Looking at Micheál Martin’s 2015 Arbour Hill Address – By Brian John Spencer

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Arbour Hill 2015, photo via John Lahart.

Arbour Hill 2015, photo via John Lahart.

The Arbour Hill memorial mass and oration is a signal event in the Fianna Fáil calendar, marking the 1916 Rising. Arbour Hill is a prison and a military cemetery where 14 of the executed leaders of the 1916 insurrection lie. The annual occasion commemorates and restates the aims of the revolutionaries.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s week end speech of 2015 can be broken down into four sections:

One – the right of Fianna Fáil to the legacy of 1916.

Two – the ( alleged) malice, misdeeds and misrepresentations of Sinn Fein; denouncing the party as “not republican.”

Three – the failings of Ulster coalitionism and David Cameron omission.

Four – the shortcomings of the current Dáil, the corresponding degradations visited upon Irish society and the alternative Ireland offered by Fianna Fáil government.

Part one began with Mr Martin TD reaffirming the guiding motives of the revolutionaries. He differentiated today’s with yesterday’s militant separatists by the former having “enormous moral force”. He delineated and commended the recent anglo-Irish rapprochement. He reiterated his party’s role as architects of the Peace Process. Above all else he positioned his party as rightful heirs to 1916, with the caveat that the Rising is not the real estate of any one party but “belongs to the Irish people alone.” The Fianna Fáil leader ended by saying 2016 is a year for “national celebration” and said the commemorative calendar needed improvement.

Part two was the foretold verbal assault on Sinn Fein which saw enumeration of Sinn Fein’s alleged maladies. Martin scolded the ascendent all-island party for its alleged seizure of 1916 and for its logbook and laundering of atrocities.

“This is part of their wider agenda of trying to falsify recent Irish history and claim legitimacy for the sectarian campaign of murder and intimidation which they carried out for 30 years.”

In a retort to Gerry Adams’ blog post, ‘The Good Old IRA,’ Martin said:

“Why can’t the dissidents of today claim the same legitimacy the Provisionals claim? Why are their bombs and murder unacceptable while those of the Provisionals were OK?
“The people of Ireland were just as uniformly opposed to the Provisionals as they are to the fringe movements of today.”

He assailed his republican adversaries for the sex abuse shame. He rubbished Adams’s “republican movement” as “not republican.”

He further stated what he adjudges to be the ill-basis of Sinn Fein’s claim to be the stewards of Pearse and Connolly’s insurrection.

“The Sinn Fein of today was founded just over 40 years ago. It has no historical continuity with 1916 or the War of Independence.”

Arbour Hill 2015, photo via John Lahart.

Arbour Hill 2015, photo via John Lahart.

In Part three Mr Martin heaped odium on Sinn Fein’s record of government in Northern Ireland, pointing out living standards as an indicator of maladministration.

He turned a momentary gaze to London and left Cameron chastened for his inattention to Ulster coalitionism and for reportedly eyeing up the DUP.

In the fourth and final section Micheál Martin drew on the history of his party founded in 1926 by Eamonn de Valera and Lemass and pitched a more compassionate austerity to the one administered by the current Fine Gael-Labour government.

Arbour Hill 2015, photo via John Lahart.

Arbour Hill 2015, photo via John Lahart.

Read the speech in full here:

Ní fhéadfadh na laochra atá curtha san áit cháiliúil seo a bheith ag brionglóideach fiú faoin ngaisce ollmhór a bhaineadar amach. . Bhí sí mar aidhm acu splanc neamhspleáchais na hÉireann a athadhaint agus a athnuachan, ach chuireadar tús le réabhlóid a chruthaigh ceann de na tíortha daonlathacha leanúnacha is faide ar domhan anois.

Bhí na laochra seo, chomh maith leis na fir agus leis na mná a throid taobh leo fáilteach, oscailte agus carthanach mar dhaoine.

An fhís a bhí acu den tír seo ná tír fhorásach mar bhall de phobal náisiún, bródúil as a cultúr agus dearfach oscailte chun bheith rannpháirteach comhoibritheach le tíortha an domhain mhóir.

Is onóir agus dualgas dúinn bailiú le chéile gach bliain chun ár meas agus ár n-urraim a léiriú as gach a bhain siad amach go cróga ar son na tíre seo.

The men and women of 1916 are heroes which any nation would be proud of.

They fought on behalf of a people who had experienced centuries of repression, dispossession and cultural imperialism.

Little more than seventy years beforehand mass starvation and emigration was seen throughout our island. Systematic depopulation tore apart much of its social and cultural fabric. An active policy of trying to quieten the population was accompanied by aggressive Anglicisation.

And yet, after all of this, the deep belief in the need to assert our separate rights never died. It was kept alive and in 1916 it sparked a magnificent and successful revolution.

