Speech of Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin TD, Fianna Fáil Wolfe Tone Commemoration, Bodenstown, Co Kildare

Published on: 23 October 2016

Theobald Wolfe Tone has played a central role in Irish history for nearly two and a half centuries. He died alone and desolate in a prison cell at the age of only 35. Yet he had helped create the republican tradition which has long been the dominant allegiance of the Irish people.

His belief in the rights of the Irish people was absolute, and he was willing to sacrifice everything in their cause. What he was not, was a rigid ideologue. His short life was defined by constant evolution – by the search for new ways forward rather than an unchanging attachment to established ideas.

We come to this precious place every year to remind ourselves that Irish republicanism was founded by an exceptional, modern and open generation. To be true to this tradition demands that we carry on in this spirit.

Tone was a child of privilege born into an unequal and sectarian society. In fact it was one of the most unequal societies in Western Europe. Records of the time show how foreign visitors were constantly shocked at the poverty and dispossession of the great majority of the Irish people.

From an early age Tone looked at the condition of Ireland and dedicated himself to the cause of it’s welfare.

At first he agreed that legislative independence for the parliament in College Green was the answer. Quickly he understood that this would achieve almost nothing if the great majority of Irish people continued to be excluded from the political nation. This led him to become a leader in the fight for Catholic rights.

It is a great statement of his spirit and abilities that he, a member of a family which traced its roots to a protestant refugee from Catholic France, was elected assistant secretary of the Catholic Convention in 1792.

Tone was above all a man motivated by the spirit of his times, and this meant that he was inspired by the European Enlightenment and of course the French Revolution. He loved his country and believed passionately in its rights and unique qualities – however he was absolutely a European. He and his colleagues in the United Irishmen took an open and generous view of what it meant to be Irish, and they absolutely saw that this peripheral island as deserving a place in the European mainstream.

The rebellion which they led in 1798 was the largest rising anywhere in Europe inspired by the French Revolution. After a century of despair old hopes died and a new ideal established itself – the republican ideal of a state where the people are sovereign.

The growth of republicanism was not inevitable. The death of the old Jacobite cause left no guiding popular political movement. Through republicanism the 1790’s gave birth to a renewed spirit and aspiration which has continued to this day.

This year has seen a wonderful public expression of the Irish people’s respect and admiration for the men and women of 1916 – all of whom were clear in the inspiration they drew from the republicanism of Tone and the United Irishmen.

The Proclamation is a profound statement of national ideals which remains a reminder and a challenge to all of us who seek to honour our great founding generation.

The most important thing it does is that it aligns the cause of our country with universal principles. It demands that rights be extended to all. It defines the nation as diverse and inclusive. It rejects all who behave with dishonour. It explicitly sets the objective of a state governed democratically, under popular sovereignty. And, almost uniquely for national revolutions of that time, it seeks cooperation between nations.

This is a generous and open spirit which any nation should be proud of. And in the century since then it has given us a powerfully positive political tradition.

Ours is one of the few new national states which emerged after the First World War and never succumbed to extremism of the right or left. Under the leadership of Eamon de Valera, popular sovereignty was asserted to give us a republican constitution which protected minority rights, entrenched democracy and committed us to international cooperation and the rule of law.

We have many faults as a country, and there are many cases in our history of us failing our weakest citizens. Our history cannot be airbrushed of the terrible examples of high ideals being spoken while many suffered. But I believe we can be proud of avoiding the darkest forces in world history which showed themselves in the last century.

We also succeeded in achieving improvements in living standards and a decline in poverty which is more recognised outside of our country then here.

The correct way for us to look at our republican tradition is that it calls on us to keep challenging ourselves – to keep working to build an Ireland which responds to the needs of today and future generations.

In February’s election we argued that Ireland was becoming a more divided and unfair country. At the core of this was a government which was out of touch, concerned with the interests of a few and failing to address problems until they reached crisis level. We put forward our alternative and saw our support rise throughout the country.

The people voted for a change not just in policies but also in the way our country is governed. We continue to work to deliver this.

Fianna Fáil believes that every person elected by the people to represent them has a duty to be constructive. Democracy should not be allowed to degenerate to a position of complete support or opposition on every issue.

