Presidential election: How would candidates handle ‘difficult’ Decade of Centenaries?

Next president will be at forefront of marking divisive events such as Partition, Civil War

National Army soldiers in action at O’Connell Street, Dublin during the Civil War. Marking often divisive events from Irish history will be a task for the next president. How would they do it? Photograph: Irish Photographic Archive.

National Army soldiers in action at O’Connell Street, Dublin during the Civil War. Marking often divisive events from Irish history will be a task for the next president. How would they do it? Photograph: Irish Photographic Archive.

 

The Decade of Centenaries now enters its second, most challenging part - where the War of Independence, the Civil War, Partition and the creation of Northern Ireland will all demand sensitive handling.

Ireland’s next president will set the tone for the national commemorations, and have to show tact and good judgment when it comes to marking events that still have the power to divide.

The Irish Times asked all six presidential candidates a number of general questions about how they will mark the forthcoming ‘Decade of Centenaries’ anniversaries and also a list of 10 questions setting out possible scenarios where a president might have to make difficult choices, or could face conflicting advice.

Senator Joan Freeman, Seán Gallagher and Peter Casey answered all the questions, the incumbent Michael D Higgins answered four questions comprehensively but said time-pressure meant that he could not answer the rest. Gavin Duffy issued a statement addressing the questions asked, as did Liadh Ní Riada.

Each candidate made their own decision on how they chose to respond to the queries.

Joan Freeman:

Joan Freeman
Joan Freeman

What are your views on the commemorations that we have had to date in relation to the Easter Rising and the first World War?

The commemorations, so far, have been inclusive, dignified and appropriate for the occasions.

Do you have a personal link to the Decade of Centenaries?

No

How do you believe the State should commemorate the War of Independence?

The War of Independence was a significant event leading to the foundation of the State and should be commemorated in a fitting manner. Remembering all those who lost their lives, and reminding ourselves of the lasting benefits of peace would be central to any commemorations. The Truce and Treaty could be commemorated by suitable Anglo-Irish events and a reiteration of our friendship with UK. Once again, education should be a central part of these events.

How do you believe the State should commemorate the Civil War?

The Civil War was the most traumatic event in our history as a State. The commemoration of the event will have to be treated with great sensitivity. The aim of any commemorative event must be to reconcile and heal the wounds of the past, especially at a local level.

The State will be 100 years old on December 6th, 2022, according to the Decade of Commemoration advisory committee. How should this event be marked?

We should celebrate it as an important event in our history. It was these events that gave us the foundations of our democratic Republic, which we should never take for granted. The best way to celebrate it would be to review the Programme of the First Dáil and the 1916 Proclamation and renew our commitment to them in a real and tangible way.

Do you believe the War of Independence was morally justified? If so, state your reason why.

I am not going to judge the actions of 100 years ago through the prism of Ireland in 2018. The people involved made the judgement that it was necessary to do what they did in the circumstances of their time. I believe they had the best intentions for Ireland and they sacrificed a lot to achieve their aims.

If asked as president, will you attend the Soloheadbeg commemoration in January?

The Soloheadbeg ambush was an important event - the first military action of the War of Independence. If it is part of the official programme of the Decade of Centenaries, and it does not clash with the commemoration of the first Dáil, I will attend.

Do you think the State should commemorate the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men killed in the War of Independence?

Members of the RIC, most of whom were Irish, performed their official functions as they believed was their duty in defence of the State at that time. Many lost their lives and therefore in a spirit of reconciliation they deserve to be commemorated.

In 2016 the State held a commemoration for the British soldiers killed in the Easter Rising. If the State holds a commemoration to remember the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries killed in the War of Independence, will you attend?

No. The Black and Tans and Auxiliaries exceeded their lawful authority and were involved in many acts which were simple intimidation and terror tactics.

How do you think the State should mark the Government of Ireland Act (1920) which partitioned the country? In May 2021, we will mark the centenary of the establishment of the Northern Ireland parliament. If asked, will you attend on behalf of the State a centenary event to mark 100 years of Northern Ireland?

Both events are important in the history of Ireland, North and South and should be acknowledged. I would favour events of an academic and research nature to mark these events.

