Dáil debates

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Easter Rising Commemorations

1:30 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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5. To ask the Taoiseach the role of his Department in the annual 1916 commemoration. [16664/18]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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6. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his Department's role in the annual 1916 commemoration. [17611/18]

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 and 6 together.

My Department is responsible for the co-ordination of the annual Easter commemoration ceremony which takes place at the GPO on Easter Sunday. Since the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2006 the commemoration has taken place annually.

The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces play a central part in the ceremonies. The detailed logistical elements of the programme are worked out in conjunction with the Office of Public Works events management unit, An Garda Síochána and other State agencies as appropriate.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. He said his Department co-ordinates the 1916 commemoration. I think we can all agree that we had a wonderful centenary in 2016, but in a general sense the annual event needs more focus. Will the Taoiseach review the nature of it? I noted that the Taoiseach had Rahm Emanuel as a guest. Is there an official guest list? That might be a good idea and would enhance it. Could we do other things to enhance it?

We are in the decade of commemorations; many things happened in this period of time 100 years ago. Monday marked the centenary of the anti-conscription strike in 1918, an event marked by the Labour Party in Wicklow this week. Bray and Wicklow town were two centres of a very successful strike that ended Lloyd George's conscription plans for Ireland and had a momentous impact in saving thousands of lives. With many events that are not on the official list of commemorations, perhaps we could have some dialogue across parties about having a comprehensive list. I would welcome the Taoiseach's views.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Deputy Howlin has made a good proposal.

I have a number of questions on State commemorations generally. In the build up to the centenary of the 1916 Rising, one aspect that worked very well was the all-party consultative group on commemorations. It was first established in 2005 and reconstituted in 2011. It was envisaged that the group would look at a host of events over the course of the decade of significant centenary anniversaries. However, regrettably that committee has become moribund. I understand that the Minister is minded to reconstitute the committee, which is welcome.

I also welcome the commitment that this group will look at centenary events to the year 2023 which is beyond 2021 as originally intended. A full examination of the State's role and actions during the Civil War is essential. Regrettably parties have not had an input into a number of significant anniversaries, some which have passed without any State commemoration. The anti-conscription strike mentioned by Deputy Howlin is a case in point of an event that warrants recognition and remembrance.

The centenary of the 1918 election is nearly upon us.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy's time is up.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Thank you. Is that what the Acting Chairman's hand gesture meant?

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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Yes.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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He could have said, "Your time is up."

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I did not want to interrupt the Deputy's train of thought.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Thank you.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy's time is up.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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The 1918 general election agus an Céad Dáil freisin are certainly events that require State commemoration.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The work carried out by staff at the Department of the Taoiseach is always excellent and ensures they are dignified and focused on unifying elements, such as the institution of the Presidency and of course the Army, which is now, and always has been, the only legitimate Óglaigh na hÉireann. However, it is a great pity the Taoiseach chose to be so highly partisan last week at his party's event concerning the Republic of Ireland Act 1948. It is curious that he thinks we should have a national day to commemorate an Act of the Oireachtas and yet the Government saw no need to mark the 80th anniversary of the first constitution in the world adopted in a democratic referendum. I submitted a parliamentary question to the Taoiseach on his plans, but it was transferred out to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan. It is curious that a constitution that made Ireland a republic should be ignored in favour of an Act that added it as a descriptor, which is used only in some circumstances.

My party welcomes the idea of having consultations about whether more events should be commemorated. However, the focus needs to be on ensuring that these are constructive non-partisan discussions. When does the Taoiseach intend following up on his speech? Does he accept in retrospect that the failure to mark last year's anniversary of our republican Constitution set a very bad precedent?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Since all the different strands of Irish politics are throwing in their particular slant on the revolutionary period, I will throw in something of importance. During the whole social revolution that took place in the 1916-21 period, it is a little known fact - the Taoiseach might be horrified at this - that 200 soviets were set up in Ireland between 1918 and 1921.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Deputy is on dangerous ground now.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Some, at least, who were fighting in the revolution were not just looking to change the colour of the flag, but actually saw themselves as part of a wider international revolt against a system that put profit before people. Famously in the creamery in Charleville they put up a banner when they took it over saying "We make butter not profits", which was pretty brilliant. That was another dimension of the revolutionary period.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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What happened to Charleville?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Indeed. That needs to be commemorated and remembered.

