Famine Memorial Day Bill 2016: Second Stage

I move that: "The Bill be now read a Second Time."

I wish to share time with Deputy Seán Crowe.

I pay tribute to Mr. Michael Blanch who has been behind the campaign to achieve a set day for the commemoration of the Famine. He and his family have worked on this issue for approximately ten years to get the State to recognise the importance of the Famine and commemorating it on a set day.

The Famine was one of the most shocking events in Irish history. It is also one of the most important events, if not the most important. Sometimes we think of it as occurring a long time ago, but my great grandfather was born at the end of it. In generational terms, it occurred quite a short time ago. I will read some extracts from the diary of a Dr. Daniel Donovan because when we talk about the Famine, we forget the individual horrors of the time, three or four generations ago. I do not want to shock people, but it is important to reflect on the personal experiences of Irish people not long ago. Dr. Donovan was from Skibbereen and stated:

A man named McDonald called upon him to see his stepdaughter who was dying and whom he wished to have removed to the workhouse in order that she may obtain the rites of burial. The girl was lying on a floor of this hovel and she was filthy. Around her hands remained the tattered garment and though death was evidently hastening to her relief, she appeared quite conscious. In reply to my inquiries as to why her hands were tethered with this cloth, she said her mother had been dead for two days and she was stretched on the same straw as her and feeling that her corpse was cold, she decided to warm herself by the fire and because of the weakness she fell into the fire and almost burned her hands off. At the back of her hands she was extensively burned and they were charred to a cinder. I said there was no use in removing this woman from the house, but the stepfather took the dying girl in his arms and conveyed her to the hospital and in an hour after she expired. A few days before McDonald, not being able to procure a coffin for his wife, wrapped his wife in a sheet and placed his wife on his shoulders and conveyed her by night to the burying ground about a mile from Skibbereen where he left her exposed on the tombstone until some labourers going to work the next day discovered her remains and had her interned without a coffin, an act that a few months ago would be regarded as a sacrilegious abomination in this locality.

Later I was told this day by the police that a man had been for day unburied in a house on the windmill. There one of the most revolting scenes I had ever witnessed was before me. In a nook in this miserable cabin lay upon a wad of straw a green and ghastly corpse that had been for five days dead and that was already emitting an intolerable exhalation of putrefaction. At the feet of this decomposing body lay a girl groaning with pain and by its side was a boy frantic in fever. The wife of the deceased sat upon the filthy floor stupefied from want and affliction. I asked her, in the name of Heaven, why she had not got her husband buried and she answered because we have no coffin.

I am cautious about these stories, but another that really gripped me at the time was that of a mother who had been "found on the ground dead and her mouth was green from eating grass and her infant was still alive and seeking nutrition from her breast but because the infant was so hungry the infant had removed the nipples from the mother".

These stories are absolutely shocking and they did not happen long ago. The Famine altered irrevocably the trajectory of the country. The population was halved, over 1 million died and after the Famine approximately 3 million emigrated. This disaster did not happen by accident. It happened in large part owing to the laissez faire economic policies of the Tories in London. For the generation who fought in 1916, the Famine made it clear that if they did not control the future of Ireland, did not have self-determination, Ireland would experience other famines and that it was not a priority for the London Government. It made that generation, of O'Donovan Rossa, and those which came afterwards realise the necessity for independence and freedom.

The effects of the Famine run deep in our culture, language and psyche. It is incredible to think the population of the island of Ireland has still not recovered from the Famine. The demographics today have been radically altered owing to the Famine over 150 years ago. One of the other legacies of the Famine has been silence. There was guilt on the part of many who had survived the Famine and emigration. People were cautious about telling the next generation about the unimaginable horror of their experience.

Then there was the silence of the guilt in respect of the survivor instinct, that is, of having survived and not having suffered in this regard. This is one reason the State does not do justice in commemorative terms to the historical and humanitarian importance of the Famine and that we have such a low-key response to the commemoration of the Famine. We do commemorate it and good work is done by many people in this regard but the fact that it is a minor commemoration in most people's experience is shocking, given the radical importance of the event in humanitarian, historical and cultural terms. The fact that most of us speak English in this Chamber and that English is spoken by much of the population is a result of the Famine also having radically changed the language patterns throughout the country.

