I’m delighted to be with you here at Beal na mBlath to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the passing of Michael Collins.
I’m particularly pleased to be joined by the Minister for Defence Alan Shatter, the army Chief of Staff Lt General Sean McCann and members of Ireland’s defence forces, here at the place where the first Commander-in-Chief of the national army fell.
It is fitting indeed that Ireland’s defence forces, Oglaigh na hEireann, have such a central role in honouring the memory of Michael Collins today.
It is equally fitting that earlier this week, the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, launched a set of commemorative coins to honour independent Ireland’s first Minister for Finance, Michael Collins.
He was Finance Minister for a tragically short time but, in true Collins style, it was time he did not waste but used to excellent effect, for his people and his country.
So it’s an immense privilege for me as Head of Government to give this oration today, the first time for a serving Taoiseach to do so since the unveiling of this monument by the President of the Executive Council, W T Cosgrave in 1924.
And to those who kept this annual commemorative event alive and kept faith with Michael Collins and all he stood for during often difficult and unfashionable times, over the last 90 years…. I thank you.
It is 1922.
In India, Gandhi is arrested for sedition.
In Russia, Josef Stalin becomes Secretary General to the Communist Party Central Committee.
In North Africa, Britain declares Egypt ‘formally’ independent.
Carter and Carnarvon will enter the tomb of the boy-king Tutenkamun.
While in Germany, hyperinflation began to rage, in Paris Ulysses is published.
In the capital city which this masterpiece celebrates, Dail Eireann accepts the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
By August the President of the Dail, Arthur Griffth, is dead.
Within a week, young Miceal O Coileain, General Michael Collins, a local boy here, neighbours’ child, had joined him in Glasnevin….. and eternity.
He was assassinated here, in the dust of West Cork, whence he came.
It was nine months since he had signed his ‘ death-warrant’ Treaty.
In recent days, I have been thinking a lot about Michael Collins.
Wondering about his private thoughts, his personal preoccupations, on those lonely, and lonelier journeys by mailboat and train to and from London.
A young man with a young man’s hopes and dreams, but with the destiny of a nation on his shoulders.
Ireland and its possibilities took not just his life, but his youthful attention….. his very youth itself .
Therefore, as a man, a politician, blessed enough to reach almost double his age, I feel privileged….honoured… to be invited here to Beal na mBlath to give this oration.
If it’s true what they say that places capture and hold the imprint of dramatic events that occurred there, then there are few locations in Ireland as imprinted……as overlaid… politically…. nationally…..spiritually……….as this.
Here at Beal na mBlath we are indeed on sacred ground.
The brave, impulsive decision…. “Stop! and we’ll fight them”…. ended Michael Collin’s life but not his power over our history, our national heart, our imagination.
Today, we honour his civilian legacy.
The brilliant Minister for Finance.
The outstanding organiser who brought Lenin’s attention to Ireland to see how the National Loan worked.
The thoughtful, disciplined leader who helped draft the Free State Constitution
The passionate ideas man who wrote:
“What we must aim at is the building of a sound economic life…in which great discrepancies cannot occur”.
Here in 2006, I spoke of Michael Collins’ legendary capacity to rant and roar fluently both in Irish and in English.
But I think it’s safe to say that the gigantic ‘discrepancies’ that have occurred in recent years would leave Collins, like all of us, absolutely speechless.
But, only momentarily.
Here is the man….the doer….the pragmatist…. the passionate lover of Ireland…… the unfailing optimist….. who wrote….
“We will survive economically if we export to the growing sophisticated markets of the world, goods of quality which they’re entitled to demand at a price beyond which they will not pay and on the day they rightly demand delivery. To meet this, there is only one criterion…… the pursuit of excellence”.
And this is one area despite our economic difficulties where we excel.
We expect a second successive year of economic growth, driven by exports. Irish growth is expected to accelerate to 2% next year, despite weak European performance.
But for me as Taoiseach, that means not just excellence of economic efficiency and commercial purpose.
But this time, and crucially it means excellence in all our endeavours, in our values, our aspirations, our spirit.
That pursuit of excellence involves honesty, respect, ethics, passion, compassion, leadership, responsibility.
The very qualities we will need to re-evaluate, rehabilitate, and re-establish at the heart of our government, our economy, and our society.
Today, 90 years after his death, we are again, as Collins did, having to build, to rebuild, our economy and restructure our institutions.
That work is as vital and challenging and necessary now, as it was in Collins’s time.
But just as Collins was undeterred by the dire financial straits in which Ireland found itself in the 1920s, the Government I lead is equally determined.
I refuse to allow our economic difficulties to become a political excuse.
