John Redmond remembered in symposium to mark centenary of his death

Ceann Comhairle pays tribute to Redmond’s service to Irish parliamentary democracy

The Irish parliamentary tradition owes a debt to John Redmond, the Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghail has stated.

Redmond was leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party from 1900 until shortly before his death on March 6th, 1918 in London.

Mr Ó Fearghail said the tradition of parliamentary democracy in Ireland has endured many trials particularly after the global financial meltdown in 2008.

There was “justifiable anger” then, he suggested but it did not embolden the hard left or hard right.


Speaking at a symposium to mark the centenary of Redmond’s death, Mr Ó Fearghail suggested that throughout the crash “citizens kept their trust in the honour and dignity of our parliamentary, constitutional tradition. At no time was there a threat to our democracy or to our democratic mandate as a parliament.

“Public opinion may hold politicians in low esteem, but I genuinely feel that most people are in favour of fair play and transparency, and wish their political representatives to be fully constitutional and, perhaps even reassuring bland.

“We are an excellent representative democracy. This, I am convinced, in one of the main reasons we rode out the economic storm of the past decade or so. We rode out that storm because we rode it together.”

Mr Ó Fearghail said he made no apologies for being a member of Fianna Fáil, a party founded out of the physical force tradition, but all parties in Ireland had embraced parliamentary democracy.

“One hundred years later, that parliamentary tradition owes a debt to John Redmond and his predecessors as much as those who supplanted them at the end of 1918. All were honourable Irishmen, seeking the best for their country, the only difference being the expression of those aims,” he stated.

The conference is the major State commemoration marking the centenary of Redmond’s death.

On Tuesday evening, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar launched Judging Redmond and Carson, a new book by Professor Alvin Jackson.

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan said Redmond's legacy had often been "misunderstood and overshadowed" and he had never been embraced as one of the "mythic father figures on a par with the ultimately unsuccessful previous leaders of the constitutional nationalist movement such as Daniel O'Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell".

Former taoiseach John Bruton, who has been a long-time champion of Redmond, told the symposium it was a mistake to suggest that Redmond and his party had been a failure.

Mr Bruton stated that the Home Rule Act, which became law in September 1914 was a recognition by the British government of legislative independence of Ireland.

The party achieved much, Mr Bruton suggested, in terms of the transfer of land to the people of Ireland, the first State public housing programme, the introduction of the old age pension and national insurance and the founding of the national university of Ireland in 1908.

He suggested the symposium should “celebrate the life of non-violent service typified by Redmond” rather than lament his failures.

Opening the symposium, NUI chancellor Dr Maurice Manning said the Irish Parliamentary Party was dominant at the beginning of the 1910s, but regarded as largely irrelevant by the end of it.

“This is a harsh fact but a fact nonetheless. But it is also a fact which obscures the very substantial and enduring contribution of Redmond and his predecessors as leaders of the Irish Party,” he said.

The symposium is jointly organised by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Royal Irish Academy and the School of History UCD.

The historian and writer Charles Lysaght said it is "very regrettable" that President Michael D Higgins had not opened the symposium or attended any of the events planned in Wexford.

“To be inclusive of all traditions, that should have happened. It contrasts with Eamon De Valera’s magnaminity in 1956 (he spoke at a symposium in Redmond’s honour then).”

A spokesman for President Higgins said he was not in a position to attend for “logistical and diary reasons”.

The spokesman added: “The President has no difficulty recognising the importance of the Irish Parliamentary Party or any of its leaders”.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times