The expert advisory group on Irish centenary celebrations has said the holding of a public meeting in Dublin this evening is not a response to comments by the historian Diarmaid Ferriter on the question of the British royal family attending Easter Rising commemorations in 2016.
Prof Ferriter, professor of modern history at UCD and a member of the advisory group, had raised his concerns on the subject, saying a monarchical presence could serve to significantly distort history.
Speaking to the Irish Times yesterday, Dr Maurice Manning, chancellor of the National University of Ireland and chairman of the advisory group, said this evening's public consultation on centenary plans had not been organised as a response to those views.
Rather, he said, it was one in a series of events designed to solicit the public’s input and opinions on a variety of events, with a diversity of issues having already been addressed on themes including home rule, unionism, the founding of the Irish Volunteers and the 1913 Lockout.
“We don’t see ourselves as being part of any agenda other than history,” he said.
"There is some confusion that this [meeting] was called because of what Diarmaid Ferriter had said; absolutely not. It's part of a series we have been holding around the country. One or two people have seen it as a reaction and it's not."
Dr Manning said Prof Ferriter was entitled to raise his views on the subject and noted the benefit of having the debate two years ahead of the Easter Rising centenary rather than closer to the time.
However, he said: “I don’t think the committee has any role whatsoever in telling the Government who . . . they can invite. But we can give our view.
“I think that there is a problem about them [Prof Ferriter’s views] because there is no plan yet for 1916; there is no set of proposals so it’s very hard to comment on something that might happen.”
Earlier this month Prof Ferriter had questioned the decision to invite members of the British royal family without consulting the advisory group.
As to its significance, he said recent efforts to emphasise good relations between Britain and Ireland had led to a “noble aspiration to please everybody and include everybody, which will not do justice to the historic divisions that were there that we need to understand”.
But he said the matter was complicated and multilayered and that he was concerned the British presence could end up “distorting history quite significantly”.
Prof Ferriter is not due to attend this evening’s forum at the Royal College of Surgeons, but Dr Manning dismissed any suggestion this was due to internal disagreement.
He said the issue had been raised at the last meeting in Thurles, Co Tipperary, but it was one of many. "My sense is that people are listening to each other and nobody is being dogmatic."
This evening's public consultation will begin at 5.30pm and will hear from Prof Mary Daly, principal of UCD's College of Arts and Celtic Studies, on the topic of events in 1966, 50 years after the Rising.