Ar an lá seo, céad bliain ó shin, deimhníodh ráiteas dearfa, diongbháilte, misniúil faoi todhchaí na hÉireann. Buaileadh grúpa beag duine a bhí tofa in Westminster, le chéile anseo, i dTeach an Ardmhéara i mBaile Átha Cliath, chun an chéad Dáil a reachtú.
I slíthe cinnte, ráiteas siombolach a bhí i gceist: bhí an Dáil ina reachtas gan aon chumhacht. Ach ó thaobh an siombalachais de, bhí sé an-chumhachtach ar fad. D’fhógair an ócáid an nadúr daonlathach a rith mar bhunthréith trí Réabhlóid na hÉireann, an luach a chuir sí in institiúidí parlaiminteacha, agus an tóir a bhí ann chun Stát soar, neamhspleach, daonlathach a bhaint amach.
Ba chruinniú dhátheangach é - an chéad chruinniú stairiúil sin, an chuid is mó de as Gaeilge, agus léadh cuid de na doiciméid as Fraincis agus ansin as Béarla.
Inniu, cuimhnímid fís de phoblacht shoar, neamhspleách a bhí leagtha amach sa Dhearbhú Neamhspleáchais sin, a bhronnfaí cearta comhionann agus deiseanna chomhionann ar gach saoránach. Is í an fhís chéanna a threoraímid inniu.
Ceann Comhairle, when a small group of people, recently elected to Westminster, met here in the Mansion House one hundred years ago they changed the course of Irish history. The meeting of the first Dáil was a bold, profound and decisive statement about the future of Ireland.
In some ways, it was more of a symbolic statement: the Dáil was a legislature without any power. But as symbolism went it was incredibly powerful. It proclaimed the essential democratic nature of the Irish revolution, the value it placed on parliamentary institutions, and its aspirations for a free, independent and democratic state.
It is significant that the Declaration of Independence was read out in Irish, French, and English. The vision of a free, independent republic was multilingual in approach and multilateral in outlook. It was one which sought to ‘re-establish justice, to provide for future defence, to insure peace at home and goodwill with all nations and to constitute a national polity based upon the people's will with equal right and equal opportunity for every citizen’. They are the same principles which guide us today.
Much asserted in the message to the ‘Free Nations of the World’ could be restated today. We share the vision of a confident trading nation, which ‘must be open to all nations’.
Through our membership of the EU, through our role with the United Nations and the peacekeeping missions we have been involved in, we have turned the dream of Ireland taking her place among the nations of the world into a reality.
I am happy to acknowlegde the influence of the Labour movement on the Democratic Programme, and we see it in the assertion that ‘the right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare.’ Today this is reflected in Bunreacht na hÉireann in Article 43 where private property rights are enshrined but are subject to the common good.
For many at the time, the ideas in the Democratic Programme seemed too radical. A minister in the First Free State government dismissed it as ‘mostly poetry’. But what is striking is how successive governments were eventually able to translate the poetry of the Democratic Programme into legislative prose. That work continues
Over time, the new Irish state would establish policies ‘for the care of the Nation's aged and infirm, who shall not be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the Nation's gratitude and consideration’. Health services were established to safeguard the health of the people and ensure the physical well-being of the country, services that serves us well, despite the problems.
Through the development of state-owned enterprises such as the ESB and Bord na Móna ‘the Nation's resources’: its ‘mineral deposits, peat bogs, and fisheries, its waterways and harbours’ were developed ‘in the interests and for the benefit of the Irish people.’ It took many decades, and a new direction in Irish economic policy, but Irish industries were eventually invigorated and ‘trade with foreign Nations… revived on terms of mutual advantage and goodwill’ as the programme foresaw.
The Democratic Programme also points to where the State has fallen short. Its assertion that ‘the first duty of the Government of the Republic’ will be to ensure ‘that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training’ reminds us of our responsibilities to children.
Industrial schools, illegal adoptions, and Mother and Baby Homes were a betrayal of those ideals. Although today the rate of child poverty in Ireland is only a fraction of what it was one hundred years ago, and is falling, we must do better.
In the first years of the Irish Free State there were almost half a million pupils in primary school, but only one in twenty would continue beyond that. Third-level education was for the few. It was no wonder that W.B. Yeats called Ireland in 1928 ‘the worst educated country in northern Europe’. Today we are one of the best educated. Different Governments over many years made that possible – for example, bringing in free second level education – and the result is that this ideal of the Democratic Programme has become a reality for many. Today, more people attend higher education than ever before with more than ever before coming from non-traditional backgrounds.
We also remember that Constance Markievicz was made Minister for Labour in the First Dáil in April 1919. It is deeply shameful that it took another sixty years before another woman became a government minister. As a State we were diminished by the absence of women from positions of power.
Today we also remember that the 21st of January 1919 was also the date of the ambush at Soloheadbeg in Co. Tipperary, an event that subsequently came to be seen as the first shots in the War of Independence. In the months and years ahead we will commemorate the struggle that helped us achieve the independence declared so eloquently on behalf of the Irish people in the Mansion House on this day.
So today is an opportunity to recall the past and look to the future. The meeting of the First Dáil was a bold exercise in democracy, an assertion that the struggle for Irish independence had the support of the Irish people, and derived its legitimacy from them. By honouring the First Dáil we reaffirm our belief in its democratic integrity, concourse with the world, and rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of its values and aspirations.
Tugann an ócáid inniu an deis chun machnamh a dhéanamh ar an saol a bhí ann fadó, agus, ag an am céanna, smaoineamh ar an saol atá amach romhainn sa todhchaí. Ba chéim mhisniúil, chróga í cruinniú na chéad Dála, a dhearbhaigh go raibh tacaíocht mhuintir na hÉireann taobh thiar den gcomhlint chun neamhspleachas na hÉireann a bhuachan, agus gur bhain sí a dlisteanacht astu.
Agus muid ag tabhairt ómós don chéad Dáil, athdhearbhaímid ár gcreideamh ina hionracas daonlathach, a chomhthionól leis an saol, agus aththiomnaímid dá hidéil agus dá fís.
Translation of Opening and Conclusion
On this day, one hundred years ago, a bold, profound and decisive statement was made about the future of Ireland. A small group of people, recently elected to Westminster, met here in the Mansion House in Dublin to constitute the First Dáil.
In some ways, it was more of a symbolic statement: the Dáil was a legislature without any power. But as symbolism went it was incredibly powerful. It proclaimed the essential democratic nature of the Irish revolution, the value it placed parliamentary institutions, and its aspirations for a free, independent and democratic state.
This historic first meeting was multilingual, with most of the proceedings in Irish, and some documents also read in French, and then in English.
Today we recall the vision of a free, independent republic set-out in the Declaration of Independence, offering equal rights and equal opportunity for every citizen. It is the same vision which guides us today.
Today is an opportunity to recall the past and look to the future. The meeting of the First Dáil was a bold exercise in democracy, an assertion that the struggle for Irish independence had the support of the Irish people, and derived its legitimacy from them.
By honouring the First Dáil we reaffirm our belief in its democratic integrity, concourse with the world, and rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of its values and aspirations.