Seanad debates

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Ireland 2016 Schools Programme: Statements


2:30 pm

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael)
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I invite the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to address the House.

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I am very pleased to have the opportunity to update Seanad Éireann on the Ireland 2016 Schools Programme. The programme was launched by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and me at CBS Westland Row, Dublin, last week. It was an ideal setting for the launch of the programme, as both Pádraig and Willie Pearse went to school in Westland Row. It is well known that the Pearse brothers, and Pádraig in particular, valued education, so I hope they would have approved of the diverse range of initiatives and projects that form part of the education programme.

The Ireland 2016 centenary programme is an invitation to everyone on the island of Ireland and the global Irish community to look back on the events of 100 years ago that shaped this nation, to consider the amazing things we have achieved over the last century and to look ahead to the next 100 years. We want children and young people to be at the heart of this programme because they, after all, are the guardians of the next 100 years. The Ireland 2016 project teams in my Department and the Department of Education and Skills have developed a diverse programme of activities for children and young people to help them reflect on the events of 1916 while also looking towards the future.

Earlier this month the Taoiseach launched the Flags for Schools initiative, under which the Defence Forces will deliver our national flag and a copy of the Proclamation to every national school in Ireland. It is very important that children and young people learn about the peaceful message behind our national flag. Members of the Defence Forces will visit more than 3,300 primary schools and talk to the children about the flag and the contents of the Proclamation. I saw how excited the children were in Mayo at that first event with the Taoiseach. They were so thoroughly engaged with their history and listened to every word the Army officer said as he explained the significance of the green, white and orange in our flag. The Thomas F. Meagher Foundation is also going to deliver the flag to secondary schools around the country. Through these flag initiatives we are bringing the commemoration programme right into the classroom, and I hope we will leave children with a positive memory of the events of 2016.

Another element of the programme in which I am particularly interested is the Proclamation for a New Generation project, whereby students across the country will write a new proclamation for their own schools to reflect the values, hopes and aspirations of the 2016 generation. This will start with an analysis of the ideals and principles contained in the 1916 Proclamation, and students will then be encouraged to reflect on their own aspirations. Who better to look to the future and to set out their vision for the next century than the children of 2016? This project entwines the historical and forward-looking elements of the programme. The children will look back on what happened in 1916 and on what informed the aspirations and ideals of the signatories; then they will consider their own experience today and what they would include in a proclamation for their own generation. We can then look forward to Proclamation Day, which will be a very special day held in all educational institutions on 15 March 2016. The day will start off with the raising of the national flag, followed by a reading of the Proclamation. It will be an opportunity for schools around the country to invite families and the wider community to come to the school as they showcase the work of their students, such as the results of the Proclamation for a New Generation.

As part of the 1916 ancestry project, children and young people will explore what life was like back in 1916 and what happened to their families during the Rising, and will perhaps even discover whether family members had any involvement in those tumultuous events. The ancestry project will give students and their teachers an opportunity to explore the wide range of material being made available online as part of Ireland 2016, including, for example, the parish records published by the National Library of Ireland, which provide a wealth of genealogical information. These records feature the baptism certificates of some very well known figures from 1916, including Pádraig Pearse and Thomas MacDonagh. It is my hope that as the children start exploring this information, it will also spark the interest of their parents and other family members.

A number of all-Ireland competitions focusing on the events of 1916 have been developed by the Department of Education and Skills in partnership with the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, including history, drama and arts competitions, which are open to students from both sides of the Border. A number of other competitions will also be run, including a special exhibition featuring work by students on the theme of Ireland 2016, which will be hosted by the National Gallery of Ireland in September 2016. Students will also be invited to write a short drama based around any aspect of the events of 1916, film the performance and submit the short video to RTE. A public vote will be launched to select the best plays, with the winning schools invited to perform on the stage of the Abbey Theatre in spring 2016.Our national cultural institutions, including the National Gallery and the National Museum, have been developing exciting programmes to engage directly with children. We have also been working with other organisations to run programmes and publications which will complement the main elements of the schools programme. On Wednesday, 23 September 2015, The Irish Timespublished a fantastic supplement called "Children and the Revolution," which was supported by my Department. This supplement was delivered to every school in the country and included a wealth of information on the Easter Rising. We are also working with the Irish Independenton an exciting series of supplements, which I will launch in the coming weeks. The Ireland 2016 project office has been working with The Irish Timeson a debating competition, which I will launch in the GPO next week. This high-profile competition for third-level students will focus on 1916 and will culminate in a final in February 2016.