The Limerick Soviet, for example, was an extraordinary event over six weeks. Workers took over, printed their own currency and saw themselves as aligned with a big international movement. It was not just a parochial event, but part of a big international thing. The commemorations need to acknowledge the different strands of the revolutionary movement in this country.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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I wish to bring one other item to the Taoiseach's attention on which I believe there would be broad agreement even from the previous speaker. The year 1919 saw the publication of the Democratic Programme. The author and inspiration for much of it was the leader of the Labour Party, Tom Johnson, who succeeded Connolly. The point is that the Democratic Programme is the basis of the agreement about social democracy in Ireland in the sense of provision of social welfare, universal education and universal access to health care. It is something that politically still lives very much in Ireland. Obviously there will be a Labour Party celebration of it, but I would like to have an all-party Dáil celebration of Tom Johnson's legacy.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I again record that the questions to which I am speaking relate to the annual 1916 commemoration. I appreciate that Deputies have taken the opportunity to raise matters other than the annual 1916 commemoration. When that is done, it will not be possible for me to answer all questions.

I will have to prioritise those that relate to the questions submitted. The cross-party dialogue is very fitting and appropriate when it comes to these matters. One of the successes of the decade of commemorations has been the fact that it has operated largely on a cross-party basis and everyone has been able to buy in to, and participate in, the commemorations and not feel they belong to one particular party. That is very much the vein in which the Government intends to continue.

The event I participated in last week to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the Republic was a party event. Other parties have their events. Labour and Sinn Féin have their events. I imagine People Before Profit has its events too. I hope it did not upset Deputy Martin that Fine Gael might have an event-----

1:40 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is the Government.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----but we did have an event to recognise the historical fact that the only internationally recognised Republic of Ireland was the one that began in 1949. Bunreacht na hÉireann fell a bit short of that and did not even describe the country as a republic. I have no difficulty recognising the historic importance of that particular document-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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But the Taoiseach has. He does not do it. He never does it.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----and the significance of that new Constitution.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is a very significant Constitution.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy's anger about the event that Fine Gael had last week and his frustration and upset at it-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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No. I just think the Constitution gets ignored.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----probably explains why it is better that when we have these events, we make sure that any events that are State commemorations should be agreed on an all-party basis. The Deputy's view was that we did not commemorate his party's Constitution so he would not commemorate our Act. That is a little bit petulant.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is not our Constitution. It is the people's Constitution.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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It is important that when we do have State commemorations-----

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Stop fighting. We heard you.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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------that they are ones all parties can go into so as not to cause anyone to become upset or petulant, which of course I would not like to do.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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There is nothing new in it to Deputy McDonald. For God's sake.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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In respect of the all-party Oireachtas advisory committee in the lead up to the State’s commemoration of the centenary of events in 1916, an all-party consultative group on commemorations proved to be very constructive. In the years to 2023, with the various historical events falling to be remembered, such input will again be beneficial in informing the State commemorative programme for the remainder of the decade of centenaries.

Last September the then Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Humphreys, wrote to the Ceann Comhairle requesting that the Business Committee nominate Deputies and Senators to the group. Parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly that are not represented in the Dáil or Seanad were also asked to make nominations. Some nominations from the Dáil, Seanad and Northern Ireland Assembly remain outstanding. The current Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, expects most of these to reach her shortly. The Minister will then be in a position to convene an early meeting of the group. It is noteworthy also that the public consultations process to assist the expert advisory group on commemorations in framing its advice to Government has recently concluded. The consultation covers the period 1918-23, which led to the foundation of the State, the War of Independence and the Civil War, and sought views on how the State might meaningfully and appropriately commemorate centenaries of the related significant historical events. The advice of the group is expected shortly and may help inform the discussions of the all-party group when convened.

There is also an expert advisory group, which was established by former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, in 2011 and meets regularly in the Department of the Taoiseach. Its role is to advise the Government on historical matters relating to the decade of centenaries and to consult widely with academic, community and voluntary groups and members of the public to ensure that significant events are commemorated accurately, proportionately and appropriately in tone. The group is non-partisan and is composed of independent members, mainly academics, from around the country with Dr. Maurice Manning acting as chair of the group.

In regard to soviets, as Deputy Boyd Barrett may know, one of the more interesting ones historically was the Arigna soviet, where the red flag was raised over the mine. If anyone has not visited the Arigna visitors' centre I would encourage them to do so. I do, however, see something interesting in the slogan "we make butter not profit" because the most sustainable way for an industry to survive would be to make both butter and profit.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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It was a hotbed of Bolshevism.