‘Forgotten patriots: John Dillon & D.D. Sheehan’
Seminar held in Wynn's Hotel , Dublin, on 15 October 2016
Introductory comments by FELIX M LARKIN who chaired the seminar
Speakers: John Bruton, Frank Callanan S.C., Dermot Meleady & Tom Carew
I am delighted to have been asked to chair this seminar today, and for this reason: In the past few months, we have commemorated – and some have celebrated – the centenary of the Easter Rising and also the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. And most of us would agree, I think, that these events were better organised and were of a much better character than we might have expected. But there was a gap in the historical landscape that was presented to us this year – a gap which John Bruton tried to close, though without success. That gap arose from the failure to give due recognition to the Irish parliamentary tradition and to its contribution to the achievement of an independent Irish state and to shaping the political culture of the state.
In fact, that tradition was singled out for quite extraordinary disrespect in the curious incident of the banners on the facade of the Bank of Ireland building in College Green. These banners were a minimalist attempt to commemorate at the home of the pre-1801 Irish parliament some heroes of the parliamentary tradition – Henry Grattan, O’Connell, Parnell and John Redmond – but the Sinn Féin members of Dublin City Council led a chorus of complaints about the banners on the grounds of, in the words of the Irish Times, ‘their seeming inappropriateness in the context of the 1916 centenary’. The Sinn Féin protests were supported by a motley crew of councillors from Fianna Fáil, the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People before Profit and Independents, and the banners were removed immediately after the matter was considered at a meeting of the Council.
At the Parnell Summer School in August this year, I tackled Eoin Ó Broin, the Sinn Féin TD, about this mean-spirited effort by his party to denigrate what was the majority tradition in Irish nationalist politics throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – and his response was that three of the four individuals were not around in 1916 and so were not relevant to the history of 1916. I feel pretty sure he would not have taken that view if the banners had featured Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet, James Stephens and O’Donovan Rossa.
So I think it is timely that we should today remember the ‘forgotten patriots’ of the Irish parliamentary tradition, and in that spirit I welcome you all here today – and have great pleasure in introducing our four speakers.