As with all commemorations during the decade of centenaries, the Government is committed to an inclusive approach in marking the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. The Government's expert advisory group on centenary commemorations summed up this approach well when it stated that the aim of the commemorations should be "to broaden sympathies, without having to abandon loyalties." The Ireland 2016 programme is intended to give people scope to think about the events of 1916 and their legacy in a way that is personal and meaningful to each individual. There are many different perspectives and views on how the events of the 1916 Rising, and all those whose lives were affected by those events, should be appropriately remembered.

In addition to this comprehensive schools programme, communities are developing plans at local level for a whole range of events across the country, and I hope that children and young people will also get involved in their local communities and take part in the various events. We all remember inspirational teachers from our own childhoods. I thank teachers and principals around the country; their enthusiasm and interest in this programme will help the children to really understand the events of the past and unlock their potential for imagining the future. I acknowledge the role of our education centre network and teacher bodies, and the great support and resources that they make available to teachers. I thank my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and the many officials in her Department who have been so important in developing the schools programme. I extend my appreciation to Dr. Maurice Manning, chair of the expert advisory committee, and to the committee for its assistance with the development of the programme. The knowledge and experience of such a committee is invaluable to the Ireland 2016 programme. I am also very grateful for the commitment and input of the members of the Oireachtas all-party consultation group, some of whom are present this evening. My Department has also been working with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to support the engagement of children and young people outside the formal education sector. Eight regional consultations are taking place with children aged between eight and 12 and with young people aged between 13 and 17 on the theme of "Imagining our future." The outcome of these consultations will be compiled in a report to be presented by children and young people to Ministers and decision makers at a major young people's event on 2 April 2016.

There really is something for all interests in the programme and I look forward to seeing the outcomes throughout 2016. Further details on all of the events taking place under the Youth and Imagination strand of the Ireland 2016 centenary programme can be found on the website I thankMembers for the opportunity to outline the Ireland 2016 Schools Programme.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister this evening to outline what is a very comprehensive and imaginative schools programme as part of the 1916 centenary celebrations. I compliment the Department and its Northern counterparts on the most edifying national Famine commemoration in Newry on Saturday, 26 September 2015. It was most impressive. I was struck by how peaceful and inclusive that event was. It is not to overstate the case to say that it could not have happened 15 or 20 years ago.

I compliment the Government on the State funeral afforded to Commandant Thomas Kent. It was a most edifying and inclusive event. I have spoken about this in the Seanad over the past 15 years in the hope that it would happen. I do not think it could have been done better than it was done in Castlelyons on 18 September 2015.

With regard to the programme itself, something the Minister said near the end of her speech is quite true - there is something for everybody. All interests will be catered for and encapsulated in the programme. The Minister is right about the excitement when the flag arrived. I have heard the same story from parents and teachers. It shows that, given the opportunity, that is precisely the interaction that a school wants with the outside world. It will be a memory for life for those young people. We invest confidence in young people when we ask them to demonstrate what type of Ireland they would like, for example, by asking them to write their own Proclamation. That is important. As one gets a little bit older, one forgets how creative young people are, and young people are creative at a very young age. In this case, the focus is 1916, and if they are given an opportunity in a formal setting, there is no doubt that we will be agreeably surprised by what will come back. Over the years I have seen young people writing dramas. One might expect them to be incomplete, but it is amazing what they are able to do when given guidance and parameters in a school. For that reason, I believe that Proclamation Day, on 15 March 2016, will be exceptionally special. The reading of the Proclamation will be the primary event on that day, but one will find that schools will put their best foot forward and will endeavour to do something very special. If one looks back on one's own school days, when there was a special day in school, one will remember all the preparation that went into that and the sense of achievement when it went well, particularly when there were parents and other people present. I feel that that day will go down as one of the most important days in the childhood of those young people.

