees the centenary of the foundation of the Irish Volunteers who would play a key role in the rising. However, it is not yet clear what is planned as regards the commemoration of the establishment of the volunteers, despite the fact that this is mere months away. I would welcome the Minister's clarification on what is planned in that regard.
Neither is it clear what we will see for the cornerstone commemoration in 2016. What events are planned? I understand Easter Monday will see a major event but details are sketchy. A considerable number of events were organised for the 50th anniversary at considerable expense at the time. This included a major play in Croke Park, the production of records by Gael Linn and much more but it took some time in planning. They did not throw it together in a short timeframe.
If the Government has major festivals or concerts in mind or if it wishes to declare a public holiday, we would like to see more action sooner. We are aware the Government will be putting the 1916 pension records online. That is a welcome and positive development. However, it was an initiative which had begun under the previous Government. Likewise, the refurbishment of Glasnevin Cemetery is positive, but it too began previously. As there is not much money, resources or planning going into this we have yet to see any real, tangible, new initiatives.
As has been mentioned, there is also the outstanding issue of the Moore Street site. The Minister is responsible for the decision on what becomes of the Moore Street site. He has seen all the presentations and heard all the discussions at which he was present. He knows the huge potential of this site. It could be a tremendous attraction for tourists and would provide a marvellous focus for so many 1916 events yet currently it is in limbo. The possibility of a shopping centre being built on the site is offensive. I urge the Minister to ensure the site is protected and added to as part of a revolutionary quarter in the north inner city.
There are other aspects of the 1916 legacy that need greater support. Locals near Richmond Barracks are seeking support to renovate and preserve the barracks. This is a key site where some leaders were held before they were executed. However, they have not been met with great support.
Likewise, it appears there is a lack of tour guides in Kilmainham Gaol and a lack of capacity. Recently, someone in Deputy Gerry Adams's office rang to arrange a tour in the jail for a group and was told that the next date that could be arranged was September. That is disgraceful. It is a popular location and we should seek to ensure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to visit it.
In my constituency we are still unsure what will be the outcome as regards the refurbishment and development of an interpretive centre at Pearse's Cottage, Teach an Phiarsaigh. I would welcome a clear statement from the Minister on that because on a number of occasions on the Adjournment I asked the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, about it and he gave us a commitment that the Government would have that centre built by 2016. In November of last year he told me it was on the desk of Fáilte Ireland for consideration for a capital grant and that he was hopeful that would be processed. I have written to Fáilte Ireland on two occasions and did not get any clarification but perhaps the Minister could clarify for us where he stands on the issue. Will he reconfirm the Government's commitment to have the interpretive centre at Teach an Phiarsaigh built in time for 2016?
D'fhéadfainn cuid mhaith ábhair eile a ardú. Aontaím leis na pointí atá déanta i dtaobh cúrsaí ealaíne le linn an chomóraidh. Tá na smaointí go maith agus tá an chaint go maith, ach i ndáiríre píre bhí an ceart ag mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir Norris, nuair a d'iarr sé cad a cheapadh an dream a shín Forógra na Cásca 1916 maidir leis an tír ina bhfuilimid faoi láthair. B'fhéidir go bhfuil géarghá le díospóireacht náisiúnta maidir leis na bunphrionsabail a bhí ag an dream sin maidir le caomhnú a dhéanamh ar mhaithe le chuile pháiste sa tír seo ar an gcaoi cheánna ó thaobh ár gcuid acmhainní nádúrtha, cearta agus mar sin de. Chuirfinn fáilte roimhe sin.
I call Senator Landy who has five minutes but as we are tight on time I ask him to be brief as Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Paul Bradford are offering and we must give time to the Minister to reply.
If the Acting Chairman would blow the whistle I can go.
Thank you, Senator.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I will briefly allude to the Century Ireland initiative. It is a fantastic initiative and I commend all involved in that, including RTE.
This period is about the commemoration of 1913, 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War but it is also about local issues. History is not solely about remembering war; it is about remembering events that happened, and events happen in local communities. Unlike the previous speaker I believe it is very important that we work together, from the Minister down, to ensure that events happen locally. As we speak, fantastic events to do with The Gathering are taking place across the country, and local people are getting involved in that.
