By Dan Walsh in Oulart
Members of Oulart Company 3rd Battalion North Wexford Brigade who were active during the 1916 Easter Rising were remembered with a roll call at the second annual Mise Éire commemoration held at the Mise Éire monument in Oulart this morning (Sunday).
Ms. Bridget Mythen read the roll of honour while Ms. Breda Jacob read the 1916 Proclamation in the company of a good local attendance which included many of the local families. Cllr Mary Farrell was in attendance.
Mr. John Dempsey, Chairman of the Oulart Hill Development Group welcomed everyone, acted as master of ceremonies, and introduced the speakers and thanked them for their contribution.
The Easter address was delivered by Dr. Ray Bassett, a former member of the Irish Government Delegation to the All-Party Talks in 1998. His antecedents come for the Hook area of Co. Wexford.
Dr. Bassett’s speech reflected on the Good Friday Agreement, and he began by thanking Brian Ó Cléirigh and the local organisers for the invitation to speak in Oulart which is famed in Wexford’s history since the Insurrection of 1798.
“Twenty-five years ago, I was in Castle Buildings in Belfast as part of the Irish Government delegation, led by then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, at the negotiations which led to the conclusion of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement.
“It was an extraordinary privilege to be present and to participate in that event. It was without a shadow of doubt, the pinnacle of my career, a career the bulk of which I spent on issues relating to Northern Ireland.
“As I listen to much of the commentary around the anniversary, I am struck by the various attempts particularly those “experts” in the media who re-interpret what was achieved on that occasion. They also seek justification for previous policy positions which in the more distant past proved to be futile, including the policy of exclusion of some political movements. The reason why the Good Friday Agreement negotiations were successful is because it was a radically different approach and outcome from all previous attempts.
“The central thrust of the negotiations was to achieve an end to political violence in the North and this meant bringing the Republican movement and the Loyalist groups on board while keeping a broad swathe of Unionism and Constitutional nationalism from walking away. Without securing Sinn Féin’s agreement and the Loyalist parties too, then the exercise would have been pointless, a position which I was glad to hear former British Prime Minister Tony Blair emphasise recently. That primary objective was achieved, and the bulk of the violence ended.
Dr Bassett continued; “One question that must be asked is whether the final outcome made the ultimate goal of Nationalism/Republicanism, Irish unity more likely or less likely. It cannot come as a surprise to anyone that as a former delegate to the Talks process, I firmly and sincerely believe that the Good Friday Agreement was a major milestone on the road to unity.”
In relation to a Border Poll, Dr. Bassett said: “With voting and attitudinal changes occurring inside the North, it is time the Irish Government, in particular as a co-signatory of the Good Friday Agreement, began to press for a timetable for a border poll. We should not be in anyway shy about doing this and although some groups will say that a demand for a poll will be destabilising, I believe that ignoring the terms of the Agreement is both unconstitutional in the Republic and is also I believe destabilising.
“The Good Friday Agreement is now part of the Irish Constitution. We need to respect our Constitution and there is a duty on the Irish administration to see its terms upheld.
“Our three traditional parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour were all founded by men, who were steeped in revolutionary Republicanism and who vehemently rejected splitting Ireland into two States. Therefore, as the dream of their founders now appears as a realistic possibility, the party leaders of these political organisations should rejoice and feel a sense of achievement. But some, though not all, radiate a fear of its accomplishment. As with many issues in life, the fundamental motivation is self-interest, masked by claims of acting for the national good.
“The Irish Government argued for years with Republicans to get them to accept the principle of democratic consent. This was achieved after a long struggle. For us to turn around and renege on that principle would be morally wrong and discredit all those who risked their lives for peace. It is also breath taking in arrogance that some Southern politicians can casually state that Unionists are incapable of accepting the outcome of a democratic referendum.
“There are several lessons to be learnt from the major Constitutional change, namely Brexit, which occurred in our British neighbour. The first and foremost is that people voting on a border poll need to know what they are voting for in some detail. In this respect a great deal of preparatory work needs to be done. We need to maintain good relations with the British in the interests of Irish unity.
“I would hope it is not just an extension of the present Irish State to cover the 32 counties. The possibility of unification offers us all a chance to reboot the State and to reflect the full range of interests of the Irish people.
“I believe that we should look forward with enthusiasm and an open mind to the reunification of our country. Of course, there are many obstacles but there are enough brains and innovation in both States to overcome these difficulties. I am fed up with politicians and some elements of the media preaching very negative sentiments and openly attacking some of the fundamental cornerstones of the Good Friday Agreement while piously proclaiming their adherence to it.
As Parnell, one of my personal heroes, put it succinctly, “No man has the right to fix a boundary to the march of a nation.” and the small-minded nature of some political figures in Dublin are seeking through self-interest to do just that. Let us greatly welcome the prospect of Irish unity and embrace it with enthusiasm and generosity.”
The Oulart ceremony concluded with the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann by the Oulart Folk Group.
Dr. Bassett honoured the invitation from the Curator, Bridget O’Leary, to sign the distinguished visitor pages of Leabhar an Abhalloirt afterwards in the House of Stories.