Thursday, 7 June 2012
Seanad Éireann Debate
Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Jimmy Deenihan): I thank Senators for this opportunity to discuss the commemorative programme for the decade of centenaries. I recognise the expertise and interest in the history of the period that can be found in this House. I look forward to listening to Senators’ contributions to today’s discussion. Some Members and former Members of this House are members of the all-party working group on commemorations. Their contributions to date have been most useful. As chairman of the all-party group, I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their contributions. On behalf of the Government, I have an absolute commitment to lead commemorations that are historically accurate, appropriate in tone and comprehensive in terms of the events that are commemorated and the perspectives that are offered on those events. I will place a premium on inclusion and public participation as I co-ordinate the development of a commemorative programme in a spirit of co-operation with political parties and community groups throughout Ireland. I welcome the interest and association of officeholders, institutions and the Irish abroad in building a programme that will acknowledge the sacrifices and celebrate the achievements of a revolutionary decade that, more than any other, shaped our modern world. A very special programme is required on the centenary of the tumultuous circumstances that brought our State into being.
Senator David Norris: Without wishing to be rude, can I interrupt the Minister to ask whether copies of the Minister’s speech will be supplied? I have to leave to go to another meeting, but I hope to return in time to contribute to this debate.
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: It is coming. With the passing of a century, perhaps we are at a sufficient remove to survey our history with a detached objectivity that could not have been expected of earlier generations. Nonetheless, we are still close enough to that period to identify directly with the personal experiences of those involved. Some of us might have family histories that link us to the historic events we are set to commemorate. The decade of centenary anniversaries will give us some valuable opportunities. In the first instance, we will have an opportunity to dedicate ourselves towards an enhanced understanding of modern history. There is no doubt that the headlines of a century ago have resonated across the generations. The names of the key figures of this era are familiar to everyone, but how much is really known about them? I am delighted to see young people in the Gallery for this morning’s debate. It is important that the history of this period is transmitted to them in a factual and accurate way. The education system will have a key role to play in the decade of commemorations.
Many of those who played a role in the events of 100 years ago have never been adequately acknowledged. I hope we will take the opportunity to address this over the next few years. While the Easter Rising and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic will be at the centre of our programme, any presentation of our history would be incomplete without many other stories, including those of the workers of the 1913 Lockout, the members of the Suffragette movement and the Irish who fought in World War One. I am working with an expert advisory group of historians, chaired by Dr. Maurice Manning, who will provide guidance to ensure the authenticity and balance of our commemorative programme. I am grateful for the support of the members of this group. I will rely greatly on their academic integrity and advice as I develop the commemorative programme. I have been invited to attend the next meeting of the group, which will take place on 12 June next. The group will consult widely, within the academic community and beyond, to this end. In particular, I hope it will guide us as we try to ensure our commemorations are meaningful and of enduring benefit to our understanding of the period. The programme of centenary commemorations should stimulate higher-level research and promote discussion that will further illuminate our history.
Our programme of commemorations began with the centenary of the introduction of the third Home Rule Bill to the Westminster Parliament on 11 April 1912. This anniversary was marked by memorial lectures on John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party, which were organised in association with Waterford City Council. It is intended that the excellent lectures that were given on that occasion by Dermot Meleady and Frank Callanan will be available to the public on the commemorations website that is under development in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The introduction of the third Home Rule Bill was a vindication of long years of parliamentary campaigning for national autonomy and a tremendous personal achievement for John Redmond. It can now be seen as a pivotal moment in our history, bringing the polarisation of traditions and the resort to arms in resistance.
I was pleased to mark this early moment of the revolutionary period by attending the Dublin City Gallery — the Hugh Lane — on 24 May last to open its excellent exhibition of portraits, Revolutionary States: Home Rule and Modern Ireland. As I considered the portraits of Redmond, Carson and others that hang side by side in the gallery, I was struck by the manner in which the sourcing of the exhibits reflects the shared history of the galleries of Britain and Ireland, each contributing to the total. In addition to the exhibition in the Hugh Lane, I have already been a part of many other significant centenary commemoration events. The Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, visited the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at Iveagh House in Dublin in March to offer his reflections on Carson’s influence on Irish unionism. The First Minister’s address followed historical presentations by Professor Paul Bew and Professor Michael Laffan. In mid-April, I was privileged to address a conference of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland at Belfast City Hall about the Ulster Covenant, the centenary of which will be marked later this year. At the end of May, Glasnevin Trust marked the centenary of the founding of the Labour Party with a special presentation by Dick Spring, whom I was delighted to introduce.
