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Speech by Bertie Ahern, at the opening of the official exhibition of the Easter 1916 Rising, (9 April 2006)

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Text: Bertie Ahern ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), at the opening of the official exhibition of the Easter 1916 Rising at the National Museum, Collins Barracks, Dublin, (9 April 2006)


"Today, Ireland begins a week of remembrance, reconciliation and renewal. We remember, we commemorate and we celebrate the lives, the sacrifices and the achievements of our patriot dead. We do so in a spirit that is at once both justly proud and wisely thoughtful.

Today, I have the privilege of opening the official exhibition of the 1916 Rising. I want to thank Minister John O’Donoghue for his strong interest and support of this exciting project. The Director of the Museum, Dr Pat Wallace and the curators of this exhibition, Michael Kenny and Sandra McElroy, have put together a fascinating montage of life before, during and after the Rising. Jenny Hodgson and Hannah Johnston have undertaken pain-staking conservation work on the artefacts on display.

I would also like to thank Kathleen O’Keeffe and the O'Keeffe family, and Ita Kavanagh and Áine Uí Shuilleabhán for their recent donations of 1916 artefacts to the Museum. And I would like to acknowledge Beverly Figgis, wife of the late Walter Figgis, grandson of Art O'Muraghan, who was the creator of Leabhar na hAiséirghe. You have all contributed to a quality exhibition, enabling this museum to fulfil its very important public role in recalling and explaining the birth of independent Ireland.

I also want to thank those at the Museum for your decision to conserve the Asgard. The historic Asgard is intrinsically linked to the Rising. Work will begin later this year on its conservation and it is intended that the vessel will be on public exhibition from August 2009.

We are privileged to have an important body of archival material from the struggle for independence. Through the work of the Military History Bureau, we have detailed knowledge of what happened from a wide range of perspectives.

The State also has a large body of material which has been previously unavailable to scholars and the public. The Military Pensions Archive, which relates to the "Old IRA" pensions, number some 17,000 successful applications. These are the detailed records of an entire movement and not just the leadership.

To mark this anniversary, it is the Government’s intention to make this material available to all. Accordingly I have the pleasure to announce that I am establishing a working group to be chaired by my Department, that will report back before the end of this year, on the requirements to preserve, archive and digitalise these records, having due regard to any privacy requirements.

Over the coming years and certainly in good time for the 100th anniversary in 2016, we will ensure that these detailed records of a nation’s struggle for independence are properly preserved and made available.

The Government has planned this 90th anniversary commemoration of the Easter Rising so that Ireland properly remembers her past. In so doing we, her citizens, can more clearly understand the present and better plan for our shared future. We do this to build upon the enduring legacy bequeathed to us by the living generations of Irish men and Irish women who in nine decades of struggle, independence and achievement built a stable and a democratic Republic.

Because of their struggle and commitment, we are living today through one of the most exciting times in Ireland’s destiny. The country we inhabit is an island of unprecedented peace, prosperity and opportunity. An independent Ireland, once an unlikely dream, is now reaching its stride and beginning to fulfil the hopes of those who fought and died for its foundation.

The freedom to plan, decide and implement the policies that are transforming our country today cannot be taken for granted. Just as nobody should seek to own Irish history - nobody should seek to disown it either. Our history is a shared legacy and a continuous thread.

From the Proclamation in 1916, to the constitution in 1937, to the ratification of the Treaty of Rome in 1972, to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the living generations of Irish people have time and again renewed their hope in the future.

These four cornerstones of independent Ireland in the twentieth century are the foundations of the future we are building today and tomorrow.

The Proclamation of the Republic on Easter Monday was a cry of radical idealism that shook the world in 1916 and that still challenges us today. It promulgated "religious and civil liberties, equal rights and opportunities". In seeking "the establishment of a permanent National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the sufferages of all her men and women", the Rising was a heroic quest not just for national freedom but for women’s emancipation too.

The Proclamation was the foundation of our independent state. It began an era of nation building that lasted through the formative years of the Free State and culminated in the inauguration of the Irish constitution in 1937.

Bunreacht na hÉireann began the longest period of continuity under a written constitution enjoyed by any country in Europe. This is a continuity we enjoy today. Our constitution is an enduring legal bedrock for our relations with one another and with the State. It is a fount of justice that has been very largely successful in its intended aim of ensuring equality before the law. In 1937, twenty one years after the Proclamation, its adoption marked Ireland’s coming of age as a State.

Next year, Ireland will celebrate 70 years of constitutional continuity and evolution in a strong and stable democracy.

In 1972, we ratified the Treaty of Rome and joined the European Economic Community in the following year. In so doing, Ireland built upon her history of active membership in the United Nations and took her place among the nations of the earth. Through our membership of the European Union, we have emerged as a confident and achieving nation, sure of our place in the world.

