Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
1. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the amount allocated in the Estimates in his Department for 2006 for commemorations; the way in which this money will be allocated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17888/06]
2. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the further commemorations to be held under the auspices of his Department, funded or part-funded by his Department during 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19169/06]
There are two further formal State commemorative events planned for the remainder of the year. These are the ceremonies to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July at the war memorial in Islandbridge, which will be followed by a reception in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, and the national day of commemoration on 9 July 2006.
An amount of €200,000 was allocated under subhead E of my Department’s Estimates this year to support commemorative projects. This funding is available to assist individuals or groups in organising the commemoration of individuals or events of historic importance.
Applications for funding under the commemoration initiatives fund are made to my Department. These applications are considered by officials and a submission is made to me for approval. To date, funding of €163,500 has been allocated to support 18 various commemoration projects. The individual grants are generally for small amounts. Given the importance of this year as the 90th anniversary of both the 1916 Rising and the Battle of the Somme, the bulk of the grants relate to these two events.
Other significant grants awarded relate to events commemorating the centenary of the death of Michael Davitt and events commemorating the Irish born architect of the White House and many other buildings, James Hoban.
Mr. Rabbitte: I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. Does the Government plan to allocate any moneys to commemorate the Great Famine and its victims? Some rewriting of history is taking place at the moment but we are all agreed on the impact of the Famine on the psyche of the Irish people. I am aware the Taoiseach has received correspondence on the subject from the Famine commemoration committee, and that the Taoiseach’s General Secretary, in a party capacity, wrote to Michael Blanch, the secretary of that committee, to state that Fianna Fáil was in favour of the idea being put forward. Does the Government have a position on the subject?
Along with the Famine, the most significant event in history were the land wars and the part played by the leadership of the Land League in the events associated with them, in particular Michael Davitt, the centenary of whose death is this year. What, if any, provision has been made to commemorate Michael Davitt? He was one of the most outstanding Irishmen this country has ever produced, a man of international reputation renowned for his work at Westminster as well as for founding the Land League.
The Taoiseach: For a number of years up to the 150th anniversary of the Famine most of the commemorative initiatives of my Department were dedicated to Famine-related projects, so they have received a large part of what is a small allocation of commemorative funds. Deputy Rabbitte asked for a national day to commemorate the Famine. I am not sure how that could be done — perhaps it could be linked to other occasions. Every year a large number of groups make passionate cases for national days for certain events. It was decided 20 years ago that the way to deal with all these days, and get over all the difficulties, was to have a national day of celebration and commemoration, which is on 9 July this year. I have been reluctant to get into designating days here, there and everywhere. Apart from the Famine, one could equally make a case for commemorating Michael Davitt and every year a number of such cases arise. We had a large commemoration for Robert Emmet a few years ago. I have been holding to a national day of commemoration for a number of years. I have been asked to examine some proposals and my Department, along with others, is examining the request to see if we can respond to the group that is asking us to do this.
A number of initiatives have been planned to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Michael Davitt. We have funded small grants and most of those commemorations are planned to take place from 27 May to 4 June. At these events the Government will be represented by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Army will also be involved and a commemorative stamp will be issued. We have given some resources to the commemoration fund. Some Departments and agencies are also involved locally, although I am not sure what is the total sum of money they have given. Most of the resources we give to such commemorations are small. We are also providing a small grant to the Michael Davitt museum for a conference commemorating his centenary. These small grants, spread over 18 different areas, constitute a useful token to help people to organise commemorative events.
Mr. Rabbitte: I am not trying to restrict the Taoiseach to specifying precisely how we might commemorate the victims of the Famine but the essence of the case being made by the commemoration committee is correct. At a time of transformation in the country’s fortunes and unprecedented prosperity, it would be appropriate for this State to commemorate the cataclysmic impact the Famine had on the Irish people in the 19th century. I urge the Taoiseach to respond to those who are importuning him. It is appropriate to do so. I know that small things have been done, including the Edward Daly sculptures and the figures on the quays, to remind us all where we came from. Given that commemorations are in the air, it would be appropriate for us to do something to mark this major event in Irish history.
The Taoiseach: As I said, we are looking at how we can do it. I have received submissions and my Department is examining them to see what is the most appropriate way of dealing with the matter. I want to make the point that every year very good cases are made for commemorative events. There are at least two or three a year. That was why, in 1986, they moved to an all-party group which established a national day of commemoration. I have read the file on this. The Famine was a major event but there were many other events which were also considered important by active groups that wished to commemorate them in various locations. The other events, of course, do not match the Famine in terms of the death, destruction and emigration involved and which changed an entire generation for 40 or 50 years.
I will see if some of the proposals can be accommodated in a way that does not open it up for many other occasions. Not a year, nor a quarter, goes by when there is not a big lobby to have another commemorative event but that causes problems for such events if it is done that way. The national day of commemoration now covers a wide range of issues. If a Famine commemoration can be done in the American style where they designate days, it will not have a knock-on effect. That may be one way of dealing with it, although I do not agree with it. I am examining the matter to see if we can facilitate a Famine commemoration that will not open it up for all the other events. I have been contacted by 30 or 40 groups seeking designated days or periods but I do not think that is a good idea.
