Address on the 100th anniversary of the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil Éireann
The Mansion House, Dublin, 21 January 2019
A Cheann Comhairle,
A Theachtaí Dála,
A ghaolta le Teachtaí na Céad Dála
A dhaoine uaisle,
A chairde Gael,
Céad bliain ó shin, chruinnigh ár sinsir reabhlóideacha le chéile san áit seo chun aisling, a bhí coiscthe ar feadh i bhfad, a fhíorú, aisling a cothaíodh go cúramach, mar a dúirt Pádraig Mac Piarais, i gcaitheamh na mblianta cogaidh, gorta agus réabhlóide, aisling a dhearbhaigh gach glúin d’fhir agus de mhná na hÉireann – aisling de phoblacht shaor agus neamhspleách na hÉireann.
[One hundred years ago, our revolutionary forebears, in this place were assembled to realise a dream long suppressed, a dream, as Pádraig Mac Piarais stated, had been carefully cherished through years of war, famine and rebellion, a dream asserted by every generation of Irishmen and Irishwomen – the dream of a free and independent Irish republic.]
Agus muid bailithe le chéile agus cruinniú tionscnaimh na Chéad Dála anseo i dTeach an Ard-Mhéara ar an 21 Eanáir 1919 á cheiliúradh againn, is ceart dúinn tús a chur leis an ócáid trí ómós a thabhairt do mhisneach na ndaoine sin a tháinig anseo, cé go raibh a fhios acu go raibh siad i mbaol a gcur i ngéibheann nó go dtarlódh rud éigin níos measa ná sin.
Tá sé tábhachtach freisin go dtabharfaí aitheantas iomlán don siombalachas a bhain leis an rogha a rinne siad, agus modh na parlaiminte á úsáid acu, chun fógra poiblí a dhéanamh go raibh dlistineacht toghcháin á bronnadh acu ar Fhorógra na Poblachta a eisíodh taobh amuigh d’Ard-Oifig an Phoist in 1916.
Agus an modh sin á roghnú acu bhí sampla á leanúint acu d’iarrachtaí Michael Davitt agus Charles Stewart Parnell sé sin claontaí difriúla a thabhairt le chéile i straitéis pharlaiminte: stráitéis a chuir talamh ar fáil do chuid mhaith daoine. Chuir cruinniú an Céad Dáil aisling, nár fíoraíodh don ghlúin sin, ach ar fáil do’n glúin a tháinig in a ndiaidh le neamhspleáchas níos doimhne do mhuintir na hÉireann.
[Let us salute the courage of those who risked incarceration, or worse, to gather here on the 21st of January 1919 to establish the First Dáil Éireann. Let us recognise that they chose a parliament as the means to vindicate the legitimacy of an election fought on the Proclamation of the Republic that had been issued outside the General Post Office in Easter 1916.]
It was a tribute to the means by which the movements of Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell had come together, a parliamentary tactic that had, after all, delivered the land for many, and for some a dream, which had not been realised for their generation, of a fuller and deeper independence for Ireland.
That dream, which had been asserted in arms in 1916, found a renewed expression in the largest exercise in electoral democracy hitherto undertaken on our island. The parliamentary election of 1918 which was, we must recall, the first election in which many of Ireland’s poor could vote and, of course, the first in which women could vote.
With an electorate almost three times the size of that which pertained in the previous elections of 1910, the plurality of Irish people voted overwhelmingly for a political platform dedicated to
‘establishing a constituent assembly comprising persons chosen by the Irish constituencies as the supreme national authority to speak and act in the name of the Irish people’.
Ní raibh formhór na dteachtaí nuathofa in ann freastal ar chruinniú tionscnaimh na Dála; bhí cuid díobh i mbun gníomhaíochta trasna na tíre, dúradh faoi cheathrar is tríocha díobh go raibh siad ‘faoi ghlas ag Gallaibh’, ina measc an chéad bhean a toghadh chuig parlaimint sna hoileáin seo, an Chuntaois Uasal Markiewicz, agus taifeadadh go raibh triúr ‘ar díbirt ag Gallaibh’, agus bhí daoine eile i dteideal a suíocháin a ghlacadh nár thug aitheantas do Dháil Éireann.
Thirty-four of those elected were in prison, three had been deported, while some of those eligible to take their seats did not recognise Dáil Éireann.