Over a decade previously, Seán Lemass had opened negotiations for Ireland’s entry to the Community. He said in 1961 that "Ireland belongs to Europe by history, tradition and sentiment no less than by geography. Our destiny is bound up with that of Europe". Advocating Ireland’s entry to the Community in the 1970’s, Jack Lynch summed up our choice as being "the choice faced by Robinson Crusoe when the ship came to bring him back into the world again".

The decision to join the European Union was the moment when a confident and hopeful Ireland left behind what had become the dated and sterile ideology of "ourselves alone".

The culmination of our shared achievement in the twentieth century was the Good Friday Agreement. This was the unique instance in Irish history of a revolution without a rebellion. It was a milestone on the road to peace and justice on our island. It provides the legal basis, by way of an international treaty, for the peaceful reunification of the island of Ireland with consent and by exclusively democratic means.

Today, reconciliation is replacing rebellion. Peace is replacing sectarian strife. A democratically agreed framework for a shared future is replacing conflict on our island.

Looking back over 90 years, we can say with confidence that the living generations have sought to honour the sacrifice of the men and women of 1916. Today, we face new challenges - the challenges of success, of prosperity and above all the challenge that we face to our values.

Patriots today are people who are at least as fully aware of the needs of their community as they are of their own individual rights. Whereas the rights of the individual have been hard won and are rightly deserving of protection, Ireland now needs to develop a strong and corresponding sense of duty and of community. If our rights as individuals embolden us to be strong, it is our responsibilities to one another that remind us to be respectful.

It is real and genuine mutual respect that builds a truly strong society.

Citizenship cannot be delegated or outsourced. Citizenship comes with duties as well as rights. Being a citizen of this Republic means being tolerant, being respectful of the views of others, having a real civic responsibility and being welcoming to the new Irish who are coming to make their home here.

Ireland has a deep tradition of active engagement by its citizens in every aspect of our national life and culture. During decades when the capacity of the State was limited by a lack of resources, it was the commitment of the Irish people that so often, formally and informally, provided social services, community leadership as well as a sporting and cultural life for our people.

Today, when the scarcest resource of all is time, this role of active participation is being devolved to fewer and fewer people. In the process, we all risk being impoverished, especially those who opt out and leave the responsibilities of citizenship to others.

We need to identify and understand how public policy helps and hinders active engagement. We need to identify practical steps to encourage more of our people to become involved and to stay involved in the life of their own community.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Ireland needs to reimagine a new culture of active citizenship to build a vibrant civic society.

Today, I have announced the names of the women and men who will join Chairwoman, Mary Davis, on the National Task Force on Active Citizenship. They are leaders and achievers from all walks of life. Over the next six months, they will initiate a national conversation on what makes a community strong, on how people of good intent can actively contribute their talent.

Our Republic transcends the boundary of our personal interests and our private property. The Republic is our shared and common need, our interests and our expectations. It is young and old, rich and poor, city and country, Gaelgeoir and new arrival alike.

In this Republic we are citizens, not subjects. And, it is as citizens that we remember our past, reconcile our differences and renew our hope for the future. Our civic duty calls on us to look beyond our purely private roles and rights as consumers to our active roles and responsibilities as citizens.

Active citizens shape strong societies. The more we involve ourselves in shaping our society locally, the more our society nationally will reflect and meet our needs.

Society is not abstract. It does not belong to others. It is the sum of our actions and our choices as citizens. We can sit back and allow this new Ireland to happen to us and hope for the best. Or like the patriots we commemorate today, we can commit ourselves to shaping a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

We, the people, can imagine anew how to meet the challenge of remaining a society that is marked by solidarity and not by selfishness.

Few of us will ever be asked to die for our country. At the beginning of this week of remembrance, reconciliation and renewal, we should remember our parents and grandparents, the living generations who succeeded Pearse, Connolly, Clarke, Ceannt, MacDiarmada, MacDonagh and Plunkett. They honoured their country by the lives they lived and by the sacrifices they made - sacrifices they made for us, the generations who succeeded them.

It is our challenge, indeed it is our calling as citizens, to honour our country in the way we live and in the esteem we attach to achieving the public good over purely personal satisfaction.

This Easter, we must renew our republicanism by marrying new ideas to steadfast values. We must begin a great national conversation on what it means to be Irish, on the values that we hold and on the hopes that we cherish.

We have a duty to honour the dead generations who have gone before us. In the coming week, Ireland will again discharge that duty. We also have a solemn duty to vindicate the living generations who will come after us, to leave to them, as was left to us, a country that has profited from the continuing dedication, generosity and commitment of its people.

Thank you."


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