Ar an gceathrú lá is fiche Aibreán den bhliain míle naoi gcéad is a sé déag, las na laochra cróga seo, atá curtha san áit ina bhfuilimid bailithe le chéile inniu in onóir a ngaisce, lóchrann ata fós ag lonradh go soiléir inár dtír seo. Ní hamháin gur thosaigh siad réabhlóid ach chuir siad díograis agus fuinneamh isteach inti le spiorad ónar féidir linn misneach agus inspioráid a tharraingt de shíor, agus ba chóir dúinn an spiorad iontach sin a shealbhú i gcónaí.
Bhí na laochra calma seo sásta agus toilteanach a mbeatha a thabhairt suas ar son a dtíre mar íobartaigh ach ní raibh siad ag lorg an bháis nó níor theastaigh uathu namhaid fíochmhar gránna a chloí. Bhí muinín agus iontaibh acu as muintir na hÉireann agus chuireadar luach ar thraidisiúin éagsúla, fiú amháin cultúir dhifriúla ag obair agus ag comhoibriú le chéile chun an fhéiniúlacht cheannann chéanna a roinnt sa tír seo.
After 98 years the words of the Proclamation remain as inspiring as ever. The values and aspirations set out in its six short paragraphs reflect a positive and open view of the history of our country and the future which the 14 men buried here and those who fought alongside them were determined to build.
The Irish people have every reason to be proud of the men and women of 1916. As time progresses they stand out more and more as people of generous ideals. In the face of the largest and most powerful empire in the modern world they understood that only direct action could realistically help their country to secure independence.
For them rebellion was never an end in itself – taking up arms was justified because no other option was available and because of the systematic frustration of the clearly expressed will of the Irish people.
The tradition they renewed, the chain they continued, was never to be defined by the means of struggle but by the principles they set out in the Proclamation.
When Europe was consumed by the most brutal and bloody war in its history, and when the principles of democracy and human rights were in retreat, Pearse, Connolly, Plunkett and their comrades committed our national struggle to taking the opposite way.
They did not preach revenge. They did not exploit or promote division. They never embraced a narrow partisan approach. They wanted a republic which worked in the interests “of the whole nation and all of its parts”. They guaranteed “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities” – including universal suffrage.
This is the vision which defined them and it is the tradition which led within only a few years to the establishment of what is now one of the world’s oldest democracies.
When you look at the personal stories of the men and women who fought in 1916 what you see is a diverse group who thought deeply about the future of their country and who constantly sought to learn from other nations. Not enough people acknowledge that they never embraced the idea that there must be one orthodox ideology to which everyone must subscribe.
This refusal to demand uniformity, the very fact that they were not fanatics, meant that Ireland’s revolution never involved the extremes seen in many other countries.
As we fast approach the centenary of the Rising and the execution of the men buried here there is no doubt whatsoever that it should and will be a major commemoration. It will be a moment for us as a people to reflect on, honour and celebrate the idealism of one of our greatest generations.
This is not to say that everything will automatically go well or be held in the right spirit. Inclusive and meaningful national commemorations don’t happen by accident – they require dialogue and real inclusion.
2016 can be a wonderful moment for our country where we put aside the things which divide us on a daily basis and remember those things which unite us.
It could also be a moment which is lost because of leaders too interested in elite set-pieces or actively promoting a party version of history.
In 1997 Fianna Fáil put in place a complete revision to how the state carries out commemoration. We established expert and cross-party groups to advise on how major historic milestones should be commemorated. This included the objective of making activities more focused on the people than on institutions and elites.
Look back at the commemorations of 1798, the 90th anniversary of the Rising and even the Battle of the Boyne and you find a mature state, reflecting on its history and engaging the community in a way which is very special in international terms.
There’s no way of avoiding the fact that this government has taken a highly partisan approach to Ireland’s past. It has embraced an often tribal approach to sensitive issues and has comprehensively failed to show respect for traditions outside of those it sees as its own.
Nothing should be allowed to distract the 1916 commemorations in two years’ time from the focus of being about the Irish people.