The fact that we do not commemorate the Famine on a particular day on an annual basis is a reflection of how uncomfortable we are in dealing with the Famine. This has to change. This simple Famine Memorial Day Bill has a simple premise, namely, that we set a fixed date for the remembrance of the Great Irish Famine and that it should fall on a particular Sunday every May. This would help because from year to year people around the world who seek to commemorate the Famine are not aware of on what day that will happen. It is difficult to build a commemorative cycle when the date flits from one Sunday to another or from one month to another. There is no excuse for our not having a proper approach to this matter.

There is also a little bit of politics around this Bill but I do not propose to dwell on it because this is something that all of us should share. It is interesting that I introduced this Bill on First Stage in December 2016 and two months later, a Fine Gael Deputy introduced a replica Bill. Sinn Féin saw this as being a little cynical but we decided that this issue is too important and that we would support the Fine Gael Deputy's Bill. We later learned that the Bill introduced by the aforementioned Fine Gael Deputy was being blocked by the Fine Gael Government because it did not have a money message. Two years later, we have two Bills and no legislative date for commemoration of the Famine. I appreciate that the Minister, Deputy Madigan, has indicated that she has decided to accept the proposal that the commemoration take place on a particular day on an annual basis, which I understand will be the third Sunday in May. While I welcome this decision, matters such as this should not be the prerogative of a Minister. We should settle on a date that is internationally recognised as the date on which the Famine is commemorated. Through this commemoration we can, first, show respect to those who died so horrendously in this country not so long ago; second, learn a little about ourselves as a people and how we have developed and evolved and our cultural traits as a result; and, third, start to identify how we help other countries and people around the world stricken down with famine.

I hope the Government will accept this Bill and that we can have it passed in a speedy fashion in order that we can all focus on the job at hand.

I do not think anyone is hung up on there being two Bills. What is important is that a date is fixed for the commemoration. I have raised this issue a number of times inside and outside of this House. In 2016, following the an Gorta Mór commemoration in Glasnevin Cemetery, I issued a statement in which I called for a commemoration to take place on a fixed Sunday each year, rather than on a date chosen each year to fit in with the schedules of the Taoiseach or the Minister. The point I was making is that if we had a fixed date for the commemoration we could plan for the future. I agree with the proposal to move the location of the commemoration each year but I think a date for it should be fixed.

There is a family in my constituency, the Blanch family, who have been highlighting this issue for many years. The family has held many commemorative events at the memorial along the quays in Dublin and has tried to engender interest in the issue. They recently distributed lumper potatoes in my local area, including to schools, to encourage people and children to talk about an Gorta Mór. What happened at the time was described as a famine but we know there was a considerable amount of food in Ireland and that, unfortunately, it was shipped out. Consequently, the choices of the poor were narrowed to starvation or to emigration in some cases. We know what happened to those who tried to emigrate on the so-called Famine ships and so on. Deputy Tóibín outlined the number of people who died while travelling across the seas. The Deputy is right that we were not taught this in schools. It was almost like the Famine was an embarrassment. There was clearly a silence around what happened and not only in 1847 but the period leading up to it. The lumper potato was susceptible to blight. For those who have never come across one, it has a very thin skin. I have grown these potatoes, so I know the difficulties around growing them. For those who have not come across a blighted potato, it is absolutely rotten and stinking. It is a reminder to us all of the awful events and scenes witnesses throughout this land.

It is interesting that people abroad commemorate the Famine more than people in Ireland do. There is something wrong with our psyche if we try to ignore this awful harm that occurred. It was a catastrophe. Some would describe it as a genocide. We all agree that it needs to be remembered and those who died need to be commemorated. There is much that the Minister, in terms of her job, can do. I was in Kerry recently, where I was shocked to come across a so-called Famine bowl, in which the millet was made into gruel for people who were starving, being used for builder's rubble. This should not be allowed to happen. The Blanch family have asked that we collate items dating back to that period. We also need to identify the graves, many of which are in workhouses around the country.

We need to do a lot more than just commemorate the day and remember those who died. As spokesperson for foreign affairs, what is important to me is that we try to prevent future famines so as to prevent people starving. The important work which Irish Aid does in this regard across the poorest regions in the world is something of which to be very proud. I support this Bill. As I said earlier, I am not hung up on any particular day but we need to fix the commemoration in stone.

