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SPEECH BY THE MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, MR. WILLIE O’DEA AT THE OPENING OF THE NEW MILITARY MUSEUM AND THE REFURBISHED PRIVATES’ MESS, COLLINS BARRACKS, CORK

22 February 2005.

Secretary General, Chief of Staff, General Nash, Lord Mayor Martin, Distinguished Guests, fellow members of the Oireachtas, public representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am delighted to be back in Cork this afternoon to officially open these two major construction projects in Collins Barracks.

The relocation of the Military Museum to its new home in the Old Guard Room is something I know will be widely welcomed. As many of you know, this Museum contains the largest, most comprehensive collection of Michael Collins artefacts and material.

First opened in 1985, to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the City of Cork, the Military museum has proved of great interest to historians, researchers and scholars. Its situation here, in the army barracks that bears his name, is most fitting given Collins’s role as the first Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces.

The old location, within the Barracks, did make it somewhat inaccessible to the general public. Its new positioning, beside the former main gate, will make the Museum available to all in future.

Given the great interest in the life and times of General Michael Collins, it is only right that the public should be able to access this valuable collection. The museum will have three main themes – “The 200 years of Collins Barracks”, “Michael Collins” and “Peacekeeping.” I am certain that these will see visitor numbers soar in the coming months.

Museums, such as this, can also serve as a corrective to the attempts of some to distort the past in pursuance of a fictional historical mandate for the activities of today.

This distortion and perversion extends to the abuse of language and phrases, particularly the corruption of the name: Óglaigh na hÉireann.

There is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann – it is the Irish Defence Forces.

The words “Óglaigh na hÉireann” appear proudly on the cap badge of every member of the Defence Forces, just as they appeared on the cap badges of their forebears in the Irish Volunteers.

The attempted appropriation of this noble and historic title is an insult to the memory of those who, like General Michael Collins, strove for Irish freedom and to those who have stood ready to serve and defend this country since independence.

This is an important point in our nation’s history. We have come a long way in the past 10 years - but major obstacles remain. Recent events highlight this more than ever, but they do not change the basic requirements. We need to see a definitive end to paramilitary and criminal activity and the completion of decommissioning.

The Taoiseach and the Government are committed to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. That is what the people of Ireland voted for, North and South.

It is what we are all mandated to do.

I want to compliment everyone associated with the planning and delivery of this project. I’m not going to name them all – for fear of omitting someone – but I am sure that you are all extremely happy with the fruits of your labour today. It is an excellent contribution by the Defence Forces to Cork’s reign as European City of Culture.

We are all aware of the long-standing relationship between the Defence Forces and the City and County of Cork. I am delighted to announce that these close bonds will be emphasised in a very special way next month when the “Sliabh na mBan” - the Armoured Car in which Gen Michael Collins was travelling when he met his tragic death at Béal na mBláth - will play a prominent role in the Defence Forces element of the Saint Patrick’s Day parade.

My function here today is twofold: While the opening of the Museum will be of great interest to those outside these barracks, I know that the completion of the newly refurbished Privates’ Mess will be of equal importance to those inside it.

Over the past six months, Keohane Builders from Aherla, assisted by Kilmoney Electrical and William Black and Sons have refurbished and extended the old NCOs Mess. The design team involved Defence Forces personnel from the Directorate of Engineering aided by Delap and Waller from Cork.

I would like to compliment each of them for the professional and efficient manner in which they undertook the construction and for the high overall standard of the work carried out. I look forward to inspecting their handiwork in a few moments and sampling the hospitality on offer.

Last week I was in Sarsfield Barracks, Limerick as part of a tour of military installations I am carrying out over the next few months. As part of these visits I try to meet face to face with as many Defence Forces personnel as possible. The commitment, professionalism and ability of our Forces continues to impress me enormously. We cannot say often enough how proud we are of our people in uniform.

I regard the modernisation of Defence Forces’ equipment and infrastructure as a priority. The past seven years have seen an unprecedented level of investment in Defence Forces training and equipment. This investment programme continues in 2005 with the coming to fruition of projects such as these today.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to declare this Military Museum Building officially open.


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