Tá an-áthas orm bheith anseo libh i dTiobraid Árann anocht. Is seans é domsa buíochas a ghabháil díbhse as ucht an tacaíocht a thug sibh do Fhianna Fáil an bliain seo caite. Agus is seans é freisin a rá le muintir Fhianna Fáil go bhfuil Éire nua os ár gcomhair amach, agus Fianna Fáil chun tosaigh ann.
Is lá an-speisialta é seo i stair Fhianna Fáil. Ochtó a cúig bliain ó inniu, bhunaigh laochra cróga ár bPairtí. Daoine le honóir agus le huaisleacht a bhí iontu. Bhíodar páirteach sa pholaitíocht chun an tír seo a fheabhsú agus a ndícheall a dhéanamh ar son muintir na hÉireann. Leag na fir agus mná a bhunaigh Fianna Fáil caighdeán an-ard.
Anseo tráthnóna, ba mhaith liom machnamh a dhéanamh ar an méid a bhain na daoine sin amach – agus foghlaim uathu. Is féidir linn foghlaim ón nglúin sin agus muid ag obair, inár linne, chun an Páirtí uasal bródúil seo a ath-thógáil agus a athnuachan.
In some ways, it is appropriate that we gather here today in the Ragg. It is reputed that the name the Ragg stems from the fact that during the Civil War, local women used to hang rags out the window to warn people that soldiers were in the area.
The Civil War was one of the great tragedies of 20th century Ireland, but it plays an important back-drop to the establishment of Fianna Fáil.
Fianna Fáil was founded specifically with the purpose of moving Ireland beyond those tragic divisions and to create a vehicle for new and progressive politics on this island. Most particularly, from its earliest days, Eamon De Valera, was determined that his new party would be seen as a unifying force in Irish politics.
He said and I quote: “The object of founding Fianna Fáil was to try to enable the forces that had been divided by the treaty to come back and begin over again the forward march and to bring back those who believed the Treaty was a stepping stone to freedom.”
The fact that from the outset, de Valera and Lemass saw Fianna Fáil as a republican organisation, a unifying force and a vehicle for progressive politics should not be lost on us today as we seek to revitalise this party and bring new energy to it.
We can also take inspiration from the fact that when our founders set out on their task to create the great national movement that became Fianna Fáil, they did so from the grassroots up.
Many of our founders had experienced a bitter defeat in the Civil War and had seen comrades lose their lives in that divisive and tragic struggle. They had also lived through the frustration and pain of being imprisoned for their political views during the Civil War or in its immediate aftermath. They had experienced defeat in the 1923 General Election and had come through a rancorous split with former allies in Sinn Féín.
They had every reason to be disillusioned or to turn their back on politics, but they were people of commitment and determination. They were not going to walk away from their responsibilities to the Irish people and, in our generation, nor will we.
They founded Fianna Fáil because they were committed to public service and because they wanted to see the people of this country shape their own destiny and prosper. That is what politics is about.
It is about working for others and for one’s community. It is about building a better future locally and nationally. It is about building our quality of life at home, and about securing our place in the world abroad.
Politics depends on selfless and public spirited people. Here in Tipperary that first generation of Fianna Fáil political activists – TDs like Andrew Fogarty, Dan Breen, Timothy Sheehy and Sean Hayes – were people who gave such service.
In reflecting tonight on where our party emerged from, we should use it as a starting point for discussion on how best we renew and reinvigorate our political movement.
In focusing on the future, we should not forget the proud traditions of service and integrity that is the inspiring legacy of those who set up Fianna Fáil exactly eighty-five years ago today.
On 16th May 1926, the founders of Fianna Fáil gathered in La Scala Theatre, Dublin.
The meeting was chaired by Countess Markiewicz and addressed by Eamon deValera, both veterans of the 1916 Easter Rising.
A decade after Pearse and Connolly had united the republican and labour movements in pursuit of Irish national self-determination, a new party was established to vindicate the aims of the 1916 leaders.
The vision of the men and women who founded Fianna Fáil was of:
· an Ireland united, independent and at peace;
· an Ireland that is equal and fair;
· an Ireland that is prosperous
· an Ireland that provides for all its people, young and old.
Those aims remain the aims of Fianna Fáil today.
As Leader of Fianna Fáil, I want to reaffirm today, on this anniversary, that we are proud of these objectives and we rededicate ourselves to them.
