Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Commemoration of the Ninetieth Anniversary of the First Dáil

 

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Ceann Comhairle; Kerry South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context

A dhaoine oirirce, 90 bliain ó shin nuair a tháinig an Chéad Dháil le chéile, bhí 34 duine as 105 de na comhaltaí tofa i bpríosún. Bhraith roinnt mhaith de na comhaltaí a tháinig go dtí an fhoirgnimh seo go rabhadar i mbaol. Sheasadar i dtoghchán agus thángadar anseo ar chúis amháin: chreideadar sa neamhspleáchas agus chreideadar sa daonlathas.

Nócha bliain ina dhiaidh sin, is minic a bhraithimid easpa spéise a bheith ag daoine sa pholaitíocht nó go bhfuiltear ag déanamh talamh slán dár bhain na daoine cróga sin amach 90 bliain ó shin. Ach, ar shlí, is comhartha ratha é sin ó thaobh na ndaoine misniúla a tháinig go dtí an seomra seo 90 bliain ó shin, agus óna dtaobh siúd a thóg ár náisiún agus ár gcóras polaitíochta ó shin. B'fhéidir go ndéanann daoine talamh slán dár ndaonlathas agus dár neamhspleáchas, ach is amhlaidh atá toisc go bhfuil siad muiníneach nach mbainfear díobh iad. Is comhartha é sin gur éirigh leis na daoine cróga a chruinnigh anseo 90 bliain ó shin, ach ní mór dúinn a thuiscint i gcónaí nach dtarlaíonn córas polaitíochta agus sochaí fholláin shibhialta astu féin — ní foláir iad a chruthú agus iad a chothabháil.

Ninety years ago when the First Dáil met, 34 of the 105 elected Members were in jail. Many of those who did come here to this building felt they were in danger. They ran for election and they came here for one reason: they believed in independence and they believed in democracy.

Ninety years on, we often note a public disinterest in politics, or a sense that people take the achievements of those brave people 90 years ago for granted. In a way, that is a tribute to them and to those who built our nation and political system since then. Perhaps people do sometimes take our democracy and independence for granted, but that is because they are confident that nobody will take either away from them. In a way, that is a mark of success, but we must always remind ourselves that a healthy political system and a healthy civil society do not just happen; they must be created and maintained.

Throughout our somewhat tragic and troubled history, the Irish people have always made known their desire for national self-determination. That desire to have our own Parliament was best enshrined in Charles Stewart Parnell's rallying speech in Cork on 21 January 1885:

But no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country 'Thus far shalt thou go and no farther' and we have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland's nationhood, and we never shall.

Exactly 34 years after delivering this speech at Cork, a group of very brave people assembled in this building to give life to that aspiration for nationhood. It is an honour and a privilege to be here as Ceann Comhairle to mark the 90th anniversary of the sitting of the First Dáil Éireann.

Today, we salute the patriotism and courage of those elected representatives who, through their meeting here in the Mansion House in January 1919, assumed the right to establish a Parliament and run the affairs of this country. They put in place an administration and a parliamentary structure which effectively marked the foundation of the State. They gave new life to the stated wish of the Irish people for national self-determination which was expressed overwhelmingly in the 1918 general election.

On that historic day they ignored the might of the British Empire and established the First Dáil. In doing so they made a clear statement to the world about Ireland's right to independence and they also signalled a commitment to parliamentary democracy. In the words of Brian Farrell they established "the authentic credentials of modern Irish democracy". Risking their liberty and even their lives, they demonstrated extraordinary courage and determination to ratify the 1916 Proclamation of the Republic and followed that with the passing of what is now regarded as one of the most historic documents in Irish history — the Declaration of Independence.

Once the declaration was made, my predecessor and very first Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann, Cathal Brugha, said:

A Theachtaí na Dála, tuigfidh sibh óna bhfuil dearbhaithe anso go bhfuilimid scartha anois le Sasana. Bíodh a fhios san ag an saol, agus ag daoine a mbaineann an scéal leo. Pé ní a thiocfaidh as a bhfuil ráite anso — imirt anama nó bás — tá deireadh le ré na cainte in Éirinn, agus más maith é is mithid é — tá deireadh le ráiméis.

Tá teachtairí ó fhormhór a bhfuil de náisiúin sa domhan ag Versailles mar seo, agus is é rud a thug ann iad, ar a n-admháil féin, ná chun síocháin a dhéanamh do chiní an domhain ionas nach mbeadh a thuilleadh gá le cogadh choíche arís. Deirimidne leo anois, agus san go dána, má táid dáiríre, go gcaithfear briseadh a dhéanamh ar an gceangal so idir an dúthaigh seo is Sasana. Muna ndéantar san, ní bheidh aon síocháin ann.

Achainím oraibh iontaoibh a bheith agaibh as a chéile. Tá lámh Dé inár n-obair: is léir san as ar tharla le dhá bhliain anuas. Dhá bhliain is an Cháisc seo a d'imigh tharainn, bunaíodh Saorstát Éireann. Ní gá dúinn anois ach seasamh le chéile, moladh is buíochas le Dia. Cuirimis le chéile agus ná deineadh éinne sinn a dheighilt, agus ní baol dúinn.

Cathal Brugha believed that independence and peace were inextricably linked and that if they remained united, they would succeed. And succeed they did, but let us remember that in the dark years that followed, many people paid the ultimate sacrifice to pave the way for the freedom to elect our own Parliament, that privilege we enjoy today.

Our Parliament survived those dark times and since then it has not only survived but thrived. When other nations and parliaments, born from the breaking of empires at the end of the carnage of the First World War, had succumbed to dictatorship and totalitarianism, the Irish Parliament remained independent, free and democratic, no mean feat in a world wracked by war and strife. It continued to do so, surviving through the economic war and depression of the 1930s, the Second World War, and indeed the years following that when alien ideologies again threatened to overtake democracy. It endured the stagnation and emigration of the 1950s, was instrumental in the industrialisation of Ireland in the 1960s and led Ireland into Europe in the 1970s. It survived the downturn and recessions of the 1980s and played a vital role in the turnaround of the State's fortunes in the 1990s.

Today, it is very easy for elected representatives and parliamentarians to take for granted our ability to put our names forward for election, to canvass freely the electorate, to put forward our ideas without censorship. Maybe as a people, we can sometimes forget that some gave all so that we can cast our vote in our own country for our government of choice. We owe a lot to those pioneers who took the first steps on that road.

If they could see us today, I feel they would be proud of what they achieved. The challenge for us as parliamentarians is to build on the achievements of those fearless individuals who collectively gave us our national Parliament.