I wish to begin by acknowledging Deputy Tóibín's longstanding interest in this matter, as evidenced by his bringing forward this Bill. It is clear that there is a widespread interest shared by many Deputies in ensuring that the Great Irish Famine continues to be appropriately commemorated by the State, working in partnership with stakeholders and local communities. I am struck by the harrowing stories to which the Deputy alluded and I acknowledge the suffering and individual horrors that were meted out on Irish families. In that vein, the national Famine commemoration should be a fitting memorial to the vast swathe of our population who were lost to death or emigration.

It is estimated that up to 1 million people died and another 1 million emigrated during the Famine years. The Famine, therefore, had a profound and devastating impact on every part of the country and this should be reflected in the national commemoration. The first national Famine commemoration to include both local input and a formal State ceremony was held in Skibbereen in 2009. Since then, the event has been held annually in a similar format right across the country including at: Murrisk, County Mayo, in 2010; Clones, County Monaghan, in 2011; Drogheda, County Louth, in 2012; Kilrush, County Clare, in 2013; Strokestown in County Roscommon in 2014; Newry, County Down, in 2015; Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin in 2016; and, most recently, Ballingarry County Tipperary, in 2017.

As announced by my predecessor, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, last October, this year’s commemoration will take place in University College Cork, UCC, in collaboration with Cork City Council, on Saturday 12 May, in the presence of An tUachtarán, Michael D. Higgins, who will deliver the keynote address. The college was established in 1845 and opened in 1849, with construction continuing during the Famine years. Arguably, this history has contributed to UCC becoming a leader in the field of research in, and study of, the Famine years as exemplified by the publication of the award winning Atlas of the Great Irish Famine in 2012. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, will officiate on my behalf and he has agreed to host the commemoration. He will have the opportunity to officiate at the official launch of the Great Irish Famine Online, which will be a key element of the day. The development of the Great Irish Famine Online represents the culmination of work over a period of years and will represent a major resource for students of the Famine at all levels. This work has been supported by the national Famine commemoration committee and my Department and it is entirely fitting that this great seat of learning should host the national commemoration on the occasion of its launch.

Deputies will also be interested to note that UCC is hosting a conference on global hunger on the eve of the commemoration on 11 May. I can only commend the work of UCC, Cork City Council and Cork County Council in the development of the surrounding programme for this year’s event. Details of all events are available on a dedicated website at www.ucc.ie/nfc2018.

One of the strengths of the national Famine commemoration is that the event has been held in a different location and community every year. While the national Famine commemoration committee has sought to hold the ceremony on the second Sunday of May each year, the host venue and community has been consulted. The flexibility to accommodate particular circumstances that may arise around the arrangements, and to allow organisers to develop a fitting programme of locally organised events, many of which have been tied in with dates of important local significance, has facilitated the holding of the event in locations such as Newry, County Down, and Ballingarry, County Tipperary, in the autumn. The importance attached to this event by the current and previous Governments has been signalled by the level of support demonstrated by An tUachtarán and An Taoiseach in making themselves available to preside at the annual commemoration. Notwithstanding these considerations, and taking account of the views expressed by Deputies Tóibín and Crowe, I am aware that early last year, the then Minister, Deputy Humphreys, supported the reading at Second Stage of a Private Members' Bill brought forward by Deputy Brophy. This Bill, inter alia, also proposed that the commemoration of the Great Famine would be held on the second Sunday of May each year. I am pleased to be able to inform the House that earlier this week the Government approved the issuance of a money message in respect of Deputy Brophy’s Bill. This will enable the Bill to proceed to Committee Stage. I look forward to meeting with Deputy Brophy shortly and working with him to ensure that the necessary work is done and the benefits of setting a fixed date are fully realised.

It also gives me great pleasure to inform the House that the Government, taking account of the support expressed in this House for Deputy Brophy’s views and the experience of the national Famine commemoration committee in organising the commemoration and the existing calendar of State events has also this week - pending any legislation that may be enacted - approved the designation of the third Sunday of May each year as the national Famine commemoration day, with the arrangements for the holding a of State commemoration on this day or the preceding Saturday to be decided each year following consultation with the relevant local authority and host community. The decision to designate the third Sunday of May for this commemoration takes account of the other elements of the State ceremonial calendar including Arbour Hill and Daniel O’Connell commemorations held in May. This year these are due to be held on Wednesday, 9 May, and Sunday, 13 May.

