It is a pleasure to be here in Kiskeam to address the Annual Sean Moylan Commemoration.
And it is honour to be asked to pay tribute to one of the great leaders of 20th century Ireland.
Sean Moylan was a patriot of valour and distinction.
For over forty years, he served Ireland with commitment and passion through days of peace and war.
His career encompasses all that is noble in public service and loyalty to the people.
Moylan played a courageous and influential role in securing this country’s right to self-determination.
He was a soldier of daring, bravery and chivalry.
He would become a politician of wisdom, integrity and ingenuity.
Sean Moylan was integral to moulding Fianna Fáil into a true republican organisation, a unifying force in Irish life and a vehicle for progressive politics.
Today, at this hallowed ground, these lessons are now more important than ever. The values and principles Moylan’s generation espoused – should not be lost on us now as we seek to revitalise this party and bring new energy to it.
Sean Moylan sincerely believed in the right of the Irish people to freedom, peace and prosperity.
And so too, do we.
He fought for our country, in a different era, at a time when the British Government refused to countenance Irish sovereignty.
The failure to introduce even a limited form of Home Rule, especially in the aftermath of 1918 General Election, was a negation of democracy.
For Moylan’s generation, it was clear that the constitutional route was barred.
As a military strategist, Moylan was carved from the same genius as that other great Cork revolutionary leader, Michael Collins.
And Moylan and the men and women who bravely served with him, here in this part of Cork, were responsible for breaking British morale.
His biographer Aideen Carroll has recorded:
“The part [Moylan] played in the War of Independence was considerable. His contribution was to train, arm and maintain a battalion of Volunteers in the teeth of military occupation by the British Empire. He led a series of ambushes in which his men sustained no fatalities, nor indeed were there any civilian fatalities. The manner in which he conducted the fight was notable.”
Moylan did all this with no small degree of ingenuity and, at times, humour.
In his memoir, Moylan recalls one occasion, in the spring of 1919, when in order to ensure his transfer from a high-security prison – to facilitate his own escape – he pretended to be insane!
He wrote of this:
“Warders visited [me] at short intervals, while I sat in bed brooding like a character of Dostoevsky. Early in the morning came the Governor, the doctor and a mental specialist. I maintained my position and my silence. They departed an hour passed, and then came four warders. They dressed me while I lay passive on the bed, hauled me downstairs in their arms, put me in a cab and delivered me at a city hospital. Here I spent a day still speechless, still refusing food. Early the following day Tomás MacCurtain, the Brigade O.C., came to see me; [he] looked at me without speaking. There was no need for speech, we understood each other. A few days later the hospital had a number of visitors. They took up positions quietly at the doorways and in the hospital corridors. Ten minutes later I was speeding to the mountains in the company of my comrades. My sanity had returned.”
I repeat this story because it has a proud personal resonance for my family.
My grandmother was a nurse in Cork City asylum and it was she who bravely guided Moylan through the hospital corridors to his freedom.
In political life, Sean Moylan once described himself as a man “who fought while fighting was to be done and continue[s] still to serve the nation.”
In the aftermath of the tragic Civil War, Moylan was quick to realise that democratic order must prevail and that no-one should ever again have to die for Ireland’s sake.
He recognised that in this new situation, which he and his fellow republicans found themselves, constitutional politics was now the only legitimate way forward to achieve national objectives.
Others sadly have been much slower learners.
Those who espoused militant republicanism throughout the modern conflict in Northern Ireland served no purpose but to shore-up partition and inflict unnecessary misery on ordinary people
I know from the renewal meetings that I have recently attended in every constituency in this country how proud the membership of Fianna Fáil is of the immense accomplishments of our party, as a republican movement, in delivering the fullest measure of Irish sovereignty and working for the essential peace and unity of our island.
We have always been a progressive, constitutional republican party and this is an analysis which we will continue to advocate and we will defend its validity against those who are recent converts to fully democratic principles.
In spite of what some people have been saying in recent times, the peace process which Fianna Fáil championed at every stage marks the absolute victory of constitutional republicanism on this island.
We stood steadfastly against those who sought to denigrate the great achievements of our War of Independence by pleading historical continuity as a dishonest defence for terrorist atrocities.
And we were unceasing in our contempt for those who bypassed constitutionalism and were deaf to the mass support of the Irish people for non-violent republicanism.
In recent years, we took major risks to bring the men of violence into democratic politics. And thankfully we succeeded.
One of the great triumphs of the peace process has been the conversion of the provisional movement to our analysis of unity by consent.
At long last, the penny seems to have dropped with them that the ballot box and the armalite hand-in-hand cannot dictate change on this island.
Violence or the threat of violence never can nor never will change the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.
This can only be done by consent and by placing a genuine unity of hearts and minds above a unity of territory.
This means putting people first and that is apt because the real heroes of the peace process are the Irish people who were willing to open a space for the men of violence to abandon their illegitimate campaign.
As one of its main negotiators, I believe the political compromises reached in the Hillsborough Agreement have made further room for the ‘normalisation’ of politics in Northern Ireland, allowing the agenda to move on to ‘bread-and-butter’ issues of most concern to ordinary people.
Similarly, the succession of agreements we have reached and the experience of the Irish people flowing from those agreements, have made space for an equally important ‘normalisation’ process – the normalisation of the all-Ireland experience for a new generation.
