Commencement Matters 14th December 2016
Senator Daly requests an update from the Government on plans to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Thomas Ashe and the State’s budget allocation for these Commemorations.
Senator Mark Daly: I thank the Minister for coming to the House to deal with this matter. While this month will see the end of the 1916 Rising commemorations, centenary commemorations will commence again on the anniversary of the death of Thomas Ashe who, of course, was born in Lispole, County Kerry. He was involved in the 1916 Rising, tried on the same day as Éamon de Valera and sentenced to death, a sentence which was commuted to one of penal servitude. He went on hunger strike with another Kerry man, Austin Stack, during which he was forcibly fed.
While we celebrate and commemorate the bravery of the men of 1916, the 100th anniversary of the death of Thomas Ashe is relevant because the forcible feeding of prisoners continues to this day, most notably at Guantanamo Bay. While we mark the anniversary of his death, we must also highlight the fact that the death he endured and the punishment he received – he remained on a cold prison cell floor in a weakened condition for 50 hours before being subjected to forced feeding – constituted human rights abuses that continue to happen today. That is part of the reason we must highlight the injustices that continue to happen today, even though we will be commemorating an event that happened 100 years ago.
What does the Government plant to do to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Thomas Ashe and highlight human rights issues, in particular the abuse of the rights of prisoners and the abuses perpetrated by countries with which we are great friends? That friendship does not mean that we will not criticise them when they are wrong. When the United States of America engages in the form of punishment it uses for prisoners, we must not be silent. We must stand up for the rights of prisoners, irrespective of the reasons for which they are imprisoned. I look forward to hearing what the Government plans to do to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Thomas Ashe.
Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Seán Kyne): I thank Senator Daly for raising this Commencement matter. I am taking this item on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, who unfortunately cannot attend the House.
On Easter Monday of this year, 28 March, a State ceremony took place in Ashbourne, County Meath, to remember Commandant Thomas Ashe and all of those who gave their lives arising from the events of the Battle of Ashbourne. This was one of a number of formal State ceremonial events to take place around the country this year to reflect the special significance of key regional locations in the events of the 1916 Rising and to honour and remember those who fought and those who died. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the assistance of Meath County Council and Fingal County Council in supporting this very special commemoration.
Some of the most significant Volunteer action outside of Dublin took place at Rathcross, Ashbourne, under the leadership of Thomas Ashe, Richard Mulcahy and Frank Lawless. Thirteen men in total lost their lives in Ashbourne on 28 April 1916. Commandant Thomas Ashe was tried by court martial and his death sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life. He died in September 1917.
This year, we have remembered and reflected upon the ultimate sacrifice made by Ashe and all those who gave their lives in order that Ireland’s dream of self-determination could become a reality. My Department is currently considering how the centenary of the death of Thomas Ashe should be appropriately marked and is being assisted by the guidance and advice of the expert advisory group on commemorations in these deliberations.
The 1916 centenary commemorations were inclusive, respectful and measured, and sought to strengthen peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. The Ireland 2016 centenary programme met with widespread support across the political, academic and community sectors. It has engaged our communities at home and abroad in an unprecedented way and the benefits at community level and indeed nationally cannot be underestimated. The inclusive nature of the programme has enabled citizens to really examine our history and has encouraged them to consider the future of their communities. It gave people scope to think about the events of 1916 and its legacy in a way that is personal and meaningful to each individual. The Government will continue to mark significant events throughout the decade of centenaries and the State’s commemorative programme will be based on the inclusive, open and consultative approach that has worked so well this year.
At all times, the Government has been supported in its plans by the guidance and advice of the expert advisory group on commemorations and the Oireachtas all-party consultation group on commemorations. The expert group is currently considering the issue of guidance around the approach to the second half of the decade of centenaries. The centenary of the death of Commandant Thomas Ashe will be marked on 25 September 2017. In addition, next year we will remember the battle of Messines and will commemorate the death of Francis Ledwidge in the third Battle of Ypres on 31 July.
In 2018, we will mark the end of the First World War and the general election of 1918 and then move on to commemorate the First Dáil in January 2019. Commemorating the period of the War of Independence and Civil War will present its own challenges. However, I strongly believe the same open and honest approach which we used for this year’s successful commemorations, which allowed all narratives to be heard, will ensure we will be able to reflect appropriately on the all of the major historical events as they unfolded.
In terms of funding for commemorations, the Department is currently considering the funding breakdown for commemorations in 2017 in the context of finalising the commemoration programme for next year.
Senator Mark Daly: I know that the Minister of State is only reading the answer but, for his benefit, the question asked the Minister “to outline the Government’s plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Thomas Ashe and to state the budget allocation for the commemorations”. The last few lines of the Minister of State’s reply stated: “In terms of funding for commemorations, the Department is currently considering the funding breakdown” and so on. Therefore, there was no answer to the question, although there are only nine months to go. The reply also referred to the Oireachtas all-party consultation group on commemorations but that group has not met since January this year.
I thank the Minister of State for attending the House and I know the reply he was given is the only one he can provide. In light of the fact that the centenary is only nine months away, however, I would have hoped to get an answer to my question.
Deputy Seán Kyne: As a week is a long time in politics, nine months is an awfully long period concerning issues such as this one. The Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, is currently considering the State’s commemorative programme for the second half of the decade. As I said, she is being supported by the expert group. I will ask her why the Oireachtas all-party consultation group on commemorations has not met since January. Although the Senator did not say so, I am sure he would agree that the celebrations and commemorations for the last year have been excellent. They have received cross-party and community support, which must be acknowledged.
The Minister has indicated that the Thomas Ashe centenary committee and others are also discussing their plans to commemorate this significant event next year in Ashe’s birthplace in Lispole, County Kerry. The Senator is probably involved in that himself. There will also be commemorations in Meath, Dublin and abroad. The Department will be happy to engage with relevant groups, including local authorities and third-level institutions on how the centenary of the death of Thomas Ashe might be appropriately commemorated next year. The inclusive, respectful and measured approach which characterised this year’s centenary commemorations will continue to shape the State’s commemorative programme for the remainder of the decade. The close collaboration and engagement between Departments and other stakeholders will continue to suggest significant events and themes for commemoration for the next five years, which will be marked with respect, sensitivity and openness. I am confident that the centenary of Thomas Ashe’s death will be acknowledged. I will bring to the Minister’s attention the Senator’s concerns about the all-party committee not having met since January, as well as the issues regarding the budget outlay for that event.