| 11.5°C Dublin

Dáil at 100 - 'They changed the course of history', Taoiseach says as politicians gather at Mansion House to mark centenary



President Michael D Higgins speaking in Dublin's Mansion House today. Image: Oireachtas TV

President Michael D Higgins speaking in Dublin's Mansion House today. Image: Oireachtas TV

President Michael D Higgins speaking in Dublin's Mansion House today. Image: Oireachtas TV

POLITICIANS gathered in Dublin's Mansion House to mark 100 years of the first Dáil, which sat for the first time on this day in 1919.

The commemorative sitting of the Dáil took place in the Round Room, with descendants of those elected to the first Dáil expected to be in attendance.

The event was held to "celebrate 100 years of unbroken democracy" and President Michael D Higgins gave a speech to mark the occasion.

The first meeting in the Mansion House included candidates who had been elected in the Westminster elections of 1918 but refused to sit there.

The historic event in Irish politics came just two months after the end of the First World War.

In a speech to those present, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the first meeting as a "bold, profound and decisive statement about the future of Ireland".

"When a small group of people, recently elected to Westminster, met here in the Mansion House one hundred years ago they changed the course of Irish history," the Taoiseach said.

"In some ways, it was more of a symbolic statement: the Dáil was a legislature without any power. But as symbolism went it was incredibly powerful.

"It proclaimed the essential democratic nature of the Irish revolution, the value it placed on parliamentary institutions, and its aspirations for a free, independent and democratic state."

Mr Varadkar paid tribute to those who contributed to the "new Irish state" and also pointed to where the State has "fallen short" over the years.

"Over time, the new Irish state would establish policies ‘for the care of the Nation's aged and infirm, who shall not be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the Nation's gratitude and consideration’. Health services were established to safeguard the health of the people and ensure the physical well-being of the country, services that serves us well, despite the problems.

"Through the development of state-owned enterprises such as the ESB and Bord na Móna ‘the Nation's resources’: its ‘mineral deposits, peat bogs, and fisheries, its waterways and harbours’ were developed ‘in the interests and for the benefit of the Irish people.’  It took many decades, and a new direction in Irish economic policy, but Irish industries were eventually invigorated and ‘trade with foreign Nations… revived on terms of mutual advantage and goodwill’ as the programme foresaw.

"The Democratic Programme also points to where the State has fallen short.  Its assertion that ‘the first duty of the Government of the Republic’ will be to ensure ‘that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training’ reminds us of our responsibilities to children. 

"Industrial schools, illegal adoptions, and Mother and Baby Homes were a betrayal of those ideals.  Although today the rate of child poverty in Ireland is only a fraction of what it was one hundred years ago, and is falling, we must do better. 

"In the first years of the Irish Free State there were almost half a million pupils in primary school, but only one in twenty would continue beyond that. Third-level education was for the few. It was no wonder that W.B. Yeats called Ireland in 1928 ‘the worst educated country in northern Europe’. Today we are one of the best educated.

"Different Governments over many years made that possible – for example, bringing in free second level education – and the result is that this ideal of the Democratic Programme has become a reality for many. Today, more people attend higher education than ever before with more than ever before coming from non-traditional backgrounds."

He also remembered Constance Markievicz, and the ambush at Soloheadbeg, before concluding the speech.

"We also remember that Constance Markievicz was made Minister for Labour in the First Dáil in April 1919. It is deeply shameful that it took another sixty years before another woman became a government minister. As a State we were diminished by the absence of women from positions of power.

"Today we also remember that the 21st of January 1919 was also the date of the ambush at Soloheadbeg in Co. Tipperary, an event that subsequently came to be seen as the first shots in the War of Independence. In the months and years ahead we will commemorate the struggle that helped us achieve the independence declared so eloquently on behalf of the Irish people in the Mansion House on this day.

"So today is an opportunity to recall the past and look to the future. The meeting of the First Dáil was a bold exercise in democracy, an assertion that the struggle for Irish independence had the support of the Irish people, and derived its legitimacy from them. By honouring the First Dáil we reaffirm our belief in its democratic integrity, concourse with the world, and rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of its values and aspirations."

Online Editors