What is important about the programme is that much of it is community-based. I have always felt that that is the way it should be. We talk about the commemoration belonging to everyone, and that is particularly evident in a community context. If one looks back over the years, one can see that communities have become very cohesive. We all look back at a time when there were perceived divisions in communities. That is gone, certainly in this part of the country, and hopefully it is happening in Northern Ireland as well. If there is an event that emanates from the community and the community is part of it by hosting and energising it, it will belong to all the people. There will be people there of different political and religious persuasions; they will have no problem once they realise that this is about our history, in the same way that the World War was commemorated. History is history; it is not something that is used to be provocative or otherwise.Moreover, this type of programme will start where it should, namely, with young people. Obviously, other events will be held outside of schools and many young people in school also will be part of them. While they will be coming out into the adult world, they also will influence the adult world as a result of their own experience within the school programme. I also believe this commemoration is being started in the right way because it is being done on the basis that everyone occupies this island for the better and for the good of all people. No Member who enters this Chamber is without an edifying experience of his or her own. Each Member present has experienced the new Ireland, its potential and opportunities and one should not allow oneself to be influenced excessively by some peripheral opinion. As I have stated previously in the Chamber, it was an education for me when the Fleadh Cheoil went to Derry and I remember visiting the Waterside and meeting the loyalist leaders of the bands that time. There was no difficulty in this regard and while they had a perception of me and of what we did and we had a perception of them, it was all laid aside. Thereafter, I received an invitation to go back up and meet these loyalist representatives in the Orange lodge just outside Derry before Christmas. At the lodge, I met husbands, wives and children with the aprons, buns, tea and so on and, genuinely, nobody thought of politics or partisanship. All one really thought of was generous humanity because these were people who wished to engage and I wished to reciprocate and engage with them. If nothing else emerges from the entire commemoration of 1916 next year than the fact of us all going forward with renewed confidence, respect and co-operation, as well as a constructive approach to one another, the commemoration will have been a great success.

Photo of Eamonn CoghlanEamonn Coghlan (Independent)
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The Minister is welcome to the House. I was delighted to learn that the launch of the initiative took place in Westland Row last week because my father, who lived a mere two blocks from Leinster House, went to school there and, as a young boy, I remember listening to many stories of Pádraig Pearse. I also recall the events of 49 years ago on the 50th anniversary and all the wonderful ceremonies that took place, as well as the pageantry in Croke Park. My father provided the sound system for those particular ceremonies and all the wonderful events that took place and now, 50 years later, we are ready to celebrate the centenary of the 1916 Rising. I also was delighted by the initiative taken with the flags in schools, which was launched by the Taoiseach a week or two ago, because ever since I was nominated to the Seanad four years ago, I have been visiting schools to promote physical education and at times in such schools, I have been asked to raise the green flag for the environment. I also have been asked to raise the active schools flag, which is awarded when schools participate in physical education to a high standard. Now that the tricolour is to be presented to all the schools in Ireland, it will be a great occasion in which to instil pride in the young children of Ireland as to the meaning of the tricolour. As a sportsman, I was fortunate to have the talent and health to be able to win a gold medal for Ireland, to be handed a tricolour, to carry it around the stadium in Helsinki in 1983 and to hear the national anthem being played. An opportunity of success like that enables one to understand what the anthem and flag are all about.

The Ireland 2016 Schools Programme is part of the youth and imagination strand of Ireland 2016. The programme is a year of activities to commemorate the events of the 1916 Rising, and the 2016 schools programme is a wonderful way to involve children by educating them in a fun and interactive way. The focus on children and young adults in the centenary programme via the schools programme is hugely important. I cannot emphasise that enough. It will enhance their understanding of the events that took place and will enrich their sense of Irish identity in the future. The programme involves a huge array of activities, research projects and competitions and awards are being rolled out in primary and post-primary schools throughout the country commencing this month. The schools programme has been developed by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in partnership with the Department of Education and Skills, which is wonderful. Both Departments have worked to develop an interactive programme of activities that place children and youths at the heart of the commemoration and assist them to examine what happened in the past while also enhancing their hopes and dreams for the future.

It is fantastic that the national cultural institutions such as, for example, the National Library and the National Museum are also involved in the schools programme with tours planned to help boost the understanding of young people of the events that took place 100 years ago. A special exhibition featuring work by students on the theme of Ireland 2116 will be hosted by the National Gallery of Ireland in September 2016. In addition, there will be an all-Ireland song competition through a partnership with the National Concert Hall. Primary and secondary students will be invited to write a song inspired by the modern, multicultural Ireland of the present and the finalists will perform at the National Concert Hall in May 2016, where two overall winners will be selected, with one from a primary school and the other from a secondary school. In addition, there will be a transition year module facilitated by the Military Archives and NUI Maynooth based on material from 1916.