All of our cultural institutions and local authorities are playing a part in the decade of commemorations. Later this year, the county libraries of counties Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan will host exhibitions on the Ulster Covenant. Other events that are planned include a conference at the National Library of Ireland this weekend offering centenary perspectives on the third Home Rule crisis, the completion of the restoration of Erskine Childers’s yacht, Asgard, and the continuation of the National Library of Ireland’s “Europeana” World War One collection roadshow, which has been very successful.
At these roadshow events, families will be afforded the opportunity to contribute personal artefacts and stories relating to the First World War to a pan-European exhibition. This will help to build a contemporary narrative on a historical event that reshaped Europe. I attended a Council of Ministers cultural meeting in Brussels recently which was very impressed by the memorabilia that was presented through the National Library, which I would like to acknowledge.
The commemorative programme for the decade of centenaries will run from 2012 to 2022. To facilitate preparation of the programme, the organisational effort will be addressed in the first instance in the programme up to 2016. With a view to building an affinity with the history of the period, the programme will seek to follow the historic sequence of events and reflect the background influences in each year. The programme for 2013 will examine the Dublin Lockout and the struggles of working men and women for improved living and social conditions. It will also follow the continuing story of the Home Rule campaign, with the centenaries of the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force and, of course, the Irish Volunteers. These special anniversary commemorative initiatives will complement the standing arrangements for annual commemorations which include the national day of commemorations, the Easter Rising commemoration at the GPO and the commemoration at Arbour Hill.
My discussions with interested parties have left me in no doubt that the official commemorative programme will grow and be complemented by the initiatives of cultural institutions, local authorities, national associations and community groups. Indeed, I would hope to leave the House today with some new ideas as to how we can commemorate this very important decade and I look forward to the contributions of Senators. I am certain that the commemorative programme will also have a special broad appeal to the Irish diaspora and to the many friends of Ireland abroad. It will also present an opportunity for the new Irish to explore the heritage of their new identity. A particular consideration is required to ensure that the programme engages the interest of young people. I hope to see a programme develop that will stimulate wide public participation not just in the official State-led commemorative events, but on a continuing basis at community level, based on initiatives brought forward by councils, schools, clubs and societies.
I recently turned the sod on the Thomas MacDonagh centre in Cloughjordan, which involved a huge number of local people and was a very impressive event. I appeal to any Senators who have connections with the leaders or main players in 1916 to encourage similar initiatives in their own communities.
I stress to Members that preparation of the commemorative programme is still at an early stage. I am often asked about the commemorative arrangements for the Rising in 2016 but, at this point, what I am most interested in is discussion and input into those plans. I can assure the House that I am open to constructive engagement. I would welcome the support of members in developing a national discussion on the shape of commemorations to come.
I will attempt to pre-empt some questions by clarifying that the commemorative initiatives to date have been managed within the existing resources of Departments and State services. While I am aware of the precedents in regard to the commemoration of the United Irishmen, the Great Famine and other events, there is not yet a dedicated allocation from which support can be provided to applicants for commemorative initiatives. Despite the special consideration on the appropriate marking of an important centenary anniversary, the commemorative programme cannot be insulated from the necessary constraints on all public expenditure. Nonetheless, I feel an impressive start has been made this year to the commemorative programme.
Our exploration of the historic decade of a century ago commenced with a number of diverse events including lectures, exhibitions and commemoration ceremonies. I have been greatly encouraged by the enthusiastic interest evident throughout Ireland and by the very positive response and association of the British Government and the Executive in Northern Ireland. I am very heartened by the involvement of the Unionist community, especially in Northern Ireland. They have attended our committee on commemorations and they have been very positive about their willingness to be involved in our commemorations on this island, North and South. The great example was the commemoration at Balmoral, which passed off peacefully and which was a great celebration in Northern Ireland. What has happened to date has been very positive and I am very heartened by it. There has been great buy-in by all parties in the House and by all parties on this island. If this trend continues, I can see that the decade of commemorations will play a major role in bringing all on this island closer together. The important thing is that we are doing it in a spirit of tolerance, respect and inclusiveness. This is happening and it is having an impact.