The Government has also taken account of the experience of previous years in choosing this weekend to provide for the participation of local schools in the event as well as the surrounding programme of activities. The local programmes and involvement of schools has been a feature of the Famine commemoration since the holding of the first event in the current format in Skibbereen in 2009. The inclusion of some flexibility to allow for the holding of the commemoration itself on the Saturday or Sunday reflects the unique nature of this commemoration which is organised in partnership with the host community with a view to maximising local participation in this important State ceremonial event. The appropriate commemoration of the Famine and its victims is one of the key objectives of the national Famine commemoration committee. The committee was established in July 2008 to oversee the arrangements for the commemoration of the Famine and has conducted its work with great enthusiasm and dedication since then. The original model for the State commemoration was modelled on the national day of commemoration held in July each year. This was established by a Government decision in 1986 to commemorate all those Irishmen and Irishwomen who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations.

The outgoing committee’s term of office ended at the turn of the year and I can confirm to the House that the process of appointing the membership of the new committee is at an advanced stage. One of the first tasks for the new committee will be to consider the arrangements for next year’s commemoration in light of the Government decisions earlier this week. While the decision to hold this year’s event at a Munster venue represented a departure from recent practice I expect that the practice of rotation between the provinces will be returned to next with the decision to have regard to the location of previous events and national impact of the Great Famine in the selection of the actual location.

These decisions of Government and the progression of Deputy Brophy’s Bill, which was given Government time in February 2017, will afford an opportunity to ensure that the benefits of setting a fixed date are fully realised for appropriate commemoration of the Great Famine, which is the shared objective of all parties to this debate. I therefore propose to oppose the Bill now before the House.

Deputy Lawless was voting at a select committee. He is on his way to the Chamber now. I shall be sharing time with Deputy Lawless.

In principle, Fianna Fáil supports Deputy Tóibín's Bill to establish a national Famine memorial day. Fianna Fáil established the national Famine commemoration committee some years ago and a dedicated day to remember an Gorta Mór is a natural continuation of this. We all know from our history the devastating effect of the Famine throughout our nation. There was no county or part of the country untouched by it. The Famine visited a huge collective trauma on the nation and this has travelled down through the generations and still affects our collective psychology. People went through horrific deaths and mass emigration. It did not finish on the day the Famine ended; there was a significant agricultural depression for years afterwards. It has had a very long tail in its effects on our psychology.

It is reflected in our natural generosity towards other nations and peoples when they find themselves in serious difficulties with famines and other forms of distress. Throughout the country, the Great Famine is marked by paupers' graves. I suspect there is not a county that does not have a pauper's grave. My county, Wexford, has several. During the Famine, many families and individuals had to go into workhouses, many never left alive, and they were put into these unmarked mass graves throughout the country. I want to mention the excellent work done by graveyard committees throughout the country, whether in Wexford, Louth, Mayo or Cork. These volunteers do fantastic work in every county in maintaining these graves though the people within them are, unfortunately, unmarked and forgotten. I wish to acknowledge the great work and give them the credit they deserve.

In my county, Wexford, the population dropped from 202,000 to 180,000 in a mere ten years. I know other counties were even more devastatingly affected. After that, people kept emigrating because of the agricultural depression. In Wexford, we have Johnstown Castle where there is the Irish Agricultural Museum and Famine exhibition. The Dunbrody Famine ship is in New Ross town and anybody who wants to see just what one of those ships was like can go down to New Ross, step onto that and experience it. It was a horrific experience for our nation. All our thoughts are with those people who died in such horrific circumstances.

I call Deputy James Browne. Sorry, Deputy James Lawless.

Exit Deputy James Browne, enter Deputy James Lawless. I welcome this Bill. Fianna Fáil will support it. It is important and fitting that we would have such a day of remembrance and recognition for the national shadow which, as Deputy Tóibín eloquently articulated, is cast by the Famine some 150 years later, which continues to shape our demographics, our patterns, our politics and perhaps our tribalism in many ways which we may not even fully appreciate. Deputy Browne spoke about Famine graveyards which are found in every corner of the country. Much of our heritage and history is made up of Famine rocks, mass rocks, Famine sites and Famine graves. As a child, I spent time in Gorey, County Wexford, where I grew up. The Famine graveyard in Clonattin was regularly visited. Bizarrely, it was almost a place we used to gather and play in the fields. I remember seeing the dichotomy of the likes of the Rams, the great families of the time, with great ornate statues and vaults to their name - God rest them - side by side with mass graves of Famine victims where we had the prince and pauper lying side by side. They are not so much equal in death as they are unequal in their commemoration and remembrance, and they were certainly unequal in life. That imagery and manifestation of what happened cast a long shadow in my view and, to an extent, on my political beliefs.