Some other examples of the Ireland 2016 Schools Programme include the Proclamation for a New Generation project, which will see students being asked to write a new proclamation for their own school to reflect the values and hopes of the 2016 generation, starting with an analysis of the ideals, principles and aspirations of the 1916 Proclamation. A special so-called Proclamation Day will take place in all educational institutions next March. This is the moment when each school in the country will showcase the results of its Proclamation for a New Generation and all other creative projects relating to 1916 that its student body has developed.

In addition, the 1916 ancestry project will invite all primary and post-primary pupils to trace their family or another family tree back to 1916. Students will be encouraged to find out what was happening in their local community in 1916 and embark on a trail of discovery using the resources of the national cultural institutions. A range of arts awards and competitions, based on themes relating to 1916 or Ireland in 2116, has been developed by the Department of Education and Skills in partnership with the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, which will be open to all primary and post-primary schools on the island of Ireland.

All the national cultural institutions are creating exciting and diverse programmes of events and activities specifically to engage young people and children both with the events of 1916 and to explore and express their vision as young artists for the Ireland they want in the future. There will be a great deal going on for teachers and students to explore the events of 1916. Students will be invited to write a short drama, for example, based on any aspect of the events of 1916, to film the performance and submit the short video to RTE. A public vote will be launched to select the best plays and the winning schools will be invited to perform them on the stage of the Abbey Theatre in the spring of next year. The topic for the libraries and post-primary schools' special 1916 poetry competition is "Your Ireland". The Poetry Aloud all-island poetry speaking competition is encouraging poems on 1916 themes.

From my point of view, the best advantage to the 2016 schools programme is there are many families and people, even of my generation, who may not participate in the centenary commemorations. However, by having so many activities and educational programmes delivered through the school system, one is guaranteed the children will become involved in a fun and interactive way and they can encourage their parents, families, extended families and communities also to get involved in this wonderful celebration of Ireland 2016.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister to the House and thank her for outlining the wide ranging programme. I served on the Decade of Centenaries committee for the last four years. It has been a long journey and there were lots of concerns, but from this side of the house we are delighted with the Government programme. I think it is very comprehensive. The schools programme outlined by the Minister is only one part of it but all the other aspects of it are equally comprehensive and it will make for a very good year and appropriate celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. I wish to pay particular tribute to the Minister and while I understand that we should not name officials in the House I will name then anyway: praise is due to John Concannon and to Sinead Copeland and to all the officials who put in so much effort. They are not just doing the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., they are going to the events in the evenings and at weekends. They are putting in an enormous amount of hours.

The question has been asked, “What are we celebrating?” I have debated this theme with the chairman of the Thomas Francis Meagher Foundation, the Reverend Michael Cavanagh. He is not just a Church of Ireland reverend; he is also a lecturer in Trinity College on ethics in engineering. He was in charge of the Jubilee Line underground extension in London and he is also an adviser to NASA on safety critical systems. We discussed 2016 and what it is we are celebrating, about the promotion of pride and respect for the Irish flag and its meaning for peace. He pointed out that we must focus on what it was we were trying to achieve, not who it was we were trying to achieve it against. What we were trying to achieve is contained in the Proclamation about equal rights, equal opportunities, and civil and religious liberties.

In some senses, what we will be looking at next year is celebrating how far we have come. The UN Human Development Index puts Ireland 11th in the world out of 196 nations, above our nearest neighbour who is 14th. We must also reflect upon how far we have yet to go to achieve all those aims and objectives contained in the Proclamation. The reflection on how far we have come in attaining those aims we sought to achieve 100 years ago is a rightful part of the celebrations.