Which side do you think was right in the Civil War - the Treaty side or the anti-Treaty side? The Treaty side believed that they were upholding the democratic will of the people as expressed by the support of the Dáil for the Anglo-Irish Treaty in January 1922 and the Pact election of June 1922. Do you support his view?

Neither side. Nobody could be considered to be right when “brother was pitted against brother”.

Does the State owe the relatives of the 77 men who were executed during the Civil War an apology or an explanation for what happened? Similarly, if asked will you speak at commemorations remembering those killed at Ballyseedy, Countess Bridge and Bahaghs near Cahersiveen by the National Army?

All those who died in the Civil War should be suitably commemorated in a ceremony to acknowledge the sacrifice they made for their beliefs. This is a sensitive part of our history and must be approached with this in mind. While there may be individual and local ceremonies, I believe, there should be one national ceremony to commemorate all who died and suffered loss in the Civil War.

Seán Gallagher:

Seán Gallagher
Seán Gallagher

What are your views on the commemorations that we have had to date in relation to the Easter Rising and the first World War?

The commemorations held in 2016 connected modern Ireland to the events of 100 years ago. I believe they have struck the right tone and that all commemorations which we have had to date are very much in keeping with the sensitive and thoughtful approach which they set out to achieve.

Do you have a personal link to the Decade of Centenaries?

No, I do not have a personal link, but like all Irish people I was very proud and humbled to witness the commemorations which have taken place thus far, from the 1916 Commemoration to the Votáil 100 celebrations of (some) women getting the right to vote.

How do you believe the State should commemorate the War of Independence?

I believe the State should commemorate the War of Independence with the same focus and sensitivity as it did during the 1916 Centenary celebrations. I would like to see each school provided with a copy of the Declaration of Independence, Faisnéise Neamhspleáchais, to commemorate the first meeting of Dáil Éireann which took place on January 21st, 1919 in the Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House. This was a very seminal moment in our history.

How do you believe the State should commemorate the Civil War?

Likewise, I believe the State should commemorate the Civil War with the same focus and sensitivity as it did during the 1916 Centenary celebrations. We must never forget that the Civil War tore entire families apart, brothers fought brothers and fathers fought sons. On that alone, extreme sensitivity is required, and I believe the Decade of Centenaries programme will commemorate it in a tolerant, inclusive and respectful way.

The State will be 100 years old on December 6th, 2022, according to the Decade of Commemoration advisory committee. How should this event be marked?

In 2022, Ireland will be celebrating 100 years of self-government. We are a young state, but we have come so far in the past 100 years in economic, social, demographic, technological and environmental terms. I believe the achievements of the state should be marked while respectfully remembering that self-government is not yet a reality for all of our island.

Do you believe the War of Independence was morally justified? If so, state your reason why.

The moral justification for any war is a very contentious issue, one which has two sides, both which believe they are justified and neither of which will meet in the middle.

If asked, will you attend the Soloheadbeg commemoration in January?

If elected I will attend any event which the Government requests and which the Government deem appropriate. It is important that for all of these events the advice of the advisory committee be taken in to account.

Do you think the State should commemorate the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men killed in the War of Independence?

Again, this will be a matter for the advisory committee and the Government to decide.

In 2016 the State held a commemoration for the British soldiers killed in the Easter Rising. If the State holds a commemoration to remember the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries killed in the War of Independence, will you attend?

Again, this will be a matter for the advisory committee and the Government to decide, but we must never forget the unspeakable acts carried out during the War of Independence.

How do you think the State should mark the Government of Ireland Act (1920) which partitioned the country?

Partition has never served Ireland well. Having spent most of my life in the border counties I understand the need for a peaceful, tolerant, united Ireland and if elected I will work to unite not just our territory but our communities and our people.

In May 2021, we will mark the centenary of the establishment of the Northern Ireland parliament. If asked, will you attend on behalf of the State a centenary event to mark 100 years of Northern Ireland?

If elected I will attend any event which the Government requests.

Which side do you think was right in the Civil War - the Treaty side or the anti-Treaty side?

There are always two sides in a civil war, both of which believe they are justified. It would be inappropriate for any person seeking the Office of President, in particular with the upcoming celebrations, to comment on the justification of either side.

The Treaty side believed that they were upholding the democratic will of the people as expressed by the support of the Dáil for the Anglo-Irish Treaty in January 1922 and the Pact election of June 1922. Do you support his view?

