Divisions between the Government and relatives of 1916 combatants were deepened yesterday when a meeting heard a promise to have commemoration plans for the centenary provided by a deadline last month had not been kept.
Heather Humphreys, the recently appointed Minister for Arts, declined an invitation to attend yesterday’s inaugural special general meeting of the 1916 Relatives Association in Dublin, a decision which drew further ire from members.
The association, which has accused the Government of the “utmost ineptitude” in planning the 2016 events, was set up this year in part to ensure the families’ participation in whatever ultimately takes place.
“We are extremely disappointed that we find ourselves in a situation where we now have to fight to ensure that people whose sacrifice and bravery led to the birth of our nation are even simply remembered, let alone honoured,” group secretary Una MacNulty told a crowd of about 250 attendees.
She said the former minister for arts, Jimmy Deenihan, in a meeting last July, had committed to giving them an outline of plans by mid-September.
“To date we haven’t been presented with any plans, nor have we been able to get a meeting with the now Minister for Arts, Heather Humphreys.”
Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly, a member of the all-party working group on the decade of commemorations, said the Government’s existing database on relatives who could expect invitations amounted to just 427, whereas the estimated number of descendants runs to at least 150,000.
A statement from the Minister said she was happy to meet with the association but was unable to attend yesterday’s event.
A draft programme for 2016 commemorations is being finalised and will be put out to public consultation “as soon as possible”.
The association is, in the meantime, planning its own event to be held at Kilmainham Gaol or at Richmond Barracks with ambitions to secure either Bill Clinton or a member of the Kennedy family as guest speaker.
Once again, the question of a potential British royal family invitation to the centenary was raised, with guest speaker historian Dr Shane Kenna saying such a move would be inappropriate, a view met with vocal support from the floor.
Casey McNerthney, who travelled from Seattle with his father Patrick, said his grandmother Lily Kempson was believed to have been the last surviving veteran of the Rising and died in 1995.
“I didn’t actually realise how difficult it was for the families to be recognised until we came here,” he said.
“I know many of my family would like to come here [for the centenary].”