HomeNewsTaoiseach's Speeches

Speech by An Taoiseach at the National Academic Conference 1916-2016, NUI Galway, 10 November 2016



Chairman, distinguished guests, friends, colleagues - it’s a pleasure to be here this evening. Thank you for inviting me.

Jim Browne, thank you for your kind introduction and for hosting this valuable conference.

To all of you, maybe, don’t get too comfortable, I intend to be mercifully brief.

It’s fitting that this conference take place in Galway. The 2016 programmes here at NUI Galway, as well as in Galway City and County were exemplary.

From the commemorations of Éamonn Ceannt through the many wonderful events, Galway captured the spirit of the centenary. And I know Jim won’t mind if I say that GMIT, too, made a magnificent contribution to the year.

And magnificent is probably the best word to describe the work of one academic and author I’m delighted to welcome – Prof Roy Foster.

Roy set to rights a lot of guff. Through his writings, fusing the historical and cultural, people both on and off the island, have a better and more nuanced understanding of who we are or imagine ourselves to be.

For the first 50 years after independence the wounds were not fully healed. Our role in their making proving perhaps too-sciatic a spot for probing.

Time and distance give perspective. Also the peace that broke out on our island in the last 20 years or so, made our vista wider, more accommodated and accommodating. We have been able to move from default positions of revisionism and post-revisionism of the past, to consider what we have in common: our desire for a better, richer life for the coming generations. Those who will live their lives not only on this island, but our continent.

In recent times, in parts of the world there is a certain sense of trauma presenting itself as politics.

Equally, there is a move to bunker positions where poor perception and opinion, however misinformed, are regnant over facts. But such desperation wherever it occurs, must be addressed by the centre, not by the extremes, on either side.

As we look back on our centenary year I believe we must look as Ireland’s role in Europe. At the edge of Europe, unlike our fellow Europeans on the ‘mainland’ of the continent, we don’t have the shared memory of Napoleon, Fascism, Nazism. We can’t go to our local railway station and remind ourselves and our children that from this very platform, the old neighbours’ were sent to Auschwitz.

But as I said on my first day as Taoiseach, a wound heals from the margins in. And I believe that because, historically, we have been largely untouched by the old extremism that is growing once again, Ireland is in an excellent position to evangelise on the WHY of Europe on peace, tolerance, respect, freedom, dignity, things that perhaps we did not imagine we would need to be talking about 100 years after 1916 or two World Wars.

Our union’s great strength has actually been its weakness. We are among the first Europeans in centuries have been able to take peace for granted. But this everyday staple is actually a luxury - a luxury we wish also for our children and their children. Which is why I believe we have major work ahead to rehabilitate the political centre in people’s hearts and imaginations. If we fail, future generations will not thank us. But we cannot fail and for their sake we will not fail.

There is one here who has never failed to challenge or to question both received wisdom and those who claim to bear it. Dr Maurice Manning. This conference was Maurice’s idea. When he told me it would draw the finest minds and be wonderful, he wasn’t kidding.

Maurice – you have given this centenary your all. Your work has been understated, judicious and highly-effective. You and your colleagues on the advisory group have indeed done the State some service.

Thanks to you we have had a year of exquisite moments. You have been able to find us where we are, as who we are, a dignified joyful people proud to put our children on our shoulders and go out to honour the men and women of 1916 the people who were us then.

It managed to be both spectacular and unshowy. Everything felt right. It was a kind of ballet of our agencies and institutions.

Our reactions showed that as a nation, we had lived through the worst, transformed it into the best. Not in any saccharine sense, but true to the complexity and indeed the pain involved in who were and are as the Irish people.

In 3,200 primary schools, our children received the Proclamation from the one, true Oglaigh na hEireann.

For teens and adults, a focus on national sovereignty became a whole series of discussions about equality and freedom, of the inclusive, European kind proposed by Tom Kettle 100 year ago.

The focus on our national culture became a debate about the place of culture in society.

We looked at The Proclamation as a historical document but we found a contemporary expression of the Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship.

We thought we were looking at the past, but it turned out that we are perhaps more interested in looking to the future, a future where we live according finest values.

RTE’s contribution to the year showed a public broadcaster at its very best – as a creator of cultural content and as a platform for the creative endeavours of everyone around the country and in our diaspora.

Now, we need to build on all of this.

We will be coming back to this theme in the coming weeks, with details of a plan for the legacy of this year as an authentic expression of what actually happened – and as well beginning our work on the rest of the decade of centenaries.

Because a legacy is something we create and leave for future generations. The Centenary Year gives us the opportunity – and creates the obligation – to articulate and define what this generation must do to create a legacy worthy of that bequeathed to us.

I want it to be combination of Dúthracht and Oidhreacht.

Duthracht is how we love and mind each other. Appropriately for our purposes, it was also, they say, the piece of land a father would leave his daughter.

Oidhreacht as heritage is what we have a right to at birth.

And we want make sure that future generations born in Ireland are assured of love and minding and a heritage, a culture that are literally, beyond price and description.

Central to that are our Arts. They are the best of who we are. Limitless in their reach, impact. Our Arts were central to the revolutionary generation. The poets and playwrights, the revivalists and the writers, had a vision that was as much about cultural freedom as political independence.

I believe that when we take time to reflect on 2016 we will detect a new cultural revival in Ireland – a revival that puts arts and culture at the centre of public policy. Particularly in our language. An Ghaeilge. An Ghaeilge has been through it all – subjugation, plantation, rebellion, Famine, eviction, emigration, revolution, execution and she has endured, held herself separate, inviolate. I believe an Ghaeilge contains a kind of magic, what Heaney might have called the cure or charm for us. And it is time we looked again and better and deeper at our language.

For now, my warmest thanks to you all for being here. I hope you have wonderful time Cois Cladaigh.