The flag and the description of its colour, as described in Article 7 of the Constitution, is central to this. In the education process, in the Department of Education and in primary and secondary schools, the national flag is described as green, white and orange. Not green, white and yellow, not green white and gold – it is green, white and orange. It is orange for a reason, the significance of which was outlined by Thomas Francis Meagher when he talked of the colours and their symbolism for peace between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants. Those aims and words are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago or 160 years ago when Thomas Francis Meagher spoke of them. When he spoke those words I do not think he would have believed that they would still be quoted all these years later and that when he flew the flag for the first time on 7 March 1848, that the second time it would fly would be on Easter Monday, 1916. Now, thanks to the Minister and the officials, all national schools and second level schools in the State will be presented with the flag by Proclamation day. In the case of the secondary schools those flags will have flown from the building where the first tricolour was flown. I wish to pay tribute to the Minister and the officials for working with the Thomas Francis Meagher Foundation. The foundation has an impressive line-up of supporters including Irish athletes Henry Shefflin, John Treacy, Cora Staunton and Niamh Briggs, Brian Schweitzer the former Governor of Montana, Congressman Thomas Rooney and Congressman Joe Kennedy, the grand-nephew of John F. Kennedy and the grandson of Robert Kennedy. Another honorary board member is Packie Bonner who gave us back our flag, in a sense, when he saved the penalty in Italia '90. That occasion allowed everybody to fly the flag with pride. This pride will happen again in 2016, but it will also allow us to celebrate appropriately the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and I look forward to working with the Minister and the Government on ensuring that the year is one where the whole nation can celebrate together.

Photo of Susan O'KeeffeSusan O'Keeffe (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. The year 2016 will be a great year to be a schoolchild due to the extraordinary range and depth of programmes that the Minister and her officials and committees have conjured up. Of course it has been more than conjuring and it is the result of much hard work, but there is imagination at work also in trying to reach out. The programme offers certain big pieces and events, but it also reaches out to the imagination of our young people and our small children. One of the events that appeals to me is where first and second class children, and perhaps even younger, will examine what it was like to be a four year old in 1916. It is from the stories which people tell about their experiences that children learn.

Senator Coghlan recalled his own great moment of glory, holding the flag and listening to the anthem. These are the moments that people remember and imagine and in talking of their experience they inspire children to think “Well I want to run for Ireland,” or “I want to play football for Ireland”. For the little ones at school, examining what four year olds did in 1916 will engage them in a way that perhaps history books cannot or will not. That is what is good about the range and depth of these programmes. As the Minister has said, there is something in this programme for everyone.

In looking at the plan for County Sligo which will have 55 events, not all about the schools, the key intersecting themes of remembrance, shared history and reconciliation, refection and re-imagining will be the cornerstones of all the events we will enjoy and celebrate next year. I believe it genuinely is a year to celebrate. While it is important to commemorate, I am a believer in looking to the future. What have we learned? By looking back we can be inspired by the people who fought and died in 1916, we can take that learning and it becomes about what we can do in the next century and beyond. Rather than it be a sad moment it becomes an inspiring one. There is plenty to be inspired by in the events to take place, many of which have been outlined today.

The bilingual education piece for next year is particularly important and I welcome it. Níl móran Gaeilge agam féin ach cuirim fáilte roimh na rudaí atá ann ina thaobh. It is important that we have an emphasis on the Irish language next year on an all-island basis. The Irish language will play an important part next year and I am delighted to see this.

The Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology will invite primary schools to submit short films based on any aspect of 1916. It is lovely to see opportunities for third level students to interact with younger students and the skilled people who work hard at the institute looking after that project. It is one project that I will certainly be looking out for. The Abbey Theatre production of "Me, Mollser" for fifth and sixth classes, will be taken on a nationwide tour. This is a lovely opportunity for theatre to be taken out from the confinement of the actual theatre and for people to understand that the Abbey Theatre has been around for over 100 years and has played its part in who we are as a nation.

I want to salute the idea of sharing our flag and of reinventing our connection with the flag and what it stands for. In remembering the message that the flag belongs to all of us as citizens of this country it becomes not a political emblem, it becomes ours and it belongs to everybody. I am delighted to see that children will be engaged in this message through the Army, which is a lovely way of organising it, so they will then understand when they see the flag flying that it belongs to all of us.Is there an opportunity for the harp to be included in our celebrations next year? We are the only country in the world with a musical instrument among our emblems. It was on the Irish flag for centuries. We retain it on the beautiful leather seats in the Seanad and on the President's flag as one of our official emblems.

Some younger schoolchildren will be examining the family life and cultural life of 1916. Social media overwhelms most of our young people's lives and they are good with it. Examining the role of film, theatre, literature and print at the turn of the last century would be good for them. They may be surprised to discover that a great deal was happening. The telephone had been invented by that time. They may discover that some of the things they are used to doing on social media had their roots further back than they believed.

