16 April 2006

Ahern praises Easter Rising parade


16/04/2006 - 17:03:47

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern today said he hoped parades would mark the Easter Rising each year until the centenary in ten years’ time as 120,000 people thronged Dublin’s streets in tribute to those who fought and died for Irish freedom.

In the largest military display in memory of the fallen heroes of 1916, and the first since 1971, 2,500 Defence Forces personnel marched through the capital.

In a solemn and respectful memorial to all those killed in the bloody battles of the Rising, President Mary McAleese laid a wreath at the front of the GPO - the focal point of the rebellion.

Mr Ahern and the President looked on as the tricolour above the iconic building was lowered to half mast and Captain Tom Ryan, of the sixth Infantry Battalion, re-enacted the reading of the Proclamation of the Republic.

As relatives of the rebels gathered after the parade, an emotional Bertie Ahern told reporters he was reminded of the sacrifice hundreds of men and women committed to in order to liberate the nation.

“My most moving moment of the day was when I laid a wreath in Stonebreaker’s Yard in Kilmainham, which carried a chilling reminder of the execution of the 1916 leaders there 90 years ago,” he said.

Mr Ahern remarked that he hoped the military parade would continue in a low-key manner each year until the centenary of the Rising in 2016.

The military display saw Defence Forces and Irish Navy personnel in full military uniform with the latest equipment and vehicles march through the capital as half a dozen Army bands provided music.

Gardaí estimated crowds along the mile route from Dublin Castle to the GPO at around 120,000.

The Army Equitation School, Defence Forces Medical Corps, an Garda Siochana, UN veterans and ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen joined the procession.

Onlookers standing behind crash barriers saw giant Armoured Personnel Carriers, 1.75-tonne artillery guns, Explosive Ordnance Disposal armoured vehicles, an Aardvark mine sweeper and several MOWAG tanks in the parade.

Also included were vintage artillery guns, which were issued to the Defence Forces in 1949 and are used in the presidential 21-gun salute.

An Irish Air Corps fly-over of light military aircraft and the Government Lear Jet drew loud applause and cheers.

Hundreds of dignitaries, including British Ambassador Stewart Eldon, viewed the parade from viewing stands facing the GPO.

Former political leaders, TDs, Senators and diplomats stood as the crowds joined in a rendition of Amhran na bhFiann, the national anthem.

Mark Durkan, SDLP MP, was the only political leader from the north to attend.

“Today was a very appropriate commemoration,” he said. “But I hope that commemorations in the future will be even more dignified and inclusive and won’t have as strong a military presence.”

The nationalist leader said it was unfortunate, but not surprising, that unionist politicians had declined an invitation to attend.

The Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said: “The commemorations were a great showcase for the defence forces. It was a great showcase for the Irish Army, for the services at home and abroad, and great to see them all.”

Mr Kenny added that the day’s event should be seen as a long dress rehearsal for Centenary commemorations in 2016.

Green Party leader Trevor Sargent hailed the parade as a symbol of a modern Ireland.

“Ireland’s proud service in United Nations’ peacekeeping missions is a modern example of the self-sacrifice espoused by the 1916 leaders,” Mr Sargent said.

However, he added that the executed rebels would be horrified to see how the Irish language is being marginalised within society today.

“The idealism of the 1916 leaders was as much to do with Ireland’s integrity and identity as well as its independence,” he explained.

Former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, congratulated the organisers of the event which he said was very important for the defence forces and the general public.

“It was high time that we had a parade like this. Too much time had elapsed. It was fantastic for the defence forces and the public and I hope that it continues on an annual basis,” he said.

Labour Party leader, Pat Rabbitte, said: “It was a splendid opportunity for the defence forces, the Navy and the Air Corps to put their capabilities on display.

“It will take more time to consider the wider implications of today’s event, as we drift towards the centenary celebrations of the 1916 Rising in 10 years.”

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