Dáil debates

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Ceisteanna - Questions

Commemorative Events

2:30 pm

Photo of Gerry AdamsGerry Adams (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Question 2: To ask the Taoiseach if he will seek from the British Government the return of any personal items or paper belonging to those who were court-martialled by the British army following the 1916 Rising. [13448/11]

Photo of Gerry AdamsGerry Adams (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Question 3: To ask the Taoiseach if he will seek from the British Government all court-martial papers and other documentation held by it which relates to the execution of the 1916 leaders and all of those others who were tried. [13449/11]

Photo of Gerry AdamsGerry Adams (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Question 4: To ask the Taoiseach if he will seek from the British Government all papers still in its possession relating to the British administration in Ireland prior to partition. [13450/11]

Photo of Gerry AdamsGerry Adams (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Question 5: To ask the Taoiseach if he will press the British Government to release all Government and British military papers and Cabinet minutes relating to the decision to execute the 1916 leaders and including the execution of Roger Casement. [13451/11]

Photo of Gerry AdamsGerry Adams (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Question 6: To ask the Taoiseach if he will instruct all Government Departments to examine their records and to release all materials relating to the Easter Rising and subsequent events including the 1918 election, the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. [13452/11]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 6, inclusive, together.

I appreciate the Deputy's interest in the commemorative programme to be brought forward in relation to the centenary anniversaries to arise in the coming years, bringing to mind the turbulent period that culminated in the establishment of the State.

The commemorative programme will address and reflect the political, cultural and social themes of the period to 1916, most especially the developments leading towards the Easter Rising. My Department will work with all other Departments in preparing a framework for commemorations. I envisage that this initiative will include an opportunity for all to make proposals and submissions and for a special consultation with parties in the Oireachtas on the draft programme. As the Deputy will be aware, I wrote recently seeking nominations from party leaders for this consultation. I am grateful for their responses and will now make arrangements to include representatives of Independent Deputies and Senators. I have nominated the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, to chair this special consultation process with the Oireachtas Members.

As Head of Government, I will continue to have a role in the direction and development of the commemorative arrangements. The comprehensive framework of commemoration that I envisage will contribute towards an enhanced understanding of the political, cultural, economic and social conditions in this most important period of Irish and world history.

Notwithstanding my role in directing the overall development of the commemorative programme, it would be inappropriate to displace the primary responsibility of particular Ministers for the various elements of the programme. Consistent with their assigned portfolios, each Minister will account for his or her contributions to the commemorative programme.

The passing of the generations facilitates original and further consideration of the principles and activities in the revolutionary period. To contribute to that assessment, the initiative will be sustained to prepare for public access to the service records of the personnel associated with the Rising and subsequent years of struggle. These records, the Military Service Pensions Archive, are the last remaining official archive of unpublished material relevant to the period. I believe that these first-hand personal accounts, reviewed and verified by contemporaries, will be of great assistance in reaching a clear understanding of the history of those years.

I would agree with the Deputy that the time is now right for all records pertaining to the period to be released. I am not aware of other undisclosed records held by Departments or institutions. If any should come to notice in the context of commemorative planning, I assure the Deputy that the disposition of any consideration will be towards publication. I will ensure that this commitment is communicated with regard to all records of relevance wherever they may be held.

The principal interest with regard to records abroad has been to ensure that all material is accessible to students and researchers. Recognising that they reflect a shared heritage, I do not know that it would be feasible to seek the transfer or repatriation of all records in Britain relating to Ireland. I am aware the technologies for on-line searching and examination have greatly reduced the significance of the location of records. I believe it would be useful to identify the nature and location of any such records so that they might contribute to the study and understanding of our history.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Taoiseach for his answer. It is clear that his commitment is to make available all records. That is as it should be. I realise the Taoiseach made this commitment previously and plans are underway for the all-party committee for the commemorative events leading to 2016. The issue of the personal effects and records held, as the Taoiseach put it, wherever they may be, is important, especially those in Britain. History not only in this country but elsewhere reflects that when control was being taken from them in different countries, the British authorities took vast amounts of information, documentary and otherwise. It would be a pity if we were to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising without having made every possible effort to ensure the repatriation of any documents or personal effects of the leaders of that time. The Taoiseach has been cautious in how he has couched his response on that score. I call on him to raise the matter again with the British Prime Minister. It could be raised as a matter of goodwill. I am sure they will be aware of the historic times that are to be commemorated in the coming years.

