Taoiseach criticises ‘shameful’ lack of memorial to Seán Lemass in Dublin

Martin pays tribute to former taoiseach who ‘set a European course for our history’

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne has called for Dublin Airport to be renamed in honour of Seán Lemass, saying the former taoiseach's contribution to Irish society "is not celebrated as much as it should be." Video: Oireachtas TV

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The absence of a statue to Seán Lemass or a significant commemoration in his name is “shameful”, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Paying tribute to the man widely regarded by historians as Ireland’s greatest taoiseach, Mr Martin said he would like to see a memorial or an educational programme named after the former Fianna Fáil leader in Dublin.

Lemass, who was taoiseach from 1959 to 1966, died 50 years ago on May 11th, 1971. He was 71.

An Irish Times editorial from the time stated: “History will deal more than kindly with Seán Lemass. He was a rare man in a rare generation. He left his country a better, healthier and richer nation than he found it”.

Mr Martin and Dublin Bay North TD Seán Haughey, Lemass’s grandson, laid a wreath at the former taoiseach’s grave in Deansgrange cemetery to mark the anniversary.

Mr Martin said the grave, which bears only the names of Lemass and his wife, Kathleen, and no reference to his life as a public figure, was typical of the man.

“He is buried here modestly, sharing his last resting place with his fellow citizens – content to let his name speak for itself,” he said.

The Taoiseach described Lemass as a “practical republican throughout his life” who embraced democracy.

Practical patriot

He said that despite the bitterness of the Civil War – Lemass was on the anti-Treaty side – both sides confined their differences to electoral politics and provided the “foundation for what is now one of the world’s oldest continuously democratic states”.

“Because he was a practical patriot he had no time for those who think that until everything has been achieved nothing has been achieved,” Mr Martin said.

“And of course he is the man who, more than any other, set a European course for our history. As taoiseach he was unequivocal in saying that our future prosperity required that Ireland be part of what we now call the European Union.

“He did this in the face of many comments that Ireland was simply too poor to participate – and the active opposition of many,” he continued.

“There was nothing inevitable about Ireland taking a European road – and we have a deep debt of gratitude to Lemass for ensuring that we put aside the concerns and took a great leap of faith in our future.”

Lemass was born in Capel Street in 1899. As a teenager he fought in the Easter Rising and was involved with the Squad on Bloody Sunday.

He had a long career as minister for commerce before succeeding Éamon de Valera as taoiseach in 1959. Lemass is best known for his meeting with the Northern Ireland prime minister, Terence O’Neill, in 1965 and for the economic prosperity his years in office brought Ireland.

Lemass at 50 – an examination of the life of the former taoiseach: irishtimes.com/news/politics/the-lemass-tapes