13/11/14 Senator Daly addresses the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys and the Seanad regarding Commemoration Planning

Senator Daly: I welcome the Minister to the House. I thank her for organising last night’s excellent event in the GPO and her work so far on this important initiative, which includes the decade of commemorations and the celebration of 1916. Over the next number of months and years, people will ask what it is we are celebrating about 1916. We are celebrating the lives of the ordinary, but extraordinary, men and women who did an extraordinary thing on that ordinary day, Easter Monday 1916. They struggled together to achieve a common aim. The aims set out in the Proclamation were equal rights, equal opportunities and civil and religious liberties. They are aims and objectives which elude us still, and 100 years on we must reflect on how far we have come and how far we have yet to go to achieve them.

The Minister outlined a fantastic programme of events and a very important consultation process. Part of the programme includes concerts in the National Concert Hall, which will be televised and will feature the best of Irish talent from across the entire spectrum of music, song, dance and all elements of Irish culture. The committee discussed gardens of remembrance, something which can engage all communities. Such simple projects would include gardens with three common elements, namely, the Proclamation, a flagpole and seven trees to signify the seven signatories, and would be dedicated to the men and women involved.

The committee has dealt with other elements and the Minister has met Reverend Kavanagh in regard to the Thomas Francis Meagher foundation, in particular on the idea of giving a Tricolour that has flown from the building where the first Tricolour was flown to every school in the country by 2016. All the secondary schools in the State would be invited to Waterford to receive this flag and to be given information packs on the history and meaning of the flag. The meaning has been lost or forgotten over time but the symbolism is as relevant today as when Thomas Francis Meagher first spoke about it in 1848 in terms of brotherhood and peace between Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics. That is something every schoolchild should know on Easter Monday 2016.

Engaging with our diaspora is very important and I thank the Minister for ensuring that will be the case. I have discussed this with newly elected US Congressman Brendan Boyle, who said he will put a garden of remembrance in Pennsylvania. Perhaps, on her next visit to America, the Minister might visit him and talk to the members of the Irish-American caucus about what they can do. Gardens are a neutral space and are places where people can reflect on the words in the Proclamation.

There have already been initiatives. It is very important that the county councils and their managers were met yesterday. There is a motion before this House which will hopefully be passed next week. The Minister’s Department had sent out a letter earlier in the year in regard to Cumman na mBan. Equality eludes us still. I said yesterday that the treatment of Cumman na mBan and the Irish Volunteers, even 100 years on, is different. The Irish Volunteers ceremony was televised, the President was there, there was a full guard of honour and it was on a Sunday. The anniversary of Cumman na mBan, a significant organisation, was not given the same treatment, which I felt was inappropriate considering its contribution.

The letters that went out from the Department and the motion before this House are about naming currently unnamed bridges, roads and public infrastructure after Cumman na mBan or its members. As in the past, when public infrastructure is named, it is generally named after men because the people sitting around the table are generally men and they name it after people who would instantaneously come to their minds. In Kerry, however, the largest relief road in the county, around the town of Tralee, has been named after Cumman na mBan, as is the case for the bridge over the Shannon in Leitrim. In Athlone, Councillors John Keogh and Ernie Keenan, from Roscommon County Council and Westmeath County Council – opposing counties – came together and named the bridge over the Shannon as Droichead Cumman na mBan. In Cork, where Councillor Aindrias Moynihan is working with the Lord Mayor of Cork, Mary Shields, and the Cathaoirleach, Alan Coleman, and they are hoping to name the southern ring road, which goes around the outskirts of the city, Bóthar Cumman na mBán. There are similar proposals for Limerick, Kilkenny and other places. I would hope that every county has at least one significant piece of infrastructure named after that important organisation.

The counties have written to the Minister’s office and want to be part of the programme for events. Cloughjordan, where Thomas MacDonagh came from, wants to be included; it has its summer school and is hoping to put in a garden of remembrance. There is also Kiltyclogher in Leitrim, where Seán Mac Diarmada comes from, and Ballymoe in Galway, which hopes to remember Éamonn Ceannt. Of course, the diaspora will have to become engaged because some of the signatories were not born inside the State. Ashbourne in County Meath saw one of the biggest battles outside of Dublin in Easter Week, as did Enniscorthy in Wexford and Athenry in Galway. All of these councils want to be included in this comprehensive programme because it is a celebration of an entire year of events. Hopefully, the Minister’s Department will be able to cope with the enthusiasm that exists.

I am glad the Minister has taken on board suggestions from myself and others on the committee in regard to the relatives being included in the celebrations, and not only being included but actually being part of the celebrations, which is very important. I am glad the Minister met with the relatives. There is a long way to go in ensuring their concerns are facilitated but I believe the Department is on the right track. It is going to be a challenge to accommodate everybody but it is certainly something that can be done. I thank the Minister for her work so far and I thank all the members of the committee for their commitment to the celebration of 2016. As outlined in the Government document, it is a time of reflection and of looking back, but also of looking forward into the future in the sense of how the Ireland that was imagined in 1916 can be attained.

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