150th Anniversary of the Famine: Statements.

Between 1845 and 1850, the potato crop in Ireland was destroyed by blight. Out of a population of 8 million people, over one million died from starvation and starvation related diseases. A further one million emigrated under appalling conditions, with many dying in the coffin ships or soon after landing. This is fact, not fiction, and it is not open to historical revisionism.

The plain fact is that over large parts of the country there existed, at the bottom of a class-driven society governed by access to land, a large seething mass of cottiers and landless labourers whose sole means of existence was the potato. The potato was to these people what today's social welfare, health and other State support systems are to many of our people today. It is beyond imagination to contemplate the effect of a Government announcement today that all its supports were withdrawn for the next five years. If one were to contemplate the effects of such an announcement, one would begin to have an idea of the shattering impact of the potato blight on our people in the 1840s. Quite simply the potato harvest, after the hungry months of June, July and August acted like a single annual social welfare payment that sustained an entire family, community and culture for another 12 months.

When that safety net snapped, it pitched into an ever descending vortex of misery, death and emigration a rural proletariat who had no one and nowhere to go to, except a helpless alien administration, physically and psychologically removed from the people. The administration, despite having one of the most advanced systems for addressing poverty in Europe, the Poor Law Unions, was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster and, as is evidenced by the insertion of the Gregory Clause, considered land and property before people. While some lessons were learned, it is chilling to realise that not much has changed in many parts of the world today.

The scale of this enormous catastrophe is difficult if not impossible to imagine. A single instance can have more impact than all the statistics. A doctor in Skibbereen described the following visit:

The shed is exactly seven feet long, by about six in breadth. By the side of the western wall is a long, newly made grave; by either gable are two of shorter dimensions, which have been recently tenanted; and near the hole that serves as a doorway is the last resting place of two or three children; in fact, this hut is surrounded by a rampart of human bones, which have accumulated to such a height that the threshold, which was originally on a level with the ground, is now two feet beneath it. In this horrible den, in the midst of a mass of human putrefaction, six individuals, males and females, labouring under the most malignant fever, were huddled together, as closely as were the dead in the graves around.

These are the people we must remember and for whom the Government is implementing its Famine commemoration programme. Our programme is an appropriate and respectful commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the greatest tragedy in modern Irish history.

In early February I took over the chair of the National Famine Commemoration Committee from my predecessor, Deputy Tom Kitt. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Deputy for his contribution. The committee and I have been working hard since then to develop and implement a fitting, imaginative and balanced programme to mark the commemoration of this tragic event.

I will give details of the programme in a moment. The programme is very broad and ranges from a major historical research programme to a series of television documentary programmes for broadcast by RTE, to commemoration scholarships for famine studies for Third World and North American students, and specific programmes to alleviate famine and drought in selected Third World countries. The scholarships for North American students are a belated "thank you" to those emigrants who, having survived the torment of the coffin ships to find work in the New World, immediately sent money home. Other parts of the commemorative programme will include, for example, a set of commemorative postage stamps, a national monument and recognition for a limited number of local voluntary projects of national significance.

I will now turn to the detail of the programme. The Famine was an all-Ireland tragedy. It was appropriate, therefore, that the Government commemoration began with my attendance at a special ceremony in the "Paupers' Graveyard", Enniskillen. This was held by Fermanagh District Council on 28 August 1995 to mark the outbreak of blight in Ireland in the county where it first appeared in the field. I am delighted to have been invited to participate in this important event and to share in a tree planting ceremony with local children.

The Government was also an active participant in the commemorative ecumenical "Service of the Word" organised by the Church of Ireland Cathedral in Tuam on Sunday, 3 September last. The service was a most solemn and moving occasion for the whole congregation and all those who listened to the service which was broadcast live on RTE radio.

As a further element in our autumn programme we organised a Famine commemoration concert at the National Concert Hall on 6 September last to which I was delighted to welcome our President, Mrs. Mary Robinson and Ambassadors and leaders of Church and State. The concert featured an original piece, "The Famine Suite", by Dr. Charlie Lennon which was newly commissioned by the George Moore Society and was performed by the RTE Concert Orchestra. An exciting programme also included Frankie Gavin and Dé Dannan, Dr. Bernadette Greevy, Mick Hanley, Liam Harney and Eleanor McEvoy. "The Famine Suite" was broadcast live by RTE. The rest of the concert was recorded by RTE for subsequent broadcast, probably at Christmas time.

I do not have to remind any of my colleagues about the genocide in Rwanda, again recently brought to the forefront of our minds. This has left a huge number of orphans with over 40 per cent of families headed by women. The entire proceeds of the Famine commemoration concert on 6 September last, approaching £20,000, are being donated to assist women in Rwanda to support their dependants in such practical ways as providing food, establishing small scale income-generating projects and assisting with basic health needs. I would particularly like to thank the artists for the contribution of their time and talent to this concert inspired by the Great Famine experience.

I would also like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the AIB Group, Radio Teilifís Éireann, Aer Lingus, The National Concert Hall, The National Dairy Council, Independent Newspapers, The Irish Times, Gilbeys, The Grey Door Restaurant, Jurys Hotel, Ms Karen Finn, Mr. John Behan, Mr. Garry White Deer of the Choctaw Nation, Business and Finance Business Information and Elo Press for their contribution to the success of this concert.