Maidir leo siúd, dúirt an Ceann Comhairle, Cathal Brugha, fúthu, ‘Mar adubhairt Tiobóid Bholf Teón, na daoine sin in Éirinn nách fonn leo obair do dhéanamh ar mhaithe le hÉirinn, ní fuláir é dhéanamh ina n-éaghmuis.’
Is trí mheán ár dteanga dhúchais, a reáchtáladh gnó na Dála ar an lá sin, teanga a shábháil agus a d’athbheoigh saothar síoraí Dhubhghlas de hÍde, Eoin Mhic Néill, bhaill Chonradh na Gaeilge agus daoine nach iad. Inniu, labhróidh mé i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla.
The establishment of Dáil Éireann was not only a revolutionary act of national self-determination. It was an act of defiance against an empire that ruled over vast territories and diverse peoples, an assertion that sovereignty belonged not to the Crown, but to the Irish people alone.
Given the great forces ranged against that claim, the First Dáil represented an act of extraordinary imagination and courage, a courage that would be called upon to be matched and surpassed by the Irish people time and time again in the turbulent and difficult years that followed.
It is one of the tragedies of our history surely, that it is the vicious and arrogant reaction to events, as a response of empire, that has so often defined what was to follow, rather than any attempt at understanding.
It was to have tragic consequences that the authority of Dáil Éireann having been expressed in such a formal parliamentary way, was not recognised, and thus the will of the people was not respected.
At their meeting on the 21st of January 1919, the First Dáil Éireann ratified four documents. They constituted proclamations of intent, offered as further inspiration for the great struggle for Ireland’s independence.
The ideals invoked on that day – of national self-determination, of republican equality, of the sovereignty of the people – constituted a magnificent invocation of the principles that had been bequeathed by those revolutionaries who had gone before, and a continuation of the great chain of liberty forged by the United Irishmen, the Young Irelanders, the Fenians, through to the men and women of 1916.
The Declaration of Independence adopted by Dáil Éireann ratified the Proclamation of the Republic that had been read from the steps of the General Post Office on the 24th of April 1916 and re-iterated that all lawful authority in Ireland emanated from the Irish people.
The sovereignty of the people was now to be the source and origin of our legal order.
The form, structure and practice of Dáil Éireann, tightly choreographed as it was, on that day itself was inspired by the tradition of representative democracy that had been sustained by the great popular and parliamentary movements of the nineteenth century, such as the movements of O’Connell and Parnell, of Davitt and O’Brien.
For many years, those were the movements through which the Irish people sought to obtain the fullest measure of rights and realisation of national aspirations.
In the Spring of 1918, the Anti-Conscription Committee had drawn together the wide spectrum of political forces within Irish nationalism - the trade union movement, the Irish Parliamentary Party, the Catholic Church, and the coalition of republicans and nationalists forming under the banner of Sinn Féin and which was contesting at national and local level for the first time in December 1918.
The First Dáil thus drew upon a diversity of traditions, invoking the parliamentary tradition as one source, but, for some certainly, this was not an exclusive source, if complete independence was to be achieved.
The opening prayer being given by Father Michael O’Flanagan, the Vice-President of Sinn Féin, who had incurred the discipline of the hierarchy for his political activities, is significant. It is evidence of the agitational form of the Church which had emerged. Later the Church influence would be formalised further, reflecting the changing and growing status of the Church within the Revolution, something which had become apparent in the preparations for the December 1918 elections.
As to the institutions that were proposed, they too demonstrated the influence of parliamentarianism.
Ba uirléis dhlíthiúil ghonta, shimplí agus éifeachtach a bhí sa Bhunreacht Dála Éireann a tugadh isteach. Thug sé údarás do bhunú Aireachta agus d’ainmnigh sé Dáil Éireann mar an t-aon reachtóir in Éirinn. Thaispeáin a struchtúr agus a theanga an tslí a bhféadfaí tairbhe a bhaint as céad bliain de sheantaithí ar an bparlaiminteachas.
