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1916 Quarter Development Bill 2015: Second Stage [Private Members] (Continued)

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 901 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy John Browne: Information on John Browne Zoom on John Browne] As many as 300 Irish Volunteers and members of Cumann na mBan escaped to the building from the GPO after it caught fire following bombardment by British artillery during Easter week 1916. The buildings were designated a national monument in 2007 by the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dick Roche. Given that they are a national monument, the current Minister has a duty to ensure the buildings do not descend into permanent decay. It is very easy for the latter to happen to buildings. The Athenaeum, which was the headquarters in Enniscorthy at the time, fell into serious decay over the years. Following representation from all of us, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform allocated €1.3 million a few months ago for the renovation of the Athenaeum. These renovations are under way and it will be one of the key buildings next year. One of the major events will be its opening next Easter. We accept and recognise the contribution of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in making such a large sum of money available for the renovation of the Athenaeum. It is an iconic building that is steeped in history. It had fallen into decay but is now being restored to its former glory, which is very welcome.

The forthcoming centenary of the 1916 Rising marks an important milestone in the history of the Republic. The Easter Rising defined us as a country. It does not belong to any one party but rather to the people of Ireland. I accept that some historians in recent years may have tried to rewrite the history of 1916 but it is important that we accept 1916 warts and all and accept that those involved made a valiant effort to secure freedom for our people after many years of British rule. As Deputy Ó Cuív noted, the 150 descendants of nearly 300 participants in the Rising must be central to any State celebrations. This is why I said earlier that the descendants of participants in Enniscorthy should be given recognition at both local and national level.

The Government has been criticised for operating in a haphazard way and possibly taking a disinterested approach but we appreciate the allocation of money by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. He made sure of this following representations from Oireachtas Members, the 1916 committee, the county manager in Wexford and many more people who argued for recognition of the role played by Enniscorthy in the celebrations and in the renovation of the Athenaeum.

In many ways, the Easter Rising in County Wexford was a follow-on from the 1798 rebellion. Wexford is famous for that era when Wexford people, led by Fr. John Murphy, fought at Vinegar Hill, Tubberneering and other areas of the county. If one traces back the people involved in the 1916 Rising, one will find that many of them were descendants of families that were involved in the 1798 rebellion. They were still involved. We have a continuation of these families who are very much at the heart of the celebrations of 1916. The people of Wexford and Enniscorthy take great pride in celebrating 1916. Every Easter Monday, we celebrate and recognise the magnificent role played by the people there at that time. Enniscorthy is a small town but one that played a significant role in both 1798 and 1916 in the fight for Irish freedom. The Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, is here tonight. I know that Waterford played a part as well. I hope we will recognise the importance of Moore Street and that the Government will consider taking on board the Bill put forward by Deputy Ó Cuív. A great deal of time and effort has gone into preparing it. The Bill is not about Deputy Ó Cuív, it is about recognising the importance of Moore Street. I have not been in Moore Street very often. I visited the markets a couple of times but the people out there recognise the significance of the Moore Street buildings from Nos. 14 to 17 and the need to renovate and restore them and give them the status they deserve. We fully support the site becoming a museum devoted to the events of 1916. It is very important that we would have a museum to that effect. Enniscorthy Castle, which is a museum, contains a lot of artefacts and family mementoes of 1916 and further back. I can say categorically that people visit the castle on a regular basis and have a great sense of pride in the role played by the people in 1916.

Our Bill now goes further and seeks to redevelop the entire Moore Street area and its environs. Our councillors have campaigned with other councillors for the restoration of Moore Street and for the buildings to be taken into State ownership by Dublin City Council. Senator Darragh O'Brien introduced the Bill in the Seanad and Deputy Ó Cuív amended and introduced it in the Dáil.

The debate this evening and tomorrow night is very significant at this time. We are five months away from celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising - a milestone in our history and a milestone in setting this country on the road to freedom, including economic freedom which is as important as any other type. We have ploughed a long furrow over the past 100 years. Last Sunday in Castletown, Seán Haughey asked what the leaders of 1916 would think of us today. How would they react to some of the things that are happening in this country? It is a different era and time but we must recognise that the men and women of 1916 led the way forward for the freedom of this country, including its economic freedom. It is for us as a people who are now custodians of democracy in this country to make sure it is protected and enhanced and that we look back every so often. Next Easter will give us an opportunity to look back and realise the sacrifices made by the people at that time. By looking back and taking inspiration from their leadership, we can move forward as a country to make it one in which all of our people can live in freedom, equality and fraternity.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey I thank the House and Deputy Ó Cuív for being afforded the opportunity to speak on the 1916 Quarter Development Bill 2015. At the outset and while Deputy Browne is here, I must state that, as a Waterford man, I cannot concede that the Irish tricolour was first flown in Wexford. I think it is well known that Thomas Francis Meagher, the great American, Irish and Waterford patriot, unveiled the flag at 33 The Mall in Waterford on 7 March 1848. That event is celebrated annually by the Thomas Francis Meagher committee, which has a very public event that celebrates that very important event in our history. I had the honour of addressing the celebration earlier this year. I do, however, agree with Deputy Browne and all Deputies that it is essential that all of our people have the opportunity to remember and celebrate the events of 1916. It is a shared history and heritage that must never be forgotten and it is important that all communities in all counties have an opportunity to remember in whatever way they see fit with the support of the State those who went before us and fought and played their part in Irish freedom.

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