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Speech at a State Ceremony to award 1916 Centenary Commemorative Medals to the Defence Forces

Dublin Castle, Sunday 4 December 2016

A Árd Mhéara,
a Thánaiste,
a Airí,
a Aoianna oirirce,
agus a Cháirde,

Mar Uachtarán na hÉireann agus Ardcheannasaí ar na Forsaí Cosanta, tugann sé sásamh faoi leith dom a bheith in bhur dteannta inniu don ócáid thabhachtach seo.

Is í ocáid ina mbeidh deis agam, agus ag na baill den Rialtais anseo atá in éineacht liom, in ainm muintir na hÉireann, ár meas agus ár mbuíochas a chur in iúl daoibhse, baill de na forsaí cosanta, as ucht an seirbhís díograsach speisíaltá atá tugtha agaibhse le linn na bliana chomóradh seo.

Comh maith le sin, tugann an ócáid inniú agus bronnadh na mboinn a tharlóidh ar ball, deis dom aitheantas a thabhairt daoibhse agus do bhur gcomhleacaithe sa forsaí ó a bhunaíodh an Stáit, don seirbhís poiblí den scoth atá sibh ag tabhairt ar bhonn leanúnach agus atá tugtha agaibh thar na blianta.

Lord Mayor, Tánaiste, Ministers, distinguished guests, fellow citizens and friends,

As President and Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces, I am particularly pleased to be here at this event today on behalf of the people of Ireland.  

The awarding of the 1916 Centenary Commemorative Medal to serving members of the Permanent Defence Forces and to members of the Reserve Forces is, I believe, a fitting acknowledgement for all members of Óglaigh na hÉireann who have served during this centenary year of 2016.  It is also an opportunity to publicly acknowledge the dedicated and selfless service of the volunteer soldiers, sailors and aircrew of Óglaigh na hÉireann, who serve Ireland every day and night on a continuous basis, and who have served Ireland and the Irish people since the foundation of the State.

The Irish Defence Forces, has its roots in the Irish Volunteers and the title in our first language Óglaigh na hÉireann is common to both organisations. The volunteers provided the template for the modern Defence Forces that came into existence following the establishment of the Free State.  To this day, the buttons of the army uniform contain the initials IV in recognition of this heritage.

Over a hundred years ago, Eoin MacNeill sought three qualities from those who had volunteered to serve; courage, vigilance and discipline.  These are the same attributes that are embodied in the modern Defence Forces with members of the Army, Air Corps, and the Naval Service expected to demonstrate these qualities in their daily duties.

Tá sé le tabhairt faoi deara go soiléir go bhfuil árd meas agus dea-thoil faoi leith ag muintir na hÉireann ar ár saighdeoirí, mairnéiligh agus baill den Aer chór.

Tá tuiscint faoi leith ag an bpobal gur fórsa cosanta atá i gceist seachas airm ionsaitheach nó bagrach den tsaghas ar a raibh taithí againn in ár stair féin, agus atá le feiceáil fós thar timpeall na cruinne. Tá an fealsúnacht sin go mór le feiscint i meon na mban agus na bhfear atá ag tabhairt faoina ndualgaisí lá i ndiadh lae, in Éireann agus thar lear. Ceapaim gur sin an fáth go bhfuil sibh comh héifeachtach is atá sibh mar chosainteoirí shíocháin agus ag tabhairt faoi obair dhaonnúil. Gan aibhreas ar bith, tá ard-mheas na tíre agus an domhain tuilte agaibh dá bharr. 

During my time as Uachtarán na hÉireann I have had the opportunity to regularly hear the high estimate in which our forces are held; the respect and pride that exists within Ireland for the professionalism and dedication of the men and women of our Defence Forces. You are giving public service in a very literal sense, and have volunteered for a life in the service of others, “a life less ordinary”at home and abroad.

The demands placed upon you are not insignificant. As your loved ones will know, extended periods away from your families are part of what is expected. As they, your families also know, your job puts you in situations of danger, in order to protect your fellow citizens and those vulnerable communities and individuals around the world who have required your protection.

At home, the permanent and reserve defence forces are of vital assistance both to the civil power and to the civil authority.

Your contribution in this respect to your community is immense. Each of the branches of Óglaigh na hÉireann is called upon at times to assist the civil authorities in various ways, to ensure the safety and well-being of your fellow citizens and of the State.  I have seen this at first hand in the expertise and capacity that you brought to bear earlier this year in the assistance you delivered so many of our fellow citizens who were affected by severe flooding across the country, drawing on all the skills required and that were part of your preparation.