On 27 June last I announced that the Government is financing research into the history of the Famine. This is possibly the largest historical research project ever undertaken in this State. It will make a huge contribution to our understanding of the Famine. For the first time, the enormous volume of data which is part of the Famine legacy can be analysed using computer technology. This project will compliment the historical research of the 100th anniversary and will, I am confident, provide new and important insights. It will focus on a carefully chosen cross-section of localities. The areas are the Poor Law Union areas of Ballina, Kinsale, Enniskillen, Thurles, Ennistymon, Rathdrum, Inishowen, Dublin (City) North, and Parsonstown. I wish especially to thank UCD and TCD who are managing the project both for their support and for making facilities available to the research team to assist them in their work and to thank CIE, Telecom Éireann, Friends Provident and Dell Computers for their assistance with the project. I look forward to the publication of the reports based on the research, and to the international conference at which the results will be presented in 1997.

The commemoration of the Famine is not merely for academics. In recognition of the vast interest among the general public the Government is sponsoring a series of historical documentary programmes which are being made by Louis Marcus for broadcast by RTE this autumn. The series will use contemporary Irish language sources and will show the consequences of the Famine for Irish culture. A video of the series will be made for distribution to schools and, as an outreach to the Irish diaspora, to our embassies abroad. RTE will market the series abroad to countries with a significant Irish emigrant population. I am confident that the series will make an original, imaginative and, most importantly, accessible contribution to our understanding of the Famine.

It is important that our young people are also brought into the commemoration. A schools essay competition, with a bilingual dimension, is being organised by the Department of Education in co-operation with the History Teachers' Association, which I thank publicly for its help. The competition will be held in 1996 and the result announced in 1997. Full details of the competition will be announced in due course.

Unhappily, famine continues to be a modern reality. As a commemorative gesture the Government is supporting four carefully selected projects for the relief of famine and drought, namely, storage silos for grain in Ethiopia, a potato and maize seed project in Eritrea by the Carlow based self-help international organisation, research on blight resistant potatoes at the international potato centre in Mexico involving Teagasc and a water supply and sanitation project in Lesotho. Together, those projects will receive more than £150,000 in the next three years.

As a contribution to our understanding both of our Famine and of modern famines, the Department of Education is organising post-graduate scholarships for 1996 and 1997. They will be awarded to students in one of the recognised recipient countries of Irish Third World aid and to students from a North American country. The scholarships will be for research in a famine related discipline such as agriculture, hydrology, engineering or health.

Those projects are in addition to the Government's overseas development aid. At this time, as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Famine, it is appropriate that our overseas development aid is at its highest ever level. Also, it is fitting that the Government should mark the occasion in a tangible way through the introduction of tax relief on donations to designated Irish Third World charities as announced by the Minister for Finance in this year's budget. It is important that our Famine commemoration programme recognises the importance of alleviating existing famines and of contributing to our understanding of them.

The Government also intends to erect a modest but distinctive memorial as a permanent mark of national commemoration. An advertisement seeking suggestions from the general public for the best location for the memorial was placed in the national press on 4 August last, to which there was an excellent response. So far 60 locations have been suggested and I thank everybody who submitted proposals for the best site for the monument. I hope to be in a position to make an announcement of the location before Christmas.

The Government will also hold a national service of remembrance at a venue to be decided in the summer of 1997, bringing the Government commemoration to a close. This will be a major occasion marked, I hope, by the presence of the President, the Taoiseach, members of the Government and the Oireachtas, representatives of the major religious denominations, diplomatic representatives and so on.

Great credit is due to the vast number of local and voluntary projects that are being planned to commemorate the Famine at home and abroad. Unfortunately, it would not be possible for me to support them all. However, I hope shortly to be able to announce support for a small number of projects as a token of my esteem for the many. Such is the interest in the commemoration of our Famine that my office in the Department of the Taoiseach has compiled a directory of commemoration events. If any Member of the House or members of the public, at home or abroad, want to check what is taking place in their locality, they should contact my office and we will supply them with a copy of the directory.

The Famine had particular consequences for Irish women and it is important that this is recognised. One area in which women were affected differently from men was that of emigration. The emigration of women from Ireland had a lasting impact on Ireland. Most strikingly, Ireland was unique in Europe in that more women than men left its shores. Other European emigration consisted of family groups and single men, women travelling as wives or dependants rather than, as in our case, as migrants in their own right. Irish women were forced to break the most intimate ties of kinship to leave their families and friends and to uproot themselves from their place of birth to travel half way across the world. I am confident that the major increase in research into the Famine will contribute greatly to our understanding in this area.

I was pleased, therefore, to be able to support the exhibition on Women, Famine and Emigration mounted by the Irish Women's archive in Dublin Castle. The exhibition will travel not only to other centres in Ireland, North and South, but also to other countries with a large Irish population.

Another project I am pleased to be in a position to support is the international conference being organised by the Strokestown Famine Museum and an education pack they are publishing. The international conference on the theme, Writers and Famine, will take place in May 1996 and will bring together major writers from cultures in which hunger has been, or still is, a significant defining experience. The education pack will be targeted at junior certificate and transition year post-primary students.

