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Speech by Bertie Ahern at the annual Fianna Fáil Arbour Hill Commemoration, (22 April 2007)

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

Speech by Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), at the annual Fianna Fáil Arbour Hill Commemoration, Dublin, (Sunday 22 April 2007)


"The Easter Rising is at the origin of the struggle, which created an independent Irish state. In observing this occasion we do more than remember the past. We today again dedicate ourselves to the principles that those who are buried here sacrificed their lives to enshrine in our history and conscience.

This morning we remember with pride P.H. Pearse, Thomas Clarke, James Connolly, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas MacDonagh, Sean MacDiarmada and Eamon Ceannt each of whom played a noble and inspirational role in securing the freedom of this country.

The signatories of the Proclamation were dedicated to a practical republicanism where the people of Ireland would be citizens not serfs. In 1916, they precipitated a revolution which began the long transformation of this country from a colony promoting the interests of an Imperial power to the proud and vibrant independent Ireland in which we live today.

In the midst of the Rebellion, the insurgent forces published a declaration entitled "The Provisional Government to the Citizens of Dublin". This morning I would like to read from this second and less quoted proclamation. It states:

"The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic salutes the Citizens of Dublin on the momentous occasion of the proclamation of a Sovereign Independent Irish State, now in course of being established by Irishmen in arms...All citizens of Dublin who believe in the right of their country to be free will give their allegiance and their loyal help...We have lived to see an Irish Republic proclaimed. May we live to establish it firmly, and may our children and our children’s children enjoy the happiness and prosperity which freedom will bring. Signed on behalf of the Provisional Government, P.H. Pearse, Commanding in Chief the Forces of the Irish Republic and President of the Provisional Government".

In our time, we have worked every day to build peace and justice both North and South to accompany the growing prosperity across the island of Ireland. Our work has now come to fruition in a way that many people thought would never happen.

We have underpinned and protected the Good Friday Agreement. The IRA’s campaign is over and its weapons have been eliminated. The heavy military presence and watchtowers in Northern Ireland are gone. The issue of policing has been resolved and the border is no longer the economic impediment it was in days past. All of these measures have helped shape a precious peace. We are, I believe, finally seeing an entirely new level of understanding emerging between the two great traditions on this island.

We always believed that it could happen - that it must happen. And we persisted through difficult times to make sure that it did happen.

It is a landmark moment for our island when the leaders of both our great traditions can meet and work together in harmony and mutual respect. In that spirit, I was delighted, as Taoiseach, to welcome Dr Ian Paisley to Dublin as incoming First Minister of Northern Ireland and as the leader of the Unionist people.

We are building a friendship which will greatly help us to manage the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. We have a lot more in common and more work to do together than may have been realised or acknowledged in the past. For our part we are committed to open and friendly engagement.

The coming weeks and months are about building a better future for all. The 8th May, will, I believe come to be regarded as a hugely significant day. It will open a bright chapter in the history of this island.

There is enormous responsibility on all to fill this chapter with a new vocabulary of hope and expectation. The people of Northern Ireland deserve no less.

Inevitably issues will arise that will challenge the Executive. But with goodwill and understanding I believe that the Executive will be able to function effectively. Indeed the engagement between the parties since 26 March, and the decisions that they have been able to make, suggest that a good working relationship is already emerging.

I look forward to working with Dr. Paisley and Martin McGuinness as First and Deputy First Ministers. They and the Executive can be assured of our genuine friendship and true cooperation. We will help in every way that we can to ensure its stability and success.

The book of Irish history is stained with blood, pain and division. We know that there continues to be dangerous dissident groups who simply have not got the message, or who have chosen to ignore the message, that their ways have no place in the Ireland of today.

At this extraordinary moment of hope and reconciliation, I appeal to them to extend their hands towards peace. I hope that soon we will see more positive, concrete moves on behalf of loyalist paramilitaries. They, too, now need to take decisive steps. I have always said that the peace process should leave no one behind. For those who genuinely want to leave the past behind and to share the new future, our hand is outstretched. We have no hidden agenda. No one should feel threatened. The Good Friday Agreement has settled the constitutional issue. The principle of consent is accepted and everyone’s rights and aspirations are protected in the new democratic institutions.

While we have made decisive progress, a great deal of hard work lies ahead. This is not a time to rest on our laurels. A whole new set of issues and opportunities lie ahead that will continue to demand high priority and close attention. In particular the North/South Ministerial Council will be reactivated. It can begin once again to play the positive role for all of the people, North and South, for which it was originally intended.

North/South co-operation will benefit all as will the further development of the island economy. A growing and prospering Northern Ireland will be good for this entire island. I know that economic matters are at the top of the agenda for the incoming Executive. The Irish Government will help in any way we can. We have already shown that with our commitment to significant cross-border investment.

I have also told Dr Paisley we fully support the idea of a corporation tax reduction for Northern Ireland. We understand the issues that this raises for the British Government. But radical and innovative moves are needed to transform the Northern Ireland economy. Corporation tax reform could make a real difference and we hope that it can be achieved.

We have set out new and exciting ideas in the National Development Plan. The promise of that plan is already becoming reality with agreement on major cross-border investments in infrastructure and in science.