However, as a Parliament and as individual politicians, we know that our parliamentary democracy is not without its flaws and that some citizens query the relevance of Dáil Éireann in today's globalised society. If citizens are apathetic about our parliamentary democracy today, we politicians must look at ourselves and our parliamentary procedures. Too often in the past, politics, Government and the Oireachtas may have been seen as somewhat remote from society, remote from the ordinary man and woman in the street, while the adversarial and confrontational style of debate can be a turn-off for some people.

In today's fast moving world, parliamentary politics can seem slow, unwieldy and bureaucratic. Parliamentary politics, by its nature, is a long process. Legislation is changed slowly and through complex parliamentary procedures that do not easily provide the stories required by daily journalists and for a news hungry readership and listenership looking for hourly news reports. The reality of legislation and political progress is that one can rarely say "something changed yesterday" — the parliamentary process does not often fit the daily news cycle.

Nevertheless, that does not mean we cannot improve. Our parliamentary system must change and is changing and is making politics and Parliament more relevant, more open and more transparent. This is why I, as Ceann Comhairle, strongly support the efforts of our parliamentarians to reform procedures, to make our Parliament more accessible to civil society. I think the direction in which we are heading is the direction the members of the first ever Dáil Éireann would have both envisaged and approved of.

Our meeting here today is a celebration of their courage and foresight and their ratification of the declaration of our independence. It is also an acknowledgement of how far we have come over the past 90 years. I started with Charles Stewart Parnell and I will end with him. "Why should Ireland be treated as a geographical fragment of England?", he asked in April 1875. "Ireland is not a geographical fragment, but a nation." It took a brave stand by the members of the First Dáil Éireann to make that a reality.

Beidh an comhshuí inniu de Dháil Éireann agus de Sheanad Éireann chun an dáta tábhachtach seo i stair na hÉireann a chomóradh ina bheart ómóis do na Parlaimintigh sin a ghlac na chéad chéimeanna chun ár gcóras daonlathach nua-aimseartha a bhunú, agus beidh sé ina bheart inspioráide do pholaiteoirí an lae inniu agus na blianta atá le teacht agus do mhuintir na hÉireann.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Táimid anseo inniu ag suí speisialta de Thithe an Oireachtais le ceiliúradh a dhéanamh ar eachtra an-tábhachtach i stair parlaiminte na tíre. Nócha bliain ó shin, san áit seo, i dTeach an Ard Mhéara, a bunaíodh ár bParlaimint náisiúnta. Smaoinímid anois baill an Tríochú Dáil agus an Fiche tríú Seanad Éireann, ar na daoine cróga, misniúla, éirmiúla sin a chuir tús leis an daonlathas nua-aimseartha in Éirinn.

Cuirim fáilte speisialta roimh na hionadaithe tofa ó thrasna na Teorann. Ina measc an Leas-Chéad Aire Martin McGuinness agus Mark Durkan, Ceannaire an SDLP.

Rinneadh a lán machnaimh roimh ré ar pharlaimint dár gcuid féin a bhunú i mBaile Átha Cliath. Chreid na hionadaithe tofa a tháinig le chéile anseo in Eanáir 1919 san fhéinrialú agus i rialtas le toil na ndaoine. Ba chearta iad sin ar throid na nglún tírghráthóirí ar a son roimhe sin. D'fhulaing go leor de na Teachtaí Dála sa Chéad Dháil Éireann ar mhaithe leis na prionsabail sin.

Is fiú smaoineamh ar an dílseacht agus ar na cúinsí inar thug comhaltaí na Céad Dála faoina gcuid dualgas mar ionadaithe tofa. Ag an gcéad chruinniú de Dháil Éireann ní raibh i láthair don rolla ach fiche hocht Teachta, bhí an chuid ba mhó mar a dúradh "fá ghlas ag gallaibh" nó "ar dibirt ag gallaibh". Dúradh go raibh Teachta amháin, Michael Collins, i láthair cé nach raibh — ní raibh siad ag iarraidh aird a tharraingt air. Bhí sé ar a bhealach le cuidiú le hÉamon de Valera éalú as príosún Lincoln i Sasana.

Mar chomharbaí ar an gcéad ghlúin sin ní cóir dúinn dearmad a dhéanamh ar an muinín a bhí acu sin in Éirinn neamhspleách ó thaobh saol níos fearr a bhaint amach do na saoránaigh ar fad. Ba chóir dúinn a bheith buíoch freisin as an traidisiún bunreachtúil a chuir siad anuas chugainn. Thuig siad agus thóg siad ar an tábhacht a bhain le cur leis an am a bhí thart. Ba rud radacach ann féin a bhí i nDáil a bhunú, mar bhí na cuspóirí sóisialta a bhí sa Chlár Daonlathach radacach.

B'iontach an rud é don am toghadh an Countess Markievicz, agus gur ceapadh í mar Aire Saothair le feabhas a chur ar shaol gnáth-oibrithe. Tá na páirtithe polaitíochta ar fad sa lá atá inniu ann go mór faoi chomaoin acu sin a bhunaigh an Chéad Dháil agus a thug anuas chugainn an Pharlaimint dhaonlathach a bhfuil sé d'onóir againn a bheith páirteach inti faoi láthair.

Ninety years ago tomorrow, the elected representatives of the overwhelming majority of the people of this island who were not otherwise detained or in flight from the forces of occupation, met in Dublin's Mansion House with the purpose of asserting the self determination of a sovereign, democratic, Irish Republic. Dáil Éireann — a National Parliament for the Irish nation — ratified and gave democratic legitimacy to the Proclamation of Independence for which the republican vanguard had laid down their lives at Easter 1916.

As of 21 January 1919, foreign rule in Ireland was relieved of any claim to democratic legitimacy. The Declaration of Independence adopted by the First Dáil ordained "that the elected representatives of the Irish people alone have the power to make laws binding on the people of Ireland, and that the Irish Parliament is the only Parliament to which the Irish people will give its allegiance". From that day on, there has been an Irish Parliament and Irish Governments which have governed in the interests of the Irish people.

When the First Dáil met, partition was a fear rather than a reality and civil war unimaginable. Partition disfigured our island and scarred the psyche of Irish people. It has sapped the energy and resources of our island and its people over generations. Only in the recent past have political leaders on the island been able to find the will and imagination to identify a path through the barriers to reconciliation.

