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Speech by Bertie Ahern at the annual Fianna Fáil Arbour Hill Commemoration, (23 April 2006)

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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 23 April 2006)


"Tá áit speisialta ag fir agus mná seachtain na Cásca in ár gcroíthe, agus is cóir go bhfuil ár náisíun thar a bheith buíoch as a n-íobairtí.

Tá préamhacha Fianna Fáil san Éirí Amach agus sa Chogadh Cathartha a lean é. Ach tá ard mheas againn ar an ról lárnach a bhí ag daoine cróga ó gach cúlra polaitiúil a chur a saol i mbaol ar son an tír seo ag an am. Inniu, ach go háirithe, tugaimid aitheanthas do cheannairí naoi déag a sé déag atá curtha anseo. Cuimhnímid go bródúil ar a gcrógacht agus a ngaiscíoch ar son muintir na hÉireann.

The 1916 Rising is at the origin of the struggle which created an independent Irish state. Today we gather to honour the men and women of Easter Week who offered their lives so Ireland could be free.

In 1966, on the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising, the founder of our Party, President Eamon de Valera, called on the Irish people never to forget the vision and courage of the 1916 leaders. He said and I quote:

"We wish to honour, in particular, the seven brave men who, despite all the deterrents, made the decision to assert, once more, in arms our nation's right to sovereign independence. It was a fateful decision which we now know to have been one of the boldest and most far-reaching in our history. It was only the firmest conviction, the fullest faith and love of country that prompted their action. Their single-mindedness, their sacrifice and the sacrifices of the others who gave their lives in the uprising inspired the national resurgence which followed."

The seven brave men who De Valera the sole surviving commandant of the Rising praised in such glowing terms were of course : Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke, James Connolly, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas MacDonagh, Sean MacDiarmada and Eamon Ceannt. Each of these leaders was a selfless patriot who died for Irish freedom. Their last testament was our Proclamation of Independence.

This Proclamation, which we have just heard, was first read out by Patrick Pearse on the steps of the GPO. In one of the last published accounts by a participant in 1916, WJ Brennan-Whitmore, the Officer Commanding the Insurgent Forces in North Earl Street, records this historic moment. He wrote :

"A great cheer from the crowd outside informed us that the tricolour had been hoisted on the top of the building fronting the street. Just then the front door was opened and Pearse and Connolly, with a small escort, passed outside. Pearse read out the Proclamation and then had it posted up publicly. Many sentences were loudly cheered and at the end there was a great ovation. This reading and posting of the Proclamation was an act formally setting up the Republic and provisional government."

Brennan-Whitmore who subsequently served as an intelligence officer under the legendary Michael Collins - also notes in his memoir that the Proclamation was actually printed in Liberty Hall as late as the night of Easter Sunday, the 23rd April, 1916, which is exactly ninety years ago to this very day. Today, Irish people of all political persuasions and of no persuasion should take pride in the 1916 Proclamation of Independence as an important founding charter of this State.

The republican and democratic values enshrined in the 1916 Proclamation were progressive, egalitarian and based upon universal suffrage of men and women alike. The Proclamation was a document that saw the powers of Government being exercised for the benefit of the common good. It saw the land and resources of Ireland being vested in the Irish people and not a foreign sovereign.

The Proclamation was based on a recognition of the rights of the Irish people and not the right of imperial conquest. It envisaged citizens of a republic. It proclaimed the people to be sovereign. Moreover, the powerful democratic values in the Proclamation had an international resonance. They have influenced independence movements throughout the world. The Proclamation is a model of the values infusing post-colonial democratic society. We can be proud of Easter 1916 for its national and international impact.

Ireland's history belongs to every Irish person and must be beyond narrow party-political posturings. I believe that the huge public support for last weekend's parade underlines this approach. It is important that we now work towards an appropriate commemorative programme that will take us up to the centenary of the Rising in 2016. I am grateful that all parties in the Oireachtas are constructively contributing to the development of this programme. I have always maintained that the 1916 commemorations are not the preserve of any one political movement. They deserve widespread support and this means widespread consultation.

Today, the challenges facing the Irish people are in many respects different to those of 1916. But 1916 and the War of Independence gave us the freedom of a sovereign State, the freedom to create the conditions of our modern success. We are members of the European Union and the United Nations. We have a proud history of peacekeeping throughout the world. Our national identity, our culture, our sporting successes, our art and our music are world-renowned. We are a confident people with a pride in our past. With a confidence about our past and our political heritage, we can confront the demands, on all of us, of an agreed Ireland.