Alone amongst the members of the current Dáil, Fianna Fáil TDs voted three times for a completely new government with a new agenda. When we failed we took a path of seeking to maximise the impact of our programme while honouring core pledges to our half a million voters.

We have succeeded in stopping many of the most damaging Fine Gael policies. Their increasingly right-wing agenda and focus on tax cuts weighted to help the wealthiest most has been blocked. Some of the worst damage which their policies caused in the last five years have begun to be unwound.

Even the Fine Gael Minister for Social Protection has acknowledged that they have departed from years of socially unjust and unfair budgets.

There are important improvements in social supports, health and education which are only possible because the Fine Gael US-style taxation approach has been stopped.

However, there is no doubt that this is a government which is drifting. In area after area it is failing to tackle problems with the urgency or ambition which they need. This has nothing to do with them being in the minority. Ministers have absolute freedom to use the immense resources available to them to set out concrete strategies for the future. Instead they are constantly reactive and failing to engage with the issues.

This is exactly what happened when they had a massive majority in the Dáil.

The huge increase in hospital waiting lists has been met with near silence by government. The replacement of one PR obsessed minister with a more careful successor has simply confirmed that the government has no health policy.

Compulsory Health Insurance has been abandoned, the HSE has been retained and there is a general acknowledgement that five years of damaging policies must be abandoned. It’s now time to put the priority where it is most needed – building our public health system.

We will be insisting that we have a return to honest budgeting by Ministers and an end to cabinet interference in the wording of service plans. After five years of political cynicism we need health service plans which respond to the needs of the people and not the needs of the cabinet.

We secured the restoration of the tested and successful National Treatment Purchase Fund as a means of tackling waiting lists. The amount of 15 million euro allocated is a small first step, and we will be insisting on a much more assertive return to a policy which works.

Leirigh an chainaisneis aris eile i mbliana nach bhfuil suim da laghad ag rialtas Fhine Gael an teanga naisiunta a chur chun cinn.

I scoileanna o cheann ceann na tire seo ta athbheochan briomhar ar bun i leith na Gaeilge.

Den chead uair inar stair le deanai,ta suim ollmhor san oideachas tri mhean na Gaeilge agus baint nios larnai ag an saroideachas sin le stair na teanga ata mar chuid dar bhfeiniulacht Eireannach.

Aris agus aris eile,taimid ag cailliuint deiseanna toisc neamhshuim agus failli an Rialtais.

Geallaimse daoibh nach seasfaidh Fianna Fail siar on eileamh ata againn maoiniu iomlan a dheanamh ar an bplean fadtearmach do chur chun cinn na Gaeilge agus tacaiocht dar dteanga a neartu sa tir seo.

In other areas, and especially in education and tackling the growing problem of insecure, low-paid employment, the next twelve months must see faster progress. The need for urgent action couldn’t be clearer.

The UK Brexit vote had its root in three decades of increasingly hysterical euro-scepticism. The anti-EU campaign deployed lies and anti-foreigner rhetoric to secure the result. It was also fuelled by nostalgia for an imperial past and a place in the world more suited to the nineteenth century than a modern, globalised reality.

Since then the actions of the London government have been little short of shambolic. None of the people who argued for Brexit prepared plans for actually achieving the result – other than the arrogant belief that the world, including Europe, would rush to trade with Britain.

The cabinet ministers responsible for Brexit have been cavalier and grossly unprofessional. They have been making it up as they go along, and after four months have yet to say what they are looking for other than to keep all the good bits, dump everything they don’t like, make their own rules and pay for nothing.

The approach to the fact that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain has been at best dismissive. For example, there is no way of reconciling Theresa May’s promise to prioritise Northern Ireland with her failure to put the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on the Brexit committee.

In contrast the Tory chairman is a full member of the committee. So a higher priority has been given to managing the Tory party other than to addressing the massive and legitimate concerns of the people of Northern Ireland about the impact of a policy they opposed.

The cost of Brexit will show itself over time and will push Britain to the margins of international affairs.

Whatever the economic impact is on Britain, and I have no doubt it will be highly negative and long-term, for Ireland there is now no doubt that we face a deep and rising threat.