When, in 1998, the people of Ireland voted by a majority, and by majorities North and South, in favour of the Good Friday Agreement, it was the first occasion since the general election of 1918, the election at which the people selected the representatives who sat in the First Dáil, that the people of this island had voted on the same day on the issue of their constitutional status.

It now falls to our generation of Irish republicans — a heritage to which all political parties represented in the Thirtieth Dáil can legitimately lay claim — to rededicate ourselves to the challenge which animated the members of the First Dáil: to build a sovereign, democratic, Irish republic embracing all the people of our nation.

But if our challenge is the same, it is different in nature from that which faced the men and women of 1919. The First Dáil had one, single, overriding ambition: to secure "the evacuation of our country by the English garrison". Today, Ireland is no longer in conflict with Britain. A sovereign, independent Republic exists in the Twenty-six Counties and Britain has entered into a binding international treaty obligation with the Republic to withdraw from the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, if and when a majority of the people in Northern Ireland should ask it to do so. The Irish people, North and South, have for their part accepted that Northern Ireland remains in union with Britain unless and until the majority in the North desires otherwise.

As successors to the generation who convened the First Dáil, our task is to persuade those of our fellow Irishmen and women who currently hold fast to the union with Britain that their future is best secured in a closer accommodation with the majority with whom they share the island.

How can we achieve such an aim? We know for sure how not to succeed. Violence, intolerance, discrimination and name-calling have led the communities in the North up blind alleys where walls of concrete present physical and psychological barriers. What we must do is two-fold. First, we must redouble our efforts to build a prosperous, peaceful and fair society in the Republic. Second, without abandoning our own ideals and traditions, we must seek to better understand and accommodate the strong identification with Britain felt by many hundreds of thousands of Irish people.

The Good Friday Agreement acknowledged the right of people living in Northern Ireland to be British, Irish or both. This has to be about more than simply recognising that people have different symbols on their passports or tick different boxes on their census forms. It should be about people on this island having the opportunity to celebrate their culture and language free from harassment and discrimination. It should involve institutions of government recognising and supporting our common heritage in all its rich diversity. Relations between Ireland and Britain have never been better than they are today. Never have the Irish living in Britain felt more comfortable, or British people felt more welcome to make their homes in Ireland. Whatever about the past, it cannot be denied that recent British Governments have played a positive and constructive role in seeking to heal divisions on the island of Ireland. The steady improvement in British-Irish relations during the course of the 20th century, which began with independence and has continued throughout our common membership of the European Union and the political agreement in the North, has enabled old enemies to become new and close friends. We should not forget that this positive relationship exists because it is based on equality and respect between sovereign nations. It would not have been possible without the action of the First Dáil in reasserting what it described in its message to the free nations of the world as Ireland's "historic nationhood".

The fact that Ireland and the United Kingdom sit together as member states of the European Union has played a significant part in our reconciliation. While the Members of the First Dáil could hardly have foreseen the creation of the European Union, they were very much aware of Ireland's place in Europe. In its message to the free nations of the world, the First Dáil described Ireland as "one of the most ancient nations in Europe" and as "the last outpost of Europe towards the West". It regretted that English occupation prevented Ireland "from being a benefit and safeguard to Europe and America" and argued that "the permanent peace of Europe can never be secured by perpetuating military dominion for the profit of empire". The history of Europe up to that point had been defined by a regular cycle of war as tribes, kings and nations sought to subjugate or dominate their neighbours. The First Dáil met in the aftermath of the most terrible or all such wars. I am certain that, given the opportunity, the Members of the First Dáil would have wished Ireland, once it had secured its right to independent nationhood, to join with other nations ready to share sovereignty in the common cause of peace, prosperity and freedom in Europe. Sadly, another 50 years and a further world war were to pass before Ireland was given such an opportunity.

The First Dáil met as Europe lay in ruins in the aftermath of the First World War, which was a war of unprecedented destruction and brutality. It had an extraordinary sense of the need for Ireland to engage with the world. The Dáil's message to the free nations of the world, which was cast in a strikingly internationalist tone, stated that "Ireland...believes in freedom and justice as the fundamental principles of international law, because she believes in a frank co-operation between the peoples for equal rights". The world, however, did not respond. The Paris peace conference, which was in thrall to the great powers, ignored our plea for recognition. Ireland learned early that the world can be a lonely place for small states. This lesson is as valid today, in the depths of a global economic crisis, as it was in 1919, in the aftermath of a war of unprecedented devastation. Such experiences have helped us to understand the true meaning of our country's sovereignty. Properly understood, it means independence of action rather than insularity. In theory, all states enjoy unfettered sovereignty; but in practice, an individual country may have rather less real freedom to chart its own course in the world.

Since 1973, we have applied this principle to guide our participation in what is now the European Union. Our membership puts Ireland squarely at the centre of one of the world's most influential players. Amplified by the Union, Ireland's voice, unlike that of the First Dáil, cannot be ignored internationally. In contrast with what happened in 1919, our requests are now heard by the great powers. We sit regularly around the table with many of them as equals. We have presided over their meetings on six occasions, most recently in 2004 at the head of a Union of almost 500 million people. Our influence within the Union is pervasive, whether at the highest levels of its institutions or as a mediator helping to resolve different positions at intergovernmental meetings. We have been an extremely successful participant in the Union, which has given us a reach and a power unachievable to us alone. In short, our membership of the Union gives life to the aspirations of the First Dáil. It is surprising, therefore, to hear some so consistently question our role within it.

Those who oppose every development of the European Union are unmoved by fact, experience or progress. Where we see a landscape populated with opportunity and co-operation, they see one of threat and interference. This narrative is a fiction, unrelated to any reality I have experienced of Ireland's engagement with its partners in the EU. Such a crude distortion seeks to obscure the Union's role in assisting Ireland's fulfilment, these past 36 years, of the aspirations expressed by the First Dáil. The truth is that Europe empowers us. It gives us a place at the table from which we can deploy our resources, our influence and our sovereignty to the benefit of the Irish people. The ultimate goal of the First Dáil was to empower the Irish people to elect Irish men and women to an Irish parliament to serve their best interests honestly and unselfishly. As we gather here today, my parliamentary colleagues and I are deeply conscious of the great task the First Dáil entrusted to us and the responsibility we bear to carry forward and seek to perfect the work of that and subsequent Dála.

