Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Death of Polish President: Expressions of Sympathy


4:00 pm

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to express again my sincere sympathies and condolences and those of the Government following the tragic air accident which claimed the lives of the President of the Republic of Poland, His Excellency Lech Kaczynski , his wife, Maria Kaczynska, and 94 others at Smolensk in Russia on 10 April.

The untimely death of President Kaczynski came as a great shock to me. He paid a state visit to Ireland in February 2007 and although I did not meet him on that occasion I got to know him at meetings of the European Council which he often attended, alongside the Polish Prime Minister. He made a major contribution to Polish public life as president, as minister for justice and as a great Solidarity personality in the 1980s and 1990s. He was forthright in his views, a trait that stood him well in the many important political positions he held over the years. That his wife, Maria, perished in the same accident makes the tragedy all the more horrific for their family and especially for their daughter Marta.

The devastating scale of the accident, with so many victims drawn from all walks of public life in Poland, is difficult to comprehend. Leading figures from the Polish Government and Parliament, the military, the church, the public service and civic society were killed in the tragedy, which will have left an indelible mark on Poland and her people. The tragedy is all the more poignant for the circumstances in which it happened. The ill-fated aircraft was completing a journey to Smolensk in Russia, where the Polish President and his travelling party were due to attend a ceremony to commemorate the terrible massacre of thousands of Polish soldiers and civilians in Katyn forest in 1940. What was to have been an important symbolic moment of reconciliation between Poland and Russia of a horrible episode in history became instead its own tragic and horrible event.

The tragedy has touched the hearts of the people of Ireland in a way that brings out just how deep the bonds between the Irish and Polish people have become. Our friendship goes back a long way but it is in more recent years that it has become fully cemented, particularly since Poland joined the European Union in 2004 during the Irish Presidency. In the short period since, many tens of thousands of Polish people have come to Ireland, where they now live, work and participate in society. It is almost impossible to fathom the grief felt by so many but we have tried, for our own part, to show our sympathies for, and solidarity with, the Polish people at this sad time.

When I learned of the tragedy I spoke with the Polish Ambassador to Ireland and sent a letter of condolence to my counterpart, Donald Tusk, the Polish Prime Minister. President McAleese and I participated in commemorative masses for the Polish community in Ireland last week. I also visited the Polish embassy to sign the book of condolences there. On the day of President Kaczynski's funeral, flags flew at half mast over State buildings in Ireland as a mark of respect and out of solidarity with the Polish people living in Ireland. President McAleese was due to represent Ireland at the funeral but, unfortunately, like so many others, was unable to attend as a result of the restrictions on air travel over the weekend.

In conclusion, I once again offer my condolences to the Polish Government and the Polish people at this sad time. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been bereaved and more generally with the Polish people everywhere, including the many thousands who live among us in Ireland today.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to have the opportunity to convey the deep condolences of the Fine Gael Party to the Polish people on the tragic plane crash last week which cost the lives of 96 people. This accident was a significant loss, particularly for the families which have lost loved ones. It was also a significant loss to Poland, taking the lives of President Kaczynski, his wife and many other leading members of the Polish state and armed forces.

President Kaczynski was a leading figure in Polish politics throughout the period since the re-establishment of democracy in 1989. Prior to that he was a long-standing activist in the Solidarity movement led by Lech Walesa and was interned in the early 1980s. His death deprives Poland of one of the fathers of its modern democratic system. I have sent a message to Prime Minister Tusk, who is a member of our own grouping in the European context. I also remember the Polish President's family, particularly his daughter Marta, who has lost both her parents.

This tragedy has been felt deeply in this country because of the close relationship between Ireland and Poland, which has grown even closer in the short six years since Poland became a member of the European Union family. In that time, more than 200,000 Polish people have come to live and work in this country, and they have made a significant contribution to our economy and lives. Their grief following the plane crash has been shared by the Irish people, as we well understand what it feels like to face adversity while living far from one's home country. I join with the Taoiseach and reiterate our solidarity with the Polish Government and its people at this painful time.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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On behalf of the Labour Party I extend my deepest sympathies to the Polish people on the death of President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria and 94 other people in the Smolensk air crash on 10 April. For any country, the death of so many of its citizens would be a terrible disaster but the loss of such a body of distinguished leaders of political, civic and military society in Poland is a particularly devastating blow.

It is probable that no other country has had to experience the loss of so many key national figures in one accident. Apart from President Kaczynski and his wife, the victims also included the chief of the Polish general staff and other senior military officers, the president of the national bank of Poland, the deputy foreign ministers and 12 members of the Polish Parliament, including Jerzy Szmajdzinski, the deputy speaker of the Polish Parliament who would also have been the Democratic Left Alliance candidate in the presidential elections due this autumn. Also in the plane crash were the head of the Polish Olympic Committee, the Polish ombudsman, many key government officials and relatives of the victims of the Katyn massacre.

It is a particularly poignant aspect of this disaster that these people died on their way to what was intended to be effectively a ceremony of reconciliation between the Polish and Russian people in a shared commemoration of the Katyn massacre of 22,000 soldiers and other Polish citizens by the Soviets in 1940. If any small crumb of comfort can be drawn from this terrible disaster, it is perhaps that the shared sense of shock and loss has brought the two peoples closer.

The Polish people have had a difficult history, having had to endure occupation and oppression on many occasions. In the past 20 years, Poland has blossomed; its democracy is firmly established, its economy has grown and it has become a respected member of the European Union. The loss of so many key political, military and economic figures will be a significant setback but I have no doubt the Polish people will recover from this disaster with the courage and determination that has characterised their long history.