Both the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the Pact Election of 1922 reflected the division of the country at the time. As recent referendums have taught us, upholding the democratic will of the people, is something which must always be done.

Does the State owe the relatives of the 77 men who were executed during the Civil War an apology or an explanation for what happened?

Yes, and I believe this should be done so in a respectful and sensitive manner and in line with the advisory committee.

Similarly, if asked will you speak at commemorations remembering those killed at Ballyseedy, Countess Bridge and Bahaghs near Cahersiveen by the National Army?

If elected I will attend speak at any event which the Government requests, I will do so in a respectful and sensitive manner.

Michael D Higgins:

Michael D. Higgins
Michael D. Higgins

What are your views on the commemorations that we have had to date in relation to the Easter Rising and the first World War?

When I was elected in 2011, I said I would aspire to lead a presidency of ideas and of transformation.

My ambition was to engage with the significant contemporary challenges facing Ireland, and to do so on the basis of the set of principles which underpin my work and a willingness to embrace and stress the complexity and inter-dependence of issues.

I have said that it is vital, when discussing our shared challenges and formulating policies to address them, that we must resist simplification and, instead increase the quality and breadth of public debate - elevating it and interrogating the assumptions behind much of what we do and say.

Over the past seven years, I have sought to lead a public debate on the centenary of the 1916 Rising, and on other significant moments in our past, by situating them in their historical, political and social context, and by stressing the similarities and differences in contemporary peoples’ experience of those events.

Our future, on these islands and on this planet, will depend on the quality of our decisions. Those decisions will, in turn, depend on our ability to courageously reflect upon our present circumstances and upon the many possible futures available to us.

Our understanding of our collective past, of our collective struggles, our triumphs and our failures, will have decisive influence on the choices that we together make for our future.

We cannot therefore afford the luxury to be glib or lazy in our analysis of the past, nor can we allow the mistakes of the past to hold us captive for ever.

We are sometimes told that our history is something from which we must be emancipated, something that is best forgotten or left aside. Mr Deasy in James Joyce’s Ulysses famously said to Stephan Daedalus that ‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’.

While acknowledging that there is great wisdom in David Rieff’s warning that collective memory can, over time, become ‘hatred’s forge’, rekindling old conflicts rather than healing them, my approach has been that we can and should be proud of our collective political inheritance - those ideals of freedom, democracy and national self-determination proclaimed 100 years ago.

That vision can still inspire us today, even as we struggle, and have struggled in the past, to realise those ideals in the life of our republic.

It is only by acknowledging, and sometimes revising, but always remembering, in an inclusive way, the events of our shared past that we can begin to build a collective future.

In the past seven years, we have begun the process of commemorating the formative events of a century ago, events which include the Ulster Covenant, the establishment of the Ulster and Irish Volunteers, the 1913 Strike and Lock-Out, the Irish Home Rule Bill of 1914, the terrible destruction of the first World War, the 1916 Easter Rising and the gradual achievement of Women’s Suffrage.

These events were formative not only in the obvious sense of their consequences but also for inspiring some of the great movements of thought and action - the nationalist movement, the labour movement, the women’s movement - which have done so much to make our island more free, more equal and more democratic.

The Decade of Centenaries has also provided us with an opportunity to address more comprehensively those whose experiences were perhaps sidelined in the collective memory here in the South, and in the collective understanding of the independent Irish State.

As many as 200,000 men and women, from all parts of our island and from all communities, were drawn into the catastrophe and horror of that collision of empires, the first World War. Thanks to the commemorations, many families across our island have discovered new insights into the lives and motivation of those who returned who returned and those who died, and a renewed appreciation of the promise and potential of so many young people destroyed by the War.

During this time of intense public remembering, I believe that our task has not simply been one of memorialising the past, but of engaging in ‘ethical remembering’, by confronting the complex and sometimes difficult legacies of our collective history with understanding and generosity of spirit, while recognising that we can and will differ.

A vital component of ‘ethical remembering’ has been the recognition and inclusion of those voices which were have been excluded, disenfranchised or marginalised, whether by virtue of their class, their race or their gender. That is why it was and is of such importance, for example, to restore the contribution of women of the revolutionary generation to their rightful place in history.

