Full text of the speech: Taoiseach Brian Cowen


Full text of the speech given by the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, at the Annual Wolfe Tone Commemoration, Bodenstown, Co. Kildare, on Sunday 12th October, 2008.

A Airí Rialtais;

A Theachtaí Dála;

A Sheanadóirí;

A Chomhairleoirí;

A Mhuintir Fhianna Fáil.

Táimid bailithe anseo inniu le comóradh a dhéanamh ar Theobald Wolfe Tone agus ar a chuid comrádaithe cróga. Is as Cumann na nÉireannach Aontaithe a d’fhás stát neamhspleach na hÉireann. Rinne glúin Tone go leor íobairtí ar son na tíre seo, de bharr a dtiomantas paiseanta di. Is iad a chuir na síolta as ar fhás poblachtánas nua-aimseartha Éireannach agus bhí páirt uasal acu ar an gcosán i dtreo saoirse na hÉireann.

D’fhógair Pádraig Mac Piarais go raibh Wolfe Tone ar dhuine de na hÉireannaigh ab fhearr ariamh. Spreag sé muintir a linne féin gan cuimhne Tone a ligean i ndearmad. Mheas sé freisin go raibh an láthair seo,Baile Uí Bhuadáin, ar an bhfód is naofa sa tír. Táimid cruinnithe anseo inniu, lenár linn féin, agus meas againn ar shaothar Wolfe Tone ar son na hÉireann, ach ní meabhrú ar an aimsir chaite amháin atá ar bun againn. Tiomnaímid sinn féin in athuair do na prionsabail ar íobair Tone a shaol féin ar a son — saoirse, comhionannas agus bráithreachas.

On this very date, 12th October, in 1798, Wolfe Tone was taken prisoner by His Majesty’s Forces following the defeat of the French navy in a crucial battle off the Buncrana coast. The historian, Marianne Elliot records: “A severe storm broke just as the French neared the northern Irish coast. Too heavily laden for easy manoeuvrability and already damaged by the voyage, they were chased by Sir John Borlase Warren and forced to join battle at dawn on 12th October.

The Hoche put up a stubborn defence and battle raged until the afternoon. Casualties on board were high; some 200 men were killed or wounded, and by mid-morning medical stations were reporting their inability to cope. Tone commanded one of the batteries and would have been in the thick of the battle. In howling seas, its main topmast gone, its sails in tatters, the Hoche struck and was sinking with five feet of water in its hold, when it was finally surrounded and captured. Only three of the ten ships which had sailed with [Commandeer] Bompard a month earlier made it back to France.”

Wolfe Tone had an essential nobility. His son, William, who served as an officer in the Napoleonic Army, wrote a biography of his father’s life in which he recorded how Wolfe Tone had eschewed all pleas to desert his men and his doomed ship.

“At that moment, a boat came from the Biche for his last orders. That ship had the best chance to get off. The French officers all supplicated my father to embark on board of her. ‘Our contest is hopeless’, they observed, ‘we will be prisoners of war, but what will become of you?’ ‘Shall it be said,‘ replied he, ‘that I fled, while the French were fighting the battles of my country?’”

That battle on 12th October 1798 was not the first time that Wolfe Tone had attempted to liberate our country with the support of his European allies. In advance of the ill-fated Bantry Bay expedition, two years previously, Wolfe Tone had drafted ‘An Address to the People of Ireland.‘ It read: “Ireland shall be independent. We shall be a nation not a province, citizens not slaves. Every man shall rank in the State according to his merit and his talents. Our commerce shall extend into the four quarters of the globe; our flag shall be seen on the ocean; our name shall be known among the nations, and we shall at length assume that station for which God and Nature have designed us’.

In those words lies the genesis of the honourable tradition of Irish republicanism. For Tone, and for us, Irish republicanism is a progressive force with an unwavering focus on the goal of an Ireland where all our people can excel. It is about building an island free of “all past dissensions.” It is about fostering a new ethos of fraternity on this island regardless of people’s origin, class or religion. It is also about our country proudly taking its place among the nations, not standing separate from them.

We should never forget that Tone, and his disciple, Robert Emmet were true internationalists in their day. Tone’s court-martial address cites the heroic failure of the Polish uprising against Imperial Russia. The United Irishmen were strongly influenced by the fledgling democracy in the United States and by revolutionary France. Their spiritual heirs in the Young Ireland movement would subsequently adopt our national tricolour in honour of the 1848 Rising in Paris.

In every generation, those who carried the flame for Irish democracy and freedom were never insular in their approach.

This country has come a long way since Wolfe Tone sought to “break the connection with England” and “assert the independence of \[our] country”. We have proudly taken our place on the international stage, as a vibrant, sovereign nation, through our membership of and participation in major international organisations. And we have done so without compromising our core principles or our core identity. Indeed, I believe we have reinforced them. In today’s increasingly globalised era, we should recognise that independence cannot mean isolationism.

We advance our interests not by going solo, but by working with like-minded others on problems, challenges and opportunities that can best, indeed can only, be responded to by working across national borders and boundaries. It is in this way that our membership of the European Union, in particular, will best serve the interests of Ireland and the Irish people in the decades ahead.

Personally, I firmly believe that, to be most effective, Ireland needs to continue to be right at the heart of Europe. The EU’s capacity to accommodate different traditions, cultures and priorities does not uniquely apply to Ireland. It would not be in our interests to place ourselves in a position where other member states view us as obstructing the progress that others wish to see for themselves, without properly assessing what the consequences for us might be.

