Tuesday, 25 April 2006
Ceisteanna — Questions.
Question 5: To ask the Taoiseach the position regarding arrangements being made for the 2006 commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising; if he will confirm if representatives from all political parties in Northern Ireland have been invited; if he has invited representatives from the British Embassy to attend; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11777/06]
Question 7: To ask the Taoiseach the finalised arrangements for the commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising; the preparations being made for the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12980/06]
Question 10: To ask the Taoiseach if the Government has plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Michael Davitt, the Irish patriot and founder of the National Land League on 31 May; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14955/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 11, inclusive, together.
As Deputies will be aware, the Easter Rising of 1916 was commemorated by a military parade in Dublin on Sunday, 16 April 2006. Approximately 2,500 personnel representing all branches of the Permanent Defence Force together with representatives of ex-service personnel and veterans of UN service were included. The parade also included members of the Garda Síochána, representing their service abroad with the United Nations and the Garda Band. There were a number of aerial fly pasts by the Air Corps.
The parade departed Dublin Castle, passed through Dame Street, College Green and O'Connell Street. There was a reading of the Proclamation outside the GPO, appropriate military honours were rendered and the President laid a wreath in memory of all those who lost their lives. As is normal for State occasions of this nature, such as the national day of commemoration, the diplomatic corps was invited.
It has been the practice to invite representatives from all walks of life in Northern Ireland to State occasions. This is a gesture of both friendship and respect. As such, all MLAs, including Unionists, were welcome to attend the parade on Easter Sunday. However, in advance of the event no Unionist representative indicated a wish to attend, and the Government fully respected that position.
The 90th anniversary of the Rising was also marked by a wreath laying in Kilmainham Gaol earlier that morning and by a Government reception at Dublin Castle that evening. A newly prepared exhibition relating to the Rising is being presented by the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks. The official opening of this presentation was on Sunday, 9 April and it continues through the summer. A special commemorative stamp was issued by An Post on Wednesday, 12 April to mark the 90th anniversary.
My Department chaired an interdepartmental working group which oversaw all the logistical arrangements for the day. This group included representatives of the Office of Public Works, the Departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs, as well as the Defence Forces, the Garda Síochána, Dublin City Council, RTE, St. Patrick's Day Festival and the fire services. I take this opportunity to thank all those involved behind the scenes for their professionalism in the organisation of the event and for a job well done.
I am sure Members will agree the parade was a wonderful spectacle and in addition to the thousands of people who watched it on the streets of Dublin, it was also watched by hundreds of thousands of people on television. As Deputies will be aware, all parties in the House have nominated spokespersons to offer advice on the appropriate scope and content of a 1916 centenary commemoration programme to be put in place in the coming years. The inaugural meeting of the Oireachtas group held on 1 March was mainly concerned with the arrangements for the 90th anniversary commemorations this year. Further meetings of the group in the months to come will address the possible arrangements to commemorate the centenary.
This year is also the 90th anniversary of the battle of the Somme, the attack having been launched on 1 July 1916. Details of arrangements to mark the occasion will be announced closer to that time. The 100th anniversary of the death of Michael Davitt will be commemorated by the issuing of a stamp in September 2006.
I agree with the Taoiseach that the commemoration of 1916 was a successful occasion. While I had to remind the Taoiseach of the necessity for inclusiveness in the work of all politicians in the run-up to that celebration, the conduct on Easter Sunday was entirely apolitical and provided an opportunity for a demonstration by the Defence Forces and an opportunity for them to be thanked for the service they have given to the country at home and abroad.
This morning the Irish Independent carried a report that the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, is running with the idea that the GPO should be closed as a post office and transformed into some type of museum of the 1916 Rising. Has this idea been put before Cabinet or has a decision been made in this regard? Is it the intention of Government to hold an annual 1916 commemoration ceremony in the run-up to the centenary, given that the Taoiseach quite rightly called for a national conversation, as it is called, in this regard? I am sure there are people with imagination and creativity throughout the country who have ideas about how the centenary should finally be celebrated in a country that will have survived and stood the test of 100 years at that stage. Will the Taoiseach comment on this?
As was stated to me on Sunday, whatever else might be said about the members of Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Army, it still retains absolute neatness and gives a lesson to everybody on how to shine shoes.
I thank the Deputy for his comments on the commemoration. No decision has been made on the GPO or other suggestions. These matters are best discussed within the committee. It has been mooted by a number of people that the GPO could and should be used, either in part or in full, not just as a museum of 1916 but as a museum of the past 100 years or further back. There are many creative people who would bring forward ideas. I would like to encourage work to be expedited, since I know how long it can take. Everyone will say that it is ten years away and that we are in no hurry. However, owing to the processes involved, if we do not move along, it might never happen. Over the next few years, people must put great effort into whatever projects we plan for the centenary so that we can have them finished in time rather than starting them at that stage, which would be a pity. Every year I would like all those involved with the interdepartmental committee, as well as Members of the Oireachtas, to express their views.