During the past six years we have, collectively, gone some way to recognising the historical contribution of Irish women, not only in the battle for national independence, but in the struggle for workers’ rights, for women’s rights, for emancipation and for equality, redressing what was a narrow, sometimes chauvinistic public historiography.

There is now a renewed awareness that the women of revolutionary generation ventured everything - their lives, their ‘respectability’, their fortunes - to win many of the rights that we hold dear today.

As we now enter the most difficult period of our ‘Decade of Centenaries’ - the election of the first Dáil Éireann, the War of Independence, partition and the Civil War - I believe that ‘ethical remembering’ will be more vital than ever.

Do you have a personal link to the Decade of Centenaries?

As President of Ireland, I attend many commemorations, including the annual and bi-annual ceremonies commemorating An Gorta Mór and the Easter Rising, the two events most central to the creation of modern Ireland. Over the past seven years, I have had the privilege of being attending so many of moving commemorations, which are so important in the life of our country.

Since my inauguration in 2011, as President of Ireland, I have sought to fulfil my duty to shape the manner in which we, as a nation, remember and recall our national history, and to do so in an ethical and inclusive manner, celebrating the heroism and idealism of those who struggled for freedom throughout our history, while continuing to cognisant of the complexity of our past.

The example of the men and women of the revolutionary generation still stands as an inspiration to future generations as we seek, in our own time, to imagine and to continue build a republic of which our forebears would be proud, one rooted in solidarity, compassion, courage, and generosity.

The experience of my own family during the War of Independence, and through the terrible divisions of the Civil War, has been very well documented. My own understanding of my family history, and that of many families throughout our country, has been greatly expanded by the work of the Military Archives and the digitisation of the Military Service Pensions Collection, which was one of the legacy projects of the 2016 centenary commemorations.

How do you believe the State should commemorate the War of Independence?

In commemorating the War of Independence, and the response to it, we should be, as was the case for the other centenaries, guided by a desire for the truth, welcoming the different, and at times conflicting, versions of our shared past.

In December of this year, we shall celebrate the centenary of the election of the First Dáil Éireann, elected to speak and act in the name of the Irish people. The First Dáil would organise and sanction the War of Independence and establish the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to prosecute that war.

Though the war was fought to vindicate and defend the very existence of the revolutionary Republic as the expression of popular will, I believe that we must recognise that, like all struggles for national liberation, it carried with it certain features of a civil war and of a revolution.

The ambitions, aspirations, and social composition of those who participated in the War was not only indicative of their individual motivations for joining the struggle, but of the conduct of the War, and the manner in which it was waged.

In commemorating the War of Independence, we will be invited to remember not only the devastation spread throughout the land by the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans, the arbitrary killings, the ruthless raids on civilians’ homes and shops, but also the terrible sectarian violence which gripped the north-east of our country, and the discrimination and killings that results from that violence.

We should also recall that many servants of the British state in Ireland, such as members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP), sought to serve their local communities.

As an armed gendarmerie, dispersed in barracks throughout the country, the RIC represented the most visible and tangible symbols of British rule in Ireland, and were the most obvious targets for Republican raids, as well as subjects of a battle of hearts and minds.

We must not be afraid, in the coming years, to confront the often-complex regional permutations within the War of Independence, and to openly discuss the nature of the atrocities committed and the ruthlessness of executions performed by the IRA.

For the nature of the War of Independence, conducted by flying columns in the countryside and through ambushes in the cities, placed a premium on information and intelligence. We must acknowledge the ruthlessness of executions carried out by the IRA and be willing to interrogate the circumstances in which they took place.

Above all, it is crucial that, in recognising and remembering all these aspects of the conflict, we are willing to go beyond old wrongs to forge a new understanding of our nation and our republic.

While avoiding the re-opening of old wounds, we must recognise the visibility and reality of the scars that make the rough skin of our history.

How do you believe the State should commemorate the Civil War?

The divisions that emerged in the months after the signing of the Treaty, and that led to the Civil War, created a cleavage in society and within families that would be destructive for generations. The Civil War was more terrible and devesting in its conduct and its consequences than the War of Independence. During the Irish Civil War, the National Army of the Free State executed more Irishmen than the British had during the War of Independence - even as the National Army was instructed to treat republican prisoners being prepared for execution ‘with the utmost humanity’.

