11th May 2021

An Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin, has paid tribute to the late former Taoiseach Seán Lemass, who died 50 years ago today.

Speaking at a wreath-laying ceremony in Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin to commemorate the anniversary of his passing, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin said,

Seán Lemass fitted no predetermined idea of what a revolutionary, an innovator and a leader should look like. He was not a great orator. He did not jump into conflicts. He was born without either privilege or status and had no interest in marketing himself or his ideas.

He is buried here modestly, sharing his last resting place with his fellow citizens, content to let his name speak for itself. Yet, while there are no great statues to him, and shamefully there is no significant commemoration of him in this city which he loved so much, Lemass is by any measure one of the towering figures of modern Ireland.

He was a practical republican throughout his life. His youthful enthusiasm saw him fight in the GPO during the Easter Rising and saw him play a central role in building this state.

What is unique about Seán Lemass is that, he not only embraced the idea of a living and evolving republicanism when he was alive, his tradition of democratic republicanism, of a republicanism which is willing to change, has continued to be a driving force in the years since he passed.

The constitutional republicanism of 1937 and the commitment of the two major strands of Irish nationalism to confine their differences to electoral politics, has provided the foundation for what is now one of the world’s oldest continuously democratic states. However, the pillars of modern Ireland’s place in the world have been built on the Lemass blueprint.

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin continued,

In promoting reconciliation and cooperation with Northern Ireland, Lemass took many risks but, without these risks we could not possibly have an agreed framework for our island and we could not have begun the slow and far from complete work of reconciliation.

Lemass also set us on a path forward which respects the fact that you cannot set social and economic goals in conflict with each other, they must work together. He was very interested in left wing ideas, but because of his intellectual curiosity and integrity he studied not just the theory, but also the practice of different approaches.

He believed that a rigid approach of the right or left simply could never work, that the creation of good jobs, of essential economic development, required a support for enterprise and an openness to the world. But equally, he saw economic success as an essential enabler of social progress. In this, he has been proven right time and again.

That is why the Lemass era was defined by expanded access to education, new social supports, investment in health services, the construction of social housing and many more examples of social progress.

Because he was a practical patriot, he had no time for those who think that until everything has been achieved, nothing has been achieved. He saw the problems facing his country but could not abide those who sought to dismiss examples of progress.

And of course, he is the man who, more than any other, set a European course for our history. As far back as the 1920s, he was interested in the ideas of thinkers who talked about the need for a community of nations in Europe. As Taoiseach, he was unequivocal in saying that our future prosperity required that Ireland be part of what we now call the European Union. He did this in the face of many comments that Ireland was simply too poor to participate and the active opposition of many.

There was nothing inevitable about Ireland taking a European road and we have a deep debt of gratitude to Lemass for ensuring that we put aside the concerns and took a great leap of faith in our future.

Lemass was also a central figure in creating, building and leading the Fianna Fáil party. In each of the periods of government which he participated in, he pushed to address the issues of the day and set a blueprint for the future.’

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin went on to say that

Over the past year our party has been focused absolutely on getting our country through an unprecedented pandemic. A constantly changing threat has meant a regular revision of policies and an urgency to move as quickly as possible.

This week marks another major step forward. We are not finished yet, but we have more than hope, we have a clear route forward. The vaccines are working. They are saving lives and preventing serious illness. Soon a majority of people will have received the benefit of at least one dose and we will push on towards completing the most comprehensive and rapid vaccination programme in our history.

There are still essential controls in place and we must all respect them as we progress in the weeks ahead because this virus has shown ways of reasserting itself over the last year and we cannot be complacent.

Within the government we have not stopped working on other issues and there are already major changes being implemented. Education is being invested in, with smaller class sizes and the building and refurbishment of school buildings. Critical health services are being developed to improve the speed and quality of treatment available to people. Strong climate change legislation has been introduced, and action is underway to deliver practical action on this existential threat. We have begun the largest period of building social housing in modern Ireland and have accompanied this with action on a wide range of other housing issues.

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin concluded,

In this and many other areas, government is moving forward. Our primary attention is rightly elsewhere, but the foundations for a period of real progress on vital issues facing our nation are being put in place. We are determined that Ireland will recover quickly and comprehensively from the historic impact of this pandemic and that in this recovery we will set a new path forward.