There are a number of other projects I hope to be in a position to support, one of which is an exhibition in the spring of 1997 of works of art inspired by the Famine. The exhibition will consist of works by Ireland's leading artists from both sides of the Border. Another such project is a proposal by the Great Famine Commemoration Committee in Tullamore to publish a book of maps of each of the counties of Ireland showing their more important Famine sites.

As its contribution to the Government's commemoration programme, An Post plans to issue a set of three commemorative postage stamps early in 1997. I had hoped these would issue jointly with other nations, such as the US, Canada, Australia or even the UK, but logistically that has not proved possible. Other State bodies such as the National Botanic Gardens, the National Museum, the National Library, Teagasc and many local authorities are planning events to be funded from their resources. I compliment Teagasc on its Famine exhibition recently displayed in the RDS and which is moving to Ballina next week. The quality of the exhibition, the history and science involved in telling the story and the art work were superb. Teagasc should be complimented on a job well done. Those State bodies are publicising their operations themselves, but they are an important part of the overall State commemoration of our Great Famine.

I wish to respond to some comments made during the summer. It has been suggested that the Government may be going softly on commemorating the Famine because of the peace process. On the contrary, the peace process allows us all the more freely to explore the truth. The relations between the two islands have reached a maturity that allows us to look at our history objectively. It is in a spirit of understanding and reconciliation that we are now commemorating the Great Famine.

In this context I was very moved by the words of Archbishop Eames at the service of remembrance in Tuam on 3 September last who stated:

Today Ireland must be the land in which the healing of traditional wounds and the building of new understanding abounds. We all have a great deal which we must bury in the past — and leave behind us in the past. Today as we remember the Great Famine not just the untold suffering — we remember the anger and the resentment. But in the act of remembrance can we show the vision, the courage and the Christian understanding which alone can heal the bitterness of our troubled past?

This is a challenge we must all face.

The Famine was an immense tragedy. In some respects, although it took place 150 years ago, we are still coming to terms with it. For our own sake, as a nation, we need the catharsis of a commemoration which fully recognises the pain and loss the Famine represented. I am confident that the Government's programme of commemoration will raise national awareness and make a significent contribution to that process.

The Great Famine has enormous relevance for our times. An Irish writer who lived through those terrible years. W. Stewart Trench, posed the questions which are still relevant today. He asked:

But there was abundance of corn, abundance of flour, and abundance of meal in the country, not to speak of herds of sheep and cattle innumerable; and in the midst of such plenty, why should the people die? There was also abundance of money to purchase food: money was freely offered from many quarters, and was ready to flow forth in a mighty stream from the charitable people of England to almost any extent. If so I may again ask, why should the people die?"

In that question lies the relevance of our Great Famine to present famines. Why should people continue to die in the modern world in the midst of plenty? Why is there still starvation in the world today? Did we learn anything at all?

The question posed by the Great Famine must still be answered. Is there not a parallel between our experience of the 1840s and the state of the world today? In a time of food surpluses and agricultural set-aside, there is still widespread starvation and the solutions proposed are based on market forces as they were in the 1840s —laissez faire rules. Have we learned our lesson? Is there not a better way and how can we, as a nation which suffered so tragically 150 years ago, play our part?

Commitment to the underdeveloped world, if it has any meaning at all, must mean a commitment to assisting those nations to aspire to the prosperity levels of the developed world. There can be no question of leaving the poorest countries or sections of the population behind in poverty, war and societal disintegration. We can admit frankly that there is a large element of self-interest involved in this approach for poverty is by far the greatest threat to the world's environment and its political stability. It is an indictment of the present world order that while the wealth of nations is sevenfold what it was 50 years ago, one-fifth of the world's population goes hungry every day, one billion people lack basic health care and tens of millions are migrants or refugees.

As a country with a relatively recent experience of famine and that has suffered the haemorrhage of emigration, we in Ireland can bring a unique perspective to bear on the developed world's relationship with the developing world. This perspective, with our colonial past, will also have a deep influence on our participaton as equal members of a strong and effective European Union. It is, therefore, not merely with our past in mind but also with our future and the influence which we can bring to bear to diminish the anguish of starvation in the world today that I commend the Government's Famine commemoration programme.

It is right that Dáil Éireann, the parliament of an independent Ireland, should remember the Famine and its victims, those who died, those who survived and those who emigrated. It was the single most terrible and harrowing event in history, a disaster without parallel in time of peace in Europe in modern times. Tragically, as the Minister of State said, other countries in other continents from time to time still experience famine, and it remains a problem of underdevelopment in a world that ought to be capable of providing basic nutrition to all its inhabitants. Unfortunately, political economy gets in the way today just as it did in the past, though there are often other factors, such as civil wars and despotic regimes, which interfere with relief operations.

The Famine is probably the single most important event in Irish history. A whole society was shattered, an under-class was virtually wiped out through famine and emigration. The Famine discredited the Act of Union more than any repeal agitation. When it came to the test, Ireland was not treated equally at a critical moment, even though joined in union with the greatest trading nation on earth at that time. A certain unfavourable view of Ireland among economists and a clique of very senior British officials with the support of the Government cut off effective help at a vital moment with the consequences that we know. It was not just negligence; the slowness of response was premeditated as a means of inducing social and demographic change. The Famine represented the nadir of Anglo-Irish relations.

