Debt of Honour, Says Ahern; Re-Burial of Hanged Ten: Tribute to 'Terrorists of Their Day' Slammed as Insensitive
Byline: Chris Parkin
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern last night issued a strong defence of day-long ceremonies in Dublin to honour ten men executed by Britain for their part in Ireland's war of independence more than 80 years ago.
But he dismissed any connection between the actions of the men involved and the Northern Ireland-linked violence of the past 30 years.
Mr Ahern delivered the graveside oration in Dublin's Glasnevin cemetery at the re-burial of nine of the ten victims of the executions following their exhumation earlier this month from the grounds of the Irish capital's Mountjoy jail, where they were hanged in 1920 and 1921.
The tenth victim was buried separately in his native Co Limerick at his family's request.
The group included Kevin Barry, one of the best-known figures to emerge from the war of independence.
Barry, an 18-year-old medical student, was one of the youngest men - and the first - to be executed for taking part in the rebellion and is remembered today in a still-popular song that bears his name.
The decision to exhume and rebury the men ran into a barrage of criticism on both sides of the Irish border. In the south, the plan was slammed by Irish Labour opposition party leader Ruairi Quinn, mainly because the reinternment ceremonies have been scheduled to coincide with this weekend's Ard Fheis - annual conference - in Dublin or Mr Ahern's Fianna Fail party, which ended on Saturday night.
And in Northern Ireland critics have focused on claims that the Irish government has chosen to pay tribute to men regarded by some as the terrorists of their day at a particularly sensitive period for the current Northern Ireland peace process.
Mr Ahern insisted, though, that the reburials, which followed a Requiem Mass in Dublin's Roman Catholic pro-cathedral, concelebrated by former church primate Cardinal Cahal Daly and attended by President Mary McAleese, amounted to 'the Irish state discharging a debt of honour that stretches back 80 years.'
He added: 'Although we have difficulties of our own time, there is no fair person in this country that thinks it is anything but good that we bury these men with State honours - and indeed that it is time we did so.'
Mr Ahern also said, though: 'The memory of the volunteers of 1920 and 1921 does not deserve to be burdened with responsibility for terrible deeds or the actions of tiny minorities that happened long after their deaths. …