I look forward to a constructive debate in the House today. I hope Members will come up with some good ideas which we can add to the programme. I thank Members for their attention. It is my second time in the House as I was here last year to discuss the arts, on which we had a very constructive exchange. I am delighted to be here to discuss this very important commemoration of a decade that was really responsible for us being here today in this Seanad. We should remember that.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Is mian liom céad míle fáilte a chur roimh an Aire. Níl aon amhras ná go bhfuil áthas orm go bhfuil seans againn ár dtuairimí i dtaobh an chláir cuimhneacháin a nochtadh. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil mioneolas á thabhairt. Ba cheart go mbeadh tuiscint sa Seanad agus lasmuigh i measc an phobail ar céard go díreach atá i gceist. Ta mé lán-cinnte go mbeidh dea-thoil ann don obair atá idir lámha ag an Aire.
I believe this whole episode is in very safe hands with the Minister, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan. I am appreciative of the fact that, at this early stage, he has come to the House to inform us of what is happening. In a vacuum, there is sometimes a misunderstanding and misrepresentation whereas this is putting on the record what our goals and our vision for the future will be.
We all agree Ireland’s story is a very diverse one — there is no doubt about that. We have had an opportunity to reflect in many ways and to contemplate that, particularly since the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process, there has been much greater interaction between different groupings on this island, interactions that perhaps in the past would have been somewhat difficult because of the prevailing climate. There is huge goodwill out there at present. There are very few people who would not want to see us progressing further given the opportunity has been provided and the foundation has been laid.
Wearing another hat, we in Comhaltas CeoltóiríÉireann had an opportunity recently to make a decision on whether Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, which is a major event, should cross the Border for the first time in 60 years. That will happen next year and up to 300,000 people will be in Derry for that celebration. Interestingly, I went to a meeting of what we would call the stakeholders in Derry a few months ago and I could see the changed Ireland which exists. All the political groupings were represented, there were statements from the Apprentice Boys offering their support and people asked to be sure that we position elements of the event on their side of the Foyle. In addition, we had letters from the First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, seeking to ensure the event would be held there. The tone of those letters was along the lines that we have something we can all celebrate which is not divisive, enhances our own positions and enriches our own outlooks.
As I said, we have a very diverse story. If we get it right, this can certainly do a lot for the future of Ireland and also for the image of Ireland abroad. Those of us who travelled abroad over the years of the Troubles will remember the difficulty at times of indicating that there were many cohesive aspects to Irish life involving those of all political and religious groups and of none. It was difficult to get that message across but we now have new opportunities to get it across. This message is important in the context of pride and of a sense of who we are as a people. It is also important in an economic sense.
Commemorations should never and need never be divisive and can avoid divisiveness through the language used. Sometimes it is the language rather than the manifestation in a commemoration that causes difficulty. Therefore, we should be careful in the use of language. Some of the language is archaic and antiquated and it is important we replace that with language through which we can engage and embrace. Any grouping that wishes to commemorate its vision, past or people should feel there is respect and tolerance of that wish and we should not distract from it. By doing that, those of us who have a different vision of Ireland, based on our historical past, can ensure that those who sacrificed themselves for our freedom can also be commemorated and that this will not be seen as divisive.
Those of us who are old enough to look back on 1966 will remember a wonderful pageant written by Dr. Bryan McMahon, entitled “Seachtar Fear, Seacht Lá”—“Seven Men, Seven Days”. This pageant dwelt very much on the cultural side of 1916. If one looks particularly at the 1916 Proclamation and wants it to impact on one’s life, one will see it is not about bitterness, but about peace. The 1916 Proclamation or charter was one of the shortest of any country, but was very much ahead of its time with regard to cherishing all the children of the nation equally. The seven signatories nearly all come from a cultural background. In many ways, it was the poets, musicians and such people who inspired the Easter Rising and this should be central to the commemoration. I am delighted to be able to say that the 1916-21 Club, which was specifically set up to heal wounds, the wounds of the Civil War in particular, has made it clear that its commemoration of the Easter Rising will be non-sectarian, non-party political and will take cognisance of its cultural and educational aspects.