I take the opportunity to raise again the issue of 16 Moore Street and the proposed national monument site which, I understand, the Taoiseach visited and which is in a bad state of repair. The Taoiseach is aware that the Save 16 Moore Street campaign has been vocal on the issue. All who know the city well are aware that this quarter is ripe for development, that it would make an ideal revolutionary quarter and that it could add another tourist hub to the capital city. Above all, it would be an appropriate marker or flagship event for the centenary celebration. However, for this to happen we need the commitment of Government in addition to Dublin City Council. Will the Taoiseach indicate today if he is prepared to make a commitment to such a project?

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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In respect of the Deputy's first question, perhaps she will inform me later if there are specific issues, documents, artefacts or whatever in which she and her party are interested and which are not in the public domain or which are not intended to be in the public domain. I would be pleased to follow that through.

For the information of the House, I have received correspondence from people whose parents or grandparents were involved during that period and who have made reference to documents, files or papers about which they have queried whether they are in the military archives. For the information of the Deputy, some 300,000 documents are in files in the military service pensions archive which relate to the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War to 1 October 1924. This is what comprises the collection.

The purpose of the military service pensions archive project is to make all of these available to the public well in advance of the centenary of the 1916 Rising in 2016. To back up this, a team of four archivists has been put in place in Cathal Brugha Barracks in Rathmines. The work of processing the collection is under way under the direction of a steering committee, which comprises representatives of the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces and the National Archives. We can report progress on how the archival analysis is progressing in order that it will be available. We plan to have those 300,000 files available to the public long before 2016.

I have visited No. 16 Moore Street and understand there is a planning process under way which I do not want to prejudice in any way. In 2007 the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dick Roche, placed a preservation order on the building under the National Monuments Act 1930, as amended, on the basis that the building's preservation is a matter of national importance by reason of the historical interest attached to it. Ministerial consent under section 14 of the 1930 Act will be required for all works affecting the area covered by the preservation order. I understand the planning approval that was granted by An Bord Pleanála for the redevelopment of the Carlton cinema site in central Dublin includes a provision relating to the conservation of the national monument at Moore Street.

I recognise the importance of this issue and took the trouble to visit the site long before the election was held. In my view, as a citizen and public representative, there is an opportunity here for a very worthwhile project. However, the current site is not very amendable to encouraging people to visit it. The exit from the side of the GPO into the laneways - the laneways of history, as I call them - to the site of the battery on top of the Rotunda, to the location of the eventual surrender, including the location of the death of The O'Rahilly, together with No. 16 Moore Street, should be considered an essential part of our history. While not wishing in any way to prejudice the planning application that is under way, it is an area in which I have an interest.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I am aware that the Taoiseach has visited Moore Street and, as he put it, the laneways of history. One of the problems in terms of the protection for the building is that the approach that has been taken is very minimalist. We are all aware of that. Does the Taoiseach support extending the level of protection for the whole terrace? In order to develop it as a viable commemorative site and to house, for example, a museum dedicated to 1916 and all it stood for, the plan will have to be on a much grander scale and much better designed. As it stands, the Moore Street site is effectively in isolation, with the development of the Carlton site at the back of it, which is completely at odds with what would be best for the site in the interests of State tourism and the commemoration of our history. How much further does the Taoiseach wish to see that level of protection expanded? I am aware he is sympathetic to this issue, but can he be more specific?

