By Damien Kiberd (for Daily Ireland)
When Dail Eireann assembled for the first time in 1919, there were, understandably, a lot of people absent.
Lieutenant Colonel McCalmont, Major H O'Neill, Major P Kerr Smiley and JR Lonsdale -- all of whom represented Co Antrim -- were marked in as being "as lathair" (absent). So too was E Carson (representative of Duncairn in Belfast). As was Joseph Devlin (Falls).
Art O Griobhtha (Arthur Griffith) -- the representative of Tyrone Northwest -- was pencilled in as "faoi glas ag Gallaibh" (locked up by the Brits). He was separately recorded as being "faoi glas ag Gallaibh" in his capacity as Teachta Dala for Cavan North.
A man called Eoin Mac Neill -- who represented Doire Cholmcille (Derry city) -- was listed as being "i lathair", which means present. A close associate and another Belfast republican, Earnan de Blaghad, who represented Monaghan North, was listed as "faoi glas ag Gallaibh", locked up by the Brits.
In Co Down, the situation was no better. DD Reid, Colonel Sir J Craig, TW Browne, Jeremiah McVeigh, and DM Wilson were all "as lathair".
Some men and women did make it to the Dail. Having rejected English rule in Ireland as having always been based on "force and fraud" and "maintained by military occupation against the declared will of the people", the assembly went on to declare that "foreign government in Ireland is an invasion of our national right which we will never tolerate".
The founding documents of the Republic were published first in Irish, thereafter in French.
Those documents declared: "We desire our country to be ruled in accordance with the principles of liberty, equality and justice for all"
By the time the second session assembled on April 1, 1919, there was a fuller attendance. Micheal O Coileain (Michael Collins) turned up from South Cork, as did a certain E de Valera from Clare East. Constance Markievicz represented the St Patrick's ward in Dublin, while Cathal Brugha bizarrely represented the area of Waterford.
Now these fine people had no problem at all with the idea that people from all over Ireland should be allowed to speak and to represent their people in a national parliament.
But it would appear that the notion of people from Antrim, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Armagh, Derry and Down sending people to Dublin to speak on their behalf is anathema to many Southerners.
Bertie Ahern, the Taoiseach, wrote to all of the main parties last week suggesting that Northern public representatives should be given speaking rights at Oireachtas committee meetings that pertain to Northern or cross-Border affairs.
With the exception of Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail, the response was totally negative. The Labour Party -- which enjoys support from an all-Ireland trade union movement, the Northern part of which helps determine pay scales in the Republic -- does not want speakers from the Six Counties to address Dail Eireann or Seanad Eireann.
The mould-breaking Progressive Democrats agree. So too does Enda Kenny's Fine Gael, which in November will convene a gala dinner to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Sinn Fein. Kenny has recently been fronting for an organisation called Collins 22.
The Sunday Independent newspaper, which apparently is in touch with the public mood and which published four grovelling apologies on Sunday, asked if readers would "trust Bertie as far as you'd throw him". This was in relation to the whole idea of allowing Nordies to visit the Southern parliament.
A front-page opinion piece suggested as follows: "Whatever your worst suspicions about politicians, double them and add one."
Why is the partitionist mentality so ingrained? Why do people like the employees of Independent News and Media become so agitated when it is suggested that Northerners might have speaking rights in the Southern parliament?
Northerners play in GAA matches, hurling and football, on a 32-county basis. They play rugby for Ulster and Ireland. They occupy key positions in financial services and industry. Mrs McAleese has been a good and honest president. Even Michael McDowell's relative -- the aforementioned Mac Neill -- performed some service to the state before resigning over his botched role in the Boundary Commission. After he tried -- nine times -- to cancel the Easter Rising, that is.
The idea of politicians crossing frontiers in order to address assemblies elsewhere is not new. Lots of people -- including Bill Clinton (Oklahoma) -- have been asked to address the joint houses of the Oireachtas. Lots of Irish politicians have been to Brussels and to the general assembly of the United Nations to make speeches. The sky has not fallen in.
Why do people in Dublin become so agitated when it is suggested to them that somebody who lives 70 miles away from Dublin and who is a democratically elected public representative should be allowed to speak in Dail Eireann or at an Oireachtas committee? Since the critics of this idea apparently love unionists, the problem can only be with republicans. Do they not want a republican about the place?
This whole issue is not going to go away. Republicans may not make any huge advance in the next Southern general election but it is likely that they will increase their representation in Dail Eireann, Seanad Eireann and the European parliament. In each case, they will have automatic speaking rights. And the sky will not fall in.
A lot of lip service has been paid to Northern nationalists over the years. This was codified in the 1937 constitution, which delineated the national territory quite specifically until 1998. Nationalists all over the 26 Counties voted to delete the "territorial claim" in the hope that a more friendly and co-operative climate might be created between North and South. Bizarrely, it would appear that elements in the South are now the primary opponents of any such enhanced co-operation.