The position of 1916 as a force for unity and a foundation for a shared and progressive republicanism in our country is also under threat from the consistent campaign of one party to falsify history to their own ends. The party which today is called Sinn Fein has exactly zero claim to be the party of 1916.
It is not even the direct democratic successor of the party founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith and which only ever won a majority when Eamon de Valera was its leader.
The Provisional movement actively promotes the idea that it is what they call the “unbroken chain” from 1916 to today. Its leader has even gone as far as to say that there is no difference between Padraig Pearse and car bombers who targeted civilians in the last forty years.
There is no greater insult to the men and women of 1916 than to compare them to the Provisional movement of recent times. Fundamentally it casts aside the explicit words of the Proclamation that armed rebellion was seen as a short-term action until more democratic options were opened. It also ignores the words which demand that no one who serves the Republic “dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity or rapine.”
The catalogue of cowardice and inhumanity on the part of the Provisionals is long and will not disappear. It will also always remain an issue as long as its political leaders continue to hide from the past and honour its crimes.
Let us also never forget something – you do not have to speculate to know where the men and women of 1916 would have stood. Many of them lived and participated in building this state. The overwhelming majority of survivors participated in the democratic life of this state and did not participate in the marginal and almost cult-like movement which used the names of Sinn Fein and the IRA in later years.
In an irony which seems to escape them, while they name party units and conferences after Countess Markievicz, she chaired the founding meeting of Fianna Fáil and was a Fianna Fáil TD. It was our founding leader Eamon de Valera who gave the oration at her graveside.
There was a time when some anti-nationalist historians and commentators represented a real threat to the standing of 1916 as a valued part of our shared national narrative. Today the threat comes from those who would exploit it for their party interests or see it stripped of its core national and republican ideals.
We are proud to be a party founded and led by men and women who fought in 1916 – but we profoundly believe in it belonging, as they said in the Proclamation, to “the whole nation and of all its parts”.
The fact that there are close ties between this state and the United Kingdom is something we should all welcome. The recent state visit by our president was an entirely appropriate part of the relationship between two countries who are both friends and neighbours.
Just as Mary McAleese was during the 2011 state visit, President Michael D Higgins was flawless in representing us as a modern, outward-looking republic. His statement in Westminster of our values, our culture and our commitment to cooperation in Europe is something we warmly welcome.
What we cannot welcome is the actions of the two governments in failing to use the close relations between our countries to address important issues.
The relations between our two peoples are deep and growing closer. Unfortunately the relations between our political leaders are becoming more superficial and focused on talk rather than action. Today there is nothing like the close working relationships between Albert Reynolds and John Major, Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair and Brian Cowen and Gordon Browne.
They knew that symbolism was important, but they always put substance first. In doing this they achieved great things in our bi-lateral relations. Ever breakthrough of the peace process relied on the close working relationship and commitment to shared action of Taoisigh, Prime Ministers and their senior ministers.
The current governments have explicitly taken a hands-off approach to addressing vital remaining issues in Northern Ireland. For the first time ever, and with predictable results, they have left a sensitive negotiation in the hands of Sinn Fein and the DUP.
They have allowed a growing dysfunction in the Assembly and Executive. Worst of all they have failed to do anything at all about expanding North/South bodies which are supposed to be the engines for a shared growth and reconciliation.
Our government is particularly culpable in accepting the idea that Dublin is not an interested party in discussions about the past and identities. Every breakthrough in the North involved recognition that the government elected by the Oireachtas has a legitimate interest in the North.
Over the years unionist and loyalist groups discussed the most sensitive issues of identity with us – without ever feeling or being compromised.
If the potential for peace and prosperity on all parts of this island is to be realised the increasing emphasis on formal meetings, banal generalities and practical disengagement must end.
It’s long past time for the Dublin and London governments to stop talking about how great relations are between them and to again use those relations to achieve real progress.
The fact that our government uses spin to cover up reality is becoming clearer to the people all the time. After three years they are only now starting to set out their own plans and they are being held to account for their own actions.