As I said, the commemoration need not be divisive in any way. At the same time, it is important that we do not dilute who we are as a people. My experience of dealing with people from the Orange Order and other Unionist groups in the North down through the years has been that in the main when they meet us and realise we do not have two heads and we realise they do not have two heads, we are amazed by how much we have in common. I am chairman of the Irish Family History Foundation. The vice-chairman of the foundation was Sir Robert Kidd, a former chairman of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the secretary was Paddy “Bogside” Doherty. However, because this group had a specific focus, genealogy, we were able to sit down and work together. It is important that we come together more.
Voluntary bodies and national organisations have a huge role to play, whether the GAA, Conradh na Gaeilge, Comhaltas CeoltóiríÉireann, the ICA or the farming bodies. These groups have a particular focus reflective of what is happening in society. Their focus is positive and endeavours to bring all people together for the specific aims and objectives of the organisation. We have hundreds, if not thousands of organisations. I hope the Minister, through the special body he has set up, will provide some opportunity for representatives of those organisations to come forward, no matter their aims, so that what we have will be a people’s commemoration. It should also be a celebration. If we start with the concept of celebration, we will not celebrate violence or division, but generosity of spirit and sacrifice and will endeavour to be in tune with what was indicated by the people on this island in the Good Friday Agreement.
I wish the Minister every success in his work and assure him that I will support and co-operate with his efforts. I am glad he mentioned that the commemoration of the Easter Rising will be a central part of the decade of commemorations. This is what the people look forward to.
Senator Catherine Noone: I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for coming in today. I am glad to see he is taking the decade of commemorations so seriously. As Senator Ó Murchú has said, the commemorations are in good hands.
This is an issue on which we need leadership and it is evident the Minister is taking the lead. From 1912 to 1922 was a pivotal decade in Irish history. As Lenin once put it: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” What was true in Lenin’s time appears to be true now and this time of flux, change and difficulty seems an apt time for this nation to reflect on and commemorate a decade in which there was significant change. The decade that commenced with the introduction in Westminster Parliament of the Home Rule Bill in April 1912 remains the most momentous of our modern history. The commemoration of this decade will also include the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1916 and I welcome the fact that it will be central to the commemorations. The decade concluded with the foundation of the Free State in 1922.
Recently, Stephen Collins wrote a very thoughtful article on the decade in which he rightly pointed out that the importance of the labour movement and the struggle for women’s rights in the making of modern Ireland were also generally overlooked in popular history. These too need to be acknowledged in the commemorative events and I suggest they are worthy of consideration by the Minister when planning the implementation of the various programmes. What was a struggle for sovereignty and the recognition of a nation was also intertwined with the struggle for recognition of women as equals, and the struggle to recognise the rights of workers. Indeed, I am heartened to see that the role of women and workers in bringing about our transition from the campaign for Home Rule to the establishment of an autonomous Irish State has been noted.
This decade was one of the most momentous of modern Irish history and requires a comprehensive commemorative programme that acknowledges its importance. I am heartened this is what seems to be on the horizon for us. I am excited by the possibilities this decade of commemorations presents us with and I am keen to ensure that our history is understood in an enhanced way. As the Minister said, it is important for young people to be apprised of the events of the decade and this is something we should try to bring to the schools. Perhaps this could be part of the interaction with various organisations.
I understand that while the intention remains that the commemorative programme will run through to 2022, at this point in time we are focusing on the programme up until 2016. This makes sense as it marks a halfway point in the decade. We can also expect an election around then, which could be a distraction. It seems appropriate to plan up until that point for now and to consider the plans more fully then up to 2022. I am glad to see that the Minister is supported by the Oireachtas all-party consultation group as well as the advisory group on centenary commemorations, chaired by Dr. Maurice Manning and comprising many distinguished academics. This committed, distinguished body of people will ensure that the celebrations are accurate and appropriate. It will be their task to ensure that the commemorative arrangements will be aligned with the historic timeline of the centenary anniversaries. I have no doubt that the group will do a fantastic job in assisting the Minister on that.
I am sure the Minister hopes that the commemorative programme will strengthen public interest in our national history and encourage original research at local and national level. I feel that original research will undergo a period of rejuvenation on the part of both citizens and expatriates who left the island long ago. As the Minister said in his contribution the diaspora projects such as World Irish and the 2013 Gathering will also play a role in augmenting this reconnection with our history. These events in the augmented schedule of commemorations will complement rather than replace the established arrangements for annual commemorations which include the national day of commemoration and the commemorations held at the GPO and at Arbour Hill and the annual commemoration of the Great Famine.
