An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin TD, Fianna Fáil Theobald Wolfe Tone Commemoration
Published on: 16 October 2022
Theobald Wolfe Tone is one of the greatest figures of Irish history. This place is rightly seen as hallowed ground. Yet he died a believing his cause was lost and his name was nearly forgotten for many years.
For half a century this grave was unmarked except for a badly-rusted iron fence, standing in the middle of an almost-abandoned cemetery.
When Thomas Davis visited here in 1843 he wrote a long and mournful poem which included the line “his name seldom mentioned, and his virtues unknown.”
Because of Davis and the Young Irelanders, a stone was erected here, Tone’s works were reprinted and he became central to our national story for every new generation.
For Davis and his colleagues, Tone was a perfect representation of the new liberal, republican spirit which was rising in Europe at the time. He showed us an Irish identity based on challenging ideas which allowed for genuine diversity – providing an essential link between an ancient nation and a modern vision.
Tone was the first and most important leader of Irish republicanism. Together with the United Irishmen, he helped Irish nationalism to evolve beyond its focus on figureheads towards a concept of a country defined by its people in all their diversity.
He lived in a world which has long gone, but his spirit and ideas are actually more important today than they have ever been.
Tone was no narrow, inward-looking or tribal nationalist. His entire adult life was devoted to seeking to direct his country towards a more inclusive society.
A society which could define itself beyond communal barriers. A society which could feel empathy for others. And a society which embraced an international commitment to the rights of all.
He was born into one very distinct group in Irish society, but as a young man he came to question the idea that there was no shared community of interests between all parts of Irish society.
Before Tone was a revolutionary and before he embraced republicanism, he was first of all a campaigner for building links across sectarian divides. As the Secretary of the Catholic Committee, he worked to build alliances in favour of removing legal discrimination against people whose religion he did not share.
At that time, in the early 1790s, he wrote a pamphlet which was radical not just in calling for emancipation but even more importantly for its call for every group to respect the views of others.
In his ‘Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland’ Tone insisted that the foundation for all reform must start with respecting Ireland’s diversity and acknowledging our shared interests.
He said that we could never succeed, Ireland could never secure a strong and united future if any group tried to “build an edifice of freedom on a foundation of monopoly”.
With this he gave us a profound challenge. A challenge which must be accepted any person who truly wishes to build a common future for all on our island.
Down to today this remains the single most important challenge to all who genuinely want to build reconciliation and a shared future on our island.
Ours is a proudly republican party, founded by a brilliant generation of men and women who had sacrificed much to secure independence for our country. Many of them had known as friends, colleagues and leaders the fallen heroes of 1916, the War of Independence and the civil war.
What distinguished them was a belief that the cause of Irish republicanism must be served by a willingness to find new ways forward – that it could never fall for the false narrative of never-changing methods.
And within this they, and those who followed, remained committed to Tone’s vision of an inclusive republicanism.
That is why in 1937, at a time when much of Europe was falling into the dark control of ethno-nationalism and extreme ideologies, our founding leader Eamon de Valera wrote and put before the people a constitution which gave explicit protection to minorities and for values like the rule of law, the separation of powers and international cooperation.
It is also why our party was central to building a peace process and delivering an historic settlement which next year will reach its 25th anniversary.
In the 1993 Downing Street Declaration negotiated by Albert Reynolds a very important statement was made about what the shared objective should be. It was not just about getting groups to abandon the illegitimate campaigns of violence they were waging in the face of the unwavering opposition of the Irish people.
Far more than the absence of violence, the objective was “to remove the causes of conflict, to overcome the legacy of history, and to heal the divisions which have resulted”.
That great challenge was at the core of the Good Friday Agreement signed five years later, but the sad reality is that nearly a quarter of a century later far too little has been done.
Too much time has been wasted.
Too few have been willing to undertake the basic work of questioning themselves and finding ways to build a shared respect across historic barriers.
Opportunities to tackle disadvantage and to tackle sectarianism have not been taken, and remain unfulfilled.
There has been a lot of talk about unity and reconciliation but very little work done to actually build the bridges which make it happen.
We are determined as a party not to let the great opportunity which falls to this generation continue to be missed. We have to get on with the hard work of moving from talk to action – and that’s exactly what we are doing.
The Shared Island Initiative which I established is the first time in our history where there is a sustained investment to support vital North/South projects, to build deeper connections and understanding.
Projects that have been talked about for decades are now underway.
The Narrow Water Bridge will finally be delivered. We have provided the funding, engaged with local communities and will move forward with what is both a very practical connection across the border, but also a powerful symbol of our future.
So too, is our investment in the Ulster Canal – a project which reopens and makes accessible a resource to support social and economic development.
We have put in place funding for a wide range of other vital cross-border infrastructure – making sure that profound challenges like meeting the climate and energy security crises are tackled together. An all island network to support the transition to electric vehicles is being developed. An all-island strategy for developing rail services will very shortly be completed.
And we’re also investing in an all-island approach to achieving breakthroughs in cancer treatment and a range of other key research challenges.
Through our investments we are determined to show a new and prosperous way forward for all communities.
The most inclusive dialogue ever between communities is also taking place. Over 2,000 people have contributed to the dialogues so far, with a real diversity of contributions. It’s not about looking for easy answers, it’s about trying to have a real engagement which promotes concrete action.