We should have some commemoration every year. Perhaps this year we should reflect on whether it is possible or sensible for it to be precisely the same and to see how we might organise it best. I have an open mind on whether to embrace other matters each year as we approach the centenary. Whatever we do, we should use the run-up to the centenary to ensure that we get things right, since it is a very important day, not only for the country but internationally. It should be tried and tested, and doing that will take some time.
I am sure that there will be imaginative ideas. Perhaps we should put a few years' effort into them, agree on something and have it done. As I have said to those involved in the various agencies and Departments, we should try to finalise arrangements by 2016 rather than have a blueprint that will be finished in 2026.
Will the Taoiseach confirm that I had communicated to him that the Sinn Féin president and I would be unable to attend the Easter Sunday event because of prior commitments, a reality far removed from speculation in some newspapers that we had somehow absented ourselves? Our party was officially represented by at least two Deputies, two MPs and one MEP, amply indicating our intent to be fully involved and support the event, and I communicated that to the Taoiseach in writing in advance.
Does the Taoiseach agree that the best way to honour the men and women of 1916 would be to strive for full implementation of the Proclamation and the hopes and promise thus embodied? Does he agree that foremost on a list of objectives derived naturally therefrom would be earnest and proactive work for Irish reunification and the unity of our peoples on this island? Should that be a clear objective of this and future Governments and something towards which they should strive?
Will the Taoiseach act on the Sinn Féin proposals regarding the establishment of an all-party Oireachtas committee on Irish unity that would plan for Irish reunification, assessing the implications and needs to be addressed in the course of moving towards that objective, a transition to Irish unity? In that regard, will the Taoiseach commission a Green Paper on Irish unity before the current Dáil ends, something for which Sinn Féin have consistently argued?
This is a question. I ask whether the Taoiseach will initiate a Green Paper on Irish unity based on the widest possible consultation and participation before the end of the current Dáil.
Will the Taoiseach clarify recent unconfirmed reports that consideration is being given to re-interring the remains of the 1916 leaders from Arbour Hill to Glasnevin cemetery? There has been speculation about this and it is important the position of the Government and the Taoiseach on this is clarified. My view is that it should not happen.
On Deputy Ó Caoláin's last point, I have heard no speculation. It certainly did not come from any of the issues with which I dealt. Arbour Hill is the resting ground of the leaders of the 1916 Rising and I cannot think why anybody would want to change that. I agree with the Deputy's comments on the Good Friday Agreement as I spend a huge amount of my time trying to do that.
Deputy Ó Caoláin asked me to acknowledge that I knew he would not be at the Easter Sunday event. He informed me of that and of who would stand in. Even if I was criticised for where I made the original announcement, I gave everybody seven months' notice. It was a good day to pay tribute to Óglaigh na hÉireann, in particular, but it is a matter for everybody whether——
Was it not breathtaking hypocrisy for the Taoiseach's Government to pretend to honour those who fought in 1916 when the Proclamation for which they fought, although certainly not a socialist document despite the presence of the great socialist, James Connolly, asserted the ownership of Ireland by the people? Does it not fly completely in the face of the spirit of that that his Government is divesting key assets of Ireland and the ownership of those assets from the people to international speculators? This has happened with the telecoms industry and the Government proposes to do the same with the national airline. It has destroyed the national sugar beet industry by giving it to national and international speculators.
As he stood at the GPO on Easter Sunday and thought of men and women who went out to overthrow imperialist domination of Ireland, a small country, did the Taoiseach not consider the irony that he and his Government are facilitating a similar domination by other major powers, namely, the US and Britain which have invaded and occupied Iraq? Is the Government wrapping the banner of 1916 around itself utterly opportunistic in view of its policies over the past nine years?
Deputy Joe Higgins has a clear position on this issue. I am bound to say that in the case of Sinn Féin, it was a mistake for the ard comhairle to decide its president would not be present. I pay tribute to the performance of the Defence Forces. I am not sure it would be appropriate to have the same type of commemoration of the event each year between now and the centenary. I understand the Taoiseach stated he has an open mind on that matter. Perhaps it should be the subject of cross-party discussion before a decision is made.
Has the Government plans to mark the 90th anniversary of the First Dáil? Will the Taoiseach comment on the apparent discrepancy between his speech and the website of his office in terms of marking the foundation of this State? Most of us in this House regard the origins of the House as the 1919 meeting of the First Dáil in the Mansion House, and that that is the foundation point of this State. I ask the Taoiseach to comment on that.