Our two countries have some shared experience in terms of history but the links between Ireland and Poland have developed significantly since it joined the European Union. We have seen significant Polish immigration to this country and many of us now have Polish friends, neighbours and workmates. A disaster like this must be even more difficult to cope with when away from one's own home, neighbours and community. I particularly extend my deepest sympathy to the members of the Polish community in Ireland. Thar ceann an Lucht Oibre, déanaim comhbhrón le Rialtas na Polainne agus le pobal na Polainne, go háirithe iad atá ina gcónaí anseo in Éirinn.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I join with the Taoiseach and the leaders of the Opposition in expressing my condolences to the people of Poland on the death of President Kaczynski, the first lady and 94 other people killed in the plane crash in Smolensk on 10 April. I express these condolences on behalf of my parliamentary colleagues and the entire Green Party.

Poland has lost its president and all nations grieve when they lose their president. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Polish people as they come to terms with this tragedy of losing a leader and other prominent political, military and religious figures. Their death, while travelling to commemorate another tragedy, no doubt compounds the sorrow of the Polish people. They have lost a man who dedicated his life to the pursuit of freedom, democracy and human rights. We take political and civil rights for granted in this country but for many years Poland did not enjoy these rights. President Kaczynski embodied a struggle to achieve such cherished goals.

He was a man who had the courage of his convictions over many years of political struggle in his own land and he believed in high standards in public office. He loved his country; he was a patriot but not a nationalist. He was rather sceptical of big business, not least because of the concern for workers' rights.

As a new Minister of State with responsibility for integration, I am acutely aware of the invaluable contribution the Polish community makes to our country and society. In every county we have got to know the Polish people in our schools, sporting associations and workplaces. We have also got to know their work ethic, industry and commitment to families. Ireland has benefited from knowing our Polish friends and neighbours. Their sorrow is our sorrow at this time.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Ar mo shon féin agus ar son Sinn Féin, ba mhaith liom comhbhrón a chur chuig muintir na Polainne in Éirinn, sa Pholainn agus ar fud an domhain ar bás uachtarán na Polainne agus 95 duine eile ar 10 Aibreán seo caite. On behalf of Sinn Féin and on my own behalf I join in the expressions of sympathy to the Polish community in Ireland, and to the people of Poland, on the death of President Lech Kaczynski, together with 95 other leading Polish citizens in the tragic air crash of 10 April. The circumstances of the accident emphasise the tragic history of Poland, as the delegation was on its way to commemorate the massacre of thousands of Polish prisoners of war and other citizens on the orders of Stalin in Katyn in 1940. Some of the dead from 10 April were relatives of the Katyn victims. Given of our own history, the Irish people have had a special affinity with the people of Poland and have followed with interest and sympathy their long struggle for national self-determination and unity.

In addition to recalling the late president as Head of State of Poland, Members also should recall the other victims of the accident. I wish to mention in particular Anna Walentynowicz, who was also killed in the crash. Her dismissal from her job in Gdansk in 1980 for trade union activity sparked the mass strikes out of which the Solidarity movement was born. In her later years, she criticised the so-called "self-styled capitalists selling off our plants and pocketing the money". Her key role as a staunch trade unionist and Polish patriot also should be remembered. Suaimhneas síoraí dá n-anamacha uile.

Photo of Michael MulcahyMichael Mulcahy (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for granting me the special opportunity of adding my voice to the other voices of sympathy for the victims of the Polish Air Force crash on 10 April. I do so first as an Irish citizen and second as a public representative who always has taken a great interest in Poland and holds that country in great affection. When Lord Mayor of Dublin, my first official visit was to Poland and, having advocated stronger links between our two countries for several years, I was honoured in 2002 by the Polish Government.

While the loss of any single life is tragic, what makes the air crash on 10 April especially tragic is that the victims represented a group of leaders of Polish society of the highest calibre, political, moral and cultural, as well as past and present. While the sympathy of this country of course goes out to the President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria, an examination of all 96 persons on board indicates what a terrible loss this was to Poland, including 18 parliamentarians. I wish to put on the record of the Dáil the names of all 96 people who died in this crash and will do so later.

I also wish to mention two people in particular. The first is Ryszard Kaczorowski, who was born in 1919. He was a Polish statesman who, between 1989 and 1990, served as the last president of Poland in exile. Arrested in 1940 by the NKVD and sentenced to death, he was later set free and served in the army led by General Anders. He fought in most of the major battles in which the Polish 2nd Corps participated, including the Battle of Monte Cassino. He was a member of the National Council of Poland, the parliament in exile, he was the last president-in-exile of the Polish state and handed over the insignia of the presidential power of the second republic to President Lech Walesa on 22 September 1990. I also wish to mention the person to whom Deputy Ó Caoláin referred, namely, Ms Anna Walentynowicz, who was one of the chief people in respect of the strike in the Gdansk shipyard.

It is especially poignant that this tragedy occurred while the delegation was on its way to commemorate a massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and other Polish persons at Katyn in April 1940. It is to be hoped that one of the consequences of this terrible tragedy is that Poland and Russia will move even closer to improving their relations, which would be a fitting tribute to all those who died on the Polish Air Force TU-154 on 10 April 2010. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha dílse.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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On my own behalf and on behalf of all Members, I wish to be associated with this expression of sympathy to the Polish people.

Members rose.