The NDP builds on a whole range of existing initiatives, such as the all-island free travel scheme, the single electricity market and electricity interconnections, the joint funding of City of Derry Airport, joint trade missions, joined-up spatial planning and the North West Gateway Initiative.

With the co-operation and agreement of the new Northern Ireland Executive, we can look forward to significant new projects in other areas such as health, education, tourism, agriculture and waterways, the arts and culture.

An island economy that is built on co-operation between North and South will help us all gain that extra competitive edge that we need in the global economy.

The Celtic Tiger and the dynamism of Ireland’s economy are widely recognised around the world. The success of the peace process adds a new and very valuable dimension to the story of modern Ireland.

We must now build on these huge achievements for the benefit of all the people of this small island, whatever their identity or their political views.

The peace we worked so hard to secure will be protected and defended with equal determination. What we have built up on this island - both Orange and Green - will not be torn down.

To that end, today I want on this hallowed ground to set out some of the Next Steps Forward for Peace. We must:

  • Deepen North-South cooperation and promote the all-island economy;
  • Develop border communities through social and economic investment; and,
  • Tackle the evil of sectarianism which threatens the shared society we seek to achieve on this island.

Under this Programme, if the people return us to power, Fianna Fáil, over the next five years, will advance North/South landmark projects such as:

  • The Dublin Derry/Letterkenny Dual carriageway;
  • The Bridge at Narrow Water; and
  • The Ulster Canal.

We will put in place a North-South innovation fund.

And we will work towards the goal of seamless provision and interaction of services North and South, a goal which is practical and obtainable.

Peace has given us the space to build prosperity. And we will use that prosperity to build a better future for our children and our children’s children.

Fianna Fáil over the next five years is pledged to significantly increase funding to the Reconciliation Fund to improve dialogue between the nationalist and unionist traditions and develop capacity building amongst communities affected by the Troubles.

In addition, we will establish a new Anti-Sectarianism Fund to assist projects in interface areas designed specifically to address the root cause of sectarianism and to diffuse tensions.

Ten years ago, I said at this commemoration that our generation must be the last to live in an Ireland wrought by violence. Today I am more convinced than ever that we can secure that noble goal.

Ten years ago, I also said right here that Fianna Fáil, as a party representing nationalist Ireland, was best placed to reach a "historic compromise" with unionism. I said if anyone could, we could.

It has been a long and arduous journey but we persevered. And we stayed the course.

Ten years on, I am proud to be able to say that we kept our word.

Today, I believe, that Orange and Green have never been so close. We stand at a new dawn. We can clearly see the open path for the two great traditions on this island to work together to deliver the prosperity, better services and quality of life that will flow from peace.

In light of this great transformation, I believe now is the time to commemorate the extraordinary achievement of peace.

Now is the time that we leave a symbol of peace to coming generations.

Now is the time that we commemorate the commitment and determination and sacrifice of people - North and South and Orange and Green - which underpins this peace.

To that end, today I am announcing that Fianna Fáil, if returned to Government, will commission a major international competition to design and construct a landmark peace monument to be located in the border region.

This monument will stand as a symbol of the achievements of all communities and individuals who have worked so hard to deliver peace these past decades. It will send out a clear message to the coming generations - that the peace we have built is to be cherished. It should never be taken for granted.

We are allocating 5 million Euro to this project which will allow designers propose projects on the same scale as the Spire of Dublin or the Angel of the North in Britain. What we have done here on this small island sent out a wave of hope across the world that conflict, no matter how engrained, can be overcome.

It is right that we commemorate that fact.

Our language, like our history, is one of the central elements in our national identity. For Patrick Pearse this was a core belief. Indeed, Pearse was editor of the Gaelic League newspaper from 1903 and it was through the language revival movement that he became politically active.

Agus chomh maith le blianta ag obair ar son na síochána, tá Fianna Fáil ag obair go crua ar son ár dteanga dúchais. Sna blianta amach romhainn caithfimid an chéad chéim eile a thógáil ar son na Gaeilge. I rith na cúig bliana atá amach romhainn cuirfidh Fianna Fáil ár bPlean Straitéiseach i bhfeidhm. Ina theannta sin, cinntóidh Fianna Fáil go leanfaidh fás ar aghaidh i labhairt na Gaeilge, go háirithe sna scoileanna. Fianna Fáil believes that the young generation now speaking Irish will help us take the next steps forward to a more bilingual nation.

In 1916, Pearse and Connolly, as the leaders of the Republican and Labour movements, came together in Easter Week to proclaim a free Irish republic in which the egalitarian idea was centrally enshrined. Ten years later, our Party, Fianna Fáil was founded to give effect to the aims and philosophy of the Easter Proclamation. That Proclamation inspirationally guaranteed:

"equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally".

Ninety-one years on from the first reading of the Proclamation, peace is unleashing a tide of opportunity across this island. Harnessing that opportunity to ensure our country reaches its full potential is the best way we can honour the men and women of 1916. It is, too, I believe, the only way to fulfil their aspiration of a prosperous and peaceful Ireland grounded in the true republican principles of liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness for all. That is the Ireland they dreamt of. And together, that is the Ireland we are building.


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