A small nation faced down the most powerful empire in the world and prevailed. We have every right to be proud of this and a duty to remember those who led the fight.

As we look back from the 21st century as a country which rightly seeks close relations with our neighbours, nobody should forget that behind the demand for Irish independence there was an enormous moral force.

The methods used to achieve dominance over Ireland, and the manner in which these were sustained, shows how these islands were never one.

To this day the community of interests between people of different traditions on our island remains deep and contains a potential, which can only be fully unleashed by us all working together, in one state for our common good.

Fianna Fáil is rightly proud of the fact that it drove forward the successful search for a shared blueprint for the future of our island. For the first time in history, and uniquely in the world, a peaceful democratic process has been agreed by which the unity of our country could be decided and its diversity recognised.

We are a party founded by men and women who fought in 1916 for the freedom of our country. In the attendance roll of our founding meeting the names of de Valera, Clarke, Pearse and many others who led the rebellion are to be found – and in the chair was Countess Markievicz.

Every member of Fianna Fáil is proud of this heritage, and it is that what has inspired us in our successful work in building a new departure for peace and reconciliation.

But while we are proud of the leadership of men and women of 1916 in our party, we are just as clear in saying that 1916 belongs to no party or movement.

It belongs to the Irish people alone.

And the Irish people have shown time and again that 1916 is a cherished part of their identity. On the streets of Dublin and in commemorations throughout the country, they continue to demonstrate their respect and gratitude.

The centenary next year should be an occasion of genuine national celebration. It should be as inclusive as possible while not losing the core principle of marking the foundation of a republic.

I believe the government has underestimated the public interest in the centenary and there is no doubt that the allocation to support local commemorations is completely inadequate.

The time has come for the 1916 battlefield, particularly in the area of the GPO to be comprehensively marked and developed.

In government we designated the Moore Street site as a national site, which extended protection to it. Since then our councillors have fought to preserve it for the nation and thankfully there have been key breakthroughs.

What is needed now is to go much further – to develop Moore St and the GPO as an integrated centre which would provide a place where people could go to pay their respects and to learn about the decisive move for Irish freedom.

It is a sad reality that there are those who are engaged in a deeply sinister attempt to misuse the respect which the Irish people have for 1916.

The political party which carries the name Sinn Fein has aggressively been promoting the false claim that they have some connection to 1916 and to the volunteers who fought then.

This is part of their wider agenda of trying to falsify recent Irish history and claim legitimacy for the sectarian campaign of murder and intimidation which they carried out for 30 years.

Let no one be in any doubt, Provisional Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA have no connection with 1916. To claim otherwise is a dangerous and cynical lie.

Through this attempt to claim a link with 1916, Sinn Fein and the movement they are part of, is insulting and undermining the place of the Rising in our national identity.

Their claim to historical continuity basically says that 1916 changed nothing – which no new possibilities were opened up, no new methods became available.

The men and women of 1916 themselves knew that this was nonsense – because they embraced the fact that their fight had opened up immense new possibilities for Ireland.

Within 2 years they won the overwhelming democratic endorsement of the Irish people. And they went on to found democratic parties, adopt a republican constitution and commit themselves to achieving national objectives in new ways.

But the arrogance of Gerry Adams and his both public and secret comrades goes much further and is much more dangerous than this. If the justification for the Provisionals’ campaign is that they had a right to ignore the repeated opposition of the Irish people and to fight until everything was achieved, then why can’t someone else claim that today?

Why can’t the dissidents of today claim the same legitimacy the Provisionals claim? Why are their bombs and murder unacceptable while those of the Provisionals were OK?

The people of Ireland were just as uniformly opposed to the Provisionals as they are to the fringe movements of today.

This goes to the heart of why Sinn Fein remains unfit for participation in a democratic republican government. They are no longer as a movement engaged in murdering people, and this remains a great achievement for democratic parties that worked to get them to stop the killing.

But what they have refused to do is acknowledge that they were always wrong. By claiming legitimacy for their campaign they refuse to acknowledge the right of the Irish people to oppose and reject them.

They refuse to acknowledge that they fought against this state. They killed servants of this republic and worked to destroy its institutions.

Sinn Fein today sells t-shirts with “IRA – Undefeated Army” and talks about ‘volunteers’ and ‘Oglaigh na hÉireann’. Its members, the old faces and the newer ones alike, never deviate one bit from this.

The Provisionals were never Óglaigh na hÉireann. Óglaigh na hÉireann is now and was during their entire campaign the army of this free independent Irish republic.

And what’s more, throughout their campaign they directly disregarded the clear demand of the Proclamation that no person fighting for the Republic should dishonour it.

