Wednesday, 5 July 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
1. Mr. Costello asked the Taoiseach the commemorations planned to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme; when these commemorations will take place; the persons who have been invited to attend; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23792/06]
The Taoiseach: This year is the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, the attack having been launched on 1 July 1916. The Government held an official commemoration at the war memorial in Islandbridge last Saturday, 1 July. A special commemorative stamp has also been issued to mark the occasion.
Following appropriate Army ceremonial at Islandbridge, involving prayers and readings, the President laid a wreath at the cenotaph. Ambassadors from those countries which participated in the battle, namely the UK, France, Germany, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, India and Australia also laid wreaths as did Mr. Nigel Hamilton, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Royal British Legion. After the ceremony, a Government reception was held in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. Invitations to attend issued to political representatives North and South and to representatives of a broad selection of community interests. Members of the public also attended.
Following consultations with the Royal British Legion, invitations were also extended to a number of military history societies and organisations established to honour the memory of those who served in disbanded Irish regiments such as the Dublin Fusiliers, the Prince of Wales Leinster Regiment and the Combined Irish Regiments Association. In addition, representatives of veterans’ organisations such as the Naval Association, the Irish United Nations Veterans’ Association and the American Legion were also invited.
Mr. Rabbitte: The Taoiseach always complains that we do not give due credit to the Government for the good things it does. I pay tribute to it on this appropriate commemoration, which while overdue was a splendid success and greatly appreciated throughout the island. The Government did a good job.
Mr. Sargent: I too thank the Government for its input on this important commemoration. However, will the Government remind the British Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, about the Irish involvement in the First World War? Comments have been made that he mentioned a long list of countries, but somehow forgot to mention that Ireland played any part. Many families, mine included, which suffered significantly at the time and members of which fought in a British uniform, were hurt by the omission. Will the Taoiseach respond to that hurt?
The Taoiseach: I do not want to make too much of the omission. I know the royal family is aware of the Irish involvement. Prince Philip was here some time ago and he is very aware of the regiments involved and their flags. We will make the point. In fairness to the families, the nice thing about the day is that it is special for them. We have arranged a number of events for the families over the years. A few years ago we had a big reception in Dublin Castle in honour of the Dublin Fusiliers and this meant a lot to the families. We will point out the oversight and hopefully it will be reflected in some future contribution.
Mr. Timmins: I join Deputy Rabbitte in complimenting the Government on the commemoration last Saturday. I have driven by the war memorial in Islandbridge many times, but never realised there was such a beauty spot in that area. We sell ourselves short in that regard. Will the Taoiseach consider getting the OPW, the Department of Defence, or whoever is responsible for such areas, involved in informing the public about such areas and that they are worth visiting?
When reading for our discussion of the Defence (Amendment) Bill and about not being able to participate in the UN force in Macedonia, I discovered there is a Celtic cross in Macedonia commemorating 300 Irish members of the 10th Division who were killed in the First World War. Would the Taoiseach consider commissioning an audit of memorials to Irish personnel killed abroad so we can have a checklist to inform people?
I and Deputy McManus are on the 1916 commemoration committee and we attended a meeting prior to the Battle of the Somme commemoration. Our committee is tasked with drawing up advance plans for how the centenary of 1916 and of the Battle of the Somme might be commemorated. Will the Taoiseach consider sending us some correspondence, through the official from his Department involved, outlining the way forward or explaining what is required as the committee is somewhat ad hoc currently?
The Taoiseach: I wish to acknowledge the work of the committee. It is ad hoc at present because we must consider how it should go forward. I do not wish to simply force a way forward because we need to discuss the best way to work this out. There is time available before the planning for the centenary so we do not need to make decisions over night. However, we should try to work out the best way forward and decide which projects to develop. A period of ten years may seem like a long time but it can pass quickly so we need to put plans in place. The Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea, will be involved.
The National Day of Commemoration will be next week, following which my staff will review all the events to consider the best way forward. I will raise with the Minister, Deputy O’Dea, and with the Defence Forces the issue of the memorials in various parts of the world. Irish people have been involved in a number of areas. There are dozens of memorials in Argentina to Admiral Browne and Irish people were also involved in Spain. The Irish contribution has been immense. In particular I note the Irish contribution to many naval forces. It is a case of combining all the commemorations.
The military museum has collected information on military flags used by the Irish. It was hoped to return some of the flags of the Irish regiments based in England to the National Museum in Collins Barracks which would be a fitting place for them. However, their release will involve diplomatic efforts but the Government will continue to try to achieve that. It would be a gesture by the British if they did this. The flags are sacredly held on to at very high levels. It would mean a lot to the families here if they were released.
The Deputy referred to the National War Memorial Gardens in Kilmainham. Some Deputies will recall how overgrown the site was a decade ago. I did not start the campaign to have it cleaned up and I will not take the credit for it, but there was a campaign a decade ago. The Office of Public Works, Dublin City Council and others have done a fine job. People can now be proud of the gardens, the cenotaph and the cross. It is a facility which the OPW will have highlighted as a place to visit as it is in the heart of the city near a large centre of population. I agree with the Deputy that many people may not be aware it exists.
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