It is now beyond doubt that in area after area this coalition government is bringing division and crisis into vital public services. In justice, health, education and local government the personal actions of ministers are dramatically escalating problems facing people.
The reason why our country is creating jobs and why its economy has shown resilience in key areas has been the long-term impact of education. Every study confirms this – and shows that we achieve more than the average but with below-average investment. What our education system needs is to value what works and to work together to tackle problems.
There is no example in our history of a major advance in education which has been brought about through ongoing conflict. There have been many examples of disputes, but they have always been overcome and a joint strategy agreed.
Ruairi Quinn wants to be remembered as a great reformer but after three years in office he has become the biggest obstacle to reform in the system. He has taken every opportunity to talk-down the system.
He has put the most negative possible spin on international research and ignored it when it’s shown the system doing well. He has directly targeted cutbacks at schemes which are working well and are helping those most in need.
Now he is creating an unprecedented conflict in relation to the Junior Cycle.
Junior Cycle reform was being progressed before he came to office. An inclusive and expert framework was being drawn up to address the real deficiencies of the current system. But instead of engagement, instead of sitting down with the people who deliver the curriculum, he ran to the newspapers to promote himself as a great reformer.
Major curriculum reform and innovation has been achieved at many times over the years. Mary O’Rourke’s reforms of the entire second-level curriculum and the new primary curriculum I introduced involved changing decades of practices – and they were implemented without a single dispute.
Our teachers, our schools and most importantly our children deserve better than a minister who is fuelling conflict. It’s time for him to stop the speeches and to start engaging.
The same is happening in the area of Health. High-handed and arrogant behaviour is being shown by ministers introducing changes which are half-digested and cynical.
Giving Labour something to claim to be delivering is not a reason to threaten GP services with chaos and new waiting lists. Cutting thousands of discretionary medical cards to fund a new scheme is a disgrace.
This will be much worse if Fine Gael’s plan for privatising health funding is ever implemented.
It will siphon-off billions in profits to private insurance companies to be paid for by what will be effectively a health tax. As we are all seeing from the property tax and the water charges, the compulsory health insurance will be on top of the taxes you currently pay.
This is a government which has abandoned political reform and is pushing ahead with changes which are actively damaging public services. Its ministers are poisoning key relationships within the public service without delivering anything of benefit. In fact, in many cases the driving factor behind growing conflicts is the ego of a minister.
The promise of a democratic revolution in 2011 has been formally buried by a government which now puts politics first in everything. In the face of this the easiest thing to do would be to copy the model of opposition we saw from Fine Gael and Labour before the last election.
This is what Sinn Fein and others are doing – they attack everything and pretend that there are no choices to be made – everyone can and should have what they want.
We reject this approach. It offered our country nothing in the past and it offers it nothing today.
It is a harder route to offer a more credible alternative, but it is what we must remain committed to. And it is making a difference.
A lot of people like to comment from the side-lines about Fianna Fáil.
When I meet our members throughout the country and when I go with them to canvass in their communities I see something very positive going on.
People are willing to engage with us, to listen to our ideas on reform, on fairer taxation, on helping families with debt troubles, on supporting schools and on many other issues. People also see how we have led the way in holding the government to account on vital issues like health, education and water charges.
In 2011 a lot of people said we were about to disappear. In fact many pronounced us dead. Since then our membership is up, our support is up and we have established a strong foundation again throughout the country. We know we have a lot left to do – but we also know that Ireland has changed profoundly and we can’t ever be about going back to the past..
We are a progressive republican party. We are the only party which is committed to offering a realistic alternative to the present government. We are the only party which is committed to empowering business and ensuring fairness. We are the only party which wants Ireland to take an assertive and positive role in Europe.
The Proclamation read by Padraig Pearse outside the GPO on April 24th 1916 resonates with us today because it envisaged a country which could evolve over time. The spirit which he and his comrades passed on is one which draws inspiration from the past but is always focused on the future. This is the spirit which we today recommit ourselves to.