I hope that at some point the British Government at the highest level will make a considered statement on the famine as part of addressing what the Downing Street Declaration describes as the most urgent and important issue relating to peace and reconciliation, which is "to overcome the legacy of history, and to heal the divisions". Obviously, neither the present British Government nor the British people now living have any personal responsibility for what happened 150 years ago. The Government of Sir Robert Peel, who as Chief Secretary had some experience of and responsibility for managing previous subsistence crises, managed the early stages of the Famine reasonably well without loss of life. Not for the first time in Irish history, a British change of Government was disastrous.

In the long history of relations between the two islands over many centuries the Irish people were more sinned against than sinning, notwithstanding some of the terrible deeds committed in their name during the past 25 years. A frank acknowledgment and expression of regret from the highest level about the shortcomings of the then British Government's response to the Famine would contribute to a better climate of relations between Irish people or people of Irish stock across the world and the British who, after all, have in so many respects intertwined historical experiences. I hope the British Government — I do not mean the British Ambassador, a junior member of the Royal Family or a churchman — will grasp the opportunity.

The Famine was not much spoken of in succeeding generations. It was an experience that people wanted to forget, yet in many ways it left an indelible mark. The population of Ireland was decimated. Apart from one million deaths, it caused a population drop from eight million to five million at a time when the population of the rest of Europe was increasing. It was a devastating and crippling blow to economic hopes and national self-confidence.

It also led to a hardening of attitudes towards peaceful political accommodation. The Famine in its aftermath helped to revive the physical force tradition which had been quiescent for half a century since 1798. There was a symbolic revolt in 1848 against the condition to which Ireland and the Irish people had been reduced and what was then seen as the ineffective methods of constitutional nationalism. That failure led to the formation of the IRB, the Fenian revolt of 1867 and, as we know, the underground tradition survived until it burst forth again from 1916 to 1921.

The Famine led through emigration to the formation of a large Irish-American community which superseded the earlier mainly Ulster Presbyterian emigration of the 18th century. As The Times of London ruefully noted at the time, it led to the formation of an Ireland on the other side of the ocean beyond the reach of British influence. That community was determined to see Ireland get up off its knees and never again accept the human degradation of the Famine.

The Famine left a legacy of distrust among the denominations. The exploitation of misery for religious gain through proselytism left much bitterness which lingered for several generations. We are all grateful to Archbishop Eames for his acknowledgment at Tuam recently of the faults committed by what was then the Established Church but we must acknowledge, as he mentioned on that occasion, the good works of those who responded positively during that period.

The Famine also discredited the landlord system, which the British used as a scapegoat for their own inaction, and it led after some decades of mainly peaceful struggle to a system of farmer proprietorship which is the basis of our land tenure system today.

In short, the political and historical consequences of the Famine were enormous and ultimately incalculable. Ireland took a long time to recover. There was a quiet but grim determination never to allow the same thing to happen again. But there was also another dimension. In all the talk and debate since the start of the year about the Great Famine, there has been little reference so far to the major cultural disaster it represented for the Irish nation. The vast majority of those who died or emigrated were Irish speakers. In excess of two million people, many of them monoglots, were lost to their country. The assault on the Irish language was devastating.

The process of linguistic change, initiated by the British through the schools and other means, was dramatically accelerated. The view gained common currency that if there was nothing in store for them but emigration then English was the language they needed to speak.

Is léir gur chuir an Gorta Mór le scrios na Gaeilge toisc an méid sin cainteoirí dúchaís a d'éag, nó a d'imigh thar lear. Sna háiteanna ar lonnaigh siad i Meiricea, san Astráil, i Canada, i Sasana agus go leor áiteanna eile, tá an ceol, an teanga, an cultúr, fós beo. Anseo in Éirinn tá bréa nua fé na Gaelscoileanna agus dóchas nua go rachaidh an Ghaeilge chun cinn agus chun treise. Tá gach súil againn i bhFianna Fáil gar mar sin a bhéas sé.

Between now and 1997 we will have the opportunity to focus on the Famine and on its effects. I welcome the programme outlined by the Minister of State. We have an opportunity to take real and effective measures to undo some of the damage inflicted on the language during that period. What could be a more fitting practical monument to the Irish people than that? I thank the Minister of State for her kind remarks about the committee which was chaired by my colleague Deputy Kitt and which she now chairs. The Government's commemoration programme she announced in July is quite imaginative and well focused. Nobody can accuse her of wasting her tight budget of £250,000 for the commemoration. We congratulate her for that and for her ongoing work. We understand the difficulties she has in trying to help everyone who deserves to be helped.

I compliment her for the non-partisan way she has approached her task and for the manner in which she has attempted to involve, as far as practicable, other political parties in the arrangements. We appreciate that. She said this morning that my colleagues would be able to get individual programmes for their areas or constituencies and we appreciate that also.

The programme of events over the next three years is wide-ranging and touches on many facets of Irish life. It aims to commemorate in a dignified way those who died and suffered and also to celebrate human survival. I suspect the commemoration will give a great stimulus to local history as people in each locality try to recreate an idea of the experience of the past.

In addition, there are practical projects aimed at relief of famine and drought in parts of our world today. This work is appropriate as the folk-memory of the Famine resulted in the Irish people responding in an exceptionally generous way to the plight of the starving in the Third World. Our voluntary contributions are consistently among the highest per capita in the developed world. Our suffering in the last century has given us an understanding and sympathy for those still suffering in other countries today.