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I do not want to prejudice the planning application currently under consideration. There have been proposals for major historic presentations at the GPO site itself and that is a major plan. Those who exited the GPO in that time of insurrection had to break in through the walls of the houses on Moore Street to make their way to No. 16, from which they all exited. Some of the original brickwork is there, as well as some of the cobblestones and some of the archways into the backs of the houses. From the point of view of 20 or 50 years hence, there are possibilities, as exist in other places around the world, for people of all nationalities to come to a location where an insurrection took place at the beginning of the 20th century and which was the start of a difficult process by which this country achieved its independence. For a small state to do so in that historic period is quite significant.

The Deputy is asking me to go further. I cannot answer the question about the current position in so far as the Carlton site is concerned, although it is probably some distance away. In that mix of conversation and reality, clear potential exists although a planning process is in place that I do not wish to prejudice. As for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government becoming involved in the preservation order that was issued for 16 Moore Street, I will take up that with them because it is an issue of general interest in any event. It should be associated with the general programme of various developments that have been mentioned for the GPO, which also is important.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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First, I welcome the spirit of the Taoiseach's response to this series of questions and I believe he will acknowledge the previous Government opened up much archival material relating to this period. In the past, the argument had been that there may have been political difficulties or problems with releasing some of that material. However, Fianna Fáil's view, which I believe the Taoiseach will share, is that the State has no business in denying people full access to our founding history. I ask the Taoiseach to explore with the British Government its attitude and approach to some remaining records. At this point, I do not consider that Irish republicans could think any better or worse of the role of the British Government at that time either before or after independence. In essence, there is no contemporary political down-side to releasing this material and I ask the Taoiseach to take up this matter in order that future historians may have full access to all the archives and records both here and in Britain that pertain to the rising in the run-up to its centenary. The fundamental issue with the Irish archives is not the right of access but rather the ability to gain access in person to those archives. Consequently, in the run-up to the centenary there is a strong case for adopting as an objective the digitising of all material relating to the struggle for independence. I ask the Taoiseach to explore this possibility and to take the lead in ensuring this will be the case by the centenary itself.

Finally, with the Ceann Comhairle's indulgence, having walked to and gone through 16 Moore Street with the relatives and so on, someone in government with responsibility for this matter should meet Dublin City Council. What really strikes me is the absence of an overall plan emanating from the city council, which is the planning authority. As the Taoiseach is aware, councils develop local sectoral and area plans and this area begs for and demands an area development plan that is consistent with its history and heritage and that would reflect all that has taken place. Someone must take the initiative with Dublin City Council to get it to begin to develop proper planning processes to ensure the conservation of the history and heritage there in a manner that is accessible to the public and that does justice to what by any standard is a highly significant historic site and location. I repeat that what really strikes me is the absence of any sense of a plan that encapsulates the historic nature of the site.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I agree with Deputy Martin in this regard. Obviously the previous Government and the then Minister placed a preservation order on 16 Moore Street. I will also take up this matter with the British authorities in respect of whatever records may have been removed, transferred or whatever to British locations. I made the point to Deputy McDonald that the location no longer is that important if access now is available via digital or electronic means. It is fair to state that there has not been a sense of the real importance of this location to the extent that, as politicians, Members might have liked. However, in the context of the Deputy's comments, I also believe that as we approach 2016, this will become more prevalent and more realistic. Consequently, the suggestion to have Dublin City Council review its own programme and plan in this regard is a good one because Dublin obviously will take centre stage in all these commemorations. It is an issue with which city councillors, many of whom are new, would like to be involved to heighten the perception of the importance of this location.

For me, the question is whether there is a possibility of putting together the old and the new in a way that is new and realistic, that is forward-thinking but which does not lose the historic importance of what happened here and for all those involved. I say this without prejudice to the planning application.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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A final supplementary question from Deputy Wallace.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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With regard to history, there is a good chance that the planning permission for the Carlton project will run out before the project is financially viable again. In the case of this happening, would the Government consider putting a preservation order on the area and thereby force a scaling back of the Carlton project, which was a little on the grotesque side in the first place?

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I cannot prejudice the outcome of the planning application but in the context of my reply to Deputy McDonnell and Deputy Martin, this is an issue that would arise if what Deputy Wallace says comes to pass.