Before I call on the Leader for the Order on Business, I welcome the Polish ambassador to Ireland to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. On 3 May 1791, Poland proclaimed its modified codified constitution as the first country in Europe and the second in the world after the United States to do so. The liberal system codified in the constitution of 3 May was brought down by the partitions which ended the existence of the sovereign Polish state. During the following 123 years of foreign domination, this symbolic document was seen as a sterling example of the successful reform and sustained hope for the eventual restoration of Polish independence which finally came to pass in November 1918.
There are many links between Ireland and Poland and one of those acknowledged in 2019 was that of Pawel Strzelecki, a Polish explorer and humanitarian, who during the Great Irish Famine volunteered as an agent in the British relief association to help the starving Irish. When in Ireland, he came up with a scheme of assisting the starving population by focusing primarily on children and feeding and clothing them through a network of local schools. It was an innovative approach for those times and as a result, more than 200,000 children were saved from starvation. In 2019, the Polish Embassy produced an exhibit, A Forgotten Polish Hero of the Great Irish Famine: Paul Strzelecki’s Struggle to Save Thousands. This exhibit was opened by President Michael D. Higgins.
The Irish census in 2016 indicated that the Polish community in Ireland is our largest national minority with a population of 122,500. The oldest Polish organisations in Ireland are the Polish Social and Cultural Association, Ognisko Polskie CLG and the Irish Polish Society. Their aims are to preserve the bonds among Polish people living in Ireland. Many of these organisations are engaged in various forms of supporting Ukrainian refugees.
The Polish diaspora is very active in the area of education. There are more than 40 Polish schools in Ireland. The Irish and Polish military contingents in Lebanon serve together as part of the UN mandate as the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL. The ambassador is the first female ambassador from Poland to Ireland and that is why we welcome her here today. We wish Her Excellency and all the Polish people living in Ireland and throughout the world a happy constitution day. Szczliwego dnia konstytucji.
I would also like to announce that we have set up an Irish-Polish parliamentary friendship group. We have a delegation coming from Poland tomorrow and the chair of that group is Deputy James Lawless. We are delighted that we now have that in place.