On the causes of the Famine, Deputy Tóibín's opening remarks outlined some of the logistical difficulties with the empire, which was stretched at the time. The sun never set on the British Empire. Perhaps, as its closest dominion, we were not most closely favoured when it came to dispensing largesse, dispensing provisions and ensuring supplies were maintained. The question arises of whether it was genocide or gross negligence and to what degree it was inflicted. Was it accidental or deliberate or was it by design? Did free trade policies lead to the refusal to import or trade corn? Many economic and historical arguments can be made. It is reminiscent of the modern parallel, the Brexiteers, with the obduracy towards Ireland, the refusal to countenance Irish interests and the refusal to understand what is happening in their nearest neighbour. We see that in some elements of the British establishment today.

Thinking of the Famine and why it is so important, I think of the constituency I represent, Kildare North, and talk about the number of sites around the country. Naas General Hospital, which is very much alive and thriving today, is based on the old Famine workhouse. It predates it. That is the origin of that hospital. There is a long shadow to the present day, where people are being treated as we speak and staying there as the hospital expands. It is very much the heart of the county hospital. That is built on the site of the old Famine workhouse.

The effect of the Famine was felt on families, in our demographics and in our patterns. I was talking about the negatives of the British-Irish relationship. There were positives in the movements of people. We obviously would not have wanted it to have come about the way it did, but there has been a long history of migration in both directions. In my family, my late father, James Keith Lawless, passed away shortly after I was elected to this House. He grew up in the north of England. He was a proud Irishman but he traced routes back to his predecessors who left Ireland around the time of the Famine to travel to the north of England for work and for salvation and to get away from the desperation and desolation that prevailed in Ireland at the time. Those movements go right through to my own family. Many families and people in Ireland can trace back memories, shared history, direct history and folk history of events that took place in those times.

Before I was in this House, I worked in the city centre in other occupations. I often walked down the quays and stopped and studied and spent some time mesmerised by the figures on the quays, where we have the huddled masses, in their desperation, heading towards what we imagine must be a Famine ship or coffin ship about to take them away down the quays. We can see those figures. I am not sure what artist created them but with the desperation engraved upon each face, eye, look back and the mutual co-dependency between the mother with a baby, the father figure and the older man, the family trying to make their way with whatever few possessions they could to a ship, a place of alms or a workhouse, it is an amazing piece of art.

Unfortunately, many of those journeys ended in tragedy. We are all aware of the coffin ships and Famine ships that plummeted to the bottom of the sea once they got out of port. One story that caught my imagination was from Delphi, County Mayo. Many families travelled from a village in desperation, trying to head to Delphi, which was the nearest town, across the mountain, for salvation, alms, food and succour. When they arrived, unbelievably, they were turned away. Grotesquely, they were turned back. There was no room at the inn. They had to begin the long journey back even more weakened.

I remember visiting Achill recently and seeing the forgotten village, as it is called. Captain Boycott's cottage is there in Achill too, although he was better known elsewhere. Clare was where he really had his rack-rent landlord days. The forgotten village is reminiscent of the Marie Celeste. It is a place where an entire village was evicted by an absentee landlord. People were put on the road and moved on. Nothing ever came of the village. The houses stay intact. The buildings are intact, motionless, frozen in time, with the people who lived there gone forever. It was totally devoid of benefit to anybody, whether man or beast. There are lessons in that. In one of the many debates we had in the House lately on housing and the rental crisis, I was reminded of the three Fs which were the pillars of the Land League at the time: fixity of tenure, fair rent and freedom to buy out one's own lease. They are being talked about in the modern time as issues for the rental and housing sector. It is a little sad that we have come 150 years and yet are still stuck with dealing with many of the same issues as occupied the minds of Parnell, the Land League, Davitt and people of that ilk.

I thought I had ten minutes but I am not sure how the time has been divided. I think there were to be ten minute slots.

Deputy Lawless can take a few minutes of mine.

With the permission of Members, we will take Deputy Murphy, then we have two other slots left, for the Government and Deputy Tóibín.