Even though they have worked hard to hide the full details of their crimes, the core immorality of their intimidation and actions is stark. To brutally murder a mother of 10 and still protect those involved 40 years latter is depravity.

To still describe this as a legitimate act of war shows that Provisional Sinn Fein has contempt for the settled and repeatedly expressed view of the Irish people that it was no legitimate war.

These people read the Proclamation at their events. They hear the demand for honourable behaviour and service of the people before the movement and yet they keep going.

No member of the Provisional movement has yet lifted a finger to address the widespread abuse of children by their members and the systematic covering up of it up to this day. They shot children in the streets for defying them and they turned a blind eye to the abuse of children.

It is a harrowing and humbling experience to meet with their victims. To be in the company of people whose childhoods were brutally destroyed and who have fought through enormous obstacles, to show bravery unknown to the cowards who lead the movement which denied them justice.

And let us not fall for the line that this is about the distant past when there was a so-called war on. The covering-up of abuse, the protection of abusers from legal and public justice continued well after the ceasefires and happened on both sides of the border.

It is also something which the Leader and Deputy Leader of Sinn Fein have confirmed they knew about. Both have said that it is ‘unfortunate’ and that the Provisional IRA was ‘not suited’ to carry out this policing role, but that it was inevitable because of the circumstances.

In spite of their call for people to come forward with evidence yet again no one has. Just like when dozens of Sinn Fein members refused to give evidence of who killed a man in front of a full public bar, a movement renowned for its discipline in everything cannot persuade them to come forward and give justice to their victims.

We cannot and we must not let these people succeed in their campaign to claim the mantle of republicanism. They are not republicans. They put their interests and without fail their movement first .They reserve the right to decide what rules they follow. They do not accept that in a republic we are all bound by the same laws.

In a very different way we could see this Sinn Fein arrogance on display this week by their Deputy Leader’s refusal to apologise for her clear abuse of the Dáil. As a member of a committee she received a document.

The evidence showed that the Gardai, the regulators, two tribunals and other independent bodies had failed to find any evidence of wrongdoing by named individuals.

And yet she decided that she had the right to take their good names – she decided that they had no right to protection and also that the only acceptable finding should be one of guilt by accusation.

Even this generation of ‘clean’ new faces in Sinn Fein is wedded to the approach that they can stand judge and jury over everyone – that if they have decided on something that’s the end of the discussion.

They don’t debate, they enforce – and when challenged they attack.

They formed a united front in attacking Fianna Fáil when we raised the abuse cover-ups in the Provisional movement and, of course, they continue to attack.

But we will not back down. We will not step back from calling them out and pointing to their sinister practices.

I hope that in the year ahead others will start being more vigilant in challenging their agenda of falsifying history. The Sinn Fein of today was founded just over 40 years ago.

It has no historical continuity with 1916 or the War of Independence. When members of their party achieve mayoral positions they are not, as some lazily say, “The first Sinn Fein mayor since 1921”.

As we enter into the celebration of 1916 we should also redouble our efforts to fulfil the promise of lasting peace and reconciliation on this island.

The institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are volatile and have been neglected.

The longer the DUP and Sinn Fein continue in their stranglehold on decisions from the Executive the deeper public disillusionment is growing. Party interests continue to be their main focus and the people of Northern Ireland and our whole island are the losers.

The fact that Sinn Fein and the DUP agreed an economic development plan which had no mention whatsoever of the South is a disgrace. And it is part of the wider problem of not developing an economic plan to tackle entrenched problems in the North.

Evidence shows that the North has the lowest standards of living of any region or nation under the United Kingdom. In the last five years Northern Ireland has also seen the largest fall in standards of living. Poverty continues to be a major issue in many communities. Closing schools and savage cuts to vital public service staff is no way to create the conditions for development.

And yet the two largest parties still find time to play sectarian games over naming playgrounds after paramilitaries and flying flags.

During our time in government there was no bigger priority than broadening and deepening peace – especially through cross-border economic engagement and investment.

Over the last four years the disengagement of the two governments has been a core reason for the dysfunction and growing sectarianism. They stepped back until it was nearly too late to save the institutions and they remain only half engaged.

Our government remains fully culpable on this, and their explicit acceptance of a reduced role in all-party discussions is something we would never have accepted.

However there is no question that there was a sustained disengagement with Northern Ireland by the London government under the current prime minister. In stark contrast to John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, his view was that parties should just be left to get on with it. He waited four and a half years before leading a negotiation and then left it early.

It may well be his view, as he said the other day in Glasgow, that he has “worked night and day” on Northern Ireland, but the public evidence of this is not obvious.

The refusal to accept that helping Northern Ireland to overcome decades of conflict requires a distinct financial priority is causing real damage for the sake of amounts which are tiny in the UK’s overall budget.