I want to highlight an issue in which I am honoured to be involved in my town of Carrick-on-Suir, namely, the erection of a 9 ft monument to Maurice Davin, the first president of the GAA and the only president to serve two terms. That event will take place on 1 June because local people from the three local hurling and football clubs, Carrick Davins, Carrick Swan and St. Mullins, along with other local people and assisted by the chairman of the Tipperary county board, Seán Nugent, came together, fund-raised and accessed grants available to people across the country to carry out such functions. The president of the GAA, Liam O'Neill, will be present for that event, as will many people in this Chamber. There is an open invitation to it and we will commemorate in our own way our famous son, Maurice Davin, who founded the GAA in 1884 in Thurles with Cusack and who was world champion in athletics at the time. After winning the British championships in 1881 he was asked by one of his fellow competitors if he thought he was the best athlete in Ireland to which he responded, "Well, I'm definitely the best athlete in Britain after today."
Davin founded the GAA because at that time athletics in this country was governed under British rules and he wanted to stamp our identity in his own way, which is the identity that became the GAA in which the Minister had great involvement over the years. It is an important moment but I raise that because it shows that people can commemorate history locally by their own actions in their own communities. That is what this decade of commemoration should be about. As I pointed out earlier, history should be remembered by citizens. Senator O'Keeffe made a valid point about the way history is written and subsequently read. It is important that local people should write the history of their own area as they know and understand it.
I commend the Minister for all the work going on and I have full confidence that the events to be held in 2016 and the other notable dates during this decade will be organised properly.
I will oblige the Acting Chairman by being as brief as possible. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus tréaslaím leis ar an obair atá á déanamh aige sa Rialtas go ginearálta, agus go háirithe ar an óráid fhairsing a thug sé tráthnóna.
In welcoming the Minister I had forgotten that he had been appointed to the Seanad by Garret FitzGerald. If that had not happened Fine Gael would have lost one of its greatest vote-getters and Kerry politics, and national politics, would be the poorer for it. I hope the Minister will remember the Seanad and how it gave him a good start.
The Minister's contribution was thoughtful and balanced but I would like to pick up on some of the points made. There is no doubt that the decade we are celebrating was one of tremendous excitement, and events happened at an extraordinarily fast pace. It must have been a very exciting time to be alive. The generation that experienced it have gone to their reward but they were very much alive and kicking in 1966, to which I will refer shortly. My generation had to learn about it while on the knees of our grandparents. For many of my generation the film "Mise Éire" captured that sterling period for us in an indelible way with O'Riada's fantastic soundtrack. There was so much happening in that entire movement, with Yeats's "All that delirium of the brave", it must have been an intoxicating period.
Despite criticism of the 1966 celebrations some very good events were held. The RTE programming was outstanding but, unfortunately, most of those archives were wiped, including long interviews with all the surviving leaders in the Easter Rising. That was a terrible mistake. The renaming of our major railway stations after the signatories was welcome also. Such initiatives were valid.
We may have made mistakes in 1966 and we must learn from them.
Without giving the Minister the litany, the key moments are the Lock-out; the formation of the volunteers in November 1913 which was a massive event with more than 3,000 people in the Rotunda and many more trying to get in; the Great War; the gun running at Larne and Howth; the funeral of O'Donovan Rossa, which was a seminal moment in the lead up to 1916; the Rising itself; the declaration of independence from which all else hangs; the War of Independence; the first Dáil; and the cultural revolution and Celtic revival. I hope Dublin City Council will agree to the proposal made by the Abbey Theatre and Senator Mac Conghail that the new bridge will be called the Abbey Theatre bridge because the Celtic revival had a huge part to play in our nationalist movement.
I was a typical rural republican and I learned my attitude to 1916 at home. As I got older I realised there was a different story, perspective and narrative. I certainly have the greatest respect for people such as John Redmond and those who took what was an unpopular position at the time. There was bitterness for a long time afterwards. I remember my grandmother saying that someone I had praised had worn the poppy, which was a major crime in her view. We have moved on from this and we respect those who enlisted in the British army such as Tom Kettle, Francis Ledwidge and many others including Tom Barry. When some soldiers fighting in the First World War heard about the Rising in Dublin they felt betrayed. Others, such as Barry, asked themselves what they were doing in Gallipoli fighting for the British when they should be at home fighting for the freedom of Ireland. It cut different ways. We now have a national day of commemoration when all traditions are embraced, and this has been a very important step forward.
Were we too triumphant in 1966? We probably were. Was there too much militarism about it? There are probably was. I certainly would like to see the Army have a profile in 2016 and in all other commemorations, but a lower profile. Unlike many of my colleagues here I do not believe the Army should be in churches for ceremonies; there is something incongruous about it. We were a young and emerging nation in 1966 and we had to show a little teaspach, which is only natural. Half of the Deputies at the time had been gunmen during the Rising and the War of Independence and it was natural to let off a bit of steam. Senator Norris was a bit harsh about it. We must be more circumspect and careful this time.