As a Dublin representative I would encourage the Minister to consider special commemorative arrangements for events such as the millennium anniversary of the battle of Clontarf in 2014. It is an anniversary of great significance in Dublin and such an event could be used to boost the profile of the north Dublin coast.
A debate continues about funding for the arts. It is worth remembering that the budget for the arts is 0.5% of the health care budget. I am sure the Minister is acutely aware of this statistic. We must aim for value within the arts sector. I am interested to note that the three main galleries, the National Gallery of Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Crawford Gallery, have together presented a detailed proposal on how backroom services can be shared. This proposal is currently being considered and I hope that this positive suggestion yields dividends.
Senator Catherine Noone: I am interested to hear the Minister’s views. He is quoted as saying that he would expect proposals to go to Cabinet in the next two weeks. I am sure that people working in the arts sector would be happy to linger a little longer to ensure that matters are considered and that the proper decision is made. I commend the Minister for his leadership and his initiative on the commemorations. As he said, it has been an impressive start and I thank him for sharing his thoughts with us today.
I first spoke about the decade of commemorations or the decade of sensitive centenaries during a Private Members’ motion debated in this House on 15 June last year I emphasised then that it was incumbent on all of us, North and South, Unionist and Nationalist, loyalist and republican, to find a collaborative way to manage the celebration of the events surrounding these centenaries, in such a way that value is added to the peace process rather than subtracted from it.
It may be more accurate to regard not alone the decade from 1912 to 1922 but rather the 13-year period from 1911 to 1923, as representing the turbulent years that had such a dramatic impact on the course of our island’s history. There are approximately 62 events in that period which constitute the package of centenary celebrations, from the arrival of James Connolly in Belfast in 1911 through to the ending of the Civil War in 1923. These centenaries present a significant challenge but they also have the potential, if conducted sensitively, to fully consolidate the peace process and to allow us to leave a precious legacy to the generations yet to come.
The context in which we celebrate these centenaries is important. In Northern Ireland, communities for so long have been content to live apart and to a worrying extent they still do, engaging only superficially with the perceived stereotype of the other rather than engaging fully and comprehensively with the person behind that stereotype. This lack of engagement has caused communities to drift apart and to stay apart. Over time, this ignorance of each other has generated many ill-informed, negative and dangerous misperceptions of the other. Ultimately, it seed beds sectarianism, which has polluted and dehumanised the landscape of Northern Ireland for so long.
One of the big challenges in the past was to decommission weaponry; the biggest challenge in the future is to decommission sectarianism. We have made significant progress since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 but it is important to remember that the peace process is exactly and only a process, a work in progress. Although many elements of this process have been completed, some may take years, perhaps even generations. As we continue on this journey, we must be vigilant and never take peace for granted, as circumstances could at any time conspire to undermine or derail the entire project.
Tackling sectarianism and failure to engage meaningfully with those who are different to ourselves is critical. At a recent conference, the chair of the Community Relations Council in Northern Ireland spoke of deep divisions in housing and education and the growing problem of racism. In referring to the scale of the challenge he remarked:
In addition, the number of so-called peace walls has doubled since the agreement was signed. Both these facts demonstrate the wisdom of a comment recently made by Senator George Mitchell, who played such a pivotal role in bringing about peace on our island. Addressing the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, he said that implementing a peace agreement was as equally important and difficult as reaching agreement and that this fact was often lost in the euphoria of reaching agreement. Therefore, while appreciative of the many achievements of the peace process to date, we need to be very conscious that the job is not yet finished.
I strongly believe that the decade of centenaries we have now entered offers a real opportunity to make further progress, provided we act with a full and true sense of inclusiveness, parity of esteem, generosity and above all, respect and sensitivity to the celebration of the centenary events of those whose traditions, heritage and ambitions we do not share. If this approach can be applied on a mutual basis and if we can have a respectful and peaceful celebration of every tradition’s centenaries, we will exit the decade with enhanced relationships and a better understanding of our shared history both within Northern Ireland and across the island as a whole. These immediate years could be regarded as testing what we have achieved to date. If we pass this test, I have no doubt that we will be on the cusp of a prolonged and sustainable peace on this island. What a prize this would be, something that has eluded every past generation. These centenaries have the potential to be the vehicle that will move us from a past characterised by two traditions and two communities to a future still characterised by two traditions — but by one community at peace. To achieve this we need an integrated approach by all, by Governments, institutions, associations, committees and individuals, to the celebration of every centenary, including those that some of us may feel uncomfortable with.