The international reputation of our Defence Forces, and, by extension, of our country, has been greatly enhanced through your performance as UN peace keepers continuously over the past 58 years, since the first contingent of Irish troops was deployed to the Lebanon. Over that time, generations of school children have become familiar with the places in the world where you represented us with such distinction and where you came to the aid of the vulnerable and those at risk. The Congo, Cyprus, Sinai, the Golan Heights, East Timor, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Liberia, Sierra Leone, to name just some of the areas of deployment over that period.

We also remember all our soldiers who died on service overseas, and those who were killed while serving in Ireland, and we recall the very real dangers that you face and the price paid by your fallen comrades and by their families and friends. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha.

In recent times, the Naval Service, with the assistance of Army and

Air Corps medical personnel, has been engaged in missions abroad, particularly on the vital work in the Mediterranean, where literally thousands of lives have been saved, with over 14,700 people plucked from the sea.  For us Irish these scenes might be reminiscent of a darker period in our own history, where we also took to the seas, risking everything to survive, so many lost at sea, those who survived relying on the humanity and decency of other nations to give us refuge.

This humanitarian and peace keeping work in which you have been engaged is an act of global citizenship, and is an expression of solidarity with our fellow human beings on this fragile planet.

Your work, and the way you go about it, reflects the best of our nation and you can be justifiably proud of your record and the positive influence you have had, and continue to have. I have little doubt that the men and women who we have been commemorating in this centenary year would look approvingly at how our Defence Forces have developed since the foundation of the State and of how you and your families have given of yourselves on behalf of your country. 

The 1916 Centenary Commemorative Medal being awarded today is firmly rooted in our history with the design taking its inspiration from both the 1916 Medal and the 1916 Survivors’ Medal which were issued to persons with recognised military service during Easter Week 1916. 

In awarding this medal, we commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising and we recognise the central role played by Óglaigh na hÉireann, not only in your general duties, but also the very special and particular contribution you have made in this centenary year.

I recall standing in this very location in Dublin Castle on New Year’s Day to mark the opening of our year of recollection.  In a solemn ceremony the Roll of Honour of those volunteers who lost their lives during the 1916 Rising was read out and we then raised the three flags which were flown on O’Connell Street on Easter 1916: the Irish Citizen Army flag, which was flown from the Imperial Hotel on O’Connell Street; and the Irish Republican and National flags, both of which were flown from the GPO.

Since then, I, along with members of the Government and hundreds of thousands of citizens of this country, have participated in the numerous remarkable and moving ceremonies commemorating the key events that took place 100 years ago this year.  A uniting element in all of these events has been the presence of members of our Defence Forces.  You have played an essential role in our national commemorations whether through the formal State Ceremonies during Easter Week or the countless other events around the country in which you generously, in so many places, took part. One initiative which was particularly well received by our youngest generation was the delivery by uniformed personnel of the Defence Forces to all primary schools in the State, of our National Flag and a copy of the Proclamation.    

At all of these ceremonial and symbolic events our Defence Forces have performed with the professionalism by which you have become known and to which I have already referred.  You have displayed at all times your customary dignity, pride and respect.  

Over the year, we have had much reflection on the men and women of 1916, people who were not afraid to dream of a new and re-imagined Ireland.  They had the vision and the courage to act according to their convictions.  Against the odds, they set us on a path that was to lead to an independent State, through which we became free to imagine and realise our own version of Ireland.  This remains a precious opportunity.

As I have stated over this year, the generous, inclusive, prosperous Republic for which many of them hoped remains a work in progress. But their aspirations did not die. We are all here today and we have the opportunity to shape our future in ways of which they could only have dreamed. Those same aspirations for true equality, for justice and for real independence can sustain us today in the task of rebuilding and re-shaping our society and our economy and re-imagining an Ireland that fulfils the hopes and ideals that we hold in common with the men and women of a century ago.

Today’s ceremony and the medal you are about to be presented with is a fitting and well-deserved tribute, on behalf of the people of Ireland, to you, the women and men of our Defence Forces.

Ar mo shon féin agus thar cheann Muintir na hÉireann, tréaslaim libh as ucht na héachtanna atá bainte amach agaibh, molaim sibh as ucht bhur gcur chuige mar bhaill de na fórsaí cosanta, agus gabhaim buíochas libh as ucht an sár-seirbhís atá a thabhairt agaibh don phobail agus dóibh siúd atá i ngéarghá le bhur gcabhair, sa bhaile agus i gcéin.