I agree with Senators O Murchú and Ó Clochartaigh with regard to Moore Street and it is very important that we put down a marker on it. The Minister has been grappling with it for quite some time and it is not an easy matter.
There will also be an economic dividend from the commemorations. Recently I noticed tours of the hidden Third Reich are organised in Berlin, and lads in Dublin organise walking tours on 1916 which begin at the International Bar. As we move towards the seminal dates we should have much more of this and I am sure there is no better man than the Minister to exploit and develop it for tourism purposes.
I have found the debate very interesting and I particularly enjoyed the comments of Senator O'Sullivan. If he continues with his revision of where he came from he could be charged by Fianna Fáil with conduct unbecoming.
I am close to that already.
The Minister's speech was also interesting. We have debated this matter in the House previously. On checking the records I found that in 2006 when I was on the other side of the House I proposed we begin to plan for the centenary of the 1916 Rising because we have a responsibility to deal with commemorating that particularly difficult decade in a sensitive and wise fashion. It is said of the Irish that our wars are merry and our songs are sad, and this is something on which we should reflect. We must be advised by history rather than imprisoned by it. We are unique as a nation in the sense our political process is so much imprisoned by history. Three of our four large political parties are defined by history. Perhaps one is defined by ideology, but three, namely, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, exist because of historical moments and divisions. Perhaps the country has not been served too badly by our political system, but anybody who tries to examine the Irish political system finds it difficult to come up with reasons the political parties stand for certain ideas. Of course it is because we are historically based and we must now try to reach beyond this.
I look forward to the Minister putting his plans into action, and some of them are already bearing fruit. We have spoken here previously about the need for people to be in a position to study history in a more unbiased fashion. We have spoken about the need to ensure history remains on the curriculum as a subject which people are encouraged to study and not just dismissed as a subject to be given up at the end of first year. Many of us would not have been imprisoned by history for so long if there had been a better study and understanding of Irish history. In this sense I hope the various celebrations had commemorations will be helpful.
Senator O'Sullivan was correct to state it is easy to be too harsh about the 1966 commemoration. We look at it now in a different prism. When we see the black and white footage of marching men - there were no marching women - and church ceremonies and pageantry it looks very outdated but that was then and we must do things differently now.
This is a very weighty subject which we could debate at length. Our job is to ensure all we do in celebrating, commemorating and reflecting is useful for the Ireland of the next decade and beyond. If we want to pay tribute to people of all Irish traditions and all political divides the best way to do so is to build a new Ireland and a better republic. Let us learn from the past but let us not be imprisoned by it. This should be the theme of all of our celebrations and commemorations.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we conclude the debate at 2.10 p.m. to allow the Minister respond.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I congratulate and compliment the Senators on the standard of the debate. I have found it very informative and in my response I will mention a few ideas which I will put in place. I thank the Senators for their sincerity and honesty.
I stated at the beginning my vision is to have a debate which will be tolerant, inclusive and respectful of everybody, and this is something we can all share and enjoy together. There is no reason whatsoever to be in any way divisive about the debate. Everything possible is being done to ensure the commemoration is carried out properly. Other activities which I have not referred to here will also take place. Everybody is invited to participate and it is up to them whether they want to do so. It is up to the media as to whether they report these activities, and the media have a very important role to play. The tone of the debate was generally positive and I thank the Senators for this.
I agree with Senator O Murchú's vision for Ireland and on how we can be informed by the decade of commemorations to enhance this vision and what people mean by "Gaelic Ireland" and how we can foster it in the sense of the European Union and the world order at present, and how very important it is that we express our Irishness now was much as ever.
This debate can inform that overall vision, which Senator Ó Murchú expands on better than most.
The Senator mentioned something that was important, that being, involving the relatives of the 1916 GPO figures. Mr. Maurice O'Keeffe, an historian from County Kerry whom Senator O'Sullivan would know well, commenced a series of interviews with relatives of those who fought in 1916. There were approximately 2,000 people out, as they say, in 1916, 1,800 men and 200 women. We are focusing on those who fought in the GPO and their families. Mr. O'Keeffe has conducted 90 good interviews. We will bring the people in question together in Dublin Castle in November. They are from all political persuasions. Their families might have been in contact previously, but never have they all met at the same time. We are holding the event to recognise them and to ensure a spirit of inclusiveness whereby everyone can sit down around the table, discuss 1916 and feel a part of it.