In the party’s earliest days, De Valera, deliberately echoing Pearse’s words of a generation earlier, explained that the conviction on which Fianna Fáil was being established was a belief that:
“in the heart of every Irishman there is a native undying desire to see his country politically free, and not only free but truly Irish as well, and that the people recently divided are but awaiting an opportunity to come together again and give expression to that desire.”
One of the greatest political achievements of modern times has been the work to deliver peace in the North.
The Good Friday Agreement was a game-changer.
And it was a victory of peace, not of war.
It is an agreement that has been ratified by the Irish people, North and South.
And crucially, it establishes an agreed and practical basis for resolving partition and clarifying the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.
Under its terms, the British Government is obliged by binding international treaty to withdraw from Northern Ireland, if and when a majority of the people in Northern Ireland should ask it to do so.
As a democrat who accepts the principle of consent, I accept the right of a majority of the population of Northern Ireland to maintain the Union if that is their democratic wish.
But equally, as a proud Irish republican, I actively aspire to seeing the day when a majority of the people in Northern Ireland freely choose the option of an Ireland united in peace.
It has always been the aim of Fianna Fáil to secure in peace and agreement the unity of Ireland.
Eighty-five years on from our foundation, Fianna Fáil remains absolutely committed to that key goal.
Our work in the North is not done and will not be done until the great promise of unity and peace is delivered in full measure.
It is the task of our generation of Irish republicans to be persuaders for the cause of Irish unity.
In that regard, I believe we are right to welcome the visit of Queen Elizabeth as the British Head of State to our shores.
I was the Minister for Foreign Affairs when this visit was set in train and I strongly supported the then Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, in his analysis that such a visit was desirable as “part of the normal courtesies enjoyed by friendly, neighbouring states.”
We cannot ignore our history and our long interaction with Britain, nor should we deny people in Northern Ireland the right to identify themselves as being British or Irish or both.
The status of Northern Ireland is a matter for the people who live there to freely determine as they see fit, but, as constitutional republicans, it must be our objective to ensure we do all we can so every person on this island is given the opportunity to prosper, irrespective of class, colour or creed.
What is positive in this State visit is that, hopefully, in many ways, it will be a further milestone in the transformation of relationships between Ireland and Britain that has been ongoing for many years and will act as another step in the journey of reconciliation.
Britain is our nearest neighbour and our largest trading partner and there are many ties between the people of our two countries.
This visit is an endorsement of the peace strategy pursued by Irish and British Governments over a number of decades and will be a catalyst for further enhancements in north/south and east/west co-operation, to the economic, social and cultural benefit of all the people on this island.
Sean Lemass, the man who insisted on ‘The Republican Party’ being a part of this party’s official name, spoke of the need for ‘patience, tact and co-operation’ in addressing relations between both parts of this island.
History has taught us that a united Ireland cannot be built on pain and division.
Our founders understood that and they founded Fianna Fáil because they refused to stand still and allow Irish republicanism to become irrelevant.
We are a party which was founded not in a position of strength or power.
On 16th May 1926, the men and women who gathered in the La Scala Theatre were no more than a splinter group from a minority party.
Our founders were great figures but they started our party with nothing.
They worked extremely hard travelling around the country, holding meetings and engaging with people, all the time trying to persuade people that Fianna Fáil was worthy of the public’s support.
Sean MacEntee, a Belfast man, one of Fianna Fáil’s founders, and for many years a minister, said of this period:
“For more than five years hardly any of us were at home for a single night or any week-end. Lemass bought up four or five second hand Ford cars, ‘old bangers,’ and with them we toured every parish in the country founding Fianna Fáil branches.”
People like MacEntee, Lemass, De Valera and Frank Aiken built our party from the grassroots up and now in our generation we must do likewise.
I have been the leader of Fianna Fáil for less than four months and in that period I have travelled the length and breadth of Ireland.
The message I am getting from our thousands of members and supporters is loud and clear.
If we return Fianna Fáil to the core principles that for so many years won the support and loyalty of the Irish people, we will not only renew our party, we will renew a vital positive force in the life of our nation.
I want Fianna Fáil to be that great party it once was and to be in touch with and responsive to the needs of the Irish people.
I want Fianna Fáil to value the experience and contribution of our current members and public representatives but also to welcome new members, including more women and young people to our ranks. For this reason, I am determined to open up the Fianna Fáil Party and I want to see more young people and women becoming active in our national organisation.