I will start into Deputy Murphy's time and finish within two minutes. I spent some time in Connemara and I always think about these things. We tend to think of Connemara, the west and Munster as being the most ravished areas, but the east coast suffered too. One phenomenon I came across in Connemara was that of the hungry grass. The hungry grass was a concept written about by the poet Donagh MacDonagh, who, incidentally, was the son of Thomas McDonagh, one of the signatories of the Proclamation. Thomas MacDonagh was a founder of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, ASTI, so he was a notable figure for many reasons. The poem chronicles the hungry grass. The hungry grass was a phenomenon where people were found at the time of the Famine, delirious or dead by the side of the road, their mouths foaming with green liquid coming from them. Essentially, they lay down in desperation and tried to eat the grass because they had nothing else to eat. This was the depths of their despair. I made inquiries closer to home and found that in places such as Caragh, County Kildare, in living memory, schoolchildren were told not to cross and not to take a shortcut to school because it was a patch of hungry grass. Nobody was quite sure of the origins. Such a phenomenon occurs in south County Wicklow, in the Dublin Mountains and the Wicklow Mountains.

People avoid patches of hungry grass, which they believe are cursed and indicate where people died by the side of the road in desperation and from hunger. The Famine is a terribly sad chapter of our national history and casts a long shadow. It is fitting that we remember it and give it its due place in Ireland's commemorations.

I am glad the Minister is present for the debate on this topic, of which I am sure she has a good knowledge. As my colleagues stated, Fianna Fáil fully supports the Famine Memorial Day Bill. To be fair to the Government, Deputy Colm Brophy has put forward a similar Bill.

The Famine following the failure of the potato crop in 1845 lasted for six years and 1.1 million lives were lost. If that happened in today's world, it would be seen as shocking and would rightly receive huge coverage and there would be a massive attempt to help those people. Taking account of the 2 million people who emigrated, the population of this island declined by approximately one third during the Famine. In the years preceding the Famine, a collapse of Irish manufacturing and sharp increases in the population gave rise to an intense fracturing of Irish agricultural holdings. By 1841, 45% of agricultural holdings in Ireland were less than 5 acres in area. As the size of the average agricultural holding dwindled, so too did the diversity of the average Irish peasant's diet. Peasants who had previously supplemented their staple diet of potatoes with herrings, milk and meat became increasingly reliant on potatoes, a remarkably high yield crop, for sustenance. The speed with which the blight spread astounded farmers and scientists. According to historians, even seemingly healthy potatoes quickly decayed in storage, which further impeded Ireland's food supply.

As Members are aware, by late 1845 the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom had initiated a poverty relief programme in Ireland. Corn maize was imported, distributed to local relief committees and sold to peasants at cost price. Public works schemes allowed peasants to earn the wages needed to purchase the corn maize. It was hoped that that model of relief would modernise Ireland as well as providing minimum poverty alleviation. As Members know, the poverty relief programme failed miserably for a variety of reasons, including the lack of an efficient distribution network, the indifference of Irish nobility and a failure to understand the Irish context, and Irish peasants were left in dire and desolate straits.

It is right and proper that the commemoration take place at the same time every year so that people can plan accordingly and suitable commemorations be scheduled across the country. It will lead to a better understanding for all our people, the young in particular, of the great tragedy of the Famine of 1847. It saddens me that many young people do not know the history of the Famine, nor the torture, poverty and heartbreak it brought to many families across the country.

If I may be permitted to to be somewhat parochial, as the Minister is aware, Strokestown in County Roscommon is home to the National Famine Museum. We are very proud to have it. It attracts between 50,000 and 60,000 visitors each year and they see and hear the story of what happened in many parts of Ireland, particularly that part of the west of Ireland. Some 5,000 people from the locality died or emigrated during the Famine. Many got on ships in Galway and were lost while crossing the Atlantic. Others struggled to Newfoundland and Canada.

In recent years, research on 1,400 people who left Roscommon during the Famine but whose fates were unknown was carried out by historians at NUI Maynooth. It traced many of those people, some of whom reached the United States and attained very good positions in American life. Many others, however, were lost in transit. All but two of a particular family of seven who left the country were lost during the crossing of the Atlantic. There are many such tragic stories.

We were fortunate to have a national commemoration in Strokestown some years ago. It was a truly fantastic event.

I wish to give my full support to the Bill, like my colleagues. It is proper and right to have the commemoration on the same day each year, which would deservedly put it onto a higher pedestal. It will become an important part of our history about which every primary and second-level school student should know. That story is not being told in many places. It is to be hoped that the passage of this Bill, which will have the support of the House, will put the Famine on a new pedestal.