All over the island there is much good work being done. As the Minister said we got off to a good start with the peaceful celebration of the centenary of the Balmoral review held recently in the Ormeau Park in Belfast. I congratulate the organisers and all those who participated. The way this event was celebrated sets a good tone for those that will follow. I encourage all involved to keep going. There is more than ten years of hard but rewarding work ahead. As I said last June, this House can play an important role in promoting awareness of the sensitivities of these centenaries and in supporting those who will play critical roles in these celebrations. To that end, this House could usefully be briefed by the likes of the Orange Order, the chair of the Somme Association and by reputable historians who have a particular interest in the history of this period. In that regard, I commend the Leader on his intention to invite the Orange Order to this House. We look forward to engaging with them in the near future. If we have the insight and the sensitivity to engage confidently in this way with those who are pivotal to the success of the centenaries, this House will be in a strong position to make an important and distinct contribution to the success of the centenaries and consequently to the consolidation of the peace process and reconciliation between Unionist and Nationalist traditions on this island.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I welcome the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, to the House. This is my first opportunity officially to congratulate him on his appointment as Minister. I know he has been doing an excellent job. I welcome the opportunity to debate the important decade of commemorations in the Seanad. We appreciate the opportunity to engage with the Minister.
I am taken with what the Minister said about what has been planned and particularly the inclusive nature of the celebrations, the positive engagement with the Unionist community and the inclusion of communities in North and South. Listening to Senator McAleese, I am struck by the important role the decade can play in furthering the reconciliation going on North and South. Like Senator McAleese, I commend the Leader of the House, Senator Cummins, on his invitation to the Orange Order. The House should play an important role in assisting the commemoration and furthering the peace process. I commend Senator McAleese on his significant role in the peace process to date.
Others have spoken about the importance of this decade and the transition it marks from the home rule campaign to the establishment of the Irish State. For the Labour Party, this year marks our centenary year and I am honoured to have been part of a book, edited by Daly, Rice and O’Brien, entitled Making the difference? It is a collection of essays commemorating the establishment of the Labour Party. I am delighted to hear the Minister say plans are in hand for the commemoration of the 1913 lockout and the role played by women and workers in the decade.
In the spirit of offering constructive ideas, I have three suggestions for the Minister’s plans. My colleague, Senator Gilroy, has a particular interest in commemoration of the First World War. My interest is in ensuring a specific focus on the role of women and the struggle for women’s rights, to which Senator Noone referred. In the commemoration of the suffragette movement, we should recall that the election in December 1918 was the first election in which women got the vote. It marked the election of Constance Markievicz as the first woman to be an MP or Deputy and links the Parliaments in Britain and Ireland. In December 2008 we marked the 90th anniversary of the election with an historic photograph in the Dáil Chamber of the women who had been elected in the Dáil or Seanad and who were still living. I would like to display the photograph in Leinster House. Something significant should be done for the 100th anniversary.
One must be careful with something as difficult and traumatic for so many families as the 1913 lockout. It is a bit like commemorating the Famine — one cannot have a celebration. I ask that the Irish Labour History Society and the museum in Beggars Bush be included. They have good ideas about the appropriate ways to commemorate the lockout. I am sure contact has already been made.
My third point is on the commemoration of 1916 and the need to ensure it is not too militaristic or a celebration of bloodshed. The role of pacifists in Irish independence, such as Louie Bennett and the Sheehy Skeffington family, should be commemorated. The strong role of pacifists was part of events leading up to Easter 1916.
The Minister asked about the inclusion of young people and ensuring a way to engage them. Those in preschool and at a very young age in primary school should also be included. I was struck by the success of the Olympic procession through Dublin and one way of including this age group is to have cultural ambassadors. I suggest Jedward and Imelda May, people who have a direct engagement with preschool and primary school age children. My children were wildly excited about Jedward carrying the torch through Dublin. On a more serious note, the ideas outlined by the Minister and proposed in this House show the important role of historians to ensure we have an active and engaged panel of historians. We have that and I am delighted it is being led by Dr. Maurice Manning, the former Leader of this House. The Minister outlined some of the key events hosted by the cultural institutions, including the event in the Hugh Lane Dublin City Gallery and in county libraries. These show the importance of keeping history on the curriculum, which is a point I will take up separately with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn. It is important that history maintains a strong role in the curriculum.