Eamon de Valera said when Fianna Fáil was founded:
“We hope in particular that the young people of the country, the young men and women, who have not yet definitely affiliated themselves to any political organisation, will join Fianna Fáil and use it as a medium through which they will give their services to the community and to the nation.”
I am determined that in today’s Ireland, Fianna Fáil will nurture and promote the involvement of more young people and women in politics.
It is for that reason that I have already given a commitment that, at the next local elections, in every local authority area in the country, Fianna Fáil, where feasible, will put forward at least one candidate under the age of 30. Our candidate tickets should blend youth and experience – younger candidates complimenting the work of our existing councillors.
Ireland needs new politics and new thinking. I wish to outline a few more of the steps which are being taken to renew our Party.
I have appointed our Party’s spokespeople in Dáil Éireann. Each of them is charged with developing strong, relevant and radical policy platforms over the coming years.
Any member with specific policy ideas should feel free to contact our relevant spokesperson and pass on their views.
Each member of the parliamentary party has a solemn responsibility to nurture, grow and renew the Fianna Fáil organisation within their constituency and nationally.
Unfortunately, there are many constituencies without a Fianna Fáil TD.
I have assigned each of our 20 TDs to take responsibility for neighbouring constituencies that do not have a TD.
I will be looking to each of them to help carry the load for constituencies where we do not have a TD and where we are trying to rebuild.
We have recently conducted a successful Seanad election. Each of our new senators will be given specific tasks to help renew our organisation.
A Renewal Committee is being established in every constituency with a focus on the involvement of new members, young people and women. We are writing to each constituency on this and I would ask that the Renewal Committee convene its first meeting within each constituency by the end of June.
Each Renewal Committee is being asked to make recommendations for change and to submit a local elections strategy.
At national level, I have appointed a new Committee for Renewal which will comprise some members of the Ard Chomhairle and some external people.
This committee will look at all aspects of the party, including policy, and will make recommendations to the Ard Chomhairle. I have asked Deputy Dara Calleary to chair this committee.
An Ard Fheis will be held in the autumn. This will be an important opportunity for our party to take stock, but also to plan for the future and to chart a roadmap for organisational renewal. I want our Ard Fheis to be a meeting where members should feel able to say what they wish to say.
Each member will be consulted over the coming months on any proposals for organisational change, which will be put to the Ard Fheis.
One Member, One Vote
We need to open up our organisation. I believe we should now actively consider moving to a one member one vote system across the entire organisation, while retaining the cumann structure.
I believe such move would greatly enhance our movement, and help build an organisation that is much more member-driven. All members would have a say in the direction of their party. It would foster a culture that is welcoming to new members, that values existing members, and that encourages and welcomes debate. It would also change our organisation significantly and would put the organisational power back to members rather put it in the hands of a select few.
As Leader, I want to re-democratise Fianna Fáil. I believe that giving the power to our members is the best way to do this.
I do not believe we should tolerate a system where cumainn are controlled by a small number of people. All members of a registered cumann should have a vote; they should decide who represents them and how the party progresses. Ours should be an open, welcoming, member-driven organisation.
Making Fianna Fáil More Representative
We need to make Fianna Fáil more representative.
I have appointed Mary Hanafin as Vice President with special responsibility for establishing and nurturing a National Women’s and Equality forum within the party.
I have asked her to come up with proposals to on how we will involve more women within the party, in a real and meaningful way.
Our challenge in Dublin is significant. But it will be met.
I will shortly establish a Dublin Task Force and appoint a Dublin Spokesperson.
2014 Local Elections
We will soon begin the process of appointing Fianna Fáil local area representatives in areas where we do not currently have public representatives.
We will give them as much support as possible.
These will be people who are rooted in the community and who will commit to working hard over the next three years representing their areas.
Our current councillors are an important resource. I intend to value their contribution and listen to their suggestions.
I have asked that the party looks at how our councillors can be better supported and can have a meaningful input into party policy development.
There were systemic failures in the political system over the past decade and, unlike the other parties, we in Fianna Fáil have acknowledged our role and accepted our responsibilities. We are right to do so.
It must now be our objective to do our utmost to rectify past errors and to secure a better future for every single person on this island.
Eighty-five years ago, our predecessors in Fianna Fáil set out on the journey to build a great national movement.
We have been set a similar task and I believe this generation will also succeed.
The men and women who gathered in the La Scala Theatre had a vision of a stronger, fairer, more prosperous Ireland.
My pledge is that the Fianna Fáil Party I lead will work vigorously for that noble objective.