It is important that we do not use the next three years just to commemorate the catastrophe. I am glad that the Minister of State agrees that they should be used to celebrate. Let there be a celebration of survival and of the human spirit. The concert last month in the National Concert Hall was a fine example of how a balance can be struck between commemoration and celebration. Charlie Lennon's new orchestral suite and the spectacular dancing of Irish/American, Liam Harney, marked in a unique way, combining music and rhythm, the human capacity of overcoming great disasters.

The only slight defect in the Government's programme, if there is one, is that it has not been extended to countries that gave refuge and shelter to those forced to leave this land — the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. When the programme is reviewed, I hope careful consideration will be given to this and that the Minister of State will examine ways to involve the extended Irish nation in the programme. I know there will be difficulties but many people will constructively assist the Minister.

An essential place of pilgrimage during the period of commemoration and one where I spent some time this summer in the Famine Museum at Strokestown House in County Roscommon. The Minister of State mentioned this and other places. I would highly recommend a visit there. I am not sure if it is open during the winter months.

It is closed until May.

In the stable yards and in the unique atmosphere of this superbly restored great house the significance of the Famine nationally and the problem of contemporary global famine are addressed. The guiding spirit behind this project, Luke Dodd, showed a tireless zeal which deserves our highest praise. I hope as many groups as possible will take the opportunity to visit Strokestown, and see the story told impartially from all angles though not without a certain undercurrent of passionate and justified anger.

The Irish people today are far removed from the Famine times yet the experience is etched into our psyche. We are still in some ways in the process of rebuilding our country and reducing our vulnerability as far as we can. We are dedicated to providing a decent standard of living for our people, so that the absolute poverty which existed in the past will be extinct. But we also want to create a world where this is true of every country. The elimination of international poverty and malnutrition is surely the international task of the 21st century to which we can contribute, drawing from our historical experience.

Next week the Minister for Finance will represent us at the IMF conference in Washington. I and other Members had that honour in the past. They will consider, as they have done for several years, the issue of Third World debt. We know a lot about the issue from the experience of many Irish people who work in Third World countries. The coalition on Third World debt, led by the successful non-governmental organisations both lay and religious who have experience of countries where famine prevails, will try to convince world financiers of ways to help economies out of their great difficulties. I urge the Minister of State to ask her colleague, Deputy Quinn, to raise the issue again because we are listened to on this issue. The opportunity should not be lost to make a strong case at that international forum for Third World countries. It is hard to believe the stories we hear from NGOs working in those countries.

We wish the Minister of State well and will continue to assist, as the deputy leader indicated, in whatever way we can to promote and celebrate a tragic period in our history. We are glad that the commemoration is moving forward successfully.

I warmly congratulate the Minister of State on the extent and depth of the commemorative programme she outlined to the House. I am taken aback by its size, although I suppose I should not be, because she is a woman of tremendous energy and commitment. This programme reflects her very considerable organisational and promotional effort and her personal and political commitment to make a success of this programme of national commemoration. Based on her contribution, it is very obvious that she has an elaborate, very interesting and diverse programme of events, activities and projects in mind. It will be very interesting to see how it unfolds and what effect it will have on the modern Irish psyche.

In the late fifties and sixties I was taught a somewhat introverted, self-conscious and self-pitying history, when everything was cast in terms of a tragedy or in very moral terms. Perhaps that was understandable but, when one thinks of the Battle of Kinsale, the Siege of Limerick and all the various failed revolutions being sad events and when one perceives history from that perspective only, its complexity is sometimes lost.

I presume the average Englishman today, if asked to say where his sympathies lie, retrospectively, as between, say, the Stuarts and the Hanoverians, probably would think there was something more romantically attractive about the Stuart dynasty and that the Hanoverians were somewhat unattractive political pragmatists. However, the English do not get carried away by a sense of tragedy; they do not mull over what might have happened had Bonny Prince Charlie gone on at Derby or whatever. There is not the same sense among those other inhabitants of these islands of the type of moral continuum of history we have. Rather there is a greater sense of pragmatism, probably something to do with the Protestant mind-set, and they are less morally judgmental about their history. Some of us on this side of the Irish Sea might consider it just as well that they do not have to face up to some of the moral implications, such as the attitude of their Government to The Famine.

I make the point not to rake over old coals but rather to pose one question. I hope we will be in a position not to ignore the complexities of Irish history to simplify it, render it untrue and inaccurate in the course of this Famine commemoration if we approach it on the basis that we need a catharsis for a great national tragedy; but if the subtext is that we will once again ventilate our sense of grievance, that is another thing; rather, we must strike a fair balance between those impulses which are present.

