BaileNuachtAithisc an Taoisigh

Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny TD on the occasion of the launch of "Sixties Ireland –Reshaping the Economy, State and Society, 1957-73" by Professor Mary Daly on Thursday 14 July 2016

 

I am honoured to be here with you in the Royal Irish Academy this evening to launch this landmark publication, Sixties Ireland –Reshaping the Economy, State and Society, 1957 -73.

During her time as a lecturer and professor at UCD Mary Daly established herself as a scholar of the highest repute as well as a valued teacher and mentor to generations of students.

This book covers a formative decade in our history as an independent nation. It is not a comfortable book. At the start of the period covered in this book our State was in deep crisis. Some even doubted its capacity to survive.
It recounts the action and inaction of political leadership, the strong hold of vested interests in both public and private sector, the general insularity and inefficiency which contributed to this country being seen as one of the most stagnant and underdeveloped countries of Europe in the post war decades.

This very honest, well researched and thoughtful book charts Ireland’s long road to achieve living standards that were comparable with other countries in Western Europe. This process began with the period covered in this book – 1957 to 1973 but was only achieved in the 1990s.
There is a stark present day lesson for us in this story- economic growth is difficult, it cannot be taken for granted and is vulnerable at all times to the unexpected- and especially to the unexpected generated by external factors over which we have no control.

Central to this book is the importance of the EU. The book tells in great detail how we faced up to the challenges of this new adventure – the biggest since Independence. We succeeded in maintaining our Neutrality despite many fears and warnings to the contrary. Membership of the then EEC gave Ireland access to crucial markets for our exports-particularly in agriculture. Mary Daly shows very clearly how membership freed Irish taxpayers of the cost of supporting farm prices, enabling significant improvement in welfare spending and expanded services after 1973.

But most of all membership allowed us carve our identity as an independent nation no longer under the shadow of our nearest neighbour –a nation with our own distinctive role on the international stage. It proved to be a coming of age for our still young state.

Of particular interest today is the section of this book dealing with the tortuous Anglo-Irish trade negotiations of the 1960s and Mary Daly takes us through this period with great detail and insight.

As Taoiseach I, and my ministers spend a great deal of time and effort in seeking and, with success, attracting foreign direct investment to this country.
This book shows what a long road has been travelled to get to this position. The decades of Protectionism after 1932 had left us a reliant, small sized, and mostly inefficient and unambitious industrial sector. It also left us a mind-set in political, business and state thinking which was hostile often in a doctrinaire way to the whole concept of outside direct investment and had very little expertise in making it happen. Nor was there very much by way of the infrastructure needed, the managerial expertise and worker skills, the roads, the phones. There were many failures before lessons were learned as Mary Daly points out.

But we did learn and we did it with success. And we will have to continue learning and adapting and investing in the very challenging climate in which we now find ourselves. But this time we will be building from a position of strength and inherited experience.

This is a book of substance, fact-based, evidence-based work of the highest order. All of the old assumptions, many of which we accept as fact are questioned. Many of our cherished assumptions fail to pass the rigors of the Daly scrutiny as she examines the economics, politics, social issues and international involvement of these years.
It stresses the central importance of investment in education and there is much that we can learn from her account of the collapse of housing construction in the 1950s. That housing crisis was resolved in time but not without some lessons to be born in mind - Ballymun and the Limerick estates in particular.

There is some very insightful coverage of the politics of the period- much of which I lived through at second hand through my late father who was a member of Dáil Éireann during these years.

It was a different, more relaxed time where events moved at a slower pace but the problems and challenges were just as great and often as unexpected as we face today, though maybe on a lesser scale and at a slower pace. Essentially then as now it was the eternal battle between continuity and change and how to attain the one without too much alienation of the latter- a battle between those who wanted change and those who saw change as a threat to traditional values. Then as now it required a fine balancing act, a willingness ultimately to accept compromise all round . I hope that our recent experiences have shown us to be more tolerant of each other’s point of view than was often the case in the years covered here.

I note too the strong belief among the political pundits of the time who wrote strongly and with certainty that the departure of Eamon de Valera to the Áras would be followed by a merger between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and more usually that Fine Gael had outlived its useful life and would soon be consigned to history.

This book, as I have said, is about history at its best, and both our venue this evening, our author and the fact that so many of you here are professional historians puts me in mind of our current decade of centenaries.

For me the current commemorations have shown that Irish people value their history; the overall impression from the current commemoration is of a country at ease with its past.
And since I am talking about history to historians I would like to mention a number of initiatives.

May I begin by complimenting the Royal Irish Academy under the leadership of Mary Daly in establishing Digital Repository Ireland. Digital Repository Ireland will play a major role in bringing together and preserving our social and cultural heritage as it showcases and safeguards Ireland’s digital culture. DRI will preserve and share the kinds of data that enable historians and the general public to explore our primary sources. It is an important initiative.

I would like to highlight another initiative that is coming to fruition.

You will all be well aware of the problems associated with the building which houses our National Archive in the old Jacob’s factory in Bishop Street. State archives are continually growing due to the annual statutory intake of records.

The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the National Archives and the OPW have agreed a building development plan for the National Archives incorporating a phased improvement scheme aiming to maximise the internal storage capacity of the premises.

I would like to say too that the Expert Advisory Group of Historians- of which Mary Daly was such a valuable member- has been reconvened to advise the Government on how best to mark the upcoming commemorations. I know the Academy has already begun to think about this.

I wish Mary continued success.


ENDS