The legacy of bitterness left by the Civil War is still with us today, even if not always immediately obvious and visible to the casual observer.

We must recognise that the causes of the Civil War itself were complex, hinging not only a practical evaluation of the feasibility of continuing a struggle against the most powerful empire in the world, but on differing ideals and ambitions, and upon the very meaning of the Irish Revolution.

These were divisions which cut across both Free State and Republican forces, and were never simple, nor should we ever attempt to cast them as simple for the purpose of creating what would be an overly simplistic narrative of one monumental side against another.

The Civil War cast a shadow over generations that followed, a shadow that would diminish the republican idealism that had propelled our Irish Revolution. It exacted a terrible price, not only on all those who were directly engaged in it, but upon people across the country, particularly in the counties in which the fighting was fiercest.

As we begin our commemorations of this troubled chapter in our national history, this dreadful human tragedy for so many, we must find within us, the thoughtfulness, respect and understanding to be able to understand and come to terms with the divisiveness, complexity and cruelty of the period.

It is vital that, as we reflect on the experiences of a century past and envisage a century to come, we are reminded that in a life together we are always making new beginnings.

Gavin Duffy:

Gavin Duffy
Gavin Duffy

(Did not respond to individual questions)

I am of the view that the commemorative events around the centenary of the Easter Rising and first World War were solemn and sensitive and in so doing struck the right chord on behalf of the government, the State and its citizens. Divested of any triumphalism, the tone was one of reflection, befitting a modern, mature and progressive republic.

It would therefore be fitting and appropriate too if the same could be achieved in the forthcoming centenary events, most particularly the War of Independence and the Civil War. Even at one hundred years remove these defining moments in our shared history have the capacity for division, so therefore all the more reason that we as individuals and a nation behave in a considerate and considered fashion to ensure we commemorate these seminal events with dignity and decorum.

To single out one death, one event, dare we say, one atrocity above another could only serve to rekindle old enmities, reopen old wounds and set us on a vengeful mood which would serve no good purpose as we progress towards the second century of our nationhood, by all means reflecting and learning from a shared experience to inform and collectively shape what can help shape - a shared vision, a shared future, a shared passion for all our children to be cherished equally in a common purpose and endeavour a grand design ‘where hope and history rhyme’ and we can stand shoulder to shoulder, shaking hands and where presenting arms and emblems is rightly and justly ceremonial.

As a small nation that continues to inspire and influence way above our weight and way beyond our measure in mere population terms, we can 100 years on, serve as a beacon to all small nations as we continue to lead by example and show solidarity among our European partners and peers.

We can look to the next centenary with confidence as a society and a country that has come a long way and yet realise that our journey on the clock of time and history itself is only just begun and that it is us who will write the chapter of this and future decades and this is how we will be remembered; just as now we remember those who left their mark so indelibly one hundred years ago.

How will we be remembered and for what shall we be remembered? Will it be a legacy of which we will be proud, one hundred years hence?

If we want to march into history alongside our nation’s founders we will have to demonstrate that we are faithful to our democratic and constitutional values that enshrine our noble values and designs. A good start would be to value and express our democratic right so hard fought and won, and respect it and those who fought for it and earned it the hard way, by valuing and using our franchise and using it wisely in the sovereignty of the ballot box this Friday, when we elect our next President and address our constitution on Friday.

It is our 10th President that will preside over these centenary events, not on their own behalf and not to harbour their own views, but to to represent the nation, represent us all of every persuasion, every politics and none, so that we can forge a forthright, fair, just and inclusive future, by all means informed by our past, in the best sense and to do as a good President should, to bring the best out in us all, regardless of which side of that fateful Treaty we fall, for to do otherwise we will most certainly fall and fail to fulfill our full ambition for our nation and the generation that will live to mark the next one hundred years.

One of the main objectives for which I entered this Presidential campaign, I believe the time was never better than now to consider revisiting our Constitution. The 1937 Constitution has served us well, but it is of its time, and it is being sundered, one amendment at a time, with even its very language creaking at the seams.

What better time, what more appropriate a way to mark our centenary of nationhood than to challenge ourselves to forge and fashion a constitution that is truly pluralist, truly built on equality, a constitution that does not see the woman’s place as in the home, and that represents a nation as bold and brave as those who carved out our independence one hundred years ago and that will serve us and all those who call themselves Irish at home and abroad for yet another 100 years.