In looking at the society destroyed by the Famine, the subsistence economy in Ireland, the landless class to which the Minister of State referred, it would be very foolish to over-romanticise it; it would be very foolish indeed to portray it as a noble society, a sort of paragon of Gaelic civilisation; it was no such thing but rather a world of grinding poverty, very much a hopeless society. Indeed the circumstances in which a huge number of landless Irish peasants found themselves were hopeless and demeaning. It would be a mistake to portray this Famine as a combination of a cruel stroke of nature in the form of the potato blight and a cruel, oppressive power striking at the heart of a noble civilisation, cutting a swath through it. That is not the truth, the truth is that Ireland, pre-Famine, was a society which was not sustainable, one in which something was going to give at some stage. Had it not been the potato blight, I wonder what it would have been. Would there have been a massive haemorrhage of Irish people to English cities or, in any event, would there have been a mass migration? When one examines a book such as that of Lynch and Vaizey, about the role of the Guinness company in the Irish economy, where one finds a description of late 18th and early 19th century Ireland and the primitive state of a large portion of the country, in those circumstances it is difficult to imagine that we could ever really have looked forward to our own industrial revolution. It is hard to imagine that, had the Famine not happened, some dramatic transformation would have struck that society because it appears to me — and I do not claim to be an expert historian — that the population of pre-Famine Ireland was growing, society expanding in a way which was not containable, and that something was going to give somewhere. While we can all speculate in retrospect what would have happened, certainly something would have given because that was not a sustainable society.

In many respects that is a parallel with Third World countries today. Whatever one's views about the moral minutiae of the position, the huge growth in humanity in areas of most need is an extraordinary phenomenon, one which is not sustainable in the long term. I do not know what kind of morality will hold sway in the 21st century but on one thing I am fairly clear, that is that the human race, taken en masse, will have to learn new virtues of continuence in the sense that we cannot continue to expand at the present rate, certainly not in places where proverty is greatest, a point our culture should face up to.

It is strange that in the European Union — and the Minister spoke of the seven-fold increase in wealth that has occurred this century — the rate of population growth has decreased. It is strange that, in this society, with greater wealth, there has been a decline in fertility to the extent that, in approximately ten to 15 years, we shall be faced with a stable, or perhaps even further declining population if present demographic trends continue. In that context one wonders: is there some iron law, some hidden hand, which produces the very strange result that a society in which there is tremendous poverty, is the one which expands most rapidly whereas those that become wealthy cease to multiply at the same rate.

Another point which occurred to me while listening to Deputy Ahern is that it is correct to say it was a transforming event in society. It is hard to imagine the somewhat crimped and introspective culture which emerged in the latter part of the 19th century could have been the culture of a society of eight million people had that society been able to endure. It is hard to imagine the role of the Catholic Church in Irish politics would have been the same if a larger landless class, which could not have been accommodated by the Land Acts, had been at the bottom of the Irish social pyramid.

It may be that mass migration within the UK to the centres of economic growth in England would have happened in any event. It may be that in any event there would have been mass emigration to America, Australia and other places, with or without a famine. It is true the Famine created circumstances in which the land issue could be addressed in a way which would have been impossible if there had been a much greater population.

Listening to the descriptions given this morning of the political wrongs and the tragedies of the Famine, I am reminded that it did not only happen in Ireland. The Highland clearances are an example of a similar transformation of a society when the native Scottish society was swept away by a policy of social change on the part of the ruling class of that society. Deputy Ahern spoke of there having been two million Irish speakers before the famine and of the Irish language as one of its greatest victims. Although that is true, the same probably applies to the peasant society that existed in Scotland because the same forces were at work.

I am honoured to be a member of a subcommittee of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation which deals with obstacles in the South to reconciliation. A feature of our work programme is an historical evaluation of the way in which the South has been at fault in the way it approached the accommodation of Unionists and the Unionist mindset. The subcommittee and, indeed, society itself, will have to address a failure in large part to identify and validate one entire aspect of Ireland, which is, that our connection with England over centuries has created a mixed society here.

We are not entirely a Gaelic peasant society; we never were. There is a sense in which we like to airbrush out Anglo-Irishness or the mixture of Englishness and Irishness, and not view it as authentically Irish. We pay lip-service to Anglo-Irish literature, for example, but in terms of history we are not very generous to those who are not nationalist and separatist. We do not really accord them a great status. In considering this commemoration programme I hope we do not unconsciously exclude those of that tradition by making them feel uncomfortable yet again, where the Irish people are together commemorating an event and they are identified in large measure with the wrongdoers or the fault behind the Famine. I hope we can be inclusive from now on and be honest with ourselves.

The subcommittee has been looking at the decline in numbers of minority communities. The Jewish community is down to a very small and hardly sustainable level now, and most of the Protestant denominations are declining rapidly in numbers, I do not know why. Our society is becoming more homogenous as indicated by the census returns. We are not very generous to our minority traditions in what the President, Mrs. Robinson, might refer to as "telling our story". We do not seem to remember there are many in Irish society whose story does not form part of the official story — the garrison town families whose sons fought for the British Empire; the Protestant traditions; the Quakers; the Dissenters. We are not good at accommodating those groups in our sense of Irish history.

I know the Minister of State will be conscious of being inclusive in our approach to the historical commemoration. This should not be an occasion on which the sense of alienation, discomfort or political or historical embarrassment is raised for those in Irish society who are not identified with traditional nationalism.

Let us also remember there were large swathes of the country where, probably, most of our ancestors were, which were wholly unaffected by the Famine and which did nothing about it. I will be interested to see the Minister's research, but I imagine parts of this city — certainly the part I represent, Dublin South-East — were little affected by the Famine. My ancestors, who came from Belfast, would have been very little affected by the Famine. They would not have contemplated it in the global terms in which we now see it. They would not have had that perspective on what was going on around them. I have no doubt many ordinary Irish people in the 1840s did not perceive the Famine in the way we can now, in retrospect, see it.