Local stories will be important. Through schoolchildren, each county will celebrate its stories and people. As with Senator Eamonn Coghlan's experience with the flag, it is the stories of those who lived in 1916 - neighbours, grandparents or great-grandparents - that will awaken for children a better understanding of what happened. Reaching out through those family connections will be important.

It would be remiss of me not to mention William Butler Yeats in this context. We have had a successful year of celebrating his birthday. In his poem "The Leaders of the Crowd", he wrote: "Truth flourishes where the student's lamp has shone". This is a nice line to take from Yeats, though not one with which people might be too familiar. As part of the joined-up thinking to which the Minister referred, this afternoon we celebrated with the Minister for Education and Skills and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the book produced by more than 100,000 national schoolchildren from throughout the country in celebration of Yeats's birthday. Each child examined two poems, painted pictures and wrote a poem of his or her own. At each education centre, we selected four or five, which we produced in a book, The Magic Within. It was a perfect opportunity for the two Departments to join hands and work together, which they continue to do through the cultural charter. The Creative Yeats national secondary school competition encouraged young people to use social media to engage with Yeats. An essay competition was also run by Callan Tansey Solicitors. It is good that our young people are looking back and finding ways for their futures to be inspired by what happened many years ago.

We will have a busy year. I would love to be a schoolchild next year. I am sure that all of us as public representatives will play our part in helping to celebrate this moment in our history. It will be a beacon for the next 100 years. I thank the Minister for her and her Department's hard work.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister. I thank her for her address in Newry last Saturday. If it was a foretaste of the events of the coming year, it was an auspicious start. The Minister, her Department and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council organised a commemoration of the Famine. As part of the inclusiveness that Senator O'Keeffe mentioned, historian Dr. Eamon Phoenix described in new ways the impact of the Famine on the Ulster Unionist and Protestant communities. That was an aspect that was not known previously. It was an innovation. I attended in the presence of the Minister, Mr. Danny Kennedy, MLA, and Senator Ó Murchú. We must get that group together again as it was most informative and useful. I commend the Minister on the inclusiveness she has shown in the organisation of events.

The Trinity College Dublin commemoration of the 1914 to 1918 period earlier in the day has been mentioned. The chaplains kept it going, but it has been reinterpreted. Idealistic people of 16, 17 and 18 years of age volunteered in large numbers because they believed in the cause. Almost 500 never came back.

Inclusiveness is important. When the Taoiseach honoured Thomas Kent at his funeral, I welcomed his reference to the RIC man who was shot on the same day. As I stated when the Minister attended the Seanad previously, "including everyone" also means the many ordinary policemen who did not have a political stance but were caught up in this and killed, had to leave or were forgotten. The Minister's inclusiveness was impressive.

National schools will gain from soldiers bringing the flag to them and explaining it. I saw it on television being done at a school in Mayo. The schoolchildren were most impressed by the gesture. It was magical for them.

Much happened during the decade in question. The teens were a period of great vibrancy in music, theatre and politics. The 1920s to 1950s were dull in comparison. The Minister is celebrating the most exciting decade. The celebrations have got off to a good start.

The inclusiveness was appreciated in Newry last Saturday. Mr. Seán Kelly, MEP, brought rugby to Croke Park. Many Unionists support that sport and an all-Ireland team is to be commended. The invitation that the Minister issued to every ambassador, chargé d'affaires and honorary consul probably brought together a range of people in Newry who had never been all together before. That was commendable.

We are celebrating the rise of trade unionism, which was an ingredient in what happened in 1916 and workers' rights, the suffragettes and the franchise. There are many interesting elements to celebrate. What I saw in Newry last Saturday was a good start. I commend initiatives like Joe Duffy's researching of the 40 children who were killed in 1916.

I have always felt that school programmes have immense possibility. They are mostly exploited, if that is the word, when a team wins the Sam Maguire cup or the Liam McCarthy cup and it is brought to schools. That day is one that all the children remember. It is exciting. The Minister for Education and Skills could use ambassadors to explain to schoolchildren how culture, business and sport operate, as one never knows what might excite the spark in young people. They remember the day when someone famous came to their school.

The programme deserves the support of every Senator. I wish the Minister well. It should be a time of great celebration. We are constantly seeing 1916 and that decade in a new light. Instead of looking back in anger, there should be positivity in terms of what that period means for Ireland's future. A maelstrom of ideas came together at the time. For capturing that excitement, the House and the country are in the Minister's debt. I commend what she has done.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Minister is always welcome in the House.The Ireland 2016 Schools Programme is an event that will be very much welcomed by school children and indeed everyone involved in education in the country.