The First Dáil was part and symbol not only of a national struggle, but was a reflection of a global movement for national self-determination, one that had united peoples from India to Vietnam, from Poland to Algeria. Meeting in the aftermath of the catastrophe of the First World War, a clash of empires that had left tens of millions dead and wounded in its wake, the First Dáil issued a revolutionary ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’, declaring that the new republic:
‘believes in freedom and justice as the fundamental principles of international law, because she believes in a frank co-operation between the peoples for equal rights against the vested privileges of ancient tyrannies, because the permanent peace of Europe can never be secured by perpetuating military dominion for the profit of empire but only by establishing the control of government in every land upon the basis of the free will of a free people’.
The Message was aimed at the Versailles Peace Conference where the fate of the independence of small nations was for discussion.
For us today the words should be a testament to our foundational and enduring commitment to a just and peaceful world order. In these troubled times, when some abjure and disdain international co-operation, we must, honouring these principles, strive to keep faith with the ideals of our forebears.
The Message to the Free Nations was issued to a world engulfed not only by a new national awakening but by a powerful and revitalised trade union movement, one willing to fight for the rights of workers from Glasgow to Berlin, one capable of winning new rights and overcoming ancient injustices.
Even as the First Dáil met, the trade union movement in Belfast was resolving to embark on a great strike for a 44-hour working week, one that would mobilise over 40,000 workers. Their struggle, and their bravery, would lay the foundation for the economic and labour rights that we enjoy today, rights that we must not only protect but expand, for those rights are necessary to sustain a free republic.
The First Dáil proclaimed no narrow freedom, nor any stunted liberty for the revolutionary Irish republic. In that most revolutionary of documents, An Clár Oibrí Poblachtánaí in Irish, in English, the Democratic Programme, the deputies assembled in the Mansion House one hundred years ago proclaimed that:
‘We declare in the words of the Irish Republican Proclamation the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies to be indefeasible, and in the language of our first President, Pádraig Mac Piarais, we declare that the Nation's sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its material possessions, the Nation's soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the Nation, and with him we reaffirm that all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare.’
The Programme clearly stated the duties and obligations of the new republic to its people, with these words:
‘It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training, as citizens of a free and Gaelic Ireland.’
In An Clár Oibrí Poblachtánaí, the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil, the ideals of Connolly found expression through reference to the words of Pádraig Mac Piarais in the Proclamation, an ideal of national freedom that included the dream and achievement of economic and social justice.
In the spirit of the movements which inspired both men, it is not simply utopian. It is emancipatory in its language, and programmatic and systemic in its vision. It is possible to trace a connection in the text from the Constitution of the Citizen Army through James Connolly to the Proclamation and on to the Democratic Programme as it would come to be known.
In place of fear, the Democratic Programme offered hope. In place of self-interest, it demanded duty. In place of injustice, it mandated equality. For our forebears were not merely opening a legislative assembly, they were founding a new nation, one capable of articulating and vindicating the rights and aspirations of the Irish people.
Risteárd Ó Maolchatha, supporting the Programme, spoke of wealth being shared,
‘Ní féidir le náisiún a bheith saor fad agus atá an chuid is lugha dá mhuintir gan saoirse. Ní féidir le náisiún bheith beo agus 'na bheathaidh fad agus a dhiúltaoitear d'aon chuid des na daoine a gcion ceart féin den mhaoin agus den tsaidhbhreas a bhronn Dia orainn go léir chun sinn a dheánamh beo, agus chun na beatha bhuanú ionainn.’
Chuir Conchubhar Ó Coileáin i gcuimhne dóibh siúd a bhí i láthair an suntas a bhain leis sin a raibh gealltanas á thabhairt acu dó:
‘Ba mhaith liom a chur ar a súilibh do lucht na Dála cad é a ndualgas i dtaobh an chláir seo. Do cuireadh os bhur gcomhair inniu mórán nidhthe, agus is é bhur ndualgas an cúrsa a leanúint go dlúth. Agus ba mhaith liom a chur ina luighe ar mhuintir na tíre gur chóir dóibh cabhraidh go dian is go dlúth, ionnas go mbeadh ar a gcumas é a chur i ngníomh mar ba cheart.’
Agus freagra á thabhairt ag an gCeann Comhairle, dhearbhaigh sé an rún, ‘Do chualamar go léir an méid sin’, ‘We all heard that’. An toil libh glacadh leis an dtairgsin?’, ‘do you will that the proposal be adopted?’, agus d’fhreagair an cruinniú, ‘Is toil’, ‘we will it’.
