This year has been a tumultuous one for so many across the world.
I would like to take three critical issues that are developing as I speak, and ask you to consider what they mean to the Irish people as we approach the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter rising and the promise of the proclamation. What is the new vision of who we want to be as a people, and what we want to contribute to the wider world?
Firstly, courage is the only word that can describe the people of East Africa, as they face into starvation and suffering, day after day and year after year.
Famine has hit the Horn of Africa. East Africa is experiencing its worst food crisis in sixty years. The crisis hit the headlines for a few weeks. We had international journalists falling over one another to get on the spot reports. And then, magically, the story disappeared. What happened? Did the crisis pass? No. Those same Africans are starving today. But more exciting events took over. And we forgot about them.
The international response to the famine in Africa has ranged from poor to appalling.
The crisis was created in part by drought, but in a much larger part, it was created by years of marginalisation and economic under-development. Calls by NGOs for a radical shake-up of the international aid system to “break the cycle that leaves the poorest countries of the world limping from one crisis to the next” must be heard. Lessons must be learned.
Unfair trade policies flood the African continent with cheap food from the developed world and put local African growers out of business. We in Ireland know that this is the case, yet we are complicit in the practice because we are happy to turn a blind eye.
Then, when natural disasters strike, we salve our conscience by giving generously to emergency aid. We in Sinn Féin say: Fight for fair trade first. Then the need for emergency aid will eventually diminish.
But at the same time, essential funds for economic development in the poorest countries cannot be ignored. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs must actively engage with his EU and international counterparts to ensure that all countries contribute equally on a per capita basis to the $1.87 billion target set by the UN for development. Because some developed countries have not pledged their fair share, we are looking at a shortfall of 850 million dollars. At the same time, stiff measures must be put in place to ensure that all pledged monies are collected. At the time of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, a total of 15 billion US dollars was pledged by the international community at the UN Haiti Conference in March 2010 only around 340 millionhas been handed over so far.
Words and pledges are cheap. Pay-out is another story.
Secondly, courage is the word that comes to mind again when we look to the Middle East and witness the on-going struggle of the Palestinian people for a Palestinian state. For 44 years, the Palestinians have been an exiled people, and have been forced to live on the fringes of a wealthy society. Not only were they forcefully driven from their homes by the newly formed State of Israel, those very homes and lands were handed over to Israeli citizens. These are not just historical facts. Palestinian homes and lands are being confiscated today and those lands are being turned into Israeli settlements for Israeli citizens.
Have we so easily forgotten our own history? Where does the abandonment of human rights for the Palestinian people fall in the league of great global tragedies? And what are the Irish people, doing to champion their rights? This month, the Palestinian call for recognition of the State of Palestine comes before the United Nations. Irish people like to believe that they always line out for the poor and the oppressed. Well, now is our chance. Line out for the State of Palestine in the United Nations.
Finally, again, courage. What other word can describe the events of the Arab Spring?
This Ard Fhéis extends solidarity greetings to the grassroots movements for democracy across the Arab World and we commend them on taking ownership of their country’s futures.
Political upheaval and transitions are never easy. But the courage of the people in these Arab nations is admirable and will undoubtedly hold strong through whatever changes come.
They are a beacon of hope for us, the Irish people, who need to find the courage we need to create an independent, just, and prosperous nation for all our people.
They are a reminder to us here in Ireland of the precious gifts that are freedom, democracy and sovereignty.
As we approach 2016, let us be inspired by the peoples of East Africa, Palestine and across the Arab world to regain the economic sovereignty of the 26 Counties and to build towards a United Ireland and the promise of Pearse and Connolly.