Does the Taoiseach think it inadequate to mark the centenary of the death of Michael Davitt merely with the production of a commemorative stamp? Having regard to Davitt's contribution to the history of this country, the land wars and especially the struggle in my part of the country, the mere production of a stamp to commemorate the centenary of his death is inadequate. I urge the Government to look at the issue between now and later in the year. The centenary occurs on 31 May and the Government should consider the matter again.
With regard to the centenary of Michael Davitt's death, there will be a week of commemorative activities in the last days of May and the early days of June. Relevant people have been in touch with my Department with regard to support for the commemoration programme. There will be a conference commemorating the centenary, the Army is involved and there will be a number of other events. I cannot recall the exact support we have given, but my Department's commemorative division has been in discussions with the people involved. The stamp is one of the initiatives and it is separate from the planned week of activities. The relevant committee requested that the stamp be brought forward, and that will be done later in the year.
Some years ago, on one of the anniversaries of the First Dáil, I brought all the families, relatives and parties together in Dublin Castle for an evening, which was important at the time. Since then, a number of the people involved have died. Only a certain number of events can be held this year. There are three big events, those relating to 1916 and the Battle of the Somme and our national day of commemoration. That is the broad commemoration that includes all the events. There is some work on other commemorations, such as the centenary of Michael Davitt's death.
I have no difficulty with any of these events. Five years ago we held the commemoration of the First Dáil. The Deputy will appreciate that in any one year only a few such events can be held and these should be dealt with correctly.
I welcome the opportunity for the commemoration. The Green Party was particularly mindful of the need for the Proclamation to be a reference point for the way this nation is developing and that it must do considerably more to live up to the expectations of those who fought and the many who died in 1916. As Deputy Rabbitte said, the Taoiseach should consider that the prospect of ongoing military parades between now and 2016 might be too narrow in terms of the breadth of vision evident from those who took part in the 1916 Rising. Would it be useful to refer to different aspects of the Proclamation to be used as themes in the run up to 2016 taking into account the emphasis on equal rights? It would even be useful to reflect upon the sovereignty aspect as mentioned by Deputy Joe Higgins. The suffrage of men and women and how——
I am trying to be positive and I will be brief. In suggesting the events and the inclusiveness that should mark those events, did the Taoiseach have any expectation that he would give rise to the Roman Catholic church and the Church of Ireland debating fundamental theological reconciliation? I ask the Taoiseach to reflect on the Arbour Hill ceremonies in future. These have not been marked by ecumenical characteristics, which might be worth reviewing as we are asked to review the events.
Could the Taoiseach acknowledge that the men and women in 1916 felt as strongly about the Irish language and its relationship to sovereignty as they did about the colour of the flag flying over the GPO? In this regard, I ask him to emphasise this in his future statements. B'fhéidir go bhféadfadh sé sin a dhéanamh go dátheangach.
Obviously I share Deputy Rabbitte's view of Michael Davitt as a driving force behind the one of first great European agrarian movements. The Government could consider a number of matters beyond issuing a stamp. The Taoiseach spoke about the GPO, which has functioned as a working post office since 1818. I would not favour it being transformed into a museum. However, the outgoing chief executive officer told me on Sunday that the space behind the existing building could be transformed into a fabulous atrium dedicated to 1916, which should be considered.
The Taoiseach might be able to answer this question. I saw a very interesting documentary, I believe on TG4, about the executions of the leaders of 1916. Of all the courts martial the only missing file was that of Éamon de Valera. I wonder where it went.
I am nearly finished. Are there any plans to compile a definitive list of those who died between that time and the War of Independence? No definitive list exists of those who lost their lives and to whom the wreath laying by the President was dedicated.
I do not know what will ultimately happen with the GPO. There is quite a lot of space and with modern technology, I do not believe the GPO will need all that space in the future. It is worth considering how it is best dealt with and whether it is just 1916 or whether it is a broader look back on Irish life. The best thing is that people give their views on these things and see what is best to do. While it does not need to be decided in the short term, we should not allow it to go on for too long.
I do not know about the records on Éamon de Valera. There are a substantial number of records on the deaths. The Deputy referred to a definitive list of all of them. A fixed number of how many were killed is always given. If they cannot match that to names——
I will raise the matter with the archival people to see what they can do.
Historians are very glad that a definitive list of the 1916 volunteers has been compiled, based on the applications for pension arrangements which were received not long afterwards. Such a list has not been available before now. We have given clearance for the list to be digitalised so historians can build a far better picture of the people who were involved in the events of 1916. Perhaps they can also look at the records mentioned by Deputy Rabbitte in the context of the definitive list.