I was delighted to be able to meet the 1916-21 Club and I hope to work closely with it while in this job.
The fleadh cheoil of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann is one of the country's great bridge builders. I am not being patronising when I say that Senator Ó Murchú's organisation does a significant amount of work. I am pursuing an arts in education programme. We have a charter. In terms of those schools around the country that promote the arts, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann is one of the most active organisations. In the school just up the road from me, every child from second class to sixth class can play an instrument. By sixth class, children can play five instruments because people like Mr. Willie Larkin provide a service to the school through Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. That is some achievement.
I agree with the Senator that organising the fleadh cheoil in Derry was the right decision. Concerns were raised about security, but I am convinced that it will be a resounding success. I look forward to joining the Senator in the North with my counterpart in Northern Ireland, Carál Ní Chuilín, and other interested parties.
A number of Senators mentioned Moore Street. As they know, 14-17 Moore Street is a national monument. My decision will be on whether the proposal is a proper one and whether it interferes with the national monument. The deliberations, the environmental impact assessment and the environmental impact statement have been conducted and I have received advice from the National Museum. I will make a final decision shortly as I do not want to allow the situation to drag on. It will be my decision. I will listen to reasonable people, but I will not be influenced by any extreme view. I will take my decision to the Cabinet, which I am sure will accept it.
In terms of the site's history, it is important to point out that the former Minister, Mr. Dick Roche, designated 14-17 Moore Street as a national monument. In 1999, planning permission was granted to demolish the entire site, including the battlefield and the monument. Our respect for the men and women of 1916 has come on a great deal. The current planning permission, which was granted by Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála, allows for the demolition of the rest of the site, including the battlefield and O'Rahilly's area of retreat. He was a Kerryman like Senator O'Sullivan and me. I have close contact with the O'Rahilly family. I had nothing to do with the decision of Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála, as it pertains to the site beyond 14-17 Moore Street. People do not fully understand the decision that I must make - it is on the monument, not the rest of the site, in respect of which a decision has already been made. The cohesive influence of our cultural identity is important.
Senator Noone made a good contribution. As a young Senator, she sees the relevance of the decade of commemorations in informing people of her generation about the respect we should have for those who gave their lives for our freedom and the sacrifices they made. When they signed the Proclamation, they were undoubtedly signing their lives away.
The Senator also referred to thematic issues and identified the role of women. The suffragette movement was strong in 1913. Even as Redmond was trying to gain home rule for Ireland, he was being attacked by the suffragettes. His bust was defaced with paint by a suffragette. He had nearly achieved home rule and the suffragettes were campaigning for the vote. It is worth remembering that, irrespective of class, creed, race and so on, no woman in the UK or Ireland had a vote in the House of Commons. Thanks to the Suffragette movement, any woman over 30 years of age could vote in the 1918 election. The first woman elected to the House of Commons was Constance Markievicz, although she did not take her seat. Approximately 12 women ran for election. She was an extraordinary woman and I hope that her role up to 1926 will be fully recognised.
Apart from the Suffragette movement, the founding of Cumann na mBan in April 1914 was a significant development. It was one of the country's largest organisations. It was founded as an ally for the Volunteers rather than a support mechanism. Its members were active and wanted to be involved in the overall movement, which they were during the 1916 Rising. It is important that we recognise the fact that some of those involved in founding Cumann na mBan were very strong women. I have put in place a group under Dr. Mary McAuliffe of UCC and the Women's History Association of Ireland. We want to show the courage of and considerable role played by these women. The group is in place and a significant event will be held to recognise them next April.
Senator Noone also mentioned the military service pensions archive. It is an exciting prospect. I advise every Senator to visit the Bureau of Military History, which holds 2,000 testaments. If Senators want to understand the history of the time, they should read those testaments. I am fascinated by them and read them whenever I get a chance. They are available online. For example, I have read about people like Ernest Blythe, the organisation of the volunteers in my home county of Kerry, his joining of the Gaelic League, how he came from County Antrim to learn Irish and became friendly with Seán O'Casey, how he became involved in the Irish Republican Brotherhood, IRB, and his connection with the volunteers. It is an amazing story.
