Miriam Lord: Taoiseach takes shine off TD’s baubles

Absence of all-party agreement a deterrent to setting up national awards scheme – Kenny

Enda Kenny: Fished out a substantial sheaf of paper from his folder and gave the Dáil a history of the many unsuccessful attempts by various taoisigh and ministers to institute an awards system. Photograph: Bloomberg

Enda Kenny: Fished out a substantial sheaf of paper from his folder and gave the Dáil a history of the many unsuccessful attempts by various taoisigh and ministers to institute an awards system. Photograph: Bloomberg

 

The Taoiseach will not be wearing a row of 40 medals on his chest to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.

We say “he,” but that all depends upon the outcome of the general election, which should be done and dusted before those hobnail boots go marching in ceremonial formation down O’Connell Street next year.

As the anniversary approaches, political leaders from all sides of the Dáil are making a big effort to get into the swing of things. Their centenary gift to the nation is ingenious: by the time Easter 2016 rolls around, it’ll feel like we’ve been talking about it for a hundred years.

It’s beginning to feel like that already.

There won’t be medals or titles for whatever leader is on the reviewing platform. Unlike our nearest neighbours, we’ve never been big into gongs.

This was brought up by Fine Gael’s Derek Keating during the Order of Business. He thinks that it would be a great idea to establish a national awards scheme.

The Dublin Mid-West TD is very keen on some sort of scheme being introduced. He has mentioned this in the Dáil every year since 2011.

It’s not that Enda is against such a proposal. But he said the absence of all-party agreement is a deterrent to setting up a scheme.

Then there’s the Constitution, which “clearly states that titles of nobility shall not be conferred by the State”.

Bertie Ahern, apparently, was the last taoiseach who toyed with the idea. But he wasn’t the first. Heavens, no.

Enda fished out a substantial sheaf of paper from his folder and gave the Dáil a history of the many unsuccessful attempts by various taoisigh and ministers to institute an awards system.

In 1930, Ernest Blythe set the ball rolling with the British government but nothing was done until 1937, when it became entirely a matter for the Irish government.

“The system he had in mind was the Order of the Legion of St Patrick.”

In 1946, de Valera got in on the act. The Department of Finance and External Affairs proposed a scheme called “An Chraobh Ruadh, An tÓrdan Feibhe” in which the Taoiseach would make proposals to Government.

In 1948, taoiseach John A Costello decided to defer the issue.

In 1953, Dev took another run at it but decided, having consulted his colleagues, that the time was “not opportune”.

In 1956, the minister for defence submitted a memorandum to Costello, who decided the question should be considered at a later date.

In 1959, taoiseach Lemass indicated the matter should not be pursued actively until such time as there emerged evidence of widespread public interest.

The following January, the Department of External Affairs suggested the establishment of an interdepartmental committee. Nothing happened.

In 1963, Lemass approved in principle a proposal that a State declaration of honour be instituted, subject to all-party agreement. He wrote to the leaders of Fine Gael and Labour but got nowhere.

 

Exploratory talks

In 1991, Charlie Haughey invited opposition leaders to exploratory talks about introducing awards. They came to nought.

 

In 1994, Albert Reynolds asked party leaders for their views. He got one reply.

In 1999, Bertie Ahern initiated consultations. Nothing happened. So in 2007 he wrote again to the party leaders, inviting them to discussions. This went nowhere.

Brian Cowen left well enough alone, indicating he had to take into account “other political priorities”. Which is an understatement.

Having read the historical background into the record, Enda sat down, mightily pleased with himself.

“You deserve an award for that,” remarked Gerry Adams, who felt there is a good case for a national awards scheme.

But Micheál Martin struck a cautious note. “I’m not sure whether the Taoiseach is aware of the comment by Napoleon when he was stabilising matters after the French Revolution. He said that he would rule mankind with baubles.” (Fianna Fáil would know all about that.)

“I believe we need to be careful. I have always had an open mind but, as a republican, I have a view that there is always a question mark around the State bestowing honours on people.”

 

‘Spring statement’

And speaking of baubles, Micheál was fascinated by the Government’s forthcoming “spring statement”.

 

It won’t be a budget or a White Paper or a book of estimates. It won’t contain any financial resolutions and it’s not a national development plan.

In fact, it looks suspiciously like “an election document”.

He could be right.But when will that election happen?

This is what Michael Noonan had to say on that question, and on 1916, just over a year ago.

“We’re going to get de Valera’s old Rolls Royce out of mothballs. We are going to drive it to the GPO,” he said. “I will let the Taoiseach out and he’ll go up on the platform to take the salute and I’ll back it up and park it on Abbey Street, and then we’ll go to the country and say, we want you to renew our mandate.”

We suspect that’s one proclamation that will have to be rewritten.

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