~ Collins 22 Society National Launch~
ADDRESS AT THE LAUNCH OF THE COLLINS 22 SOCIETY
IN THE MANSION HOUSE
October 16th, 2005
Mairead Mcguiness MEP
Mairead Mcguiness MEP
Ladies and gentlemen
I want to thank the members of the Collins 22 Society for the invitation to your national launch.
It is fitting that we should gather in the Mansion House, the seat of the First Dail to celebrate and discuss the legacy of Michael Collins.
It was here he took his Dail seat representing South Cork. It was from this democratically elected assembly he took the authority to do the things he did at the foundation of the nation.
Michael Collins the democrat is often lost behind Collins the revolutionary and Collins the soldier.
The abiding image most people have of the man comes from that photograph of him in full military dress at the funeral of Arthur Griffith.
It was taken just a few days before he was assassinated. In some ways he has been frozen in time as a man of arms.
However, we must remember that, as a military leader, he died defending the democratic will of the people who had voted to accept the Treaty.
He was clear that the war was being fought in the name of democracy.
To quote his own words:
"Of all forms of government, a democracy allows the greatest freedom - the greatest possibilities for the good of all.
The first duty of the new government was to maintain public order, security of life, personal liberty and property.
The duty of the leaders was to secure free discussion of public policy, and to get all parties to recognise that, while they differed, they were fellow citizens of one Free State.
It should have been the political glory of Ireland to show that our differences of opinion could express themselves so as to promote, and not to destroy the national life.
There are people who are uncomfortable with the image of Collins as the man of war. Even for some in our own party, this master of urban guerrilla warfare is an unlikely hero in a party that prides itself as the quintessential party of constitutional nationalism.
In light of the last thirty years of pain and loss in Northern Ireland, we have become uneasy with heroes bearing arms.
However, Collins's purpose was not to impose his will on anyone or to impose his version of history. His purpose was simply - to honour the will of the people as expressed in the ballot box.
Because Collins died in the prime of his life there's a tendency to trap him in his time and see him solely in terms of the turbulence of those few years.
But Michael Collins was NOT a prisoner of the moment.
He was filled with a vision for the free Ireland that he and his generation were creating.
Like every soldier he was looking forward to the day the war would end and peace would bring prosperity and plenty.
Michael Collins had a vision for the country that includes many of the things we have achieved and many of the things we are still dreaming about.
In his speeches and writings he laid out his hopes for the social and economic development of the country:
If our national economy is put on a sound footing from the beginning it will, in the New Ireland, be possible for our people to provide themselves with the ordinary requirements of decent living.
For decent living - read Quality of Life - today this country struggles to provide all its citizens with a quality of life:
Talk to those young families who struggle and juggle the demands of two jobs, long commutes on congested roads and finding and affording quality childcare.
Talk to the older generation, isolated and often lonely in their homes, worried about a future in a tax incentivised nursing home?
Talk to the youth, worried about the even increasing pressure to achieve high college entry points, who struggle to deal with the overt pressures to drink, who face on a daily basis the lure of drugs.
Quality of Life issues are still major issues for Ireland today and they are central to what Fine Gael stands for.
Michael Collins was a practical man. He saw the need to improve and develop the country's main industry - agriculture.
He also saw the need to expand other sectors of the economy and to develop new industries.
But he knew that this would only be possible if the right conditions were created within the country.
He wanted, and I quote:
Means of transit must be extended and cheapened. Our harbours must be developed. Our water-power must be utilised; our mineral resources must be exploited.
But he also understood the value of trade:
Foreign trade must be stimulated by making facilities for the transport and marketing of Irish goods abroad and foreign goods in Ireland.
And above all he understood that investment was needed to bring about this vision of a thriving trading Ireland.
Ironically, we are still today debating transport policy:
I wonder what Michael Collins would think about our gridlock on the M50?
He would, no doubt, be pleased that investment did flow into industry; that progress was made on so many of the areas that he highlighted.
For agriculture, Collins would, I suspect, applaud much of the developments and improvements, but he would surely decry the fact that we have still failed to capitalise on our quality grass based production of beef and milk. We have taken the commodity route to the market, the vast EU market, and this is to our shame.
I wonder what Michael Collins would think today as we face into the World Trade Organisation talks which will further liberalise agriculture and food markets - I suspect he would repeat the view that foreign trade is the way to go, but I believe he would be urging the food industry to go out and market Irish food as a top class quality product before it is too late.
As for his vision for new industries - did Michael Collins foresee the development of high tech sectors, like IT and pharmaceuticals?
Michael Collins was a product of the middle classes, but his words and deeds show that he was no friend of unbridled capitalism.
His Ireland would not be an economic jungle where only the fittest survive and the rest left on the margins.
The seeds of the Fine Gael vision for a just society can be readily found in his writings:
What we must aim at is the building up of a sound economic life in which great discrepancies cannot occur.
We must not have the destitution of poverty at one end, and at the other an excess of riches in the possession of a few individuals, beyond what they can spend with satisfaction and justification.
The growing wealth of Ireland will, we hope, be diffused through all our people, all sharing in the growing prosperity, each receiving according to what each contributes in the making of that prosperity, so that the wealth of all is assured.
This vision of a fair and just Ireland has been part of the Fine Gael political philosophy since 1922.
How would Michael Collins review progress towards that just society? He would, I believe, be happy to see that wealth has been created within the country, but would he not be concerned about the widening gap between rich and poor?
He would, no doubt, be angry at the waste of public funding, so vividly exposed by Enda Kenny in the Dail in recent days.
He would not need a consultant to tell him that access to health care for the most vulnerable needs urgent attention; that trolleys are no place for the very ill; that schools need investment.
He would decry the focus on an economy which has gone from forcing women to stay in the home, to one which forces women to work outside the home, without providing them with the security of quality, affordable childcare.
His vision of a fair and just Ireland would put people before unbridled profit. It would give people a real choice and encourage the development of a society which places a value on all its citizens, young, old, able bodied and people with disabilities.
I believe that the greatest tribute we can pay to Michael Collins is to read and reflect on what he had to say and re-commit ourselves to carrying out his vision for a New Ireland.
What better tribute to a man who gave so much to this country? A man who gave his life to defending democracy.
Michael Collins was an exceptionally brave man. He believed that Ireland could and would prosper, but above all he wanted that prosperity to be for the benefit of all.
Today at the National launch of the Collins 22 Society, we recognise and salute his deeds, hopes and dreams.