Or take a person like Eoghan Mac Neill, whose story is very understated in our history, and who was very much involved in setting up the Gaelic League with Douglas Hyde. His name is on the poster for the Volunteers, along with that of Kettle. He was the person most responsible for setting up the Volunteers and had amazing organisational ability. At that stage, he was professor of early medieval history in UCD so he was a man who did not have to do this. He did it, however, and later became a Minister.
I am loth to intervene but the Minister's colleague is waiting. Tá an t-am istigh.
Senator Fiach Mac Conghail made some very interesting comments about the involvement of artists. I agree completely with him and this is something with which we will engage. Last Friday, I saw the production of "An Rí" by Padraig Pearse in the Abbey Theatre, first produced 100 years ago. James Plunkett's Strumpet City is the themed book for this year. I believe we can do a great deal with the connection between artists and writers and the decade of commemorations. It is not only the artists of the time - there were also people such as Sean Keating who produced some iconic paintings such as On the Run, Men of the South, Men of the West and so many more relating to this period. He told the narrative of that period. There were others, too, great portrait painters such as John Lavery, and many others. There is a great opportunity here and this is something we will certainly discuss.
Senator O'Keeffe's contribution was very touching. We should feel honoured that Ms Kay Murray, the daughter of Richard Gibson, is present today. There is that great connection and the human interest story which is so important to this narrative. There are so many other stories like that which can and must be told at this time. It is great that Ms Murray can be in the Chamber while we are having this debate and that she can hear her daughter-in-law make such a wonderful contribution. This is one of the positive aspects of what we can do during the decade of commemorations. We can recognise people like Ms Murray and her family who have made such a great contribution.
Senator O'Keeffe made a point about the roadshow. We will do the same for the 1916 commemoration, which would be very important. It has proven to be very successful for the World War 1 commemoration.
Senator Norris is not present. Our approach to this decade of commemorations will be one of tolerance, respect and inclusiveness. As Senator O'Sullivan noted, in 1966 we were boisterous. We wanted to make a statement that we had arrived as a nation. At this stage we are more confident as a country and have established ourselves in the world order. We are highly respected. We can stand back now, therefore, and have a different approach.
I agree with Senator Sean Barrett about the role of Redmond, Parnell and O'Connell. Redmond, in particular, has been an unfortunate figure in Irish history and has been somewhat airbrushed from it, which is very unfair.
Senator Coghlan mentioned the all-party group on commemorations. That group is working very well and has had a large number of engagements. The group was in place during the last Government and I was part of it at the time. We had some very important initiatives such as the Asgard project. The official in charge of the group is Mr. John Kennedy. Many things are happening. Perhaps we are not getting coverage in the newspapers. I was rather disappointed by the Senator's tone, compared to that of everybody else. I can give him a list of what is happening so that he can be more informed when he casts doubts on what we are trying to do in this regard.
We opened a centre commemorating Thomas McDonagh only two weeks ago. The Seán Mac Diarmada centre in County Leitrim is going very well and is being restored. I have an update on the Pearse Centre. I refer to Deputy Adams.
I am sorry-----
I will finish. The reason Kilmainham Gaol does not take bookings is that it operates by people turning up and taking the tour. Otherwise it would be booked up and people who turn up casually would not have the experience. A person must actually turn up and will then get the tour.
I agree with Senator Landy that the GAA played a critical role in the 1916 Rising and in the entire revolutionary movement. Some would even say it influenced that movement, perhaps even more than the Gaelic League. One of the reasons Michael Collins became involved in the IRB was that he met Sam Maguire who introduced him to the organisation. It came about through Gaelic football at the Geraldine club in London. It was really the GAA that brought Collins into politics.
Maurice Davin was an immense figure.
We are five minutes over.
There were people in Cloughjordan who worked away on their own initiative. A local Fianna Fáil councillor, Mr. Jim Casey, invited me down to turn the sod there and open the centre, which shows the openness involved in all of this. That is the spirit by which we hope to continue the process, at least while I am around.
Sadly, we are five minutes past. I must mention the order.
We recognise people like Tom Kettle and Francis Ledwidge, George Fitzmaurice and Thomas McGreavy. These were very important figures, poets who wrote about World War 1. We will have to do more about that.
I agree with Senator Bradford that we must look at and be advised by the subject rather than be imprisoned by it. That might be a good way to sum up this period. We recognise that the ancestors of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin were in the GPO and were all connected at that time. The Labour Party was there too, through the Citizens Army.
We were there first.
I am getting all sorts of signals. I thank the Minister.
I thank the Senators for this opportunity and for their proposals. If they have any more they can send them to me.
I thank the Minister.