In terms of finding fault or blame let us remember that, probably, most of our ancestors lived through that episode more or less unscathed and not as troubled by it as an event as we would perhaps like to think. I wish to record my concern that we ought not get into a moral rictus about the Famine, cast blame on others and reinforce this moral view of Irish history without being realistic about what ordinary people, our own ancestors included, were doing in those years. They were probably doing nothing very different from what ordinary people at the time were doing in England, quite unconscious of the cruelty the underclass was suffering as a result of the Famine.

I repeat my congratulations to the Minister for her energy and the achievements already in putting together this programme and I encourage her to go ahead with it in every way. I am concerned that we should not collectively fool ourselves about the realities of the Famine and I am most keen about the historical research programme the Minister has put in place. We should not entertain ourselves to a diet of simplistic moralising on this subject — we can do more than that, we can understand the complexity of that society. I hope we do not hear that without the Famine Ireland would have been a huge country of 8 million people, could have participated in the industrial revolution and everything would have been different; only the cruelties and indifference of others frustrated us. I do not believe that is the case. Fair-minded historians agree the pre-Famine society was heading for some kind of explosion or collapse in any event and whereas the Famine was a catastrophe, our society would have undergone a radical transformation which is difficult to imagine in retrospect. People should look at the complexities and realities of the position and use this commemoration as an occasion to be truthful with ourselves.

I agree with the Minister that the peace process is no reason not to explore the truth of the situation. It gives us every reason to confront the facts but also to admit it was not a simple, black and white, moral tale in which the Irish in a collective sense were wronged. If we allow such a spirit to enter the commemorative programme over the next three years we might do harm or at least fail to do good we might otherwise do. If the Minister's ambitions and the spirit in which she offers this programme are realised and put into effect, it will have a positive effect on our society.

Contemplating the Famine will not be divisive or set Irish people against each other — the Unionist and Nationalist traditions will not be at each other's throats. I am convinced this can be done well. If we are honest with ourselves for the next three years this will be a constructive process. If we avoid the temptation to over-simplify, nurture grievances or over-moralise about our history, and learn more from the phlegmatic positivism of the English about their history; we may be a more mature people at the end.

In talking about the Famine I will reflect on the parallels between then and now. If we are to draw some value from the experience we should use this examination and commemoration of a difficult period in our history to reflect on how we act in the world as a small, independent, neutral country and what part of our experience we can bring to bear on our dealings with other countries and international bodies.

Famine and starvation are to a considerable extent the consequences of political decisions. The immediate cause may sometimes be a natural disaster such as potato blight but it is the political decisions taken before and after such disasters which determine whether the consequence will be starvation. The political decisions which determine whether famine will occur include internal repression, disregard for human rights, poor and corrupt leadership, internal and external wars and decisions on economic policies or to sell and buy arms. The Irish Famine was a consequence of political decisions, in the same way most recent and current famines are. The triggering factor may be a natural disaster but it is usually political decisions which turn a difficult and disastrous period into a widespread holocaust of historic proportions.

If I may disagree slightly with Deputy McDowell's interpretation of history, in the 1840s there was a rigid view of economic policies. At that time the "iron law of politics" led to a rigid view of laissez faire— it was thought inappropriate for the State to intervene, in this case to save people, largely the landless labourers, from this disaster.

It was important that the Deputy recalled the contribution of the dissenter tradition of the Protestant community. Many of their people who went to give succour or relief died in significant numbers, as can be seen in graveyards in the west of Ireland. They died not from starvation but from the diseases it brought with it. We therefore commemorate not only those from the majority but also those who died attempting to bring relief, often in opposition to the broader philosophies of their political tradition. The picture is complex and at this stage it is futile to apportion blame. We should examine why this natural disaster became a catastrophe of truly historic proportions.

In the House of Commons in 1846, Daniel O'Connell, who was coming to the end of his long political career, appealed to the Whig government about the Famine. He said:

Ireland is in your hands. If you do not save her she cannot save herself. I solemnly call on you to recollect that one-quarter of her population will perish unless you come to her relief.

We know his appeal went unheeded. By the end of the Famine one million people had died from starvation and disease and another million had fled or were about to flee Ireland to escape the catastrophe.

As Minister of State responsible for development co-operation, I say the best way we can commemorate the Famine is by what we do today in response to equivalent disasters. The important difference in today's world is that remedies are much more available than they were in the Ireland of the 1840s and 1850s. It is possible today to respond rapidly. In foreign policy terms we must see where equivalent disasters are likely to arise, what we do in that context and how we play our part in alleviating and preventing them. If we can move from disaster relief to disaster prevention, it will be a major step forward in the history of mankind.

The Irish aid programme will this year spend £89 million of taxpayers' money, the highest ever figure, in overseas development assistence, through a variety of mechanisms: international organisations like UNICEF; the Irish bilateral aid programme in our six target countries in Africa; Irish NGOs like GOAL, Concern and Trócaire, and a variety of others. In this year of commemoration, for many Irish people that programme has become the symbol of what we do, as we recall what happened to our ancestors as recently as 150 years ago. It is in many ways a fitting memorial to the people who died or left Ireland during the Famine.

