Speech by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys TD, on the Senator Keith Swanick (Fianna Fáil) Private Members Bill – Declaration of Independence Day Bill 2017
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Senator Keith Swanick (Fianna Fáil) Private Members Bill –
Declaration of Independence Day Bill 2017 (Seanad Éireann)
Speech for Minister Heather Humphreys T.D.
Go raibh maith agat Cathaoirleach.
First of all, I would like to commend Senator Swanick for bringing forward this Bill. It takes time and effort to prepare legislation and I appreciate the work that the Senator has done on this Bill.
I am also pleased to advise the House that the Government will not be opposing the Bill.
The convening of the first Dáil on 21st January 1919 will be one of the key historical events to be marked by the State in 2019.
The first meeting of Dáil Éireann took place in the Round Room of the Mansion House on the afternoon of 21st January 1919.
The elected members present at that meeting asserted the exclusive right of the elected representatives of the Irish people to legislate for the country, adopting a Constitution and approving the Declaration of Independence.
The Dáil also approved a Democratic Programme, based on the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and read and adopted a Message to the Free Nations of the World.
The Bill before us this evening proposes that a formal State recognition of the Declaration of Independence shall be made, with the designation of 21st January each year as ‘Declaration of Independence Day’.
I am of the view that an event to mark this momentous occasion in our history is appropriate.
I am aware that the Houses of the Oireachtas are planning a programme of events to mark the centenary of the first meeting of the Dáil in 2019. The appropriate commemoration of this period of our history is also under consideration by the Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations and will be a matter of interest too for the All-Party Group on Commemorations which I intend to re-establish very shortly.
In terms of the longer term commemoration of this event, I believe that the views of both the Expert Advisory Group and the Oireachtas All-Party Group on Commemorations can feed into consideration of the Bill as it progresses through the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I note also that this Bill does not propose that a new public holiday be introduced and therefore it would not result in the significant economic costs associated with the introduction of a new public holiday in terms of lost national output in relation to the private sector and in the delivery of public services.
Indeed, I know when previous Private Members Bills were brought forward which did propose the introduction of a new public holiday, this caused significant concern in the business community due to the serious impact it would have on our SME sector in particular.
There are many different perspectives and views as to the events and personalities that should be commemorated by the State over the remainder of the Decade of Centenaries and how all those whose lives were affected by those events should be appropriately remembered.
The Government’s Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations summed up this approach well when it stated that the aim of the commemorations should be “to broaden sympathies, without having to abandon loyalties.”
At all times, the Government has been supported in its plans by the guidance and advice of the Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations and the Oireachtas All-Party Consultation Group on Commemorations.
The Expert Advisory Group’s Statement of Principles for the second half of the Decade of Centenaries will be a key resource in framing the Government’s commemorative programme over the next five years.
Indeed, I would like to take this opportunity to extend my appreciation to Dr. Maurice Manning, Chair of the Expert Advisory Committee and to the committee for their assistance to date.
The knowledge, experience and guidance of such a committee have been an invaluable support to the State’s commemorative plans throughout the Decade of Centenaries.
I am very grateful also for the commitment and input of the members of the Oireachtas All Party Consultation Group on Commemorations.
In relation to the Oireachtas All-Party Consultation Group on Commemorations, I intend to put in place the practical arrangements to re-constitute that group very shortly.
I view the work of that Group as complementary to the work of the Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations and significant in ensuring that we will be able to reflect in an inclusive, appropriate and respectful manner on all of the major historical events to be commemorated over the remainder of the Decade.
I would like to assure the House that the Government will continue to mark significant events throughout the Decade of Centenaries and the State’s commemorative programme will be based on the inclusive, open and consultative approach that has been the hallmark of the Decade of Centenaries commemorative programme to date.
This includes the Easter Commemorations ceremonies to mark the Easter Rising and events to mark the progress of World War I.
For example, last month I attended commemorations of the Battle of Messines Ridge at the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines, which were jointly led by the Governments of Ireland and the UK, in partnership with the Mayor of Messines.
The State also marked the centenary of the death of the poet, Irish Volunteer and soldier Francis Ledwidge, with a moving ceremony in his birthplace in Slane, County Meath.
This weekend, I plan to attend the National Day of Commemoration Ceremony in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, as well as the annual Royal British Legion commemoration and wreath-laying ceremony at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge, which commemorates the men and women from the island of Ireland who fought and died in past world wars.
I strongly believe the same open and honest approach which we used for last year’s successful 1916 centenary commemorations, which allowed all narratives to be heard, will ensure that we can reflect appropriately on all of the major historical events as they unfolded.
The 1916 centenary commemorations were inclusive, respectful and appropriate and sought to strengthen peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.
The Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme met with widespread support across the political, academic and community sectors.
It has engaged our communities at home and abroad in an unprecedented way and the benefits at community level and indeed nationally cannot be underestimated.
The inclusive nature of the programme has enabled citizens to really examine our history and has encouraged them to consider the future of their communities.
It gave people scope to think about the events of 1916 and its legacy in a way that is personal and meaningful to each individual.
The close collaboration and engagement between Government Departments and other stakeholders will continue so that significant events and themes for commemoration over the next five years are marked with respect, sensitivity and openness.
As we continue to celebrate and commemorate key moments on our journey to becoming a sovereign nation, we have also learned the importance of looking to and learning from our past while striving to create a better future for Ireland.
We have reflected on our journey over the past 100 years and imagined our legacy for future generations.
I believe that a commemorative initiative to mark the convening of the first Dáil and the Declaration of Independence could be a significant step in connecting younger generations with that legacy.
Go raibh maith agaibh.