"I can smell and sense political correctness and an air brushing of history coming into this already."
PAC Meeting | Jan 29, 2015
Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht called and examined
Vice Chairman (Deputy John Deasy, in the chair): I perused the budget for 2015 and discovered that €22 million has been allocated for seven flagship capital projects at the GPO and Kilmainham. There are plans for ceremonies, parades, cultural and youth projects, plus events concerned with the diaspora and language.
I read the document or package in front of the committee some time ago and, like everyone else, I have read bits and pieces about the commemorations in the newspapers. Can Mr. [Joe] Hamill [Department Secretary General] tell me how the Department will commemorate the people who died in 1916?
There were roughly 64 Irish Volunteers killed, and 16 were executed, 254 civilians were killed, 116 British soldiers were killed and 16 policemen or RIC men who were all Irish were killed.
I have seen nothing in what I has seen so far from the Department to indicate how everyone who was killed during the Easter Rising will be remembered. For me, remembering them is the most important.
The commemorations seem to be based around parades and cultural events which is fine as people enjoy them. I have seen no indication of thought being given to remembering the people who were killed in 1916. Can the Secretary General give an idea whether anything is being planned?
Mr. Joe Hamill: I reiterate that the document launched in November was a framework one and was not meant to be definitive or to cover all the angles. Part of what was wanted at the time was to get some sort of a more structured debate going around how this should look and how it should be developed.
Proposals have been put forward that cover all of the groupings the Vice Chairman mentioned. There have been some contacts around, as he is probably aware, and there has been some media interest in, for example, the children who died over that period.
Vice Chairman: Joe Duffy featured that issue about three years ago.
Mr. Joe Hamill: There has been some attention recently.
Vice Chairman: Can Mr. Hamill give me some specifics of what he is talking about?
Mr. Joe Hamill: No, not at this stage. By way of background, there is a group working on some of these things. We are trying to work our way through them at the moment. The Government decided in recent days to set up a Cabinet committee on 2016 which the Taoiseach will chair. It will have its first meeting next week.
Part of the thinking on this is to have a closer focus by Government on the different issues and their co-ordination. One of the things which has been greatly emphasised, and my Minister has been strong on this, is the need for this to be inclusive, historically accurate and respectful.
The Vice Chairman will be aware of the committee of historians, chaired by Maurice Manning, advising us. They are very keen that all of these kinds of things would be historically true and accurate-----
Vice Chairman: Mr. Hamill is not really answering the question. I understand what has been going on. I have read the list of historians and am aware Mr. Manning is chairing that committee.
I see a danger in having politicians dealing with 1916. The people in Cabinet are fine people and many of them probably know more about history and the Easter Rising than I do, but the danger is that this will be used as an event for politicians to put their own political spin on things.
Mr. Hamill takes direction in many respects with regard to policy when it comes to Ministers and politicians. The Civil Service should make it absolutely clear that this needs to be completely dispassionate when it comes to politics and that the brutal and clinical historical fact needs to be recorded.
The people are ready for it. The use of events such as this by politicians across the board to spin things would disgust them. They are ready for clear, historical fact, warts and all.
When I go through the documentation that has been circulated, I see nothing about plans to commemorate or remember the people on both sides who died or the people who were caught in the middle, which is a very significant number.
Mr. Joe Hamill: I am confident that the kinds of processes and discussions which are going on now will lead to these kinds of events. There are lots of events being discussed with different sectors which will be absolutely independent of any official or Government influence.
We are having lots of discussions with third level institutions, historians' groups and so forth which will do all these things and will do them very independently of Government or officials. We will get the same in the artistic sphere. No one will tell artists how to do this.
Vice Chairman: That is fair enough. However, Mr. Hamill mentioned Joe Duffy. What he did was a very good example of what needs to be repeated. I have been listening to and reading takes from historians and other experts for the past year and it is leaving me cold at this point. They are not focusing on the people who died.
It seems to be irrelevant to some of them. There is a dearth with regard to the people who died in 1916. All one has to do is go around Dublin. There is a monument which does not even name the Volunteers at Upper Mount Street bridge which is where the biggest battle took place. It mentions the Volunteers and no one else. Michael Malone's name is commemorated with two others on a gravestone in Glasnevin.
This is where the focus of Mr. Hamill and his officials should be. Historians will know about this. I am just giving a viewpoint. I started a committee in Waterford and we put together the First World War memorial which is located in Dungarvan. We had one rule: no politics. When it was unveiled, people from every political party came to the unveiling.
When asked questions which were politically inclined, we made it clear that we were not going to get involved in it and that people could make their own interpretations on the First World War, who was right and who was wrong with regard to who served. There is a danger here and I see it beginning already.