An excuse not to change. An excuse not to restructure. An excuse not to reform. In fact, I am absolutely resolute that the crisis we inherited is one we will never pass to another generation of the Irish people. We’re resolute in our reform agenda. Resolute in making the changes that the people know we need to make in Irish public and institutional life.
So that when better times return, as they inevitably must and will, Ireland and the Irish people will be even better placed to live a truly prosperous life, rich in satisfaction and security and opportunity.
In keeping with Collins’s ambition, mental force and high ideals, as Taoiseach, I refuse to allow what is in reality a temporary, hand-me-down, financial straitjacket damage what will be a magnificent future, for our country, for our people, and for our children’s children.
But that future for our republic can only be achieved if we have the courage, the wisdom and the will, to reform…. to restructure…… to renew.
I have said on many occasions that to guarantee the kind of radical change Ireland needs to achieve the high standing for Ireland Collins sought to achievem, it is not sufficient to do just what is correct. Rather, despite our challenging financial circumstances, we must do what is right. And we are doing that. By reforming our public services. By reforming our legislature. By reforming our political system itself.
Making sure that we do more with less. Making sure that we achieve better, higher-quality services at a time of falling budgets. Making sure that people can have a new pride and hope and trust in the political process itself. In all of this government must lead by example. Because I believe that elements our political system has failed, and spectacularly so, to live up to the Collins’ ideal.
Too long and too often, it has failed to live up to the high and proper ideals of the founders of this State.
You…I… we… as a people, are ambitious indeed for our country.
I can assure you that the government I lead is as confident and ambitious and determined as were Collins and his colleagues.
And in the circumstances in which we find ourselves… we need to be.
If we love our country….. our nation….. our children….. we must be.
Michael Collins knew instinctively the value, and the fragility of public trust.
He recognised the need…..the duty…… to keep faith with the people. He understood how vital it was to make difficult, sometimes impossible, decisions. With our reform agenda, we too are making difficult decisions, we’re respecting public trust…we’re keeping faith with the people. Through radical legislation, we’re tackling political corruption. Through our Constitutional Convention Irish citizens and politicians from both north and south will come together to discuss constitutional reform - a new concept in our country. Something of which Collins would approve.
We are undertaking a major reform of the political system itself. In the Dáil, the Seanad, and in Local Government it’s time for real change. Because if we’re asking people in their homes and businesses and communities all across this country to make big changes, to make big sacrifices, then we have a political duty, a moral duty, to lead by example and reform the political system itself. I believe that Michael Collins would approve.
He would agree, and indeed in the current circumstances he would expect and demand no less of us , the government and the people, working side by side for each other, for our country, for our people’s future.
Economically, our challenges are as great today as they were in Collins’s time.
And I can assure you that the meticulousness that Michael Collins brought to all aspects of finance and financial governance is being renewed and re-applied across all areas of banking, regulation and oversight.
Recent statistics show our early efforts have been successful. Ireland is now back in the world top 20 for competitiveness. Yes – we are in an EU-IMF programme. But we have met the tough demands of every stage. To the degree we have secured improvements in its terms, and further improvements are being pursued.
Here at Beal na Blath, as Taoiseach, I give you my word that I will not rest, our government will not rest, until Ireland has reclaimed and restored its economic sovereignty. We will not cease in our painstaking, quiet but persuasive endeavours until Ireland has re-established the economic independence, so precious, so hard won, which is its right and its due.
Michael Collins was a reformer. A thinker. A moderniser. I believe he would be pro Europe and strongly pro-Ireland’s place in a peaceful, prosperous, European Union. He would have recognised the economic potential of European cooperation and solidarity. For this potential is to be realised, it is essential that the far reaching decisions to stabilize the Euro that were taken in June are implemented as quickly as possible so that world can see that the European leaders of today are serious about the protection of their shared currency.
I believe, equally, he would be proud of the fact that Ireland has won the EU over to our vital agenda…. of growth for our economy and jobs for our people. As a powerful negotiator, innovator, strategist, persuader and peacemaker, had he lived, I believe he would have had a powerful impact on shaping the future of our Continent….our peoples….our Union.
Just last week I met with Prime Minister David Cameron in London, in 10 Downing Street – the same building where Collins signed the Treaty 90 years ago and we reflected how far we had come. The positive, mature and respectful relationship that has been developed between our countries was underlined by the successful visit to Ireland last year of Queen Elizabeth who specifically honoured those who had lost their lives for Irish freedom.
It was evident again in recent weeks when at the London Olympics British spectators cheered for Irish athletes and vice-versa.
I firmly believe that Michael Collins would be proud that reconciliation between Britain and Ireland has reached the point where such demonstrations of mutual respect – things that would been unimaginable a few short years ago – can now be witnessed.