Along with building peace and establishing a respected place at the heart of Europe, we have used our independence to develop a stronger and fairer Ireland. In every decade since independence, this country has faced serious economic challenges. Despite the hardships involved, we confronted each of the challenges successfully. We face into this global recession after a period of unprecedented economic growth which has seen living standards rise beyond all our expectations. During that period, we have seen an era of full employment, record investment and migration to Ireland, replacing the historic experience of the forced emigration of our people. The next few years will be very difficult for us all, as the economic turmoil faced by the whole world touches many lives in this country. The scale of the adjustments required represents a major political, economic and social challenge for everybody in Ireland. As everyone will be affected, everyone will have to play a part in overcoming that challenge. With unemployment rising, we must not allow the full burden of adjustments to fall on those who lose their jobs. Those who are in employment, whether in the private or the public sector, will also share the burden. A particular responsibility lies on those who have benefited most from the rapid growth of the economy over recent years, whether as investors, self-employed or employees. They are being asked to show solidarity with those who are less well off.

It is that sense of solidarity which marks Irish society at its best. That spirit gave rise to the social partnership process, which has contributed so much. It is the basis on which the Government has engaged fully in developing its response to the current economic challenges. Solidarity is the assurance that the Ireland we shape together for the future beyond the current turmoil will be worthy of the sacrifices we need to make and the vision that inspired the Members of the First Dáil. For my part, I will lead the Government and ensure it shoulders its democratic responsibility. We will take action to ensure this country has a future by making the necessary decisions. We will do our best to be fair. In our time, on an island at peace, no one will be asked to lay down his or her life for his or her country, as the generation we celebrate today did. This generation will face the return of long-term unemployment and economic decline if corrective action is not taken. The essential question before us is simple. Are we prepared to work together, in partnership, to tackle this crisis for the benefit of our fellow citizens and our children? Those who founded Dáil Eireann and carved an independent Ireland from the most powerful empire in the world faced daunting challenges. They succeeded. So too will we. Seasaimis i dteannta a chéile.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Fourscore and ten years ago on 21 January the men and women of the First Dáil met here in this room. Their meeting sent out a message of independence, of courage and of hope to the peoples of the world. That message has been repeated by many leaders in many lands in the intervening decades. It will be repeated again today in another place by another young man carrying in his genetic makeup part of what makes our Irishness unique.

I ndáiríre, éirí amach ab ea chéad chruinniú na Chéad Dála — éirí amach sa ghaol idir Éire agus an Bhreatain; éirí amach i stair daonlathach na hÉireann; éirí amach idir Éire agus tíortha eile; agus, go speisialta, éirí amach sa chaoi ina mbreathnaimid orainn féin mar dhaoine agus mar náisiún. Sna blianta sin, ba é an chéad éirí amach i ré réabhlóideach ar fud na hEorpa.

Its membership read like a "Who's who" of the people who framed the 20th century in Ireland — de Valera, Cosgrave, Mulcahy, O'Kelly and Collins, among many others. It also included the first woman elected in Ireland, Countess Markievicz. I am moved by the spirit of those who preceded us in this place, particularly by those elected to that First Dáil who later became the leaders of the Cumann na nGael Party and later Fine Gael, over which I now preside as leader.

The most striking characteristics of the First Dáil were its simplicity and its austerity. There was no fanfare, no pomp or ceremony, just a short prayer in Irish read by Fr. O'Flanagan and then the roll call of members. The majority of the 103 Members returned in the 1918 election were not present — some by choice, others through force of circumstance, their absence recorded in the recurring phrase of that day, "faoi ghlas ag Gallaibh".

Those who scoffed at this new body, and there were many, totally under-estimated the seriousness of purpose, the utter determination of this new emerging generation of Irish politicians. It was easy to be sceptical. The new assembly had no legal standing or international recognition, no building of its own, no government apparatus to direct or carry out its wishes. Its very calling, said The Irish Times, was "a solemn act of defiance of the British Empire by a body of young men who have not the slightest notion of that Empire's power and resources, and not a particle of experience in the conduct of public affairs". Yet, in spite of its shadowy existence, in spite of the constant raids and harassment, and in spite of not having any real power or resources, this Dáil did establish the authentic credentials of modern Irish democracy. It was a clear signal that once the military campaign was over, the people's Parliament would be supreme.

It was more than just symbolic. The new Dáil laid down the principles and guidelines on which an independent Irish Parliament would evolve. At the heart of these principles was the central role of a sovereign Dáil. It also gave us many of our rules and procedures which have persisted to this day. Crucially, it insisted on full total accountability by Government to the Dáil — accountability as to how the people's money was spent and answerability for all the actions of Government.

It would be good to recount that this principle of Dáil supremacy found its way into the life of the new State. Sadly, it did not. It may have been the Civil War which created an atmosphere of mistrust among former colleagues; it may have been a too rigid system of party discipline; it may have been the diffidence of the Dáil itself. For whatever reason, subsequent years saw an inexorable strengthening of the position of the Government over that of the Dáil, and saw the Dáil itself, except maybe in times of crisis, give up so many of the powers and functions, and indeed responsibilities, that should have rightly been its own.

We celebrate this anniversary at a time in the life of our country which is as unhappy and dangerous as any we have known. If one thing is clear at this time it is that we need a Dáil as envisaged by the men and women of 1919, a Dáil which is at the centre of our politics, not one at the periphery of events, a Dáil to which the Government and all its agencies of Government are openly accountable, and most of all a Dáil which leads events rather than reacting to them.

There are other things to reflect on today. There is, for example, the debt our democracy owes those who were not present 90 years ago today, the old Irish Party, the party of Parnell, Redmond and Dillon. It is easy to forget the enormous part they played in the shaping of Irish parliamentary democracy. For 40 years it was the voice of nationalist Ireland and for 40 years its goal was an independent Irish Parliament. For all of this it got little thanks. The great Seán MacEoin, the Blacksmith of Ballinalee, expressed it well in 1938 when he said, "The old Sinn Féin members should apologise to the members of the old Irish Party... We blackguarded them up and down the country because we were not aware of the facts." His words were not universally welcome in 1938, but today those of us in the two larger parties especially, who stem from the old Sinn Féin, should echo the words of Seán MacEoin and acknowledge on this very special day the contribution of the Irish Party to the establishment of our strong and durable parliamentary democracy.

Deputies:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

We should remember too that just a few short years after the meeting of the First Dáil our country was split by civil war, an experience that disfigured our politics for years to come. Those years of bitterness and sterility should remind us that while our politics should be tough and searching, and maybe rough at times, we should never forget the role of Parliament as a unifying force in times of national difficulty and a source of leadership and solidarity rather than divisiveness.

