216 years after he died a lonely death despairing of the future of his country it is right that we come here once again to honour the memory of one of our greatest patriots.
Is laoch cróga neamheaglach lárnach a sheas amach inár stair é Wolfe Tone toisc an dúshlán a thugann sé dúinn fís an Phoblachtachais atá nua-aimseartha, fadradharcach agus fréamhaithe i sochaí na hÉireann a leanúint mar aidhm inár sochaí inniu.
Mar phearsa staire, fear mór gnímh díreach ab ea é ach níor léirigh sé féin ná a chomhghleacaithe drochthoil do ghrúpa ar bith. Níor theastaigh Éire uathu a raibh an stádas ag an ngrúpa ba chumhachtaí ach Éire ina raibh meas ar an éagsúlacht.
It is highly disrespectful to previous generations to claim that their struggle goes on, that their policies and activities must be maintained. We remember people like Tone and his compatriots precisely because they were transformative figures. They changed our country and challenged it to continue to evolve.
They were profoundly modern and outward looking people. They looked at the world of their time of the situation of Ireland and put forward a vision of national unity, international solidarity in the service of the rights of mankind.
The Irish republicanism which they gave birth to was no small thing. It stood against party and faction. It promoted the common welfare and it embraced change.
Tone could have had an easy and comfortable life as a member of the establishment. Instead he chose to work for religious and political liberty in the face of a repressive and intolerant state.
He was no automatic revolutionary. For most of his short life he worked to achieve change through public activism. His first great cause was the rights of the Catholic community to which he did not belong. He argued that mere toleration was not enough, that discrimination on the basis of beliefs must be overcome in all its forms.
As Secretary of the Catholic Committee, which was as close to a democratic assembly as the majority community had ever had, Tone helped provide pressure which did lead to a measure of relief for Catholics. However he came to the view that only a separate Irish state could ever deliver full equality and a government which put the interests of its people first.
The tradition of Irish republicanism which Tone and his colleagues began was never about a compulsion to engage in armed struggle, it has always been about building a politics which respects citizens, which works in their interests and where sectarian and party considerations are pushed to the side.
I am very proud to say that it is this tradition of Irish republicanism which Fianna Fáil still draws its inspiration.
In more recent years there have been groups which have almost debased the word republicanism by their actions. They have caused incredible damage to republicanism by their illegitimate campaigns of violence, waged in the face of the opposition of the overwhelming majority of Irish citizens and where the interests of their organisations have been put ahead of the interests of the Irish people.
For many decades the Irish people have been resolute in their commitment to peaceful action as the means of achieving a republic which encompasses all parts of Ireland. They have celebrated and honoured the achievements of revolutionaries who created a new situation where national objectives can be pursued through constitutional means.
No group which refuses to respect the freely and repeatedly expressed will of the Irish people has the right to call itself republican. No party which puts blind loyalty to its ‘movement’ ahead of basic concepts of justice has anything to do with republicanism.
The Provisionals never have and never will have a right to call themselves ‘the republican movement’. In thirty years of their illegitimate campaign they never won more than a fraction of the Irish public to their side.
Now that constitutional republicanism has triumphed, now that the Provisionals have been pushed to abandon their campaign of violence, there has been an effort to try and falsify history.
Is fírinne mhí fhortúnach í go bhfuil tréaniarracht ar siúl inniu ag roinnt ár stair a chasadh nó a chur as riocht chun polaitíocht an pháirtí a chur chun tosaigh in ionad aontacht náisiúnta.
Táid ag iarraidh seilbh a fháil ar cheannairí agus gluaiseachtaí agus ceangail neamhbhriste a dhéanamh leis an saol atá ann inniu.
Beimid ag troid amach anseo i gcoinne mhí-úsáid ár staire, mar nach féidir leis an stair ach láidreacht a thabhairt más le gach duine í.
Sinn Fein’s effort to promote the idea of an unbroken chain from earlier revolutionaries and themselves is sinister and dangerous. What is to stop the Real IRA and others from claiming the same justification for their equally illegitimate actions?
Over a decade and a half after the Good Friday Agreement the Provisional movement is still refusing to act in accordance with basic democratic accountability.
Few things are as striking as the Provisional’s approach is the enforced discipline in everything. There is no diversity, there is no dissent. No matter how appalling the action there is a vow of omerta taken even by its youngest members.
Justifying the movement is always the number one priority and it still seeks to crush and marginalise anyone who breaks their silence. If you sign up for their movement the first thing required is not that you support their policies it is that you justify their history and stay quiet about their darker elements.
Some of the revelations of this week have been shocking. What is even more shocking has been the disinterest of the so-called ‘modern’ faces in Sinn Fein to finding the truth. They are happy to collude in an approach which again seeks to undermine the victim.
This is not the place to go into the issues in depth. The incredible personal bravery which it takes to speak out deserves all of our respect and support. However it is important to make one point.
The measure of a republic is how it treats its weakest citizens and the measure of true republicans is how they put the interests of citizens ahead of those of party and faction. By any measure, Sinn Fein is failing even the most basic standards of republicanism.
The passing of our former leader Albert Reynolds was a reminder of some of the great breakthroughs which have been achieved by constitutional republicanism on this island. The peace process which he was so central to, has saved countless lives and delivered a new era of opportunity for many.
Nothing in the peace process was inevitable. It took incredible dedication and commitment over many years to get the men of violence to take a different path.
Two years ago I spoke here about an impending crisis in Northern Ireland which was threatened because of the dominance of party positioning and government disinterest. I said that it was Fianna Fáil’s analysis that sectarian conflict was on the rise and that Northern institutions were not working effectively.