Over the coming weeks, I envisage a comprehensive, rational and intelligent debate on the issues of concern that were raised in the Referendum. We need to assess where we go from here and we need to engage with our EU partners on how they would be prepared to allay those concerns. We need to have the maturity to accept that pooling our sovereignty with others is not the same as giving it away. The Irish nation should not turn inwards. To prosper economically and socially, we must look further afield. The single European market has been hugely important for the growth of Irish business and the creation of literally hundreds of thousands of jobs. Ireland has prospered through this engagement and, in more difficult times, it is imperative we do not turn back.

We are already embarked on a review of the most important concerns that emerged through the Referendum. I will lead the engagement with our EU partners about the more substantive concerns that arose then. Many who registered a No vote support the EU project, some of them strongly so. I’ve already acknowledged that there were failures of communication which contributed to a reticence, by some, to support the Treaty.

My job as Taoiseach is to balance those interests in attempting to resolve the dilemma that our No vote poses, not just for Europe, but for Ireland within Europe and in the wider modern world.

In the present global financial turmoil, membership of the Eurozone, has provided Ireland with significant advantages. At the outset, the European Central Bank was ready and able to assist banks who were experiencing problems in accessing credit.

The ECB has continued to play a vital role in the provision of credit to banks in the Eurozone. Through its various actions, including recent coordinated interest rate reductions, the ECB, and by extension our own Central Bank, is continuing to support banks in counteracting the financial turmoil.

The tradition which Wolfe Tone and his contemporaries initiated moved us from nationalism to a much broader republicanism where the State is not an end in itself but a means of promoting the welfare of its people.

This republicanism continues to have a vital contemporary relevance particularly in relation to how it stresses long-term solutions even where these require short-term sacrifice. It is in this context that I would like to make a few comments about what is the greatest economic crisis to face the world in over a generation. Many of the causes are rooted in how the international financial system operates and are difficult to understand. But, unfortunately, the ultimate impact can be very real for ordinary people.

When confronted with economic, financial and budgetary pressures of the scale and pace of those being seen at the moment, there is an immediate challenge placed before everyone in public life. The prevailing question is — will we act for the long-term even where this requires tough and unpopular measures? Or will we take the soft option of focusing merely on the short-term and thereby avoid hard decisions in the hope that problems will simply disappear?

I don’t believe that the Irish people would want us to shy away from the difficult decisions we must now make. We will make the necessary tough choices so that we can chart a course for economic renewal to bring us beyond the current short-term difficulties towards a stable long-term growth rate.

History shows that the only way to deliver long-term economic and social improvements is to do whatever is required to ensure economic and fiscal stability. This goes right to the core of the actions we have taken recently and those that we will take in the Budget and in the months ahead. Our priority is to firstly stabilise the situation and then chart a pathway to recovery in the years ahead.

At his court martial, Wolfe Tone expressed his abhorrence at how his plans for military separation had spiraled into a cycle of vicious atrocities on both sides. In our generation, we too have seen the devastation caused by violence and the pain and division it leaves in its wake. Two hundred and ten years on from Wolfe Tone’s death, we are privileged to gather today at a time of peace.

Recently, the Independent Monitoring Commission confirmed that the IRA Army Council is neither functional nor operational. This opens the way for the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland.

Difficulties do remain. The wounds and suspicions of decades and centuries cannot be healed overnight.

But these difficulties can — and I believe will — be overcome.

The historical significance of Unionist and Nationalist Ministers working side by side in the Executive is immense. By showing common cause in working together for the welfare of all of Northern Ireland’s people, they are giving practical expression to the ideal expressed by Tone of uniting Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter.

Fianna Fáil in Government is proud to work as partners in this island with the Northern Ireland Executive. As Taoiseach, I will continue to work constructively with the First Minister and deputy First Minister, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, and the other members of the Executive in promoting a better future for all of the people of Northern Ireland and of this island.

Our former leader, Bertie Ahern TD, was the joint architect of the Good Friday Agreement. His persistence, his skills and his commitment ensured that the Agreement was implemented and built upon.

It was fitting that it was he who welcomed Dr Ian Paisley to Dublin last year and to the site of the Battle of the Boyne.

It was fitting that he became the first Taoiseach to address the British Houses of Parliament in Westminster, where he laid to rest the ghosts of past division between our two countries.

It was entirely fitting too, as the first Fianna Fáil Taoiseach to address the United States Congress, he was able to say to our friends in America and across the world: “Ireland is at peace”.

We thank Bertie Ahern for all of the work, effort and political acumen he brought to bear on the peace process. He deserves great credit for all the achievements during his term in office as Party Leader and Taoiseach, and his fellow countrymen and women will always hold him in high esteem for that enduring work on the peace process.

It is our duty now to build on that peace.

The institutions established by the people of this island in 1998 are held in sacred trust by us all, and for us all. They are not the property of one tradition, one party or even one generation.

It is the duty and responsibility of all those who are elected by the people, North and South, to abide by agreements in good faith and to operate all of the institutions entrusted to their care by the people.

The Government I lead will shoulder its responsibilities.

Ten years on, we will continue to build on the legacy of 1998.

We will protect and nurture the inheritance of the Irish people.

We will continue to lead — for peace, for reconciliation, for prosperity and for a better future for everyone, from all traditions, on this island.

We will build that island free of past dissensions, proud of our independence, proud of our membership of the European Union and proud of our close links across the world.

That is how we honour Theobald Wolfe Tone — by making his dreams for our country come true.