The most important memory today should be a positive one, the memory of the men and women who made the First Dáil possible. They were, it has been said "politicians by accident", but by any standards they were an exceptional generation, rising to the challenge of independent statehood, establishing and sustaining democratic institutions and values. They were men and women of probity, of ability and most of all of simple and honest values. They led by example, living up to the values they preached. This was true of all sides, Cosgrave and de Valera, Lemass and Mulcahy, McGilligan, MacEntee and Tom Johnson. Let us remember them today with pride and take courage in their values as our country faces into days as difficult and uncertain as any we have previously encountered.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

A Cheann Comhairle, sa tseomra seo, 90 bliain o shin, cuireadh feoil dhaonlathach ar idéalacha Éirí Amach na Cásca. Ar an láthair stairiúil seo, déanadh an réabhlóid a dhaonlathú. Don chéad uair, i stair na hÉireann, leagadh síos clár oibre polaitiúil chun an réabhlóid a thabhairt chun foirfeachta.

Bhí an Clár Daonlathach i measc ornáidí na Céad Dála, clár a scríobh Tom Johnson, ceannaire an Lucht Oibre ag an am. Labhraíonn na prionsabail a shoilsíonn an chláir sin fós dúinn sa lá atá inniu ann — saoirse, ionannas agus an ceart don uile dhuine — rosc daonlathach dúinn, oidhrí na Céad Dála.

In this Round Room, 90 years ago, the old ways came to an end and a new era began. On 21 January 1919, as our first TDs gathered here, life for most people in Ireland was very hard. Europe had just been ravaged and re-divided by a bloody, senseless, imperialist war which claimed the lives of 50,000 of our fellow Irishmen. Another 10,000 people had died from flu in the previous year. Hundreds of thousands lived in slums and abject poverty.

The general election of 1918 was the first when all adult men and almost all women got the vote. Two out of every three voters in 1918 were on the electoral register for the first time. They used this new political opportunity to sweep away the old order — away with the seemingly impregnable Irish Parliamentary Party which had been built up by Parnell, now replaced by a popular independence movement. Instead of going to Westminster they came here, to build something new — a democratic parliament, that owed much to the liberal parliamentary tradition which had supported the Irish cause in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

The proceedings that day were short, but the objectives were great. A declaration of independence, an appeal to the nations of the world, read in Irish, English and French, in the hope that Ireland would be seated at the post-war peace conference. The Democratic Programme set out a vision for what democracy and independence could mean in practice for the people of the country.

The Democratic Programme was written by the then leader of the Labour Party, Tom Johnson. However, Johnson and his colleagues sat in the Public Gallery that day. They were not TDs in that First Dáil, because Labour had decided not to contest the 1918 election, so as not to split the vote of the independence movement. That was a patriotic, selfless decision, putting country before party by a Labour movement which was playing a central role in the events of the time. Labour was pivotal in the anti-conscription campaign which mobilised Irish people in the run-up to the election, including the organisation of a general strike. It was Labour which won the very first international recognition for Ireland's independence at the Socialist International in Berne in 1919, a few weeks after the meeting of the First Dáil.

The Democratic Programme of the First Dáil was steeped in the ideals of Labour and was brimming with optimism. Some 90 years later, those same values were never more relevant and the optimism was never more necessary. Echoing down the years, the words of the Democratic Programme reproach us challenge us and yet inspire us.

Even before our present economic difficulties, as a country we had not vindicated what the programme called "the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the nation's labour". Mired as we are again in scandal about the abuse of children, and considering the consequences of cutbacks in education, can we say that we have lived up to the objective that "the first duty of the Government of the Republic is to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children"? Can the elderly patient lying on a hospital trolley, or the pensioners defending their medical cards and their pension rights feel that "the nation's aged and infirm shall not be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the nation's gratitude and consideration"?

As we see this week how a small number of greedy individuals have brought economic havoc to our country, we can reflect on the simple statement in the Democratic Programme "that it is the duty of every man and woman to give service" and that as thousands lose their jobs, that "it is the duty of the nation to assure that every citizen shall have opportunity to spend his or her strength and faculties in the service of the people".

This day of commemoration comes at another difficult moment in our country's history, when we are confronted again with the human consequences of economic mistakes. A time of uncertainty and apprehension. However, we can take heart from the pioneers who assembled here 90 years ago. We too can make a new beginning.

That First Dáil faced near impossible obstacles and what it achieved was not inevitable. Its Members endured pain, but chose to make new history. They were free, and they freed this country, because they refused to be prisoners of their past. In this our time, as we face our moment of national crisis, we should be inspired by their words and by their courage. We too can forge a new beginning and sweep away the failings of the past. We too can be inspired to build a sustainable prosperity and a fair society — a country that respects its old and values its young, a country governed as the First Dáil decided, by the principles of liberty, equality and justice for all. I know it is not possible to make a formal proposal here, but may I suggest that we consider making 21 January our national independence day?

Braithim timpeall orainn inniu, taibhsí fathaigh na Céad Dála nár loic an chrógacht orthu. Fir is mná a raibh sé de dhánaíocht acu brionglóid nua a shamhlú do mhuintir na hÉireann. Brionglóid oscailte, iolrach, brionglóid a thabharfadh saoirse on mbochtannas, brionglóid a chuirfeadh ina seasamh ar an dá chois féin iad.

Is é dúshlán na linne seo ná, an chrógacht a shealbhú arís le paisean, ionas nach mbeidh sé le rá i gceann céad bliain eile, gur sinne an ghlúin a thug droim láimhe don Phoblacht iolrach daonlathach sin, a tháinig ar an saol ina leanbh, ar úrlár an tseomra seo 90 bliain ó shin.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Ceann Comhairle, Cathaoirleach Seanad Éireann, a dhaoine uaisle go léir, is onóir domsa mar cheannaire An Comhaontas Glas a bheith anseo i dTeach an Árd Mhéara ar ócáid cheiliúradh 90 bliain Chéad Dháil Éireann.

Is minic agus mé ag léamh stair na tíre seo a rith liom misneach agus fís na fir agus an t-aon bhean amháin, Countess Markievicz, a sheas sa seomra seo 90 bliain ó shin. Ritheann sé liom freisin, cé go raibh siad ag troid le hImpireacht Shasana ag an am, go raibh siad sásta mar sin féin an córas rialachán agus parlaiminte a bhí acu sin a ghlacadh acu féin. Bhí siad idéalach agus praiticiúil ag an am chéanna.

We gather here today to commemorate and celebrate the first meeting of Dáil Éireann 90 years ago. The young men and one woman who were elected to the Dáil knew they carried the hopes and dreams of a new generation, for a brighter, democratic and independent future for our island. They met here against the backdrop of huge ferment and upheaval in Ireland and the wider world.

