Taoiseach says he will consider request for Michael Collins statue in Dublin

Martin says more historical research may be more appropriate way of ensuring legacy of Collins is not forgotten

The Taoiseach has pledged to consider calls for a statue of Michael Collins in Dublin but suggested more historical research into Collins may be a more appropriate way of ensuring his role in the fight for Irish freedom is never forgotten.

Speaking earlier this week, Micheál Martin said he would talk to Fine Gael’s Patrick O’Donovan, Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, after Mr O’Donovan said it was time that Collins was honoured by the State with a statue in Dublin given his central contribution towards Ireland achieving independence.

“I don’t believe that somebody of Michael Collins’s greatness should be left to voluntary groups to commemorate, notwithstanding, they do a hugely important job and have done so generations while the State failed Michael Collins’s legacy and failed his memory,” said Mr O’Donovan.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Claire Byrne earlier in the week, Mr O’Donovan said that it was wrong Collins, “the founder of the nation”, had been omitted from the history books when he and people of his generation were growing up in the 1990s and that needed to be rectified.


Responding, Mr Martin said: “We took advice, and previous governments and oppositions did, in terms of how we would approach the Decade of Centenaries ... and if I am correct, and I stand to be corrected on this, the advice from academics was to go down a different route, the academic route, the exploration of issues.

“To have, if you like, a fresh analysis from a historical perspective so that we would inform current generations in relation to the past — I’m reading a book by Ann Dolan and William Murphy about Michael Collins, and they really bring a fresh analysis to the different aspects of Michael Collins’s life.”

Mr Martin was full and generous in his praise of Collins when he made history last Sunday by becoming the first Fianna Fáil Taoiseach to address the 100th anniversary commemoration of Collins death in an anti-Treaty IRA ambush at Béal na Bláth in west Cork.

Describing Collins as “a man who played an irreplaceable role in securing Irish freedom”, Mr Martin acknowledged in his address that Collins was a leader who “always provided a special inspiration” to Fine Gael but that he also played a hugely important role in establishing Ireland’s democratic traditions.

“In his short 31 years, Collins made a deep, lasting and positive impact on our country. Shaped by the ideals of his community, he devoted his life to his country. He was a dynamic leader who could both inspire people and, in the middle of a bloody conflict, build a new administration from nothing,” Mr Martin said.

“He is a key reason why we have been able to build a country which, while it still faces challenges, has been transformed for the better. For this, today, as much as ever before, he deserves our gratitude, and he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest Irishmen to have ever lived.

“We have the physical monuments but what is more important, if I am honest, is if among a younger generation, we create a greater awareness of our past, but also a more informed awareness and not to be approaching history from the perspective of the victor or the vanquished,” the Taoiseach said.

“We need but to approach history with as open a mind as one possibly can because we are reared with prejudices, and we are all reared with particular perspectives, but 100 years on, we should be able to look at things a bit more dispassionately and a bit more objectively.”

Speaking on Today with Claire Byrne, Mr O’Donovan praised Mr Martin for acknowledging the role Collins played in securing independence for Ireland, but said he felt that 100 years on from Collins’s death the State should also recognise his importance by commissioning a statue of him in Dublin.

“In a lot of houses up and down the country, Michael Collins was spoken in a revered fashion and that included anti-Treaty houses as well, and Micheál Martin nailed it when he said that Michael Collins wasn’t a partitionist or somebody who advocated Civil War, he wanted to avoid all of that.”

Mr O’Donovan pointed to the fact that An Post has honoured Collins with a commemorative stamp while the Central Bank had also issued a commemorative coin but the Irish State had not honoured him with a statue in Dublin where he orchestrated Ireland’s fight for freedom.

“Ireland has really done a very bad job looking after the memory of Michael Collins, but it now time in my view that he takes his place rightfully in the capital city for tourists and for Irish people for people who realise that we are living in a democracy now that was established because of him.”

Asked by Ms Byrne if honouring Collins might be seen as being partisan to one side in the Civil War, Mr O’Donovan said he would have no difficulty if Collins was honoured with Arthur Griffiths and Cathal Brugha who all died in the summer of 1922.

Brugha had served as the first president of Dáil Éireann in 1919, a post Griffith also took in 1922, and to honour all three would ensure that there was no divisiveness on the issue, he said.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times