Peter Casey:

Peter Casey
Peter Casey

What are your views on the commemorations that we have had to date in relation to the Easter Rising and the first World War?

We must honour the past. Lives were lost, sacrifices made so as we could today live in in a Republic that has enshrined in its Constitution the ideals of freedom and democracy. The Rising was the fulfilment of Wolfe Tone’s ideal - the father of Irish republicanism - a Protestant- that we should have a country where people could be free to be ‘Catholic, Protestant or Dissenter’

More than 25 per cent of the eligible manhood of Ireland fought in the first World War. In Donegal, for example, 8,000 fought, of whom 1,500 died. As former TD, the late Paddy Harte, who did a lot of research into this, pointed out, they came from all faiths and political ideologies. Across the country it was the same. Tom Barry, who later was one of the main leaders in the War of Independence, served in the world war. Interestingly, Michael Mallin and James Connolly, both executed for their part in 1916, served in the British army.

Our history with Britain is intertwined and complex. As a president there needs to be understanding in this regard and a willingness to engage all sides in a respectful and meaningful way.

Even now 100 years on, Brexit also needs the same sensitivity and mutual respect between our two islands. As a president I would want conversation not condemnation.

Do you have a personal link to the Decade of Centenaries?

Regarding WW1, my own grandfather fought for the British Army in the Battle of the Somme and won a Military Medal with bars, which means that he won it twice. So this is personal to me. He told me any (number of) stories about his service during the war.

How do you believe the State should commemorate the War of Independence?

By teaching our children primarily the value of our struggle for 800 years to gain independence and for our struggle to form a Republic and to be a sovereign nation though the latter, as yet, has not quite been achieved.

The proclamation of 1916 was unusual for the time in that it addressed ‘Irishmen and Irish women’ so I think that recognition of the significant role of women in the founding of our State is to be greatly welcomed.

There needs too to be an appreciation of our colonial past and how the war of independence was, in many ways, a continuation of the 1916 Rising in rural Irealnd. It was our chance to say we had our own identity independent of the empire - our own language, culture, music, sport, traditions, folklore….. the roots that make us who we are today. We have a rich and rare tradition that has survived thanks to the sacrifice of our forefathers and mothers.

How do you believe the State should commemorate the Civil War?

This is a difficult question. It is a question that has divided our people for almost 100 years. There was the ‘Dev view’ and there was the ‘Collins view’. And it’s still going on. To this very day, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, despite their almost identical political outlooks on many of the key issues, baulk at the idea of going into coalition. The Civil War is a wound that ran deep, a painful time for all our people so as president a priority for me would be to attempt to finally bring healing to what has been, for far too long, an ongoing source of hurt and division. I accept totally we cannot undo the wrongs of the past, but we can learn to live in understanding and ensure we don’t carry that hurt into the future. We are too small a nation of people to be divided. It’s time to let go and to recognise we have to invest in the republic of tomorrow, in the generations to come.

The State will be 100 years old on December 6th, 2022, according to the Decade of Commemoration advisory committee. How should this event be marked?

We must honour the bravery of our antecedents and ensure that we embrace a continued love for our freedom, our democracy and our republic. But also we need to be mindful of both traditions in the Six Counties. The Nationalists feel abandoned while the Unionist felt, and may still feel, that as a Free State we would drive out all aspect of our colonial past. Our tricolour is symbolic of the people of our island: the green for the nationalists, the orange for our protestant tradition and the white for peace. As a president from the Six Counties I would stand, very much so, in the white, building bridges expanding on the good work of Mary and Martin McAleese.

Do you believe the War of Independence was morally justified? If so, state your reason why.

Yes. As a nation we had the right to fight for our freedom; we were refused Home Rule which was put on the long finger for too long. The people who fought for our freedom thought it was both morally justified and worth the sacrifice. I’ll not attempt to use hindsight to besmirch their motivations.

If asked, will you attend the Soloheadbeg commemoration in January?

Soloheadbeg was a sad and terrible event when two RIC officers were shot dead while escorting dynamite to a site. The shootings, according to historians, were not authorised by the rebels or by the new Dáil Éireann that met that day. It has come to be regarded as marking the outbreak of the War of Independence. I would have no problem attending.