And one of the great failings of the last 25 years is that very little work was done about doing the hard work of studying the differences, similarities and opportunities in practical but fundamental areas.
There’s been no shortage of people willing to make grand claims about services, but it is remarkable how little has been done to actually quantify what the current situation is one both sides of the border.
That’s why we are already publishing the most detailed ever research on health services, trade, childcare, education and other vital areas between North and South.
To give a very practical example, research on education is showing huge disparities in early school leaving as well as differences in access and approaches to supporting both achievement and inclusion. This is giving us a blueprint for the future – a blueprint for action which benefits all on our island.
That’s real action.
Central to our identity as a party is that we believe in the republican vision of a country which truly unites all the people of our island, which respects diversity, different identities and puts behind it the divisions of the past.
And we believe that it is the duty of every one of us to do the hard work of building understanding, unity and a sense of shared community.
Anyone who sincerely believes in a republican vision for our country should be appalled by the growing attempt to intimidate and shut down debate by one party which refuses to accept the basic accountability accepted by everyone else.
There is something deeply wrong with a party which has built its entire existence on honouring a campaign of violence but now attacks and sues anyone who claims that they supported particular actions within that campaign.
It’s not just the national broadcaster which is being intimidated, political opponents are now regularly receiving legal threats for statements which no one previously thought could even be controversial.
On top of this there is a now regular pattern of aggressive management of the media which means, for example, that party spokespeople are just withdrawn from any place they might be asked questions and basic inquiries are not answered.
This is many things – but democratic republicanism is not one of them.
We need a strong, independent media in our democracy – one which is capable of standing up to bullying and is committed to the sort of high standards of accuracy and balance which only professional journalism has any chance to deliver.
Nuair a chaithimid súil siar ar an laoch Éireannach Tone agus comhaoisigh a linne féin, ba chóir agus ba cheart dúinn níos mó a dhéanamh chun cuimhneamh ar a mbród ina bhféiniúlacht Éireannach agus an ról a ghlac an chuid ba mhó acu i sealbhú agus i gcaomhnú ár dteanga agus ár gcultúir.
Nuair a dhéantar seo go cruinn, feictear go bhfuil an dearcadh seicteach den chultúr Éireannach roinnte idir Gael agus Gall thar a bheith díobhálach dochrach.
Cuireann agus lonnaíonn sé stair na hÉireann ag pointe i bhfad siar agus tugtar neamhaird ar réaltacht casta na bpobal atá athraithe go mór le himeacht aimsire agus le himeacht na mblianta.
Is é fírinne an scéil go raibh glúin scoláirí agus staraithe paiseanta díograiseacha den scoth a mhair le linn ré Tone chun tosaigh sna hiarrachtaí ar chodanna luachmhara lárnacha den chultúr agus den oidhreacht Éireannach a chaomhnú, a chosaint agus a athbheochan.
Much of what we know today about our gaelic and celtic past would have been lost were it not for the commitment of people of Tone’s time who came from the protestant community. For example, the first collections of our musical folklore and the saving of our national treasures of celtic jewellery depended on the efforts of groups which certainly never fitted into a narrow view of Irish identity.
We never allow this diverse background of our national identity to be forgotten.
And we must never forget how the growth of Irish nationalism, the ideals which helped us to maintain our sense of community, have always drawn on a deep connection with the other nations of Europe.
When Tone died he proudly wore the uniform of the French Republic – a state which, in turn, honoured his commitment to universal ideals.
It was this spirit which led the great generation which fought for our independence to lead us towards membership of the now European Union as their last act in public life.
To them, the way to strengthen our sovereignty, to strengthen our democracy and to build a more prosperous future was to embrace systematic cooperation with the nations of Europe.
I think this spirit is one of the reasons why the Irish people remain amongst the strongest supporters of the people of Ukraine as they fight against an imperialist invader and fight for a European future.
The history of Ukraine has been one of great struggle over many centuries to protect its culture and its sense of community. It was controlled by a changing series of empires and it demonstrated genuinely remarkable levels of resilience to survive.
Core to the fact that Ukrainian identity did survive was a national cultural revival in the nineteenth century which was very similar to ours. It was poets and historians who gathered together their past and inspired new generations.
Thirty years ago, the people of every single region of Ukraine voted for independence. In order to show their commitment to friendly relations with Russia, Ukraine became the first nation in the world to give up all of its nuclear weapons
For much of the time since the people of Ukraine have been seeking to build a European democracy. In spite of constant interference and attempts to destabilise their country, they never surrendered this goal.
And when they were invaded and partitioned eight years ago much more should have been done to stand with them and to isolate the aggressor. The obsession with various anti-Western forces in our politics and elsewhere with blaming everyone but the aggressor has been a constant factor since.
I am proud of how the Irish people have said with such loud clarity that we support Ukraine, that we support their European future and that Russia must be held to account for a conflict which it alone is responsible for.
The welcome which has been given to people fleeing this terrible conflict is moment which we should always be proud of, even though it does create many pressures on key resources.
This welcome is a fitting way for us to mark our own struggle for independence.
And it is a reminder of the great values which we inherited from Theobald Wolfe Tone and those who dedicated the cause of Ireland to the cause of the rights of all people and cooperation amongst the people of Europe