In 2011 a group of Waterford people set up a voluntary committee to commemorate the first flying of the tricolour in Ireland at No. 33, The Mall, by Thomas Francis Meagher. The Thomas Francis Meagher festival has grown from strength to strength in recent years. I compliment James Doherty and his committee on their excellent work in promoting this festival in recent years. It was this committee that first thought of the idea of presenting a ceremonial Irish flag to primary schools. Last year, representatives from more than 130 schools throughout the country attended a function in Waterford, which was also attended by President Higgins. It is the intention of the committee to continue this event in Waterford in the coming years.

I know that Senator Daly has set up a company called the Thomas Francis Meagher Foundation, which is registered as a charity. I presume it is registered with the Charities Regulatory Authority, as is required by law. I welcome his enthusiasm in this regard. I do not know whether there have been any meetings of the foundation since it was set up, but I compliment him on his work in this regard. Anyway, I hope he will not forget the fact that the Thomas Francis Meagher committee is a Waterford committee, set up to promote Waterford and the building where the tricolour was first flown. This is a historical fact, despite people's claims otherwise. There are some rumours to the effect that the foundation is trying to hijack the flag event next year and bring it elsewhere. I hope this is only a rumour. I know that Senator Daly mentioned a number of dignified people in his remarks and I imagine they certainly would not advocate or welcome any hijacking of that event from Waterford.

The year 1916 is to be commemorated by all, as has been mentioned, and I welcome the schools programme and the details that the Minister has outlined in the House today. It is a very inclusive programme. We have many innovative events, incorporating arts and cultural, dramatic and musical events. As Senator O'Keeffe mentioned, our flag belongs to everyone.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I hate to see it abused at some events, as we have seen in recent years.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Our flag is to be respected at all times.

I am keen to make reference to the comments of Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú in respect of the Thomas Kent State funeral. It is something Senator Ó Murchú has raised in this House on numerous occasions in the past ten years. I agree with his view that because of the approach of the Government and the family, this was a very respectful and dignified event, as it should have been.

I compliment the Minister on her efforts in the schools programme as well as the whole commemoration of 1916, which will no doubt be inclusive, as it should be. I hope everything will go well for all of us in 2016.

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire. Tá brón orm nach raibh mé in ann bheith in Iúr Cinn Trá Dé Sathairn seo caite. Bhí orm mo bhean chéile a thógáil go dtí an t-ospidéal i mBaile Átha Cliath.

Yesterday, An Taoiseach, the Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, launched the Flags for Schools initiative. As part of the Ireland 2016 centenary programme, Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Defence Forces, will present the national flag and a copy of the Proclamation to every primary school throughout the country. The first ceremony was held yesterday in Islandeady, Castlebar, County Mayo. This was the first in a series of ceremonies that will take place in more than 3,300 national schools throughout the country, including special schools. It is a major element of the State programme to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

Speaking at yesterday's event, An Taoiseach stated:

We are here for a very special occasion. We are here today for the very first of over three thousand events like this, as Óglaigh na hÉireann, our Defence Forces, begin to present the Irish Tricolour and the 1916 Proclamation to every primary and special school in the land. In being here, we are helping to remember the great sacrifice of the people who fought in 1916 and after so that this flag could be flown by its people, and that this nation could take its place among the world’s free nations.

This initiative is a great way to get young children engaged with the 1916 commemorations. Through the delivery of the national flag to every primary school in the country, children will gain a greater understanding of the work of the Defence Forces and the importance of our national flag, which symbolises the aspirations for peace between the different traditions on this island.

I too hope that thousands of ceremonies that will take place throughout the country in the coming months will leave our schoolchildren with a positive and lasting memory from the commemorations. I thank all those teachers and pupils from primary and post-primary schools for getting involved. Next year's programme of activities to enable people to engage with the events and themes around 1916 is truly exciting and innovative. The Minister is calling on all schools to get involved, particularly in time for Proclamation Day on 15 March next year, when we will ask all schools and further and higher institutes to open the doors to their communities and present the various projects relating to 1916 developed by our young people.

I congratulate the Minister, her departmental officials, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy O'Sullivan, and her staff, as well as the cross-party committee established some three and a half or four years ago, on their efforts on this outstanding initiative to commemorate and celebrate 100 years of our island's history.

