Welcoming remarks by Minister McEntee on Centenary Commemoration of First Sitting of Dáil Ēireann
Speech21 January 2019
Speakers, Deputy Speakers, fellow parliamentarians, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to welcome you to Iveagh House, the home of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to mark the occasion of the Centenary Commemoration of the First Sitting of Dáil Ēireann, which will take place later this afternoon at the Mansion House nearby.
It is very much appreciated by the Oireachtas and our Government that you, the representatives of the national parliaments of our fellow European Union Member States and of other close neighbours and friends, have been able to take time out of your busy schedules to join with us for this most significant milestone in our history.
We greatly value the contributions of citizens from many of the countries represented in this room who have made Ireland their home and who contribute so richly to our social, cultural and economic life. And we are delighted that so many of the people who have come here from all over the world have chosen to become citizens of Ireland, without losing their attachment to their home countries.
There were many significant debates in Dáil Ēireann over the course of the past 100 years that helped shape the path that this country has chosen. From the discussions on our joining the United Nations in 1955, to Irish accession to the European Economic Community on the first of January 1973 – although I have to confess that I am one of the 2.4 million Irish citizens living in Ireland who are too young to remember that fateful day! And of course the debates and discussions over many years that culminated in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 that brought peace to our island after 30 years of violence.
The first meeting of Dáil Éireann in the Mansion House took place at a time of national upheaval – a war of independence, followed by civil war. Our parliamentarians of that time and in the following years struggled to build a country that could, in Robert Emmet’s words, “take its place among the nations of the earth”. But they had a rich parliamentary tradition to build on. A tradition that included parliamentarians such as Henry Grattan, Edmund Burke, Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt. We have always had parliamentarians who had a vision beyond this island and we have fully embraced our European and international identity. And, of course, the first woman elected to the Dáil, Countess Constance Markievicz, was one of the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position.
Three weeks ago we held the annual gathering of the Heads of Ireland’s Embassies, Consulates and Representations. This was not just one of our regular annual meetings, though. This year also marks the centenary of the Irish Diplomatic Service, when the First Dáil adopted not just the Declaration of Independence, but also a Message to the Free Nations of the World. The day after this first meeting of the Dáil, Count George Plunkett was appointed our first Minister for Foreign Affairs and within days our future president, Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh, was sent to Paris to plead Ireland’s case at the Versailles Conference.
While we are marking the occasion with a look back it is even more important that we consider Ireland’s place in the world in a dramatically shifting global environment where the international norms and certainties that shaped our first century of independence are under considerable strain.
In that regard the Government has agreed an ambitious strategy - ‘Global Ireland 2025: Making it Happen’ - which envisages doubling our global footprint and influence by 2025. Global Ireland presents Ireland’s global footprint as falling into three broad areas - namely, how we trade, the bilateral and multilateral partnerships we build, and our wider contribution to the world.
This will be manifested in a number of ways including a significant increase in the number and staffing of our diplomatic missions, a greater one stop model bringing together our Missions and other economic, trade and scientific state agencies in Ireland Houses around the world, our vigorous campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council for 2021 and 2022, and our commitment to a sustained year on year increase in development funding.
Why do we have these ambitions? – because we are taking our responsibilities as a global citizen very seriously, promoting our unique Irish culture and our values, building our development aid programme, proactively connecting with our 70M diaspora, and continuing to be a world leader in UN peacekeeping. I mention these matters as examples of the Government’s commitments, not just in the EU, but in a wider global context.
I should also say a few words about not just the role of our National Parliament, the Oireachtas, in European Union affairs but that of Member State National Parliaments generally. In Ireland, we have a system whereby EU issues are scrutinised by Oireachtas sectoral committees. I very much value my frequent meetings with the European Affairs Committee held in conjunction with the monthly meetings of the General Affairs Council. I am delighted that we have members of both the European Affairs Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee here with us. Outreach by the Oireachtas is also an important dimension of enhancing our relations with EU partners.
National parliaments also serve as very effective lines of communication between citizens and the European Union and are crucial as arenas for debate on important EU issues and their national implications. Similarly, by holding national governments accountable for their EU negotiation positions, national parliaments contribute to the public accountability of EU decision making. These issues are all the more important in these challenging times and are brought into sharper focus as we move closer to the forthcoming European Parliament elections.
Today we commemorate democracy – Ireland is now one of the oldest continuous democracies in the world. We face challenging social, economic and political issues both at home and abroad. We do not all share the same views on how these issues should be addressed and we may disagree on many issues. This is how it should be. The cut and thrust of parliamentary debate, scrutiny and the articulation of alternative perspectives is to be embraced. We may not share common views, but we share a common principle, the right to represent the views of our people and their right to be heard.
Once again I am delighted to welcome you all here and I hope you enjoy the commemorative events that are being held today to remember and mark an important day for Irish democracy.