For the pledges made on that day one hundred years ago the wait was long and the need for rights sought still echoes down the years. The words said on that day matter. Words that can empower, words that can heal, words that might unite, words needed to invoke and summon a nation to action.
The First Dáil drew its support not only from the will of the people of Ireland, but from Irish people across the world. We are, and we must never forget, a migratory and diasporic people. Indeed, at the turn of the last century, there were more Irish-born people living abroad than in Ireland.
Throughout our War of Independence, Irishmen and Irishwomen in the United States of America would demonstrate, time and time again, their solidarity and support for the cause of Irish freedom, even if they differed as to the means by which it was to be achieved.
We must recognise, however, on this centenary, that the First Dáil did not represent the aspirations of all of the people on our island. In December 1918, over a quarter of a million men and women, mostly, but not wholly, in the north-east of our island, had voted to maintain the union between Britain and Ireland.
We are tested in the acts of commemoration we undertake as to the authenticity we will bring in terms of the necessary generosity that is required in remembering, of the space and hospitality made available to narratives, that we share as to time and experience, but differ in our interpretation.
Many Irish citizens in Northern Ireland will join us today in celebrating the events of 100 years ago as a momentous step towards our independence. Let us also acknowledge, however, that the legitimacy of Dáil Éireann and its institutions was not accepted by a significant number of people, particularly by a majority in the counties that were later to be incorporated into the entity that came to be Northern Ireland.
Constitutional issues, issues of territory and sovereignty have, in our politics, so often disfigured, indeed thwarted the potential of a shared life in the economic, social and cultural sphere and the achievement of rights for all and in all areas of life. We have paid too high a price in human and real republican terms for this.
Last year, we marked the twentieth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, a moment at which the principle of consent, and the spirit of harmony and friendship, was placed at the very heart of our Constitution, and which was affirmed on an all-island basis as a project for our shared lives and shared island, to be achieved together.
Over the past twenty years, the people of Ireland, North and South, have worked to develop and achieve the benefits of commitment to human rights, to equal treatment, and to a parity of esteem that can allow for the creation of a shared space, a space capable of accommodating differing and legitimate constitutional aspirations, a space in which it is possible to imagine and shape a future of hope and possibility.
That approach, like the Dáil of 1918, was mandated by a majority of the people of Ireland, North and South. It too was a moment of change and of hope, and a new dispensation has emerged among our people, one that we cannot allow to be undermined or eroded.
We assemble today then not only to celebrate a centenary of our democracy, but to reflect upon our collective past, our successes and our failures. We do so as we enter the most difficult part of our Decade of Centenaries, one in which we shall commemorate the events which came from the very crucible of our Irish Revolution, our War of Independence and our Civil War.
Let us endeavour to do so with the same generosity of spirit we have brought to the commemorations that have gone before. Let us seek to reflect not only the ideals and thoughts that animated our ancestors, but upon the Ireland that our forebears, by their deeds and actions, brought into being.
Our task will not simply be to memorialise the past, but to confront the complex legacies of our history with sympathy and empathy, and in a way that embraces the future with compassion and the joy that may come from our deepened respect for the Other.
We can and will differ, not only in our interpretation of the past but in our vision for the future. Even as we do so, we can, and we must, demonstrate that we are open to the stories, perspectives and hopes of all the people of our shared island.
We can, and we must, require of ourselves and others, a transparency of purpose, an honesty of intent, a serious engagement with historical scholarship, a respect for complexity, and, above all, respect for, and patience with, the beliefs and ideas of others, not only our contemporaries but those who went before, realising that through 1919 and the years that followed wounds were opened and deepened, towards which the task of remembering today must make more than a gesture at healing.
We must not be afraid to face the past, including all of the violence and cruelties released from pent-up exclusions, deprivations and humiliations. Let us not look with any trepidation towards the commemorations of the coming years, lest we be tempted to avert our gaze, take refuge in evasion, or seek to ignore the difficult questions they shall raise for us all.
Let us instead explore our past with open hearts and open minds, respecting all of the traditions that exist or endure on our island of migrant peoples.
When our forebears met in this place, one hundred years ago, they did so in the full knowledge of the profound responsibility they had assumed. To dare to ‘speak and act in the name of the Irish people’ was a revolutionary act, one that demanded, and still demands today, qualities of mind and heart that must be equal to the task: compassion, wisdom, solidarity, energy, and courage, courage in thought, in word, in administration, and in action.