The world war in which thousands of young Irish men had died had just ended, the Easter 1916 Rising had radicalised Irish nationalism and in late January the first shots of the War of Independence were fired. The world was also in the grip of a flu pandemic which would kill millions, the Versailles Treaty was being negotiated, Mussolini's fascists were organising and the Weimar Republic was trying to establish itself.

Yet despite all of this, the young idealists, the elected representatives of the First Dáil came here to deliver a message to the world. It was a message about liberty, equality and justice, a message which resonates today with the present generation of Irish men and women. We can take hope and encouragement from their struggle, for the challenge we now face as a nation is the most daunting since the First Dáil. We can and we will prevail if we work together and think differently. We can treat history as a nightmare from which we are trying to awaken — the words of Joyce who was completing Ulysses at the time — or we can choose to learn from it.

Was the Civil War inevitable? Was the carnage in Northern Ireland avoidable? We cannot reverse time, nor can we undo the mistakes of the past, but we can and must embark now on a course of radical change. Such change will require courage, dedication and real leadership. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. It is time for this generation of political leaders truly to reflect on what is best for our country in this difficult period. We must resolve to put aside some of our political differences. Let us be open to the possibilities of change and wise enough to know that the economic circumstances will not change miraculously regardless of who is in power. Let today be the beginning of a real debate on where we are going as a nation, how best we can achieve the goals of protecting our economy and our society and how we can continue the unbroken line of democracy and dedication to the rule of law of the last 90 years, which is unique among the new European states that emerged after the First World War.

Today we acknowledge the contribution of our political parties to the shaping of our society, the Labour leader Tom Johnson who had the foresight to know that the goal of national independence was the most important aspect of the 1918 election, the contribution of Sinn Féin to our modern peace process, the Progressive Democrats founder Des O'Malley who said he would stand by the Republic. We salute Alan Dukes, the Fine Gael leader whose Tallaght strategy brought us through an economic crisis. We recall Sean Lemass and Jack Lynch who modernised and opened Ireland to Europe and the world. Each party has, with its own ideas and policies, enriched our democratic traditions.

Unlike other parties in this room today, the Green Party does not trace its roots back to the early days of nationalism, but for more than a quarter century we have made our contribution. Indeed it was in this very room that we took the momentous decision to enter Government. We are part of an international movement dedicated to global responsibility and the future of our planet and its people.

It is the Green new deal, embraced so confidently by Barack Obama, that offers our people and the people of the United States renewed hope. Ireland should not just be part of this new Green revolution, we should be leading it. This generation of Irish people has the skill and the talent once again to reinvent ourselves to create new jobs in clean technology, in renewable energy, in energy conservation and in insulation of houses and schools as we move to a low-carbon future and a better quality of life for all our citizens.

If we do not accept the need for radical change, if we remain resolutely focused on our own party political interests and if we indulge in partisanship, recrimination and adversarial pettiness we will be failing in our political duty. That duty is to serve the people first. Putting people first means recognising that while the era of the Celtic tiger may have brought prosperity it was also a time of corporate greed, irresponsibility and profligacy. In this new era we must have the highest standards of transparency and accountability, the most rigorous regulation of our financial system and those guilty of bringing our banking system into disrepute must be pursued and punished. There can be no hiding place — no parallel legal system — for the corporate sector.

I have no doubt that were the Members of the First Dáil here today they would be debating a new Green economy. We already have the evidence of our history books to tell us that they would be united in one purpose — to keep Ireland free and prosperous.

It has been my privilege to reflect awhile on the First Dáil meeting here in this room 90 years ago. Now I ask all of you to reflect on how we can identify common remedies together for our future.

Is léir go bhfuil ceachtanna le foghlaim againn uatha sa lá atá inniu ann. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Ar son Shinn Féin is ábhar bróid dom labhairt ar an láthair stairiúil seo chun an Chéad Dáil Éireann a chomóradh. Ar an láthair seo 90 bliain ó shin tháinig ionadaithe tofa mhuintir na hÉireann le chéile mar thionól náisiúnta agus d'fhógair siad neamhspleáchas Phoblacht na hÉireann. Sa Faisnéis Neamhspleáchais cuireadh an Phoblacht ar bun agus sa Teachtaireacht chun Saor-Naisiúin an Domhain d'iarr Dáil Éireann ar na náisiúin aitheantas a thabhairt do neamhspleáchas mhuintir na hÉireann. Sa Chlár-Oibre Daonlathach bhí cuspóirí soisialta agus eacnamaíochta na Poblachta curtha os comhair an phobail.

Mar sin is cuí an rud go dtagann muid le chéile inniu chun an lá sin a chomóradh. Ach ní amháin comóradh atá ann. Tá dualgas orainn obair an lae sin a leanúint lenár linn fhéin. Ní féidir na cáipéisí a glacadh leo ar an 21ú lá d'Eanáir 1919 a léamh gan a rá go soiléir: tá daonlathas náisiúnta fós le baint amach in Éirinn; tá tír agus pobal le hathaontú; agus fiú 90 bliain ar aghaidh níl an Clár-Oibre Daonlathach curtha i bhfeidhm.

"Never was the past so near, or the present so brave, or the future so full of hope." These were the words of a young republican, Máire Comerford, who was present in this room 90 years ago on 21 January 1919. She shared with her generation the sense of their historic mission, their selfless courage and their faith in the potential of the Irish people to flourish in freedom. They were inspired by the ideals of the men and women of Easter Week 1916. Their sights were set on the Irish Republic proclaimed in arms on the streets of this city. They had seen the executions of 16 of their comrades by the British Government. They had seen hundreds of people interned without trial in the aftermath. They had experienced British military rule, and the men and women of that generation gave their answer to imperialism by rallying to the flag of Sinn Féin.

In successive by-elections in 1917 and 1918, Sinn Féin triumphed. In October 1917 here in the Round Room of the Mansion House the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis adopted a new constitution which was committed to achieving the independence of the Irish Republic and to opposing British rule in Ireland by any and every means at their disposal.

The British Government tried to impose conscription on the Irish people in 1918 and it was met by the determined resistance of a people's movement. In April 1918 the one-day general strike against conscription led by the Irish Trade Union Congress dealt the fatal blow to the British Government's plan. It is appropriate that we remember here the legacy of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union which this month celebrates its centenary. It played a pivotal role in the struggle for national independence, workers' rights and socialism in Ireland.