Together, as near neighbours, good friends, familiar in our separate ways with Famine and all its consequences last week we made a firm commitment to prioritise the alleviation of hunger and under-nutrition. We will use the Ireland’s EU Presidency in 2013 to draw attention to the links between food security, nutrition and climate change, while our British counterparts will use their Presidency of the G8 to do the same.
Collins believed that Ireland and the Irish people could be “a shining light in a dark world”.
I share that view.
Here at home, economically, the next 12 to 18 months will be critical in how well or how brightly we shine. And today let me repeat I am absolutely determined, that in keeping with the Michael Collins ideal, this country will overcome our economic challenges.
I want Irish people at home and across the world to be confident that this government, dogged and determined, is working hard on their behalf. I want the world to hear our clear, consistent, resounding message that Ireland is open for opportunity, open for jobs, open for business.
I want international business to understand that Ireland is the country…..with the government….and the people…. where their companies can fulfil their commercial ambitions……. reach and exceed their financial targets and continue to be supported by our highly skilled, hard working and productive workforce.
In the run up to this important and very special commemoration of Michael Collins…….I’ve thought a lot about how he would view the complicated circumstances in which Ireland finds itself today.
But I know that the government is approaching our task of national recovery with the passion and determination and zeal that Collins would have applied…..in everything we undertake.
I was down at Ardnacrusha recently. It was a special visit for me as Taoiseach.
Because to me…. Ardnacrusha represented the courage, the ambition and the dreams of our new State.
But critics, including in the banks and in the media at the time, believed it was an extravagance, a dangerous venture that would ruin the country.
WT Cosgrave faced negativity and hostility as a consequence but he was convinced that it was the right thing to do for the country.
Like Collins…. our founders thought big…… they dreamt big….. and delivered big.
Their dream, their vision and determination created a long term economic benefit for this country…a lesson and example for our times.
From the wreckage of Occupation…. a World War…… a War of Independence….. and a Civil War…..they made sure to give us a functioning democracy….. a Free State…… and in time a Republic.
For a while those values of decency and sincerity….. of accountability and ethics and ambition….. for an inclusive Ireland…. eluded us.
But with this government….those values have been retrieved and reinstated at the heart of everything we do, for, and in the name of this proud Irish Republic the noble Irish people.
In honouring Collins today…… I want us to also remember Arthur Griffith…..who died in the same month as he did.
Griffith was the antithesis of glamour and drama.
He was modest man…. sensible… frugal. On his way back to work from illness…. when his heart gave out.
Arthur Griffith was one of the great intellectual forces in the shaping of modern Ireland.
Griffith had long argued that the way to achieve independence was to establish a rival administration at home which would win the confidence of the Irish people. That rival administration was Dáil Eireann. The establishment of which the historian Brian Maye called his most enduring legacy.
Yes – here at Beal na mBlath…. we were deprived of Michael Collins….
But not of his standards….. his memory….. his legacy… .the gift that he was to us.
Almost to the day…..90 years ago…. his comrades stood here tear-stained…. hoarse…… dumbfounded.
As the Sliabh na mBan headed for Shanakiel with the body of Micheal Collins…the news of his death broke….. battering hearts…… across Ireland…… the world……the divisions of the Treaty.
The first Commander-in-Chief of the Irish army……. the brilliant West Cork Boy…… the emigrant….the political prisoner…. the Minister for Finance….the constitutional thinker…. the British civil servant….. the son… the brother…..the uncle… the fiancé….. the comrade…. the boisterous, generous, exasperating….grámhar friend……the Big Fella……. this time….had gone and done the unthinkable…… the outrageous…. …the impossible……
We will shortly begin a decade of national commemorations…….. the Dublin Lock-Out, The Easter Rising, The First World War, the War of Independence, The Treaty, the Civil War and many others, North and South.
It is the firm intention of the government that the official commemoration of each and all of these milestones in our history will be generous and insightful…. inclusive and dignified.
But the life and death of Miceál O Coileáin…. will not just be commemorated……it will be celebrated…..and it will be cherished….. not alone in public ceremonies…. but in the quietness of people’s homes… the stillness of Irish hearts…wherever they may be across the world.
As a nation, we will mark the centenary of his passing… by rededicating ourselves to the Collins ideals of self determination, the pursuit of excellence, the celebration of Ireland’s ‘light…. our nation’s ‘difference’.
We will have reclaimed our economic sovereignty…. we will have exercised our right…..our hardwon freedom….. to enter into the fullness of who… and what…. we can become… as the Irish nation.
It is my intention that in doing so we fulfil my ambition for Ireland being the best small country in which to do business, the best country in which to raise a family and the best in which to grow old with a sense of dignity and respect.
Michael Collins wrote…
Give us the future… Give us back our country… to live in, to grow in, to Love.
These aspirations reflect my own. We have no time to waste.
Rath Dé ort Miceal O Coileáin. Ár gceol thú.