Those gathered in January 1919 were the first representatives of the nation to derive their authority directly from the people, and the people alone, and to them fell the duty to define Irish freedom. Let us recognise their ambition and the inclusiveness of that ambition.
Aithnímis, chomh maith, gur gealltanas atá fós le comhlíonadh atá sa Chlár Oibre Poblacánaighe, léiriú neamhspleáchas na hÉireann a bhfuiltear fós le tabhairt faoi. Is féidir linn a admháil anois gur fhág tragóid an Chogaidh Chathartha lorg trom ar na glúine a tháinig ina dhiaidh, lorg a laghdaigh idéalachas an phoblachtánachais a thiomáin ár réabhlóid, b’fhéidir.
Agus, freisin, an ceannas a baineadh amach trí ghreim a fháil ar institiúidí an trátha nua, a sainmhínithe á dtabhairt ar an tsaoirse ar shlí chaol agus eisiach maidir le gnéas, aicme, creideamh agus leas na tíre.
In the twentieth century, the invocation of Irish freedom sometimes had a hollow ring for those many citizens who bore the burden of structural inequalities and injustices in Irish society, who suffered the prejudices of class, gender, and religion.
For too many of our citizens, and for too many of those who lived or who sought protection here, our republic was or became cold, uninviting, and for many it served as a seed-bed for forms of authoritarianism, incapable of, and perhaps unwilling to, rise to the ideals of 1916 and 1919, looking narrowly inwards in a way that limited a gaze outwards and northwards.
The destiny of our country, the fate of our Irish revolution, now lies in the hands of this generation of Irishwomen and Irishmen. It falls to us, the Irish people, to forge a renewed vision of Irish freedom in the world today. It is happening with a recognition of the power of creativity in arts, science, peace-keeping and shared global concern.
The same challenges that confronted the revolutionary generation still abide with us today.
We struggle to meet the needs of all of our people, even as our republic remains marred by inequalities in power, wealth, income and opportunity, mí-cothromaíocht. Poverty subsists amidst plenty, even as we fail to provide some of our citizens with the basic elements of a dignified existence within our republic – housing, healthcare, education, support for those with particular needs.
Today, across the world, we are witnessing the return of an ugly, xenophobic corruption of nationalism, long since thought vanquished from our political life.
The duty to welcome and shelter those fleeing war, persecution, and famine, so often relied upon by Irish men and women throughout the ages, is now being openly disdained, even discarded, by elements in our European Union.
True nationalism addresses need, not only as part of a nation, but as part of an international family of nations.
In this century, our planet and our people face new dangers undreamed of by our forebears: the disastrous loss of natural habitats and species both here and across our shared and vulnerable planet; and the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change present the Ireland of today with stark challenges. Challenges that cannot wait to be addressed.
Cuimhnímis ar Robert Barton, Stiúrthóir Talmhaíochta sa chéad Aireacht, a raibh sé mar aidhm aige cuimhneamh ar shínitheoirí an Fhorógra trí chrainn a chur, traidisiún a leanamar in Áras an Uachtaráin i 2018 trí chrainn bheithe a chur in ómós do gach aon duine den sé fhear déag a cuireadh chun báis tar éis an Éirí Amach.
This century will be defined by our capacity, and our willingness, to confront and overcome challenges, both neglected and new. This generation and the generations to come will be summoned to demonstrate solidarity not only with their countrymen and countrywomen but with all the peoples of the world, wherever they may be. The struggles to come – for equality, for solidarity, for climate justice – will demand the very best of all of us.
As elected representatives of the people, we have a special duty in all of this, a duty not only to our constituents but to all the people of Ireland and of our shared planet, a duty to honour the past and fashion the future, for the benefit of all of those on this island and in solidarity with our sisters and brothers from other nations.
As we carry out the work of the people, let us honour the ideas and idealism of those who assembled in this chamber one hundred years ago, and those who followed them over the last century - their hopes and their dreams, their triumphs and their failures. Let us rededicate ourselves to the cause of peace and justice in the world. Let us continue in our mission to build, here in our country, a republic of liberty, equality and justice for all.
Go n-eirí linn.