Cynics tend to dismiss the practice of holding Cabinet meetings outside Dublin as a “Cabinet Roadshow” yet there is little doubt that conducting government business in different locations across the country is welcomed by local communities and provides an opportunity to meet regional organisations and groups.
It also provides the most senior members of the Government an opportunity to see beyond the walls of Government Buildings and experience a perspective on the affairs of the nation that is not Dublin centred.
The tradition was revived 18 years ago by the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern who brought the first meeting of the Cabinet outside Dublin for 78 years to Ballaghaderreen in Co Roscommon. In 2005 the Cabinet gathered at City Hall in Cork to mark the city’s designation as European Capital of Culture and the following year it met at Avondale House, Co Wicklow, the ancestral home of Charles Stewart Parnell.
Yesterday, the chosen venue was Derrynane House, Caherdaniel, Co Kerry, in honour of Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator. As the Cabinet discussed the ramifications of Brexit, let us hope they were able to draw some inspiration from one of the most notable international statesmen of the 19th century who was a towering political figure in his lifetime and whose teachings and oratory still resonate today.
As fellow Kerryman Jimmy Deenihan put it: “O’Connell was not just an Irish figure, but a man of international stature, renowned for his progressive views, his belief in the universality of human rights and his unshakeable commitment to liberal, reforming principles.”
In his speech at College Green in Dublin in May 2011, US President Barack Obama noted the friendship that had developed over a century and a half before between Frederick Douglass, an escaped American slave and abolitionist, and Daniel O’Connell, the leader at the time in the struggle for religious freedom and political independence in Ireland.
Although he is best known for the campaign for Catholic Emancipation, O’Connell also supported similar efforts for Presbyterians and Jews. At his insistence, in 1846, the British law “De Judaismo”, which prescribed a special dress for Jews, was repealed and 12 years later, barriers to Jews entering parliament were removed.
The “prophet of a coming time” was how the future British prime minister William Gladstone described O’Connell while the reigning monarch, King George IV, was heard to lament that “Wellington is the King of England, O’Connell is King of Ireland, and I am only the dean of Windsor”.
Little wonder that O’Connell’s legacy survives. His philosophy of peaceful agitation for reform has inspired leaders all over the world, including Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandella.
Members of the Cabinet have had the pleasure of conducting business in one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland that is also one of the most historic. As the Taoiseach and his ministers will have noted from meeting in his former home, Daniel O’Connell is a hard act to follow.