Dáil debates

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Ceisteanna - Questions

Departmental Programmes

3:35 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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1. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of his Department in preparing a formal commemorative event for all those who lost their lives during the struggle for independence as recommended by the expert advisory group. [34838/21]

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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2. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of his Department in preparing a formal commemorative event for all those who lost their lives during the struggle for independence as recommended by the expert advisory group. [37251/21]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together. The Truce, which marked the end of the War of Independence, came into effect on 11 July 1921. Recognising the significance of this date, an all-party Oireachtas committee in 1986 recommended that the Sunday closest to 11 July would be the most appropriate date upon which to have an annual national commemoration ceremony to commemorate "all Irishmen and Irishwomen who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations". At this year's ceremony, which took place on Sunday, 11 July, the centenary of the Truce, we especially remembered all those who lost their lives during the struggle for independence. The ceremony included the laying of a wreath by President Michael D. Higgins and was broadcast live on RTÉ. Limited numbers were in attendance in line with Covid-19 restrictions to ensure the health and safety of all.

From 8 July last, the National Archives of Ireland, NAI, has been exhibiting material related to the Truce. I, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, had an opportunity to view this material last week. An Post also issued two specially-commissioned commemorative stamps to mark the occasion. In addition, the National Library of Ireland, NLI, is cataloguing and digitising personal papers from key figures in the project, "Towards a Republic" and holding a photographic exhibition entitled, "From Turmoil to Truce: Photographs of the War of Independence". Under the communities strand of the decade of centenaries programme, several local authorities are also holding online and small commemorative events to mark the Truce.

The public health emergency caused by Covid-19 has significantly impacted the holding of in-person commemorative events marking important centenaries in 2020 and 2021, at State and local level, with some cancelled or rescheduled. We have had to be more imaginative in our planning, with many events moving online, and in creating opportunities that encourage as many people as possible to explore our shared history, in all of its complexity, in a respectful and supportive environment.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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The National Day of Commemoration took place at the weekend in Collins Barracks. It also marked the centenary of the Truce in the Irish War of Independence. More than 2,000 people were killed in the conflict before the Truce on 11 July 1921. Hannah Carey was one of the last people killed. She worked as a waitress in the Imperial Hotel, Killarney and was hit in the throat by a stray bullet fired by a Royal Irish Constabulary, RIC, officer arriving on the scene after two British soldiers had also been shot. Ms Carey was one of 98 women killed in the War of Independence. Will the Taoiseach indicate what other formal commemorative events are planned during the year ahead? What is intended to mark the anniversary of the Civil War and the foundation of the State next year?

The National Day of Commemoration, held on Sunday, remembers all Irish people who have died in past wars or on service with the United Nations, UN. The Taoiseach will be aware of the long-running campaign for recognition of the heroes of Jadotville. This September will mark 30 years since the siege in the Congo. It is never too late to do the right thing. Will the Taoiseach and the Government support the campaign for the award of distinguished service medals, DSMs, or military medals for gallantry, MMGs, to the men of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion? Thirty-three Irish troops were recommended for the DSM or the MMG, our highest award for valour, by their commanding officer, Commandant Pat Quinlan, after that siege. Those soldiers held out for five days against all the odds at their posts in Jadotville during the siege, which occurred nearly 60 years ago now. An independent review was established by the Minister for Defence and it was granted an extension. Will the Taoiseach commit to the report being finally published and can we, hopefully, expect a positive outcome? The Taoiseach might give an indication in that regard.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Sunday's National Day of Commemoration remembered all those killed during the Tan War and marked the anniversary, as the Taoiseach said, of the Truce. The all-party decade of centenaries advisory group has met just twice online. This group needs to be facilitated in playing a much more proactive role in developing a complete, and I would suggest more grassroots and community-driven, schedule of events. I state that because this period in our history will benefit from not just a broad consultation with all political traditions, which is of course very important, but from the widest possible community and civic participation.