We, on the island of Ireland, have agreed, as an exercise of our self-determination, on how to share this island. The Good Friday Agreement is this generation's approach to addressing some of the unanswered problems of our history. It is based fundamentally on mutual respect, mutual interest and democratic values. No true democrat could ever object to the realisation of the values and the promotion of interests that serve all of the people of all of the island of Ireland. And it is through the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement that these interests can best be promoted and protected.

One of the unacceptable legacies of the imperial domination which the men and women of 1916 fought to overthrow is the huge body of out-dated law which still exists on our statute book. Laws passed by foreign and unrepresentative parliaments, parliaments from which people were, for many years, excluded on the basis of their religion or gender, have no place in modern Ireland. That is why Fianna Fáil have pursued a policy of removing all such legislation from our statute book.

Earlier this year, I published a list of more than 2,000 out-dated laws which we propose to repeal. Before the summer I will propose further repeals of hundreds more statutes from the period after the Act of Union of 1800. Some of the laws now being repealed reflect the unacceptable way Ireland was governed before we achieved independence such as the Act which declared Lord Edward Fitzgerald and other patriots of 1798 to be traitors. There is no place in our modern republic for such relics of imperial rule.

Therefore, the government will continue this process, step by step, until we have repealed all these laws. I am working towards the day when the only laws which bind the Irish people are laws enacted under the authority of the Irish people and in accordance with Bunreacht na hÉireann.

Just weeks before the Rising, James Connolly penned what subsequently became clear was a declaration of intent. In his newspaper, the Workers Republic, Connolly wrote in February 1916:

"The peaceful progress of the future requires the possession by Ireland of all the national rights now denied to her. Only in such possession can the workers of Ireland see stability and security for the fruits of their toil and organisation. A destiny not of our fashioning has chosen this generation as the one called upon for the supreme act of self-sacrifice to die if need be that our race might live in freedom."

Because of the sacrifices and courage of Connolly, his fellow 1916 leaders, and their brave political heirs in the War of Independence, we are indeed fortunate that no-one in this generation need die for Irish national rights and freedom. In our time "the peaceful progress of the future" to borrow Connolly's phrase requires steadfast support for the Good Friday Agreement.

The Good Friday Agreement is the only sustainable basis for a fair and honorable accommodation between all those who share this island of Ireland. Next month, we will reach the eight anniversary of the ratification by the Irish people, north and south, of the Agreement on 22nd May 1998, which was the first concurrent act of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole since 1918.

In three weeks time, the Northern Ireland Assembly will meet for the first time since it was suspended in 2002. In the years since suspension, we have tried to address the issues of confidence and trust that led to that suspension. I believe that as a result, we are now in an entirely different political space than that which prevailed in 2002. Step by step, the process has moved forward leading to last year's momentous announcements by the IRA. This progress has given the basis for our efforts to see the return of the devolved Executive by November 24 this year. This is an initiative whose time had clearly come. The announcement that Prime Minister Blair and I made on 6 April has been broadly welcomed.

On its return on 15 May, I hope that all the parties in the Assembly will meet the challenge that has been set in a responsible way. They are being given the opportunity to take power back into their own hands. That is what the two Governments want them to do. There is, of course, a particular onus on the DUP and Sinn Fein. They will be taking their seats in the Assembly for the first time as the largest parties representing their respective communities. I hope that we will, at an early stage, see the opening of productive dialogue between them and with the other parties. Because it is high time to talk and to agree. The opportunity may not arise again for some time if it is not seized this year.

The Assembly has been given reasonable time to reach agreement. However, Prime Minister Blair and I have made clear that this whole initiative is time-limited. If it is not possible to form a power-sharing Executive this year, we have signalled our intent to move forward together as two Governments to implement the Good Friday Agreement. This is not our preferred choice. But if it is the only option we will fully discharge our responsibility to the electorates on this island.

The full implementation of the Agreement remains my Government's main national priority. On this hallowed ground, I pledge that I will continue to devote every ounce of my energy to see this process through and to work with all those who genuinely share this commitment.

A fully implemented Agreement will provide a new beginning, based on partnership, co-operation and mutual respect, in relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between Ireland and Britain. It is the best way to honour the men and women of 1916. It is the only way to fulfil their dream of a prosperous and peaceful Ireland grounded in the true republican principles of liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness for all."


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