Monday 18 December 2017

Lenihan speech signals end of civil war politics, says Owen

Fionnan Sheahan and Ralph Riegel

MICHAEL Collins's best-known relative last night backed the invitation to Finance Minister Brian Lenihan to speak at his commemoration this weekend, describing it as "a recognition civil war politics shouldn't be part of politics today".

But former Fine Gael minister Nora Owen, a grand-niece of Mr Collins, said she doubted that a figure from her own party would ever be invited to address a commemoration of Eamon de Valera.

Mr Lenihan's role in the annual event at Beal na mBlath in west Cork has prompted objections from sections of the Fine Gael party. But Ms Owen said her family will all be there for his speech.


Mr Lenihan is the first FF politician to deliver the oration at the Saturday event, which is closely associated with FG.

Ms Owen said the historic parallel of Mr Collins and Mr Lenihan both serving as Finance Minister in difficult periods makes the invitation appropriate.

"I have no problem with it. I think Brian Lenihan is a Minister for Finance at a really difficult time, as was Michael Collins at the foundation of the State. There is a kind of a historic crossover," she said.

Fine Gael Senator Liam Twomey last week criticised the invitation to the Fianna Fail minister for the annual commemoration.

Ms Owen, a former Fine Gael deputy leader, said people in her party have always had an affinity to Mr Collins, but it was right to invite Mr Lenihan.

"Michael Collins has always been linked to Fine Gael and people in Fine Gael have a huge devotion to him. They have an incredible loyalty," she said.

"But I don't imagine a Fine Gael person would ever be asked to speak at a De Valera function -- and nor do I believe they should.

"It is most appropriate that it is Brian Lenihan (at Beal na mBlath) as he can recognise the historic significance."

"For anybody under 40, they really do see an end of the civil war politics. I think this invitation is a sign of maturity. It is a recognition that civil war politics shouldn't be a part of our politics today," she added.

As usual, Mr Collins's wider family were consulted on the selection of the speaker by the organisers of the commemoration, through a cousin of Ms Owen.

Along with her sister, former MEP Mary Banotti, Ms Owen will be in Beal na mBlath with many members of her extended family.

"We'll be all there in good numbers. There'll be no question of any boycotting," she said.

Beal na mBlath Committee Chairman, Cllr Dermot Collins, said it was time the oration was delivered by a senior FF official.

"Over the years we wouldn't have had anybody that would have had strong linkage with Fianna Fail deliver the oration.

"There were a few who spoke who subsequently stood for Fianna Fail and a few senior party officials attended the ceremony. But this is the first time such a senior cabinet member delivered the keynote oration," Mr Collins said.

"We felt in the present climate with the way that things have moved on in the country especially with the peace process in the North and the way in which the process was further copper-fastened recently we felt it was time to move on too," he added.

"In recent years we have attempted to reflect that change with a speaker from the House of Lords, Lord Puttman, and last year we had Mary Robinson. They felt it was time to have someone from Fianna Fail officiate," he said.

The oration will this year be delivered on Sunday, August 22 -- the 88th anniversary, to the very day, of Mr Collins's death.

Irish Independent

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