It also serves to show the ongoing strength of our cultural institutions, to which Senator Noone referred. As a Labour Party Senator, I pay tribute to the former Minister and current President, Michael D. Higgins, who introduced the National Cultural Institutions Act in 1997. The arm’s-length principle established in the Act, that national cultural institutions should have independent boards and directors with necessary specialist expertise to ensure institutions gain respect nationally and internationally, must be maintained. I am somewhat concerned at proposals that appear to go further than the plans in the Government’s public sector reform plan of November. Senator Noone mentioned that institutions are entirely mindful of the need to save money in the current economic climate. They recognise the need to cut costs and to ensure they are as effective as possible. The galleries have put forward a detailed plan about sharing services and it is a view shared by all institutions. The proposals that the National Library and the National Museum will no longer have independent boards or directors might see us losing some of the respect for the national cultural institutions. I know that no decision has been made on it. It is not money-saving to have an independent board. Board members have already suggested they will waive fees and come forward as volunteers. We must be mindful to ensure the arm’s-length tradition is maintained to ensure boards have expertise in their areas. In the current economic climate, they can bring an independence of mind to institutions in terms of philanthropy and fund-raising. That is a critical role for board members. The Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, have said that no decision has been made and that the proposals will go to Cabinet. There is real concern among the arts community, which is manifest in the recent resignation of Professor Diarmaid Ferriter. There has been a good deal of talk about this. As we enter the centenary of commemorations, we will need to ensure our national cultural institutions are fit to play a vital role in assisting and supporting us in running the sort of events we are all so excited about to mark the decade of commemorations.
Like all of us, the Minister is excited about the decade and we all share the enthusiasm and want to engage constructively to put forward plans and ideas that can help mark the decade and make it an important, pivotal point in the history of our nation. In that spirit, we put forward suggestions and comments and I hope the Minister will take it in that spirit. I have huge regard for the Minister and I am delighted we have this opportunity to debate with the Minister.
Senator David Norris: I welcome the Minister to the House. I also welcome the fact that he is the Minister in this position. I have known him for a long time and I regard him as a good friend. We have had many conversations about cultural matters. Long before he was Minister, he had a good track record in being active as an Opposition Deputy, not just as a good Kerryman but concerning all artistic, cultural and literary events throughout the country. I salute him on his record. It is not a case of someone parachuted into a ministry who knows nothing about the background of the subject. We will support the Minister and he needs support because a number of institutions are being threatened.
Let us start on a positive note. The Minister asked for suggestions and I will repeat one I made during the presidential campaign. It was a revolution of poets. I might not have agreed with everything they said or did but we now have a poet and a visionary as President. I suggested that one of the things we might consider doing for the celebrations in 2016 was to invite the leaders of France and the United States of America to come and join with us to read the Proclamation of 1916 under the great portico of the GPO and read their own foundation documents, which we drew from in our visionary Proclamation of 1916. I want them to go one step further. All three leaders could then commit themselves to cherish not just all of the children of the nation equally but all of the children of the planet equally because we are so interconnected.
I shall return to the negative. I listened with interest to what Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú said. I was around in 1966 and remember it very well. It was a deeply unpleasant experience for people like me and, I would say, it was for a majority of Church of Ireland people and for anyone who had any connections with the southern Unionist community which had been under attack since the foundation of the State. To me it was nothing other than a tribal celebration of bloodlust from which I was excluded on every possible ground, except the fact that I was white. I was the same colour as everybody else but I did not have the same sexual orientation. I did not have a republican background. My father was English like Pádraig Pearse although he conveniently forgot that. Unless anybody thinks this is an ignorant condemnation of Pearse I have read his An Claíomh Solais and it is full of the greatest racist pap one could possibly come across. Arthur Griffith was not a whole lot better with his anti-semitism. Let us be realistic. I was delighted to hear the Minister talk about inclusion. Let us learn from the mistakes of 1966. Let us make the celebration genuinely inclusive. I salute Senator McAleese for what he said. He and his wife have played a pivotal role in bringing different people together. I have never had a huge amount of time for the Orange Order but I was delighted to hear him say that its leader should be invited to the House. Let us give him a welcome. I was even more delighted to hear that the Leader of the House supports his call so there is no contest. We will have them here. Good. It shows that we will have an inclusive celebration and that is important.