In this new and evolving framework, I believe there is a vital place in this island’s political landscape today for an open and inclusive republican party that is people-centred, that stands for equality and fairness in Irish life and that unequivocally respects and upholds the rule of law.
In fact, given the real difficulties the country still faces, I believe it is crucial to this nation’s future well-being that the people are given the option of supporting such a party. Fianna Fáil is the party that offers distinct republican analysis to the Irish people.
This was what Sean Moylan did in his time.
And we should never forget that the first generation of Fianna Fáil activists built the party’s support because they listened to the people and offered a radical and relevant programme.
Instead of just carrying on with old priorities, deValera, Lemass, Moylan, Frank Aiken and others showed a new way.
They brought forward policies that were radical and innovative – they created most of the welfare state; they cleared the slums with practical social housing programmes; and they introduced a republican constitution that is now one of the world’s oldest.
Our constitution – Bunreacht na hÉireann – has at its apex a President freely elected by the people to guard and uphold Ireland’s democratic ethos.
On Friday, Michael D Higgins was inaugurated the ninth President of Ireland.
I am confident that he will do an outstanding job and he will have the unequivocal respect, loyalty and support of the Fianna Fáil Party in the exercise of his duties.
Our new President, of course, has roots in this part of Cork and his father served in the War of Independence under Sean Moylan’s direct command.
Moylan was one of the noblest and most idealistic leaders of our revolutionary period. And for me, there is something deeply appropriate about the fact that a son of one of Sean Moylan’s men will take the salute and be our first citizen on the centenary of the Rising.
Bhí baint ag go leor acu sin a throid ar son ár neamhspleáchais le Conradh na Gaeilge. Bhí Seán Moylan ar dhuine de na daoine seo. Chuaigh sé isteach sa Chonradh sa bhliain 1904 agus lean a ghrá mór don Ghaeilge le linn a thréimhse mar Aire Rialtais. Inniu fós, tá Fianna Fáil diongbháilte ár dteanga a chosaint agus í a chur chun cinn ar fud na tíre.
Níos luaithe i mbliana, mhol Fine Gael arís ísliú stádais a thabhairt don Ghaeilge inár gcuid scoileanna. Táimidne i bhFianna Fáil glan i gcoinne an pholasaí seo. Má dheánann Fine Gael iarracht é seo a thabhairt isteach ag aon am, geallaim dóibh go dtroidfidh Fianna Fáil go fíochmhar ina choinne.
Like the 1916 leaders, Sean Moylan was a lifelong educationalist.
He was, according to Jack Lynch, “one of the most widely read men that ever graced Irish public life.”
Moylan had a particularly strong interest in the area of vocational education and, in the view of Donagh O’Malley, Moylan was a “brilliant and go ahead” Minister for Education. He reformed many things but showed a generosity of spirit in everything. For example he was the first Minister of Education to work to preserve diversity by helping minority religions to maintain their own schools.
I believe that today we need to reaffirm Fianna Fáil’s position as the party of educational opportunity for all.
It was the clear-sighted vision and commitment of past Fianna Fáil ministers like O’Malley and Paddy Hillery that allowed my generation to be the first where secondary education was available to all.
They also created much of our third-level system with every significant expansion in participation coming about through the policies of Fianna Fáil governments. In the last decade and a half, we are the party which created the first national programme to include children with special needs in all schools. We increased the numbers staying in school to the highest ever and brought Ireland to near the top of the world league of third-level participation.
Education is a core value for us and one where the need to challenge the current government.
We know there are many tough budget decisions to be taken, but we showed how over four years education could be protected. We showed how advances in special education, class sizes and university research could be maintained.
The government’s talk about cutting teacher numbers, cutting special needs assistants, increasing class sizes, reducing the number of years of second-level education and preventing children from starting school at four. If this agenda is implemented it will cause huge damage. It is striking that in the eight months since the government took up office the only debate on education in Dáil Eireann was initiated by Fianna Fáil.
Ireland can have a strong future only if it continues to give education a priority. The parts of the economy which have remained strong and created jobs are those sectors where skills and advanced knowledge are most important.
There were no terms and conditions attached when the now Minister for Education took time off days before polling in order to pledge to stop third-level fees and reduce charges. The reneging on this pledge exposes an approach to education which is deeply cynical.
Indiscriminate cuts to education cause both social and economic damage. They can be avoided. I am absolutely determined that education will be at the very core of our work now and well into the future. I call any person who cares about developing the education system to help us in this cause.
In conclusion, I want to thank again the organisers of this Commemoration and in particular Deputy Michael Moynihan. I believe occasions such as this are important and instructive.
Nationwide, we are now fast-approaching a series of important historical commemorations which will mark the birth of this Republic.
I believe the approach we should take must be based on inclusivity, integrity and idealism.
This was Sean Moylan’s approach to politics and I want to finish by quoting his own words from August 1957 which are still very apt today.
“Patriotism is in great measure a memory of heroic dead men. If it is to be something other than an unreasoning emotion, it must be based on an understanding of the reason for their sacrifice and an effort, on an appreciation of the ideals pursued and the results envisaged…. [Today] there is a wide field of endeavor open to those who would serve Ireland. Let us utilise it with integrity of purpose and with uncomplaining courage or let us cease paying lip service to the memory of heroic dead men.”
Go raibh mile maith agaibh.