I acknowledge the contributions of all Members. I was struck by Deputy Browne's comments on the collective trauma inflicted on the Irish people, which is an appropriate term for what happened. Deputy Crowe made some sad but fitting comments on the issue and Deputy Eugene Murphy spoke of Strokestown, the location of the National Famine Museum, and the Irish peasants who were left in dire straits, which is very true. He also addressed the reliance on the potato and the blight which inflicted hardship on so many people. It is a very sad topic. Deputy Lawless mentioned the figures on the quays and the desperation on their faces.

I thank Deputy Tóibín for his long-standing interest in the matter, which is evidenced by his bringing the Bill forward. I acknowledge the contribution of all Members who spoke on the topic. It is obvious that there is very widespread interest in the Famine, as is appropriate. It is also appropriate that the State commemorate the Famine in a suitable manner, working in partnership with stakeholders and local communities. It should be commensurate with the proportion of the population lost to death and emigration. It is clear that there is widespread support in the House for that objective. However, the Government has decided to designate the third Sunday of May as a fixed date for the national Famine commemoration. The Bill put forward by Deputy Brophy, which, as I stated, has been issued a money message, will achieve Deputy Tóibín's aim of a fixed weekend to commemorate the Famine and I will, therefore, oppose it.

I welcome views from all sides of the House on this issue. As mentioned by several speakers, the Famine is imprinted on each of us in hundreds of ways which we do not even realise. The Irish diaspora were mentioned. There are tens of millions of people with Irish heritage across the globe. Most are there because of the Famine, which began the culture of mass emigration and entrenched it into the Irish psyche for the first time. During the recent economic collapse, hundreds of thousands of young Irish people emigrated to Canada and Australia. That is a cultural trait which originated during the Famine.

It is interesting that many of the illnesses we experience as a society and a people stem from the Famine.

Severe nutritional deprivation can cause what is called epigenetic change. Epigenetics is a study of the expression of genetics and while they do not necessarily involve changes to the genetic code, those changes can be expressed for hundreds of years after a severe jolt to humanity, as happened in the Great Hunger.

With regard to the way we commemorate the Great Famine and to indicate where we are on this, there is an exhibition called Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger on display in Dublin Castle’s Coach House, and it is to be commended. However, the exhibition is only temporary. Its exhibits are on loan from Ireland's Great Hunger Museum in Connecticut. There is an exhibition at the top of St. Stephen’s Green but it is privately run and only open for half the year. The National Famine Museum is located in Strokestown Park, County Roscommon. For the past 35 years it has been sustained almost solely by the private philanthropy of Mr. Jim Callery from the Westward Group.

We are told that until now, there has been a variability regarding the dates of the commemoration of the Famine due to the difficulty in synchronising the diaries of important people in the country such as the Taoiseach and the President but, in fairness, this issue is far more important than the diary of any individual citizen here. That has to be taken into consideration.

Ní féidir é seo a fhágáil idir dhá cheann na meá a thuilleadh. Is é an Gorta Mór an ócáid ba thromchúisí is ba thábhachtaí a thit amach i stair na hÉireann sa naoú haois déag. Díreach cúpla glúin ó shin bhí muintir na hÉireann faoi scáth uafáis doshamhlaithe. D’athraigh an tír ó bhonn go barr. Chailleamar caoga faoin gcéad de dhaonra na tíre – d’éag milliún agus chuaigh 3 mhilliún ar imirce i rith aimsir an Ghorta agus sna deicheanna ina dhiaidh sin.

Tá oidhreacht an Ghorta Mhóir go smior i gcultúr, i dteanga agus i sícé na hÉireann. Tá sé deacair a chreidiúint ach ó thaobh daonra de, fiú níl Éire tar éis teacht chuici féin, ó thionchar an Drochshaoil sin.

Ceann de na gnéithe is suntasaí faoin nGorta ná an tost marfach a tháinig sna sála air. Ní labhraítí faoin uafás ó ghlúin go glúin ag an am. I mo thuairimse is é sin na tréithe céanna atá taobh thiar ceann den chiúnas Stáit atá ann mar gheall ar an gcomóradh sin agus is iad na tréithe sin ata ag cur faitíos ar an tír seo comóradh cuí a dhéanamh ar an rud uafásach tábhachtach seo. Ba cheart dúinn mar thír níos mó a dhéanamh de bharr meas a thaispeáint do na glúine a fuair bás agus na glúine a bhí ar imirce amach as an tír seo. Tá níos mó le déanamh againn mar chun tuiscint níos fearr a bheith againn mar thír mar dhaonra mar chultúr freisin.