The question of language was touched on and it is important. I also wish to say that the editorial section in The Irish Times yesterday was a complete disgrace to the newspaper. I do not know who wrote it because all of them are usually anonymous. Whoever he or she was should cut out the article and eat it. In the last paragraph it stated “the monarchy . . . also jars with our sense of modernity and democratic values”. Preening ourselves in our adolescent, juvenile way on our superiority to the British, it continued “it provides spurious continuing legitimacy to the inherited privilege that continues to dominate both economic and political life in the UK”. What about this country? I know all about where I live. I am privileged to be living in an area of grotesque under-privilege in the north inner city. The writer continued: “Of course, our neighbour, in truth a democracy, though still recovering psychologically from the loss of empire, must be free to entertain its cherished delusions.” How extraordinarily generous but how disgusting in its smugness. Let us avoid this kind of claptrap.
With regard to the celebrations, I hope that the Unionists and the British will be included. We are all of the same people. Ryan Tubridy showed the Queen around Dublin and started the tour from the top of the Guinness tower. He is a direct descendant of Edward III, a King of England, as people will know from a television programme while she is a direct descendant of Brian Boru and Hugh O’Neill, the rebel Earl of Tyrone so let us recognise the complexity of history. I also salute John Redmond. But for the First World War, and that is a big “but”, he might have achieved the same degree of independence for this country that was achieved by 1916 thus avoiding a lot of mess.
The Minister went on to mention all of our cultural institutions, local authorities, or all that will be left, unless we give him the strong support that he deserves and needs. I share the concerns of other people about what will happen to them. First, we have lost our sovereignty and that is not much to celebrate. In my opinion we should have a day of mourning for the surrender of our sovereignty. If we are going to destroy our cultural institutions it will equate to the bombing of the Custom House in 1922 that resulted in the loss of all records stored there. I applaud Senator Bacik, as the leader of the Labour Party and a significant member of Government, for taking the opportunity to raise questions about these institutions. That took a certain amount of political courage and I salute her.
Cultural Ireland has been left adrift. Half a dozen institutions do not have directors such as Culture Ireland, the National Archives and the National Museum of Ireland. Where are the directors? Has an arm’s length principle been adopted? Senator Bacik requested a vote but where is it? We talked about Michael D. Higgins, our President, who introduced the 1997 Act. Why are we setting about dismantling it? I found it to be a quite extraordinary measure and it will be a great shame if it damages the institutions. It is notable, and I think it has been said already, that Professor Diarmaid Ferriter resigned in protest. He had no political agenda but he resigned in protest because he saw what was happening to our cultural institutions. If legislation is put in place to dismantle and replace the 1997 Act we will have disgraced ourselves.
With regard to the mergers, under a previous Government attempts were made to dismantle and close the James Joyce Centre by an alleged merger. The Minister will know it very well because he was a great supporter of the centre. I managed to fight it and I got rid of the people who were behind it as well. We started off with a promise of shared back office services but that is fine if that is as far as it goes. Nobody in the world of culture has set their face against economies.
I want to pay tribute to Senator Mac Conghail and the Minister’s party leader and Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, who appointed people of vision to the House. They are people with connections to the arts, poetry, drama and the Abbey Theatre. Plato, and I dare to continue to mention his name, banished all of the artists in his republic, the poets and the rest, because he said that they were unreliable and asked questions. Of course they do and that is their value. That is why they exist and that is why they strengthen the spiritual life of the country. We should glory in the Abbey Theatre and W.B. Yeats. I am delighted that a Yeats Day in Sligo will be announced. The organisers probably got a hint from Bloomsday.
Senator David Norris: I am happy to end on a high note and to congratulate Sligo. I know that these are difficult times for the Minister and that he will do battle with the Department of Finance but he will go down in history if, with our support, he manages to fight the mergers.
What a wonderful way to celebrate. What a brilliant idea to celebrate the freedom that we won, the parliamentary democracy that we won, by abolishing the Senate. That is one of the stupidest ideas that I have ever come across and it is an insult to democracy. There may be little forces around here that might collaborate with it but they will be exposed.
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