Dáil Éireann - Volume 346 - 22 November, 1983

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - National Commemoration Day.

1. Mr. N. Andrews. asked the Taoiseach if, in view of the controversy following the participation of our Defence Forces in the British Legion Memorial Day Services, the Government will consider nominating a given bank holiday as a national commemoration day, remembering all those Irish men and women who gave their lives in times of war and conflict, both at home and abroad, in defence of their convictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

[2] The Taoiseach: This was done in 1974 when the Government decided to nominate Saint Patrick's Day for the purpose. It was not taken up generally.

Mr. Haughey: First, I should explain that Deputy Niall Andrews is abroad on party business and that no discourtesy is intended by his not being here. Would the Taoiseach accept that for many people who intend no disrespect to anyone the Poppy Day ceremonies, as they are popularly known, have unacceptable associations and connotations and would he now consider an approach to this question [3] on an all-party basis, taking the initiative to endeavour to arrange some new ceremonies on a different day at a different time of the year, ceremonies to which all Irish men and women could subscribe? In this way we could honour the memory of all those who died for any cause in which they believed sincerely.

The Taoiseach: This is precisely what the then Government did in March 1974 when the Taoiseach of the day wrote to the Church leaders referring to a decision for a day of national commemoration and suggesting that services on that day might include special prayers followed by silence for all who lost their lives as a result of war or civil strife. He also notified them that the President would be broadcasting a message on radio and television. That message was broadcast and included the statement that for that year and for the future they would be asked to make Saint Patrick's Day a day of national commemoration, a day on which we would remember all those who died for Ireland and all victims of civil strife in Ireland. Unfortunately, the matter was taken up by the then Opposition and although a Minister in the then Government, the former Deputy Donegan, said in the Dáil at the time that in his view the people of the country were very satisfied that we had set aside one day as a day of national commemoration, Deputy Molloy, on behalf of his party, said that this was not acceptable to the people at all. That is where we stand. Where we go from there is a matter for further consideration, but it is in the light of these circumstances and the fact that these ceremonies have continued with representation from both Governments and in an improved form this year that we have the present situation. I do not accept that the improved ceremonies this year which took a different form, one that was less redolent of one particular tradition, were objectionable. On the contrary, I consider it to have been a step forward and I do not understand how the Deputy's party, having rejected the idea of a national day of commemoration, having ensured attendance in Saint Patrick's [4] Cathedral in different circumstances and under different flags and emblems, have any difficulty about agreeing that the Government be represented there under the flag of the United Nations. Therefore, I find the attitude of the party opposite to be inconsistent and very far from being in the spirit I would hope we would all show in seeking a genuine reconciliation of the two traditions on this island.

Mr. Haughey: I regret that the Taoiseach has been partisan about this matter which I approached in a non-partisan way. I would ask him to accept that for some of us, rightly or wrongly, the Remembrance Day ceremonies under the auspices of the Royal British Legion do hold connotations which are unacceptable to us. Would he accept also that the events he is talking of are now more than a decade past and in a totally open-minded and non-partisan way would he, as head of the Government, be prepared to enter into consultations with the other parties with a view to finding out if some new development can be initiated? In that connection I would remind him that on a number of occasions different heads of Government, certainly one or two, attempted to initiate a system of awards for distinguished service to the nation but that unfortunately these initiatives fell on stony ground.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is broadening the question.

Mr. Haughey: I am not raising that issue. I merely wish to remind the Taoiseach that the initiative was tried a few times but that, perhaps through no one's fault, it did not succeed. However, in matters such as these we should try again and that is why I am asking the Taoiseach to consider seriously the proposal I am making. He will find a broad degree of acceptance, I am sure, in this matter.

The Taoiseach: I was not being partisan, but we are in the situation we are in because of historic events. We endeavoured to have one national day of commemoration [5] but, unfortunately, for the reasons I have given, we did not succeed.

Mr. Haughey: Let us try again.

The Taoiseach: In the light of recent events, of the attitude shown to and of some things that have been said about the ecumenical services in St. Patrick's Cathedral, I do not consider this to be the best moment at which to seek to reopen the matter in this way because in seeking to do so and by responding to the Deputy, I could appear to be reflecting on the arrangements that were made for this ecumenical service and I would fear that in approaching it in this way at this time the damage which I believe has been done in relation to the two traditions could be aggravated. I do not exclude the question of looking at it again in the future, but it would be better if we let it lie without controversy for a few months before we come back to it.