The indications are that the Tories would be willing to include the DUP in a deal to stay in government; this is something which should scare anyone who supports progress in Northern Ireland.

The drift and rising sectarian tension of the last four years is a real threat to all that has been achieved. Whatever happens in the UK’s election next month and whoever enters government, the cause of peace and reconciliation desperately needs a change of policy in London.

As republicans we believe in building a country which serves its entire people – one which is for the many not the few.

Unfortunately the exact opposite is what has been happening in recent years. Our government has actively implemented policies which have divided us as a society. It has concentrated on the wealthiest few, and ignored communities and families which are struggling and being left behind.

Reversing this division, building an Ireland for all is the defining challenge of the coming years. On one hand you have government parties which want more of the same and on the other you have parties which care nothing about the economy or policies which can actually be implemented.

Fianna Fáil stands as the only party which believes we can and must try to have both a strong economy which rewards enterprise and a strong society which helps the weakest.

Drawing strength from the great tradition begun by de Valera and Lemass our commitment is to show how another way is possible. In health, in education, in fairer tax and support for families and communities there is another way.

Our public policy forums are continuing throughout the country and our roll-out of the next phase of policy papers is beginning. When the people come to decide on the make-up of the next Dáil they will have before them a credible alternative to this arrogant and out-of-touch government.

The Proclamation which Padraig Pearse read on the morning of April 24th 1916 was and remains an inspiring document. It expresses no anger and speaks with no bitterness. Its voice is of a rising nation which wants to build an inclusive and generous future. It is a modern document, promising rights to all and demanding that women be full parts of the political nation.

It’s a proclamation of true republican values which include embracing change and always working to renew these values.

It is this spirit which is found in Bunreacht na hÉireann – the first constitution in the world adopted through a free and democratic referendum. A constitution which directly gave power to the people to reform and evolve their state.

Over the years, often at a painfully slow pace, we have worked to make ourselves a more inclusive republic. Discrimination which was widespread only a few decades ago is now unacceptable. We have become a more caring society and we have shown a great willingness to change.

On May 22nd we face the issue of whether we will extend full equality to a group of our citizens who experienced a deep discrimination throughout history. By extending the right to marry, to all couples we would take nothing from those who already have the right. We would extend fairness and equality to all.

A Yes in this referendum would be a fitting beginning to marking the centenary of the noble vision of the Proclamation.

The end of the 1916 Rising was no defeat. It led to the rapid and successful assertion of our wish to be independent.

For this we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the men buried here and those who served alongside them.

Ar dheis De go raibh a n-anamacha.”

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About Author

Brian is a writer, artist and law graduate.


  1. philip kelly on

    so are you eamon a public relations manager for michael martins denial of the treachery of de valera and later lynch who abandoned the northern nationalist to the blood thirst and hatred of the orange state.The fianna fail who in the forties executed republicans , in the 50s interned republicans in support of the unionist and in 1969 when we went to them for help they abandoned us yet again by trying to criminalise many decent people who turned to them for help after his (Lynch) we will not stand idly by speech bearing in mind that my brother john was wrongly charged wit the import of guns and lynch and fianna fail where proved in a court of law to be liars when all charges were dismissed by a jury of 12 citizens,this is only one such time where they actually supported partition and they still do as far as i would be concerned ( coming from a long established republican family) of all the parties in the south they have no right to call themselves republican

  2. What is a republican? There seems to be as many definitions as there are people who call themselves “republicans”.

    After 1922, people who claimed to be “republicans” decided that they could ignore the democratic wishes of the people of this country, on the spurious basis that it wasn’t the Irish Republic as they conceived it, and they dedicate themselves to its destruction. They went about murdering Irish citizens, policemen and soldiers when these presented an obstacle to their aims, they set up protection rackets, they robbed banks, they set up kangaroo courts to condemn and murder those who opposed them, and carried on the devil knows what other criminal activities. Were they “republicans”, I wonder?

    Now we have people who say they are republicans engaged in an extensive and lucrative criminal conspiracy to defraud us, the citizens, and subvert our democracy with the proceeds of their illegal activities, according to two separate police forces. Are they really “republicans”, I should like to know?

    I would not and could not accept any of them. Republicans are actually people for whom “..the key point is that the people hold popular sovereignty, rather than the people being subjects of a king” as Wikipedia says. But that’s only the starting point; Real republicans stand up for the rights implicit in, and accept the responsibilities arising from, that definition. Murdering them, thieving from them, intimidating them, conspiring against them, and denying them the rights of their democratic decisions are not the actions of real, actual republicans.

    I believe that those who behave as those I described above cannot pretend to be republicans. I wonder who agrees with me?

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