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I thank all Senators for their contributions. In particular, I thank Senator Ó Murchú for his kind comments and I thank the other Senators for their kind comments on the national famine commemorations. I was delighted to be able to work with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council in order that we could hold the famine commemorations for the first time in Northern Ireland. The last time they were held in Ulster, the location was Clones, my local town. As an Ulster woman and the chair of the committee, I was pleased that it has come back to Northern Ireland and Ulster. It is very much a community event and an inclusive event. It was very respectful. I went to Newry on Saturday and I returned to Warrenpoint on Sunday for another unveiling of a plaque. While many of the people who travelled on the boats went to Newry, they had to continue the journey to Warrenpoint, where many of them got the boat to America, Australia, Canada or wherever they went. I will go to Canada at the end of October for the international famine commemorations there.There is a strong link between Ulster and Canada through the ships that travelled from Warrenpoint. I am looking forward to visiting Canada.

As I have indicated previously, I very much want the 2016 commemorations to be inclusive and community-driven. I acknowledge the important role Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann will play in the commemorations and I have no doubt the harp will feature prominently. Plans are afoot in County Cavan to bring together musicians from different traditions to perform in 2016. I have always made clear that I want the commemorations to be inclusive, respectful and appropriate. I am conscious, as the person heading the State commemorations, that they belong to all the people of Ireland rather than any particular group or political party. The purpose of the commemorations is bring everyone together to reflect upon the past 100 years and look forward to a bright future.

I am encouraged by the level of interest shown in the programme. I also want to ensure the commemorations move out beyond Dublin as the large number of events taking place in Dublin could have resulted in the programme becoming Dublin-centric. I am pleased with the engagement shown by local communities through the local authorities. Some 80 local consultation meetings were held nationwide and it is encouraging to note each county is producing a plan of commemoration, all of which will feed into the national plan. We are also briefing the local authorities in Northern Ireland and have received a positive response to date. That engagement will continue. I am also pleased that we are working with the GAA and that the organisation is taking part in the State commemorations.

The school programme will be one of the many ways in which we will reach into every community. I want to get people thinking and talking. I hope the schools programme will spark discussions among families about how they or their relatives were affected by events. It is important to hear stories that bring life to history and history to life. I hope children will go home and discuss what they are doing at school and what they have discovered. As I nation, I hope we will come together to commemorate the events that led to the foundation of the State.

To respond to a point raised by Senator Cummins, children will be taught the protocol that applies to the flag and the way it should be treated and respected. In particular, the flag should not touch or be dragged along the ground as one sometimes sees unfortunately. Children will be made conscious of this protocol and the meaning of the flag will also be outlined to them.

The country has come a long way in the past 100 years. We have the maturity to examine the events of the past without being triumphalist. As Senator O'Keeffe stated, we need to reflect on the past 100 years and we should be proud of and celebrate our many achievements. The peacekeeping role of the Defence Forces, for example, is widely respected across the world.

A number of academic conferences are also planned for third level institutions next year. I have no doubt these will facilitate discussion of the events of 1916, including what may have occurred if history had taken a different course and the meaning of these events in 21st century Ireland. Through the 2016 programme, I hope we can encourage children to look back on the events of 1916, consider what life was like for children at that time and think about how different their experiences are today. It is important that they learn about our history in an informed and inclusive manner.

Senator Barrett will be pleased to note that I am launching Joe Duffy's book on the children of 1916. I acknowledge that Joe Duffy was highlighting what happened to children in 1916 long before the commemorations programme was put together.

The full details of the Irish language programme will be published in the coming weeks. It is important that the Irish language is prominent throughout the commemoration programme. The harp is a prominent symbol on all the printed material and we will ensure this symbolism is respected.

I am excited about the year of commemorations that lies ahead. Events will also take place to mark the role of women, which is very important given the significant role women played in the Rising before fading into the background. As I stated, we have passed legislation to encourage more women to become involved in politics. This will be an interesting study and it is very worthwhile and important that we do it.

We are working with many different organisations, including community organisations and the Thomas F. Meagher Foundation to which a number of Senators alluded. We are very pleased with the level of engagement with the programme. The greater the number of people involved, the better and richer will be the programme of commemorations. I thank the House for the opportunity to speak.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 September 2015.