Taoiseach raises prospect of ‘Republic Day’ to mark birth of Irish Republic

Varadkar says ending commemorations with the Civil War would be ‘downbeat’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during an event in the National Gallery, Dublin this month. File photograph: Collins

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during an event in the National Gallery, Dublin this month. File photograph: Collins

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has suggested the Decade of Centenaries should end in 2024 with events to mark the 75th anniversary of the Republic of Ireland.

The State became the Republic of Ireland on April 18th, 1949. Prior to that the British monarch still signed letters of credence accrediting Irish ambassadors and Britain signed international treaties on Ireland’s behalf.

The Republic of Ireland Act abolished the last vestiges of British rule in Ireland and established the State as a republic.

The Irish Times front page the day after the Republic was declared in 1949
The Irish Times front page the day after the Republic was declared in 1949

Speaking at an event to mark the 69th anniversary on Wednesday night, Mr Varadkar said both the 70th anniversary next year and the 75th anniversary in 2024 should be marked as State occasions.

He raised the possibility of a “Republic Day” every year, but he said it would need to be low key except on significant anniversaries as St Patrick’s Day and Easter Monday occur around the same time.

Mr Varadkar suggested that the Decade of Centenaries which is due to end in 2023 would end with a “downbeat note” if it ended with commemorations to mark the Civil War.

Instead, he proposed that marking the 75th anniversary of the Republic in 2024 would end it on an “upbeat and optimistic note”.

He said he would raise the issue with the expert advisory group on the commemorations chaired by Dr Maurice Manning.

Members of the Fine Gael party gathered at O’Connell House in Merrion Square, Dublin to mark the 69th anniversary and discuss ways to mark the forthcoming anniversaries of the Republic.

Mr Varadkar told them that any celebrations to mark anniversaries relating to Ireland as a republic should not be Fine Gael-led events, but non-party political as the commemorations to mark the Easter Rising had been.

He also stated that Fine Gael did not celebrate its own “really proud history”.

It had been the party which created the State and the first three Governments, he said. Fianna Fáil admitted when they set up in 1927 that they were not ready for government in the beginning. WT Cosgrave’s Cumann na nGaedheal government did not have the same luxury, he said.

He said Fine Gael had twice in his lifetime “rescued and rebuilt an economy that had been laid waste by others”.

There had been five previous declarations of a republic in Irish history, but only one which was recognised by international governments – the one declared in 1949 by the Fine Gael Taoiseach John Costello, he said.

Copies of The Irish Times from the day after the declaration of the Republic were circulated among members of the party. The paper recorded that there was widespread jubilation in the street after the State became the Republic of Ireland at midnight on April 18th, 1949.

The Taoiseach added: “I believe we could organise a similar spectacular for midnight, the 18th of April 2024, and have music, entertainment and a light display for people of Ireland. And why limit it to only Dublin?

“I believe we should have similar events in Cork, in Galway, and Limerick and Waterford, and events throughout the country if towns were interested in taking part.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said any celebration of a Republic had to consider the context of Northern Ireland.

“The declaration of a republic means different things to different people. If we are going to have a national celebration of that, which we should have, we should consult quite widely.”

Junior minister Patrick O’Donovan said a celebration of the Irish republic would “taken back what it means to be republican”. He said the established parties had surrendered the term republican to “ a very narrow set of people who do nothing to embrace the values of a republic, but instead seek to divide”.

Fine Gael executive council chair Gerry O’Connell said there ought to be a “Republic Day” every year.

He said Costello’s declaration of a Republic ended all ambiguity about the nature of the Irish State.

He suggested the declaration of a republic in 1949 vindicated Michael Collins’s stance on the treaty that it gave Ireland “the freedom to achieve freedom”.

The contention from Fianna Fáil that Fine Gael was somehow less Irish than they were could never be thrown at the party again, he added.