Brexit is already hurting. The fall of sterling to its lowest ever trade-weighted level in undermining Irish exporters and already costing jobs. Communities on the border are hurting and are looking ahead to an uncertain future – which is the very thing which undermines investment and employment.

Ireland has to push for actions which can soften the potential short and medium-term destruction which Brexit may involve. We can’t wait for another two and a half years before businesses and communities receive support to either replace lost markets or to be competitive in spite of the massive fall in sterling.

What we also need is to understand that this is a decision which will affect us permanently. It challenges our core economic strategies and demands medium and long-term policies.

I believe that we are facing a decisive moment similar to the one faced by Seán Lemass sixty years ago. He and his government decided that Ireland’s long-term future should be to open itself to the world and to invest in its people.

Over the following decade and a half this policy was implemented to bring down trade barriers, to dramatically expand access to education and to bring Ireland into what is now the European Union.

If Ireland is to prosper and deliver a decent standard of living for all of its people it must be open to the world, it must trade. In these circumstance where a major market has decided to leave the security of the European Union and is facing long-term currency volatility we have to respond. It would be naïve and foolish of us to think that we will be able to simply just carry on.

There is no doubt that we have to work much harder to diversify our markets and reduce our reliance on trade with Britain. Crucially we have to seek ways of dramatically increasing skills levels and innovation levels. It is in industries where ideas and skills are central that we can compete and win no matter what is happening in the British economy.

The chronic under-funding of key areas of education cannot continue. Policies which are driving badly-needed researchers out of the country must be stopped now. We must take a sector-by-sector approach to upskilling, investment in research and opening new markets.

We must also stand by the people of Northern Ireland, and never fail to speak up for their interests.

What will happen with Scotland is unknown. Should Scotland demand the right stay in the European Union or to re-join it quickly at some point in the future, Ireland should not be afraid to support it.

Ireland will stand by the European Union. We will be true to the great ideal of working together for shared prosperity and peace. We need Europe to stand by us. We need the Union to allow and to support direct aid to stop us from suffering serious damage from Britain’s decision to take its own route.

This is also a moment where basic democratic and humanitarian values are under attack throughout the world. We cannot stand quietly on the side-lines. If our values are to stand for anything we must speak up and we must support others.

Fianna Fáil is resolute in standing with European democracies who are today threatened by an increasingly authoritarian and aggressive neighbour. We stand with the people of Ukraine in opposing the invasion and partition of their country. And we resolutely support the people of Syria, and in particular, Aleppo who are the victims of bombing by Russia and the Assad regime which is targeting civilians and is undoubtedly a war crime.

There is a great contest going on in many countries between the authoritarian populists and democrats over the values of their societies and the idea of international cooperation. We cannot be neutral in this. We must be part of a broad commitments of democrats to opposing these dark forces in every way.

In just over two weeks the people of America will vote on their next president. The behaviour of the Republican candidate has a frightening amount in common with extreme right parties in Europe.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton has been a resolute voice for decency and democratic values. She is also a great friend of Ireland. When I dealt with her as a minister I was always struck not just by her professionalism, but also by her commitment to giving voice to the voiceless and using her power to help others. I for one have no difficulty saying that Hillary Clinton is the only choice for people who care for the success of America and its role as the world’s leading democracy.

Ta an tradisiun pobhlachtanach a spreag Tone agus a chomhghleacaithe agus a raibh athnuachan glormhar deanta air i mile naoi gcead se deag, freamhaithe agus aitheanta ina cheangal le, chomh maith lena fhreagracht agus dilseacht don phobal Eireannach.

Bionn an tradisiun pobhlachtanach de shior ag athru agus ni fhanann se socair riamh.

I ndairire, nil easpa measa nios maslai da bpoblachtanachas na a ra nach bhfuil aon rud athruithe mura bhfuil gach aon ni bainte amach go criochnuil foirfe. Is i an fhreagracht ata orainn na tuiscint a bheith againn ar an nga ata ann eisteacht le pobal na hEireann agus freastal ar riachtanais mhuintir an lae inniu agus amarach.

In Fianna Fáil’s 90 years we have returned each year to this spot to remind ourselves of the tradition which inspired our foundation. Delivering government which serves the people and answers to the people is a challenge to all who are in politics.

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