The overwhelming victory of Sinn Féin in the December 1918 general election was on the basis of a manifesto committed to the establishment of the Irish Republic. That was the mission of An Chéad Dháil Éireann. The Declaration of Independence adopted in this room ratified the establishment of the Republic and pledged the Teachtaí Dála and the people to make the declaration effective by every means at their command.

Dúirt an Ceann Comhairle Cathal Brugha go raibh siad ag cur deireadh le riail Shasana in Éirinn. Dúirt sé go raibh deireadh le ráiméis. B'shin an tuiscint a bhí aige agus ag a chomh-Theachtaí. Bhí dóchas acu go mbeadh dualgas idirnáisiúnta ar Rialtas Shasana neamhspleachas na hÉireann a aithint. Ach bhí siad ullamh chun troda ar son na saoirse sin má bhí gá le troid.

It was an All-Ireland Dáil that assembled here, a Dáil united in opposition to the intention of the British Government to partition Ireland. We know the tragic outcome. Dáil Éireann was suppressed by the British Government which waged war on Irish democracy. Our country and our people were divided and the mass movement so strongly manifested here in January 1919 was split apart in January 1922.

We salute all those who struggled for Irish unity and independence since the First Dáil Éireann met. We recall all those who suffered imprisonment and who gave their lives in the struggle for freedom, as so many of the first Teachtaí Dála did. No one can credibly deny the spirit of freedom that links, to take but two examples, the Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney, TD for Mid-Cork who died on hunger strike in 1920 and the TD for Cavan-Monaghan Kieran Doherty who died on hunger strike in 1981.

Equality was the basis of the Democratic Programme adopted here 90 years ago. The programme set out progressive social and economic goals based on the principles of the 1916 Proclamation and articulated by Pádraig Mac Piarais and James Connolly. Its key section stated that the sovereignty of the nation "extends not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its material possessions, the Nation's soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the Nation and...we reaffirm that all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare". It declared "the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the Nation's labour". The Democratic Programme said it was the "duty of the Government of the Republic" to ensure that no child should suffer "hunger or cold" or homelessness and should be provided with "proper education and training". The programme promised to ensure that the aged and infirm would be no longer "regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the Nation's gratitude and consideration". It made it clear that the Republic has a duty to "safeguard the health of the people". The programme pledged to build Ireland's economy and reinvigorate industries which would be developed "on the most beneficial and progressive co-operative and industrial lines". After nine decades, the Democratic Programme remains to be implemented.

If the public right and welfare had been placed above the interests of private profit and property over the past decade, our economy would not be in recession. Cé nach bhfuil sé mar obair againn na ceisteanna sin a phlé go mion inniu, ní féidir an Chéad Dháil Éireann a chomóradh gan an fhírinne a rá faoi shochaí na hÉireann lenár linn. Is fíor freisin nach gcuireadh i bhfeidhm cuspóirí na Poblachta ó thaobh na Gaeilge de. Ba i nGaeilge a rinne an Chéad Dháil a cuid oibre ar an gcéad lá sin. Caithfear a admháil nach bhfuil an Dáil agus an Seanad ag tabhairt an cheannaireacht ba chóir. Is le pobal na Gaeilge an cheannaireacht san obair chun an teanga a chothú agus molaim iad as an obair sin. Ba chóir go mbeadh sé mar rún againn inniu teanga na Céad Dála a chur ar ais ina háit cheart mar theanga náisiúnta na hÉireann.

The sovereign will of the Irish people was denied by British imperialism in 1919. In its message to the free nations of the world, the Dáil looked forward to a new era of national self-determination and the ending of what it called "military dominion for the profit of empire". The hopes of subject peoples across the globe, including the Irish people, were dashed as the British and French empires reasserted their control after the First World War. Those two powers divided the Middle East between them and ensured the continuing Western domination of that region. The terrible legacy of their actions is evident today in the region's many conflicts. I take this opportunity to extend particular solidarity to the dispossessed people of Palestine, whose agony the world has witnessed in recent weeks. As we mark the 90th anniversary of the First Dáil, we look forward to a day when the elected representatives of all the people of our country will once more gather in the national assembly of a united Ireland. Creidimíd go dtiocfaidh an lá sin agus is ar a shon atáimíd ag obair. Is é sin ár gcuspóir. Is é sin an dóchas a bhí anseo 90 bliain ó shin agus atá fós ann. Is é sin an bealach ar aghaidh do phobal na hÉireann uile.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Progressive Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Is mór an phribhléid dom í labhairt anseo inniu agus deis a bheith agam rian a fhágáil ar cheann de na hócáidí is tábhachtaí i stair na tíre seo. Déanaim é mar cheannaire an bPáirtí Daonlathach, a party that has made a distinct contribution to Ireland's democracy, prosperity and standards in public life, but will soon enter the annals of Irish political history. I hope I can recognise the tenacious and precious durability of democracy, while acknowledging the vulnerability to which ideas and organisations are subjected by the passage of time. We are here to mark the importance of a pivotal event in Irish history. It gives us a chance to examine the values, certainties and realities that have endured over time in a way that transcends the twists and turns of history. We are here to mark the fact that 90 years ago, in a bold and radical development, the First Dáil was convened in a move aimed at securing Ireland's freedom from Britain — a country then described as a foreign enemy. The Members of the First Dáil were determined that Irish people would have the power to decide their own futures. Ninety years later, with freedom, respect and prosperity having been achieved, our small country, in common with countries all over the world, recognises that our fate is inextricably linked to and dependent on global events and governance. Decisions made by others, sometimes at a great distance, have the power to alter our future prospects considerably for good or for ill.

Ninety years ago, in the wake of what the First Dáil described as 700 years of "foreign usurpation", the Irish people sought to break free from the chains of foreign domination and to emerge into a new dawn and a world of possibility dictated by ourselves. We have had an extraordinary journey in the intervening nine decades. We have seen the best of times; we have seen the worst of times. We have seen civil war and terrorism, but we now see lasting peace. We have seen mass emigration and mass immigration. We have seen poverty and stagnation as well as extreme wealth. We have at times felt isolated, sometimes by our own choice. We have recently had the feeling of being a cosmopolitan magnet for people from countries all around the world. Where once we felt the cold Atlantic to our back and Britain blocking our view of Europe to the front, we now belong to a family of nations in a European Union that is striving to improve the way we all live. We had little in 1919, and little remained our lot for a long time. When President Kennedy visited Ireland and addressed the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas 44 years later, in 1963, he said that Ireland "is not rich and its progress is not yet complete, but it is, according to statistics, one of the best fed countries in the world". In the last years of the 20th century significant economic prosperity arrived and took our breath away. Our small country, which was praised in 1963 because it was well fed, became one of the richest countries in the world, and not by accident.