We must do better in commemorating women. At a young age, Margaret Keogh was a member of Cumann na mBan and she was shot dead in her home in Stella Gardens, Ringsend, 100 years ago during a series of raids by the Black and Tans. Margaret was the captain of her camogie club, a passionate trade unionist and a Gaeilgeoir. She died of her wounds the morning after the Truce and was buried in Glasnevin with full military honours. Her coffin was carried by uniformed members of Cumann na mBan. Margaret was the only woman to die on active service during the Tan War. A commemorative plaque has been erected on her street but the fact remains that the revolutionary role of women in the fight for Irish freedom remains largely ignored and unsung. Cumann na mBan is not fully celebrated or remembered, be it in terms of structures or events. In this centenary year, we must change that. As the previous speaker said, it is truly never too late to do the right thing.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The points made by the Deputies concerning the need to more effectively and strongly commemorate women were well said and it is well merited. Turning to the events at Jadotville, I do not want to pre-empt the review, but I am familiar with the case. I met all those involved, I have seen the film about the events as well and have read about the background to all of this. I sincerely hope that those men will get the recognition they deserve. Moving on to the question about other events, it has been a great pity that Covid-19 has really impacted our capacity, nationally and locally, to have a whole series of events to mark the Truce and the War of Independence period. For example, we could not mark the centenary of the burning of Cork last year, just prior to Christmas 2020.

In July, History Irelandwill deliver the 2021 decade of centenaries hedge school programme, which will look at the Truce and subsequent negotiations up to the Treaty. UCC and RTÉ are developing an online initiative entitled "The Irish Civil War" for October 2022. A three-part television documentary series based on UCC’s Atlas of the Irish Revolutionwill be broadcast in October 2022 to mark the centenary of the Civil War. As part of the decade of centenaries, "The Irish Civil War" series will examine the critical years of the Irish State's foundation, from the Truce period to the highly-charged Treaty debates and the split, to the outbreak of the Civil War, the conduct of that war and its short-term and long-term legacies.

The communities strand, as referred to by Deputy McDonald, will see Dublin City Council commemorating the Truce. The "Commemorating the Truce, 1921" online lecture series took place from Monday, 5 July to Friday, 9 July. Galway County Council will hold an online lecture with Dr. Conor McNamara, with the details to be confirmed. Westmeath County Council's commemorative events include a podcast about the Truce with Professor Marie Coleman from Queen’s University Belfast, who is a native of Castlepollard in County Westmeath. Fingal County Council is holding a festival of history lecture series in September 2021.

The "History at the Castle" day, which will be held in Swords Castle, will include five or more speakers and performances based on this year's chosen topics, namely, the truce, the end of the War of Independence, events local to Fingal, the destruction of coastguard stations and the opening of the Howth tram. The Government has at all times been informed and guided by the expert advisory group on centenary commemorations, chaired by Dr. Maurice Manning and Dr. Martin Mansergh.

The history of this period belongs to us all and we are very mindful of the complexities and sensitivities that lie ahead. It is very important that our history is faithfully presented, even when the historical record is distressing. We must acknowledge the great tragedy of all those who died or whose lives were transformed by the events that occurred during this time. I welcome, commend and encourage the continuing research of historians and custodians of records whose work enhances our understanding of these events, which have so significantly shaped our modern world. It is key that in all the centenary commemorations, we give due regard to excellence in academic research and recall, giving insight to people in the broadest possible way into what happened. In remembering this period in our history we will acknowledge both the military aspects and the constitutional parliamentary traditions and democratic processes underpinning all traditions on this island. We will explore a range of issues in that regard, including the social and cultural changes that were taking place and the role of women during the revolutionary period.

On the social and cultural changes, Dr. Ida Milne has done work on the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, as it was called. I was often struck by how little attention that pandemic got in history books and on the curriculum. It is only in more recent times that scholarly research has opened up the extraordinary impact that pandemic had on social and cultural life in Ireland over 100 years ago.

There are other aspects to this as well, such as the treatment of women during the period, poverty and child poverty in particular. The role of Cumann na mBan needs to be properly commemorated. My late grandmother was a very active member of Cumann na mBan and a firebrand activist in her own right. Very often, these women did not speak about themselves too much afterwards but they played a crucial and very effective role in the movement for independence.

More broadly, it is important that the social context is articulated very strongly in the centenary recall and commemorations as well. I note what both Deputies have said in respect of that. Perhaps we could revert to the advisory group about the role of women more broadly. It is also important to point out that many women suffered hugely during that period, particularly because of the impact of the First World War on many families. Many husbands and partners were killed in that war, leaving many families in considerable poverty. There is a very good book written by John Borgonovo on this period in Cork. It brings home the social impact of all these issues and the strife, stresses and strains of different political communities, as well as the role of women in both, and how that manifested itself on the streets of Cork in 1917-18, 1919 and 1920. It is a fascinating period but very often the social contexts did not get the same priority as constitutional and political issues do. That needs to be corrected to some degree, as do issues such as the Spanish flu pandemic and the extraordinary impact that had on so many lives.