State rejected plan to mark 1916 with €12m tourism initiative

Head of centenary project said initiative could generate money, jobs and visitors

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys. The head of the centenary project, John Concannon, initially proposed to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Ms Humphreys an “ambitious project of scale” closely modelled on The Gathering

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys. The head of the centenary project, John Concannon, initially proposed to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Ms Humphreys an “ambitious project of scale” closely modelled on The Gathering

 

The Government rejected an internal proposal to mark the 1916 centenary with a €12 million Gathering-style initiative explicitly aimed at promoting tourism and trade.

The head of the centenary project, John Concannon, initially proposed to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys an “ambitious project of scale” closely modelled on The Gathering.

Mr Concannon, a marketing specialist on secondment from Fáilte Ireland, submitted an outline budget of €11.7 million and stressed the tourism and trade potential of the initiative. Benefits would include “increased revenue, jobs, investment and visitors”. It would also “build pride in the country” and enhance Ireland’s reputation, he wrote in a briefing paper last year.

When the commemorations programme was announced in November, it was allocated a current budget of €4 million and the emphasis on promoting tourism and trade had been removed.

In a briefing paper entitled “Celebrating our Past, Shaping the Future”, released under the Freedom of Information Act, Mr Concannon wrote that “Ireland Inspires 2016” would be a “call to action” for the people of Ireland to contribute to the country’s “renewal and recovery”.

He emphasised tourism and trade benefits and said the initiative would be an opportunity to “celebrate Ireland’s illustrious past and focus on what the future can be for Ireland and its people”.

A spokeswoman for Ms Humphreys said Mr Concannon prepared the “Ireland Inspires” document before he was officially seconded to the department, and the proposal was rejected. “It does not reflect the Minister’s vision for Ireland 2016, which will be a national and international series of events and initiatives to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, reflect on the achievements of the last 100 years, and look towards the future,” the spokeswoman said.

Diaspora

She added that while Ireland 2016 would include a diaspora programme, “trade and tourism are not among its priorities”.

In his Ireland Inspires document, Mr Concannon wrote that the initiative, to be built around the themes of “creativity and innovation”, would be tied to trade and tourism promotion, with a series of “inbound buyer missions” for different sectors. “A special focus for the year will be on showcasing young and new entrepreneurs with innovative ideas and on high-potential start-ups seeking investment, support and platforms.”

A series of workshops, conferences and think-ins devoted to “imagineering” were also proposed. Mr Concannon described “imagineering events with a line-up of brilliant speakers, acknowledged experts within their fields, covering their insights on different aspects of the future.” Colleges and schools would also be involved, with “schoolchildren of all ages to be involved in a nationwide imagineering programme”.

The proposal saw arts and culture playing a major role. Artists, designers, film-makers and musicians would be invited to use “Ireland Inspires” and “imagine the future as an inspirational muse in the preparations for 2016”.

The document outlined three phases to the project: “Seed and Elevate”, “Engage and Enable” and “Excite and Invite”. The last of these, which was to begin in April and run to next year, would centre on “building excitement . . . for action to make the project a success”.

Slimmed-down programme

The project plans were reworked, however, and in November Mr Kenny and Ms Humphreys announced a slimmed-down programme under the heading “Ireland 2016”.

In a briefing note sent to Joe Hamill, secretary general of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, five days after the launch at the GPO in Dublin, Mr Concannon outlined how the project would be implemented. “Ireland 2016 is about telling a positive story about Ireland to a wide range of audiences at home and abroad,” he wrote. It was an opportunity “to convey the richness of Ireland to the rest of the world and for the Irish people to connect with its own global diaspora”.

The final Ireland 2016 programme retains much of the language of the original document, describing the initiative as “a call to action” for Irish people “to reflect on the past 100 years and to re-imagine our future, including a new legacy of hope, belief, possibility and confidence”.

The five themes are Remember, Reconcile, Present, Imagine and Celebrate. Internal records show that the verbs Remember and Reconcile were added after input from Martin Fraser, the secretary general to the Government.

The centenary initiative got off to a rocky start in November when its official video was criticised for not including any reference to the events of 1916. Prof Diarmaid Ferriter of UCD, one of 11 academics appointed two years ago to the 2016 advisory committee, said the video was “embarrassing, unhistorical shit”.

He said: “There is no historical depth to it. Was Brian O’Driscoll really in the GPO in April 1916? One of the first words used in the video is ‘reconcile’, but 1916 was not about reconciliation. That’s the worst kind of contrivance – reading history backwards.”