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Famine Memorial Day Bill introduced – Peadar Tóibín TD

14 December, 2016

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Heritage, Peadar Tóibín TD, today introduced the Famine Memorial Bill in the Dáil which would provide for a fixed date each year in which the Famine Memorial Day will be held. Currently the Famine Memorial Day occurs on a date which varies between May to September each year, and which is determined only months in advance.

Deputy Tóibín said:

“The Irish famine poses an uncomfortable stain on the legacy of British imperialism.  While the potato blight was a natural aberration - Ireland's people, who were utterly subjugated, whose land and resources were mercilessly exploited, suffered far more than any other people who suffered famines in Europe at the time.

“The lasting consequence of the Great Hunger was the massive depopulation of this country where over one million people died and a million people were forced to emigrate - these are very conservative estimates. The legacy with regards emigration is still here as well.  The sad fact is, because of the start of mass emigration during the Famine, we still have emigration as a defining characteristic of the Irish population and we still see its effects in rural areas today.

“The response to the famine by England was, at best, indifferent and, at worst, utterly inhumane.  Public works were established so that the impoverished and weakened men would labour at building useless roads, follies and other pointless projects for pitiful sums of money.  Irish ports did not close during the Famine for exports and it is a matter of historical fact that millions of pounds worth of Irish food, including grain and even butter, were sent for export while hundreds of thousands were literally left starving to death.  I am not deliberately being emotive on this issue - these are matters of fact.

“While myths abound with regards to the Great Hunger and how it could happen under Britain's watch, some have speculated that it was an attempt at depopulation or a manner to quell dissent by the obliteration of the poorest cottier class.  No doubt the Famine painfully impressed upon the generation of O'Donovan Rossa that self-determination was a matter of life and death.

“We need a fixed memorial day to remember the Great Irish Famine, to remember the human cost and consequences of neglect, to remember the effects when an economic imperative is prioritised and to recognise the dark shadows of colonial ‘might’.  Most of all, a fixed day of remembrance would to honour those victims and survivors of the Great Famine and allow us to remember what our ancestors lived through.

 “It is an Irish tragedy, but with global significance.  There is a plague on the Dublin Mansion House honouring the Native American Choctaw tribe who contributed so generously to the Famine victims.  It reads: "Their humanity calls us to remember the millions of human beings throughout our world today who die of hunger and hunger-related illness in a world of plenty."  There are 800 million such people around the world today.  Let us fix this day of national commemoration so that we can remember those who suffer today, as those in this country did once.”

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