Tá sé ríthábhachtach go mbeadh an spás agus na deiseanna cuí againn le machnamh a dhéanamh ar an Ghorta mar náisiúin. Ní hé le cuimhneacháin a dhéanamh orthu siúd a cailleadh go tubaisteach amháin, ach le tuiscint níos doimhne a chothú dúinn féin.

Bhí díomá orainn go raibh neart imeartas polaitíochta le feiceáil leis an mBille seo. Ba chóir go mbeadh gach páirtí ag obair le chéile agus tacaíocht tras-phairtí a bheith againn. Chuir mise an Bille seo os comhair na Dála i mí na Nollag 2016. Ar chúis éigin, chuir Teachta Dála as Fine Gael an Bille céanna os comhair na Dála. Is cuma faoi sin, ba cheart dúinn tacaíocht a thabhairt don dá Bhille, i mo thuairim. Ba cheart dúinn dul ar aghaidh mar Oireachtas iomlán ar an rud seo.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le gach páirtí go bhfuilimid tagtha ar an gciniúint thábhachtach seo. Ach i mo thuairim, ní féidir linn é a fhágáil don Aire nó don Teachta Dála Brophy. Ba cheart dúinn mar pháirtí bheith cinnte go bhfuil an rud seo chun bheith curtha isteach i dlí na tíre seo. Dá bharr sin, táimid i Sinn Féin lán sásta an Bille seo a bhrú ar aghaidh. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil Fianna Fáil ag tabhairt tacaíochta don Bhille seo, agus míle buíochas d'Fhianna Fáil as é seo a dhéanamh. Beidh deis againn an dá Bhille, b'fheidir, a phlé ag Céim an Choiste agus beidh deis againn aon athrú cuí a dhéanamh ar an mBille sin ag an am. Le cúnamh Dé, i gceann bliana, beidh sé seo deimhnithe agus ni bheidh an fhadhb ann, níos mó. Go raibh míle maith agat.

De bharr gur rud neamhghnách, agus ag cur san áireamh go bhfuil trí nóiméad fágtha, tá an Teachta Ó Cúiv ag iarraidh cúpla focal a rá. Ligfidh mé dó.

Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Ní dhéanfaidh mé nós de seo. Bhí mé gafa le hagallamh ar na meáin.

I welcome this Bill and we will be supporting it on Second Stage. I was chair of the initial Famine commemoration committee that organised the event in Skibbereen referred to earlier. At that time, we considered the issue of a date but the problem was that there was no one date for the Famine in the year that stuck out. We favoured May, and that was when we held it. We were looking to see what would suit communities because we wanted to move the commemoration around the country. That was one of the factors that made the committee decide not to opt for a fixed date at that time.

However, I agree with the Deputy go bhfuil sé in am, it is time now to fix it in the calendar. This year's commemoration will be the tenth annual commemoration, and May is the month on which people are fixed. The reality at the beginning was that we did not know whether somebody would come out of the woodwork with a date of some traumatic event in the calendar of the Famine that would give us a date of particular relevance but that has not happened. I would be happy to see this become a recognised statutory event and therefore we will be supporting the Bill. I understand there is almost all-party support for it. I hope that the two Bills before the House can be progressed through the committee.

As the Ceann Comhairle knows, I have a strong view that the provision in the Constitution on money messages was to stop us spending vast sums of money not voted by the people. I do not believe it was ever intended that it would be used as a device to stop a measure that would have no effect on the overall Exchequer position in a year and would not be measurable in the greater scheme of things. I hope, therefore, that the money message will be given and that the two Bills, or some form of them, will be brought forward to allow us bring into law an event that is heading for its tenth birthday and which is important and has grown in public recognition. It is also important that the international event would be continued.

Since the Famine hit every community in every county, from the most isolated areas to the cities, the idea of rotating the commemoration between the provinces should be retained. We should ensure that it does not go to the big places. An initiative discussed at the initial Famine commemoration committee was that every parish in Ireland owns the Famine and should be entitled to commemorate the Famine at some stage.

Question put and agreed to.