On 21 January 1919, the First Dáil declared in its message to the free nations of the world that Ireland was "the gateway of the Atlantic" and "the point upon which the great trade routes between East and West converge". That foresight came to its greatest fruition in recent times, when inward investment made Ireland rich. This resulted from the commitment, confidence, education and skill of our people and our position as the gateway to the Continent of Europe. It was crucial that Ireland was a fully participating and active member of the European Union, at the heart of the Union. By forging highly developed political and economic ties with our European partners, we positioned ourselves to harness a rising tide. Perhaps more important than money was the fresh sense of pride the Irish people felt about this country's ability to succeed at the highest international level. Our confidence was boosted. We felt we could hold our own on any stage. We felt like winners and it felt good. In 2009, at the start of a new millennium, in many ways we are as uncertain — perhaps even more concerned — about what the future holds for Ireland and the world as we were 90 years ago.

The First Dáil knew it wanted complete political independence. It declared that the elected representatives of the Irish people alone had the power to make laws binding on the people of Ireland and that the Irish Parliament was the only parliament to which the Irish people would give its allegiance. After 700 years of foreign domination, we were determined to become a sovereign state. Ninety years later, much has changed. Where once we had the desire to break free of shackles to become our own masters, in many ways we now have an overwhelming sense of interdependence, as never before. We realise our best future lies not in splendid isolation on the periphery of Europe, but as part of a family of nations free to surf the tides of international economic opportunity. They say that no man is an island. In the modern world, it is clear that no island can stand alone. Not only do we recognise that a decision made last Friday in Philadelphia can bring joy to the Philippines and great sadness to Loughrea, but we also recognise, for example, that decisions made in Frankfurt are a central part of our best defence against the buffeting tides of an international financial crisis. As commentators have said, in a sea of uncertainty our membership of the euro currency gives us a strength and stability that are crucial for a country that survives by exporting goods.

Our sense of interdependence is heightened further by the understanding that the planet itself is in danger unless we consider the effects of our actions, particularly with regard to the use of energy. Nearly 40 years ago, in 1970, in an article from Time magazine entitled "Fighting to Save the Earth From Man", the point was made that "Technological man is so aware of his strength that he is unaware of his weakness." The article concluded that man's weakness was "the fact that his pressure upon nature may provoke revenge".

Ireland and the world now know that nature's revenge has been provoked. We must now work together to renew the balance that has been lost. We must do so not just for our own good but also for the international good. In the modern world real freedom means the attainment of a position of influence and the dignity to work together with others to produce a better future for all.

The men and that one woman of the First Dáil showed courage and vision. They showed passion, confidence and a determination to break free and chart our own course. The men and women of this Dáil and Seanad have no less a challenge in forging and strengthening the international bonds of co-operation that will lead to a better and sustainable future for us all. We now have the urgent job of reassuring the people that our recent success was no accident, that our pride was not misplaced and that future triumphs lie ahead.

The men and women of 90 years ago paved the way for international recognition of Ireland's sovereignty. The task before us as politicians in the modern world is to work together with other sovereign countries, pooling that sovereignty, where there is a real common advantage, in the search for balanced, prosperous and just progress for all.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

It is proper today that we acknowledge the vision, perseverance and patriotism which was central to establishing this country's political independence. The responsibility entrusted in all of us, as Members of the Oireachtas, to debate, plan and legislate policies to enhance our country and to better the quality of life of our fellow citizens stems from the courageous stance taken in January 1919. That generation saw a sovereign native parliament as essential to the noble objective of ensuring that the people, in every generation, would have the freedom to chart their own social, economic and political progress. Its lasting achievement is the representative democracy that it is the duty of each of us, in our time, to uphold and nurture.

It is no accident of history that the Declaration of Independence of the First Dáil Éireann, its Democratic Programme and its Message to the Free Nations of the World, each of which were adopted in this room 90 years ago, make glowing reference to and derive legitimacy from the 1916 Rising. The Easter rebellion is at the genesis of the First Dáil Éireann. Those who founded our national Parliament envisaged a new Ireland, based on the ideals and the vision of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. They strove for an Ireland that would be free, an Ireland that would promote social justice and an Ireland that would be unequivocally democratic. The significance of 1916 is only truly to be understood if it is seen as part of a movement which rapidly received democratic legitimacy and inspired a successful war of independence.

The patriots of the past knew that this country had vast potential, if only freedom could be achieved. Those who set up Dáil Éireann had an innate belief that a native government was necessary to build up our economy and strengthen its capacity to provide decent livelihoods for all Ireland's people.

In our recent history, this country has enjoyed astonishing success. Up to last year, the Irish economy was growing year on year, which resulted in unprecedented progress in creating jobs and tackling forced emigration. However, due to the international economic climate, the lack of confidence in global markets and the worst recession in a generation, we all know the next year will be very tough. In confronting our current fiscal difficulties, we can draw inspiration from our proud past.

It is instructive to recall the optimism of those who set this country on the route to independent nationhood and their belief in the capacity of each generation of Irish people to confront the problems of their time through their own ingenuity and common sense, building on what has been previously achieved.

I want to refer to a letter from the period, written by Michael Collins to a fellow Deputy, Austin Stack. This correspondence highlights both the bravery and the risks taken by Members of the First Dáil to establish a democratic parliament in this country. It reads:

After the Dáil meeting at the Mansion House on Friday, a few of us had a very interesting experience. . . At about 5 o'clock, the enemy came along with three motor lorries, small armoured car machine guns, probably 200 to 250 troops. They surrounded the building with great attention to every military detail. They entered the Mansion House and searched it with great care and thoroughness, but they got nobody inside. The wanted ones codded them again!

The generation that set up the Dáil was made up of practical patriots who refused to be browbeaten by the scale of the challenges they faced. The Members of the First Dáil, which included Countess Markievicz, knew that the objectives they had set of supplanting the political, administrative and judicial systems of the British Empire would require a massive, unprecedented effort. They met that challenge with determination and courage. That great national work commenced here on 21 January 1919 and from it flowed the establishment of democratic self-government in Ireland, with its own judicial system and diplomatic representatives.

Now 90 years on, in commemorating that historic occasion and in recalling the vision of our predecessors, we dedicate ourselves here to their example — representative government of the Irish people, by the Irish people and for the Irish people.

The Joint Sitting concluded at 12.10 p.m.

Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar 1.30 p.m.