Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022


Irish National Association of Australasia

7:43 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution about an event that occurred in Sydney on Easter Sunday earlier this year, where I was privileged to join the leadership of the Irish National Association at Waverley cemetery to give the 2022 Michael Dwyer Oration, which is essentially about the contribution of Irish Australians to this great nation and the colourful history that binds our two nations together. My oration traversed the tableau of the Irish struggle for justice and independence, and the 1798 memorial itself is a reminder of the 1798 Wexford uprising. A man by the name of Michael Dwyer, along with a number of other political prisoners, ended up in Australia. Upon his death, Dwyer was buried not far from Central Station.

A hundred years later a large number of his Irish descendants and members of the Irish community in Sydney decided that they would re-inter his remains at Waverley Cemetery. The 1798 Memorial in Waverley Cemetery is a remarkable marble edifice dedicated to the efforts of those 'rebels', as they were called at the time, but 'patriots' as they are called retrospectively by those who seek a united Ireland. A hundred thousand people actually gathered along the streets from Central Station in Sydney all the way out to Waverley Cemetery, where he was re-interred. Ten thousand people walked from St Mary's Cathedral, as a testament of hope and power to what one brave person in search of democracy, in a particular context in time, can engender. It was an amazing experience and a true honour as an Australian, but the daughter of Irish immigrants, to be at that Easter celebration. It's not surprising it happens at Easter, which is a time of significant memorials in Ireland about the Easter Rising of 1916.

This year, 2022, is actually a hundred years since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and I was particularly delighted to discuss the proud history of female members of the Irish Dail. They contributed to the debate regarding the 1922 Treaty, and each of them—all of the women in that first Dail—rejected the treaty because they thought it would plunge Ireland into further turmoil. It is very interesting to look—a hundred years down the track—and see in the papers in Ireland at the moment a lot of discussion about what a united Ireland for this century might look like. So the struggle continues.

In 1922, Constance Markievicz was the first female member of the UK House of Commons—she was elected from prison—and became the first female cabinet member in Europe. Ada English, a doctor who graduated from the Royal University of Ireland, spoke out against the oath and the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the very notion of being British subjects. Kathleen Clarke, her husband having recently been martyred by British troops, opposed the treaty, saying:

There is not power enough to force me, nor eloquence enough to influence me, in the whole British Empire into taking that Oath, though I am only a frail scrap of humanity.

Margaret Pearse, likewise, spoke of her two recently killed sons, particularly Padraig Pearse—one of the most prominent martyrs of the Easter Rising. These women proudly stood up for their beliefs and for their country, and I was privileged to tell a little of their lives to the wonderful attendees on that day.

Can I acknowledge the leadership of the Irish National Association of Australasia in bringing about this memorialising of the struggle for democracy for people who are Irish and interested in the history of Ireland. I particularly want to thank the INA and its leadership, which makes this an annual event around which people gather.

I'd also like to remind everybody that the Australian Irish connection has been very significant in Australian politics. Ben Chifley, the train driver turned Treasurer, helped shape the postwar order. James Scullin, Joe Cahill and Jack Renshaw were other Irish Australians who were extremely prominent figures in New South Wales and national politics. And now of course we have Anthony Albanese, of an Irish Australian mother, building his own profound legacy as we speak.

I thank the Senate for the opportunity to put this important occasion on the record. To share histories of other countries is very instructive for us as citizens of this great country as we make our way forward to develop a stronger, more robust and more reflective democracy. Struggle is part of the journey, and we honour the struggle of those who've gone before us in the pursuit of democracy.