I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I propose to share time with Deputy Neville.
As Members of the House will be aware, the National Famine Commemoration Day was introduced in 2008. At the time, it was envisaged by those who fought for its introduction that this day would become embedded in the minds of the people as the day for all those in this country and in the Irish diaspora to remember the victims of Ireland's greatest tragedy. Many had hoped this day would become another day of national commemoration on a par with days such as Easter Sunday when we commemorate all those who bravely lost their lives in the fight for Irish freedom.
Unfortunately now, nine years on from the first National Famine Commemoration Day, all too few people in this country even know the day exists. Very few talk about the event and even fewer children learn about this day when they study the Famine in school. This is not the fault of the people. In particular it is not the fault of the people who have worked very hard over the years on the national Famine commemoration committee to try to make the day a success and to try to establish the day as the premier way in which we mark the tragedy of the Famine. However, it is the fault of the manner in which we established the commemoration day back in 2008.
We did not put a fixed day in the diary for the commemoration day. As a result, our commemoration of the Famine moved around the calendar from one end of the year to the other. It has made it very difficult for those wishing to organise events and for those wishing to mark this day. How can we expect people to be aware of a day which changes its date each year? Introducing a fixed day - I propose the second Sunday in May - will bring certainty to this important day where no such certainty currently exists.
A fixed day for this commemoration of the Famine will have a number of benefits. First, it will enable the commemoration of the Famine not just to take place here in Ireland, but to take place globally, to enable the diaspora to participate fully in the commemoration of this most important event. By creating that date we can ensure that not just here in Ireland, but throughout the world where Irish people have been dispersed through emigration we can have one day to mark the Famine, one day that will not just be a national commemoration but can also be a global commemoration wherever Irish people have ended up that will mark the Famine.
It will also enable people from the Irish diaspora or people of Irish descent travelling back to Ireland if they wish to lock their travel into that day and know that when they are back in the country on that second Sunday in May there will be an opportunity to participate in what I hope will become a major event in our annual calendar.
There are other reasons I would like the Famine to have a fixed date for commemoration. It is my fervent hope that, with the creation of a fixed day, teachers and schools will be able to develop a programme of awareness which will culminate with the participation of the next generation of Irish children in the commemoration of the Famine. It is most important that this be done. The next generation of children must be made aware of the tragedy of the Famine and its importance in shaping our country.
Many historians have pointed out that the Great Famine marked a watershed in our history. It was not inevitable that Ireland would suffer this famine. A combination of circumstances brought it about. An inept Government and various other circumstances combined to turn the Famine into one of the greatest tragedies of the 19th century. It is vitally important that we recognise this by having a fixed date.
Last year, I had the privilege of attending the National Famine Commemoration day at Glasnevin Cemetery. Our President made a poignant remark at that event. I will share what he said with the House:
We now have the capacity to anticipate the threat of Famine. We have the capacity to take measures to avoid it; and yet we allow nearly a billion people across our world to live in conditions of extreme but avoidable hunger.
This week, for the first time in six years, the United Nations declared a famine. This famine in South Sudan, very much like our own, was not inevitable. It was greatly contributed to by the actions of man rather than a natural disaster. It is vitally important and ties into the reason having this programme in our schools is a necessity. It is necessary that schoolchildren in our country do not only mark a day that commemorates the Irish Famine but that they also understand the significance of famine in the world today and its impact on the 21st century.
The Famine had many impacts on Ireland but I will refer to two major ones. The first overwhelming impact was to change our country for ever. It changed this island, the population, the way we are as people and the impact we have on the world. In doing that it created the Irish diaspora, which is its second major impact. It is a diaspora that has spread throughout the world and has given huge significance to us as a country on a global basis. When we think of the benefits of an Irish diaspora and when we think of our country, we must always remember that those who comprise the diaspora came to be as a result of the deaths of a million Irish people as a result of hunger and disease and because of the millions who subsequently emigrated from our country. This is a direct result of the Great Famine.
Not only should we have this fixed day in our calendar but we must make sure that the commemoration we instigate, which will be held on that day, recognises the overwhelming significance of the Famine in our history. It should pay due respect to it and ensure the impact and knowledge of what happened to our country during the Great Famine remains at the forefront of the minds of future generations of Irish people, both on our island and around the world.