Mr. Sargent: Tacaím leis an éileamh go mbeadh lá cuimhneacháin ann don Ghorta Mór. In considering the context, will the Taoiseach take on board the need for a commemoration of that sort so the lessons can be learned, not just about world hunger and the distribution of resources but also about the Irish diaspora which resulted from the Famine? We must be careful to avoid over-reliance on any one food or fuel, such as oil for example. The principle of not putting all one’s eggs in one basket also applies as a reason for not commemorating all events together. The Taoiseach should deliver on that demand. The effects of the Famine were extraordinary and we need to commemorate it.
Are there plans for the Government to mark the United Nations international day in support of victims of torture, on 26 June? The Taoiseach addressed the UN recently so I know he is in the loop as regards such events. We should be clear about this matter, given the need to implement checks on CIA extraordinary rendition planes.
Will the death earlier this year of John de Courcey Ireland merit any response from the Government by way of a commemoration? His legacy was unique not just for Ireland but also for many other countries, including France, Spain, Portugal, Britain and Yugoslavia, all of which honoured him. Will this country honour him in a similar manner? Have the Taoiseach and the Government considered that matter, given the large number of reasons for Ireland, as a maritime nation, to focus on somebody of that calibre?
The Taoiseach: I have answered the question about the Famine commemoration. We will examine the matter to see if we can find a suitable way of commemorating it, as we did for five years before the 1798 bicentenary.
The Government was involved in the commemorative event which marked the passing of John de Courcey Ireland. Last year, we helped to fund some of the projects which were most dear to him. I am not sure if there is any particular proposal from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources for a permanent commemoration but I am sure ideas will be proposed and I will examine them when they arise. The commemoration following his death took place a few weeks ago.
Mr. Kenny: The State sent the LE Eithne to Argentina earlier this year under the command of Captain Mark Mellett, which was a great occasion and much appreciated by the Argentine Government. It was the first official trip by an Irish naval ship since Admiral William Brown from Foxford, County Mayo arrived on the River Plate more than 150 years ago.
Next year will see the 150th anniversary of the independence of the Argentine state. Its Government and people have a strong affiliation and affection for the part played by Admiral Brown in building up the Argentine navy. Is it the intention of the Government to participate in the independence celebrations or to provide any other contact by way of further naval service visits or otherwise?
The Taoiseach will be aware that the President visited Argentina some time ago. Given the interest in Admiral Brown, the Taoiseach will be aware of the proposal to have a suitable sculpture situated on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. The Argentinians are interested in contributing to a small memorial park in Foxford, County Mayo. Will the Taoiseach ensure that whatever assistance the Government can provide in this matter is offered, subject to the usual conditions being complied with? It is a matter the Argentinians feel more strongly about than do the people of this country.
The Taoiseach: The Admiral Brown society is an active group, which I met. My Department has funded a number of related projects. For the commemoration of Admiral Brown next year, the society intends to build a memorial park, for which we have provided resources. There have also been contacts with the Department of Defence, although I am not sure from where they came, and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has also helped. Several Departments have been helping what is an excellent project.
The military-to-military connections are strong. Admiral Brown, as the Deputy noted, is widely known in Argentina due to its education system, which is strong on military history and the admiral’s role in particular. He is commemorated throughout Argentina by sculptures and other commemorations. The Government has been involved in this matter through the memorial park, the project on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay and the work of the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Defence.
The plans for a 1 July commemoration of the Battle of the Somme are ongoing and a number of agreements have been made. We have worked through the British Legion in making the arrangements for the commemoration. There will be an official commemoration at the war memorial in Islandbridge.
The commemoration is part of the overall programme that reflects the shared history and experience of the people of this island, from all traditions, in 1916. The Battle of the Somme saw many young Irishmen lose their lives. It is fitting they are remembered, and the commemoration at Islandbridge is part of that process. Over many decades they remained unacknowledged, with their bravery and contribution largely forgotten. It is important the history of all the people of this island is acknowledged in an appropriate manner.
The arrangements are well developed at this stage, in so far as they can be. It is planned that following the army ceremonial occasion, involving prayers and readings, the President will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph. Ambassadors from those countries that participated in the battle — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, India and Australia — will also lay wreaths, as will the British Legion. While other elements remain to be worked out, that is the main issue. A State reception will follow in the Royal Hospital. Many organisations from the North will attend, as will many other groups active throughout the island, including the fusiliers, and, hopefully, the Northern politicians.
Mr. Ferris: This year marks the centenary of the birth of Máirtín Ó Cadhain, a writer of world standard, who wrote staunchly in the Irish language and defended the language and Gaeltacht areas — one could argue he would have excelled in any language. Like many other literary people of his time, he was ill served by the State and was interned for his republican beliefs. I understand a stamp is being issued by An Post, which I welcome. What else will the Government do to mark the centenary of his birth? I suggest an Irish language scholarship or a bursary for writing in Irish would be appropriate. Will the Taoiseach take up these suggestions?
The Taoiseach: I have heard the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, refer to this matter. I am not sure exactly what projects are involved but I understand some issues arise. No application was made to my Department for a commemorative fund or, if it was made, it did not go through the official vetting system. I will raise the matter with the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, whose reference may have related to the issuing of the stamp. I am not sure what other events are planned but I will bring the matter to his attention.
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