I would point out there are those in Donegal who suggest that the rescue of two Irish Volunteers, taken prisoners by the RIC, from a train in Meenbanad, Dungloe almost a year earlier was the true start of the war.

Do you think the State should commemorate the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men killed in the War of Independence?

Absolutely. Ninety per cent of the RIC were Catholics. One of the first RIC men shot in 1916 came from Inisbofin Island off the Donegal coast. He was a native Irish speaker and a Catholic. An Irishman. Many of the RIC men resigned when the force was augmented by the Black and Tans. As a force the RIC conducted themselves with decency and certainly it is important that we are proud to celebrate their story. In fact Éamonn Ceannt’s father was a RIC sergeant.

In 2016, the State held a commemoration for the British soldiers killed in the Easter Rising. If the State holds a commemoration to remember the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries killed in the War of Independence, will you attend?

Let me tell you a true story. There was an old man in a nursing home, a Catholic coming to the end of his life. He asked to have a priest for confession. During his confession he opened up a sore in his soul that he carried throughout his life, a sore he felt would deprive him of heaven. He told the priest that he was in the Black and Tans in a certain place in Ireland and when with the boys he stood up in a lorry he was travelling in and shot dead, at a distance, a small boy who was running alongside a house.

The priest listened to the details, gave him absolution and told him if that was all he did wrong he need not worry, he was forgiven.

The man said to the priest that while he appreciated his comforting words but he doubted if he could forgive him for this wrong.

The priest stood back, rolled up his trousers and said “Yes I can - I am the boy you shot.

Again understanding is needed. Meaningful conversation, not condemnation.

How do you think the State should mark the Government of Ireland Act (1920) which partitioned the country?

I accept totally this is a sensitive issue but I am a nationalist and dream of a united Ireland. The Government of Ireland Act was a short-term solution for seven years after which the British government proposed that both Belfast and Dublin governments would unite. I dream of that day still.

As someone from the Six Counties I value my Irishness. I am an Ulster man. I dream of the day I am president of all Ireland.

In May 2021, we will mark the centenary of the establishment of the Northern Ireland parliament. If asked, will you attend on behalf of the State a centenary event to mark 100 years of Northern Ireland?

Yes.

Which side do you think was right in the Civil War - the Treaty side or the anti-Treaty side?

I am a great admirer of Collins. I regard him as the true founder of modern Ireland. He saw the Treaty as a stepping stone from which we could then work to get the other six counties. Had he lived I think our country’s story might have been very different. Dev, on the other hand, wanted the 32 counties or nothing. And the rest is history, painful history.

The Treaty side believed that they were upholding the democratic will of the people as expressed by the support of the Dáil for the Anglo-Irish Treaty in January 1922 and the Pact election of June 1922. Do you support his view?

That might be so. But in your question you fail to represent the voice of the nationalists of the Six Counties. Was it their will to be annexed from the Free State?

Does the State owe the relatives of the 77 men who were executed during the Civil War an apology or an explanation for what happened?

Again we need the language of conversation not condemnation. Sadly, 77 good Irishmen were executed by fellow Irishmen. It was an awful time and sensitivity is important. I have concerns as to the number of executions; in Donegal, for example, four men, from Cork and Kerry - now known as The Drumboe martyrs - were needlessly executed.

Similarly, if asked will you speak at commemorations remembering those killed at Ballyseedy, Countess Bridge and Bahaghs near Cahersiveen by the National Army?

Yes. I want to be a president for all the people and hope by honouring the past in a respectful way we can move on as a nation.

Liadh Ní Riada:

Liadh Ní Riada
Liadh Ní Riada

I will attend all State commemorations as Úachtarán na hÉireann and would be deeply honoured to do so. It should be noted also that, the day of the inauguration of the president coincides with Armistice Day. So, if elected, this will be one of my very first presidential engagements.

I fully intend to be president for all the Irish people, regardless of politics and, in conjunction with the government, will seek to ensure that forthcoming anniversaries are marked in a fully inclusive way, that respects the sensitivity of the anniversaries, and which seeks to bring people together in a way that allows us to learn from the past in order to build a better future for everyone on this island.