‘100th anniversary of the 1918 election’
Seminar held in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin, on 15 December 2018
Introductory comments by FELIX M LARKIN who chaired the seminar
Speakers: Bertie Ahern, John Bruton, Dr Elaine Callinan, Professor Brian Walker, Professor Frank Barry, Professor Michael Laffan, Dermot Meleady & Dr Joseph Quinn.
Opened by Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Ceann Comhairle.
Thank you, Ceann Comhairle, for those words – and thank you for your presence here today. And, since I have to chair the proceedings for the rest of day, thank you also for your advice earlier on how to control an unruly assembly. Let’s hope this one is not going to be too unruly.
We have a distinguished panel of speakers, and I want – first of all – to pay tribute to our host, Murt O’Sullivan, for putting together this latest in a series of seminars that he has organised entirely on his own initiative to mark the decade of commemorations. I can think of few other people who, when he puts out a call for papers, can secure the services, not only of the Ceann Comhairle, but also of two former Taosigh – 50% of the cohort of living former Taoisigh. It is a remarkable achievement. I am very happy to be associated with him in this endeavour and to have been asked to chair the seminar today. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Felix Larkin – now working as a historian, but in a previous life (as a public servant) I have had the pleasure and good fortune of working for both John Bruton and Bertie Ahern when they were Ministers for Finance.
Our topic today – the 1918 general election – is something which, I think, we can commemorate without reservation. We have become accustomed to celebrating the 1916 Rising as the foundational event of the independent Irish state, but some of us are uncomfortable with that since there was no popular mandate for the Rising. In fact, it was deplored by the vast majority of the Irish people when it occurred. It is, therefore, far more appropriate to date the origin of our democratic state to the 1918 general election and the meeting of the First Dáil in January 1919 – orderly political events reflecting the will of the people, not wanton violence disrespecting public opinion. And let us not forget that, in contrast to 1916, the violence of the Irish War of Independence derived at least a veneer of legitimacy from the mandate for independence given by the 1918 general election and from being prosecuted, at least nominally, under the authority of Dáil Éireann.
So today, in commemorating the 1918 general election, we celebrate our democracy – and it is right and proper that we should do this. Our first two speakers are outstanding sons of that democracy – the two former Taoisigh who are with us today, John Bruton and Bertie Ahern.