Politicians and ex-politicians are giving their interpretations. I will not say that this is happening ad nauseam but it is leaving me cold at this point. Direction needs to be given by the people in the Department in this case when it comes to, at the very least, the people who died.
Mr. Joe Hamill: Looking back at what we have been involved in since the decade started and since we were asked to take this on, we have been involved in or supported a range of events, not always directly or financially, which have ran the gamut.
The Chair mentioned an event in Wexford. We have been involved in lots of those kinds of events around the country. Speaking personally, if I may for a moment, we have seen a massive sea change in the openness of people on the First World War.
The National Library will have seen it at open days when people brought memorabilia and that kind of thing. This is how we started this process and this is the way we will go on. This is our approach.
Vice Chairman: I find it disappointing that Mr. Hamill cannot specify any particular direction on remembering the people who died. He is making the case that he is giving money to the local authorities and that this will be dealt with over the next year. It is clear that the focus is not on the individuals who died but rather the pomp and parade.
Mr. Joe Hamill: The ceremonial part will have to be part of it. There is no question about that. In the kind of thinking and discussing we are doing at the moment, I see the kind of elements the Vice Chairman has been talking about as very much part of this.
Being very direct on this, proposals will have to go to Government, to Cabinet committee, to be cleared. There will be a further announcement fairly soon giving more information on how this is starting to work itself out. The Vice Chairman mentioned local authorities. We see this as very much being led by local people in local areas deciding on the kinds of things they wish to do.
Vice Chairman: I would not, to be honest with Mr. Hamill, when it comes to local authorities. Both my grandfathers were in the old IRA. A few local authorities - Cork, Wexford, Tipperary - passed rules that ex-servicemen who came back from the front could not be employed by those authorities.
I am not saying that opinion still exists. I think Mr. Hamill should be very careful about devolving money and responsibility to local authorities. The leadership should come from Mr. Hamill's Department and his officials, and it should be clinically, historically and brutally frank. It should not be left up to politicians to put their spin on things when it comes to this commemoration, because this is what is going to happen and it has been going on already...
In order to avoid any ambiguity with regard to my view and my position with regard to 1916, this is the Committee of Public Accounts and a lot of money is being spent this year with a lot more to be spent next year. I believe that equal weight should be given when it comes to commemorating British soldiers, RIC men, volunteers and civilians, who were casualties in the Easter Rising. I will let people make their own interpretations after the fact.
I refer again to Mount Street Bridge and the 28 Sherwood Foresters - boys - who were killed in that action. It is my opinion that they were victims of British military mistakes because they could have been sent around to Baggot Street but instead they were sent into a hail of bullets. In my book they, too, were victims.
However, I think it will require additional leadership from the Secretary General and his officials in this case because I can smell and sense political correctness and an air brushing of history coming into this already. I believe this will require a little difference of emphasis from the Secretary General and his officials.
I am disappointed that with all the money we are spending, the Secretary General is unable to mention one specific project or initiative. I commend the great work done by Joe Duffy. The Secretary General knows where I am coming from in this regard.
From what I have seen, read and heard, I think it is valid, so far. I do not mean to take anything away from those fine historians on that committee and the people involved but I think the point I have made is important.
Vice Chairman: I ask if the Secretary General would do so.
Mr. Joe Hamill: I am very happy to take on board the Deputy's views. I refer to the riding instructions given to the Department which include a significant emphasis on inclusiveness, historical accuracy and all of those things.
Vice Chairman: The problem is that we need to take the politics out of this but it is now a political process, to a certain extent. This is different from that standpoint. It has become entangled in politics already. That is where it is a little different when it comes to the Secretary General and the kind of leadership that is necessary from his Department and from him. The Secretary General knows where I am coming from on this issue.
Mr. Joe Hamill: I will make the point I should have made earlier. We have been working on the chronology so much of our emphasis in recent years has been around the First World War and those issues. However, in my view, much of that will feed into the way in which we move into the next phase.
Vice Chairman: It is completely different. A benchmark will be needed for dealing with 1921 and 1923 and those who died in that time and this commemoration will be the test.
The test will be how one deals with those who were victims or who died in 1916, as there will be a resonance in 1921, 1922 and 1923. This must be borne in mind.
Mr. Joe Hamill: Yes. I might be stating the obvious, but after the Rising in Dublin, of course, there was the Somme just a couple of months later. That is something we have been discussing also. We must keep watching in both directions. We are very conscious of this.
Vice Chairman: Perhaps Mr. Hamill might refer back to us.
Mr. Joe Hamill: I will.
Vice Chairman: Given all of the money we are spending here, I would like to find out what specific projects have been planned or are in the pipeline. It would be interesting to find out.
Mr. Joe Hamill: I will refer back to the committee on that matter.