The Taoiseach and leaders of Sinn Fein and the DUP said that working relations were fine and they were delivering for people.
Today the crisis is acknowledged by everyone and we are seeing a blame-game where different parties seek to distance themselves from a situation which they allowed to happen.
The new round of talks which began this week are welcome. I hope that they mark a return to real engagement between the different sides and to the spirit which delivered so much for all communities in the past.
However these talks cannot succeed unless the governments show a deep commitment as full participants and guarantors of the talks. The Haas process was almost designed to fail because the governments stayed outside and played the role of interested observers.
The governments adopted the approach that parties could just be left to themselves and everything would work out. It ignored the fundamental dynamic behind every significant achievement of the peace process.
I hope that the neglect of the past three years has not done lasting damaging to public faith in the institutions and process. I know from the many contacts which I and our spokespeople maintain with people and groups working in Northern Ireland that there is still real commitment to reconciliation and development. It’s up to the politicians to follow the lead of the majority of people rather than let the divisive minority prevail.
As for the role of our government, the claim of the leader of the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party that our Taoiseach gave him an assurance that the Dublin government would not be involved in discussions about internal Northern Irish arrangements is very disturbing.
For the past three years Sinn Fein has been happy with Dublin’s ‘hands off’ approach because it has left them in the position of claiming to lead the case of nationalist Ireland. They have signally failed in this task.
At every point of previous talks we respected the primary role of the Northern parties in reaching agreements concerning arrangements in the Assembly and Executive. But we never agreed to be completely excluded from discussions.
For example, I was involved in discussions concerning the devolution of justice powers. The agreement was between the parties, but the Irish government had a legitimate and positive role to play.
Our government is a full guarantor of the Agreement, it is not some interested onlooker. And it should never be forgotten that we changed our constitution because of a process where our legitimate interests were fully respected in relation to affairs on this island.
The unionist parties know full and well that there is no hidden agenda and the principle of consent is a major protection.
The Taoiseach needs to make a statement outlining what exactly he has given assurances on – and he needs to give a commitment that his government is a full and active participants in all elements of the process.
We have come too far and achieved too much to allow a slow slide into sectarian division and institutional paralysis.
This is a moment in our history when we need to have a vision for the future. As has been seen in the economies return to growth, the skills and commitment of the Irish people remain our fundamental resource.
While the government has chosen to ignore major warning signs about a possible international downturn, we have certainly reached the end of the programme of consolidation.
This week the government delivered the first of two election budgets. They had an opportunity to set a vision for the future. They had a chance to show a real commitment to vital public services. Instead they decided to continue with a policy of being deeply regressive. The biggest benefit will go to those who have the most, and services which are already in crisis have been ignored.
‘The best small country in the world to do business in’ is a good slogan. It’s an objective which everyone can support. But it’s not a vision for a country.
At a moment of transition, where it is up to this generation of leaders to define the future course of our country, the government’s short-term tactics, it’s obsession with political manoeuvring, is causing immense damage.
Why are we not talking about being the best small country in the world to grow old in, or be educated in or be an innovator in?
Why are we not talking about being the nest small country in the world for supporting community life, or for valuing and opening access to culture?
Why are we not talking about the role we want Ireland to play in Europe and the wider world?
Why is a government which has the largest majority in our history failing to plan the long-term future of any aspect of what the state does or how much it should cost?
The hard work and sacrifice of the Irish people has ensured that the worst of the crisis has been overcome, but the strategy of the government has ensured that we are experiencing a two-tiered and unfair recovery.
I talked yesterday about how Fianna Fáil is determined that the next election will be fought on the basis of a clear vision for s state which serves its people – which helps people to get ahead but also supports it weaker citizens. We have produced a wide range of policy documents and legislation and we will now bring this work together and take it to a new level.
I have put the challenge to our members to be active in helping frame our programme and engaging with the public.
What is clear is that ending the crisis and planning for the future of health and education are core policies for us.
We took the lead in exposing the growing chaos being inflicted on vital health services by targeted cuts and damaging reforms during James Reilly’s term as Minister for Health. His policies had the full support of government, but he was scapegoated out of the job earlier this year.
This week they confirmed that they want to proceed with his reform plan. This proposes to make compulsory insurance the basis of all health funding.
Even the planning stage for this reform has been disastrous. It is based on the false premise that private insurers will plan a fair system.
We have published our own detailed analysis. The only way of delivering equity and quality to all citizens is to fund and reform public health services – not to hand them over to the private insurance system.
Instead of trying to distance himself from his predecessor in terms of style it’s time for Minister Vradkar to begin abandoning policies which have caused so much damage in the past three years and will do so in the years ahead if left in place.
Fianna Fáil is the party which has delivered every major expansion in educational opportunity in our history. We have always believed that education is the way of empowering citizens and communities.
This is why we have stood against the decisions of a government which has no vision for the future of Irish education. Their cuts have been directly targeted at supports relied on by our most marginal citizens. Schools which are the lifeblood of small rural communities have been pushed to the edge of viability. In our cities, the poorer the community served by a school the less likely it is now to have essential guidance and counselling for pupils.
The cost of reversing the most damaging education cuts is only a fraction of the money allocated to the wealthiest section of our society.
There is an alternative to this government’s divisive and regressive policies. We can and should reverse the damage of their worst decisions.
More importantly we are determined to show that this state can commit itself to a long-term vision of an effective state serving the needs and interests of its people.
We are again the largest party in Irish local government and we are to determined to advance significantly at the next election.
We are progressive republicans. Today, more than ever, we are inspired and recommit ourselves to the spirit of Theobald Wolfe Tone’s republicanism.
“To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman” – as they were to Tone so too they remain today the means of Irish republicanism.