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First Dáil wanted freedom and more

Wednesday, 23rd January, 2019 4:35pm

The leader of Fianna Fail, Micheál Martin's speech at the commoration of the first meeting of Dáil Éireann on Monday:

Ba chinneadh suntasach réabhlóideach é ó phobal ar theastaigh uathu greim a fháil ar a gcinniúint féin an chéad Dáil a thabhairt le chéile. Ba bhuaicphointe é i ndiaidh na mblianta fada den athbheochan cultúrtha agus polaitíochta.

Ní obair in aisce gan aon tairbhe a bhí ann – tharraing an cruinniú seo aird an domhain agus céim chun tosaigh a bhí sa chruinniú seo a thug spreagadh do mhórán eile dúshlán a thabhairt don chóras impireachta a raibh smacht aige ar a lán eile ar fud an domhain.

Nios lú ná trí bliana roimhe sin cuireadh tús nua láidir le saoirse agus neamhspleáchas a lorg ar shráideanna Bhaile Átha Cliath agus in áiteanna eile ar fud na tíre.

Ba chuimhin le go leor a bhailigh anseo na guthanna agus mothú na ndaoine a chaill a mbeatha i míle naoi gcéad sé déag. Bhí sí mar aidhm láidir iomlán acu fís mhíle naoi gcéad sé déag a chur i gcrích.

Chomh maith leis sin, bhí a dtiomantas á léiriú go raibh athbheochan an chultúir Ghaelaigh cumhachtach agus ag fás.

B`shin an fáth go raibh imeachtaí an aonú lá is fiche d`Eanáir míle naoi gcéad naoi déag trí mheán na Gaeilge agus go raibh iarracht mhacánta láidir traidisiún parlaiminteach Éireannach ar leith a fhorbairt.

When Dáil Éireann met in this place 50 years ago it honoured the presence of eleven surviving TDs and heard from President Éamon de Valera – the man who had so triumphantly led his party to an overwhelming victory in the 1918 election.

Today we have no such direct link to the great generation which established the first Dáil but their influence remains as important as ever.

The general election which they fought a month previously was a dramatic turning point which was influenced by many factors. There was the inspiring actions of the men and women of 1916, who had stood for a vision of an inclusive, free and outward-looking Ireland.

There was the impact of a war between empires which brought death and destruction on an unprecedented scale.

There was also the impact of an historic epidemic of influenza which killed 20,000 here, terrified the population and undermined faith in the state’s concern for its people.

And of course there was the extension of the franchise so that working class men of all ages could vote for the first time as could women aged over 30.

It was a new and radicalised electorate which returned our first TDs.

The first Dáil was the assembly of a rising people determined not only to achieve freedom but also to use that freedom to create new possibilities.

The documents they adopted during their first sitting spoke of a country which saw itself as part of an international community and of a parliament which saw the people and their interests as sovereign.

They had almost no control over the levers of power but they had an unbreakable will.

The Dáil removed any possible doubt about the objective of what was soon to become a full war for independence. The Irish people sought nothing less than a free democracy.

It was a Dáil which sought to represent all communities on this island. But ultimately it was unable to prevent the sort of partition implemented by dissolving empires irrespective of the division, conflict and permanent insecurity which resulted.

As with so many events of those times, Ireland was very much reflecting a broad movement which was seen throughout Europe. In a short few years, seven new states came into being.

Amongst those seven states and their successors the Dáil is the only parliamentary assembly which has since then continuously been freely elected and has held full legislative power. This is something which we should be deeply proud of.

And the most important ideal which we have received from the first Dáil is that democratic republicanism must involve the capacity to evolve – to respond to the needs of today.

Nothing could be more disrespectful to the memory of our revolution than to hold that its methods and programme achieved so little that subsequent generations needed to maintain them unchanged.

In fact the great generation which convened Dáil Éireann showed a remarkable commitment to change and the overwhelming majority played their role in developing this state, protecting it from fascism and communism and giving it a republican and internationalist constitution.

Unlike in too many other countries, our revolutionary generation sought cooperation through strong international bodies and especially the League of Nations, the United Nations and the European Union. They proved time and again that nationalism can and should be an open, changing and diverse idea.

Much has been achieved since the democratic programme was issued. No one can deny the scale of progress which has been achieved. But equally the democratic programme stands, together with the Proclamation of 1916, as a permanent reminder to us of what we should be working for.

It is impossible to hear the demand that “no child shall suffer hunger or cold from a lack of food, clothing and shelter” and fail to understand how ours is a still incomplete democracy. With nearly 4,000 children without a home there is much, much more for us to do.

Fianna Fáil believes that 1919 was a moment of great national purpose and one which belongs to no party. We strongly support the non-partisan and son-sectarian manner in which commemorations are being held.

We acknowledge the role of the leaders of the other main tradition which emerged from the first Dáil.

We are, of course, proud of the role played by many of those who founded our party – especially our leader Eamon de Valera and the first chairperson of Fianna Fáil Constance Markievicz.

Markievicz is a reminder to us all of the central role which progressive and suffragist activism played in the radicalism which made Irish democracy possible. This is a lesson which was forgotten for far too long.

Bhí Éire míle naoi gcéad naoi déag difriúil ar fad leis an tír atá againn faoi láthair.

Bhí cuimhní maoithneacha láidre faoi bhlianta an ghorta, an t-ocras agus díshealbhú.

Bhí tionchar ollmhór ag na himeachtaí stairiúla seo ar ár gcoinsias agus ar ár gcuimhne náisiúnta agus bhí dúshlán ollmhór gan amhras roimh an athbheochan.

Is cóir agus is ceart dúinn cuimhneamh ar an dul chun cinn tábhachtach nuair a tionóladh an chéad Dáil chun dearbhú a thabhairt do chearta náisiúnta agus féinmhuinín na tíre.

Bhí agus tá fós an cruinniú seo mar phointe cinniúnach i stair ár dtíre.

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