We have to look beyond simply increasing the amount of overseas development assistance. I am a very strong proponent of increasing ODA and I will be making strong pleas to the Minister, Deputy Quinn, to do so again next year. However, even if we were to treble our ODA contribution, there are other substantial contributions which we can make, because of our history, to the alleviation and prevention of famine and disaster.

One area which we ought to address is the great risk in terms of future disasters and catastrophes at the moment which is, undoubtedly, the international arms trade in nuclear weapons or, more usually, conventional armaments. In Rwanda, an exceptionally fertile country capable of producing three crops a year, there is genocide caused by internal civil war and strife. Many people of my age are broadly familiar with Sierra Leone as they heard in school about the work of Irish missionaries there. That country is now largely being laid waste through a mindless civil war where relatively young children are armed with AK-47s and various other kinds of hardware. Nobody has been able to produce a reason for the war yet which is laying waste to the country, completely disrupting agriculture causing many deaths and causing hundreds of thousands of people to become refugees. There are other humanitarian crises in Somalia and Sudan.

We could go on a Cook's tour of various spots in the world where people are dying in large numbers, where relief agencies are working overtime and where volunteers from many countries, including Ireland, are giving their time and services. In many of those areas, the key factors are local traditional, civil, ethnic, tribal tensions, which are totally aggravated by the availability of large-scale armaments and other kinds of military hardware.

As a neutral country which is not allied to any military bloc, we can have a voice in relation to the international armaments trade. We must remember that 85 per cent of the weapons in the world are sold by the five permanent members of the Security Council. We must seek in a realistic way to be a voice for arms control and reduction and for preventative diplomacy. That is a very important contribution which we can make, as, because of our tradition of missionaries working in the developing world and, in more recent decades, of volunteers and experts working on various aspects of the Irish programme, many people in the developing world see Ireland as having a particular role to play. We also, as Deputy Michael McDowell said, have the same role to play at home where we have our own crisis to resolve. However, if we wish to commemorate and learn from the lessons of the Famine, we must see what we can do to assist in equivalent disasters in the world, now and in the future.

There is another area which we need to address and we will have an opportunity next week to do so at the meeting of the World Bank. Yesterday, we had a discussion in the Dáil on the staggering number of hungry people in the world. Many Deputies from all parties spoke about the difficulty of readjusting Third World economies to allow for local food production and local markets and some system of sensible international food assistance which does not completely undermine the local market. It is extremely difficult to interfere with markets. If grain is brought into an area with a food deficiency, that may undermine local independence and self-reliance in terms of food production.

At the same time, the primary objective is to keep people alive in a period of intense food shortage. However, it must be done sensitively. The international community must refine the instruments by which it gives food aid and similar types of assistance. Perhaps the best way for the international community to do that is to relieve all or part of the debt burden of many of the poorest, least developed countries which are staggering under the burden of debt.

Over the last ten or 15 years, the World Bank, the IMF and the other Bretton Woods institutions have undertaken and sponsored a programme of reform, called structural adjustment, in many African countries. Many elements of the structural adjustment programmes are well justified and well thought out. Where I part company with them is where, in a bid to reduce Government deficits in developing countries, the main, soft targets have been social investment in areas such as health, education, sanitation and water supplies.

Much of the impact of that reduction in social investment has been borne by women. A large number of Irish delegates recently attended the women's conference in Beijing. A consistent message from the participants was that if the recipe of the IMF and the World Bank is to effectively limit access to education by the poorest people on earth, particularly women, what will we reap in 20 years' time in terms of the ability of the population of many developing countries to cope with the vast changes to which we are all subjected, such as the changes in technology? No economy is immune from the technological revolution. If we limit investment in education in developing countries, simply on the basis of a standardised World Bank prescription in relation to Government deficit, we are potentially sowing the seeds of future disasters.

What happened to landless labourers and smallholders in the Irish Famine? When the crop failed people sold what they had to buy food. When they had sold everything they no longer had the capacity to generate an income, which was the basis of their destitution. It was at that point that parents had to decide whether to let their children into the workhouse, to go into the workhouse themselves or to avail of a landlord's scheme and emigrate to America or another colony. It is the reduction of a person to a total incapacity to function, in however limited an economic way which is the point of disaster for families in famines.

Prior to independence, India and Bangladesh regularly experienced famine. However, in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, direct political steps were taken to investigate all food shortages and to require the regional governments to report. India had a free press and when there was a serious food shortage there was a demand for a response and investigation. Gradually, although there are many people in India who are undernourished, the history of India up to the 1960s, which was associated with widespread food shortages from time to time in certain provinces, has come to be replaced by an India which, while it may need food aid when there are food shortages, has a system of help which it can put in place to get food to the most needy.

A similar picture emerges if we look at the history of Ethiopia in recent decades. At the time of Live Aid there was the most intense drought in Ethiopia, but there was also a civil war raging. Food was used as a weapon of politics and repression. The political situation in Ethiopia has changed dramatically. In recent years there have been severe droughts again in Ethiopia, but there has been substantial change. There is now an accountable Government, a press that is relatively free and a system of reporting food shortages. In addition, the roads are open, so it is possible to get convoys of food from one area to another. As a consequence, the experience of famine is not what it was during the years of intense political and military repression. In looking at famine nowadays we must try to see where we can intervene and where we can use our offices as a small country with our history. With regard to the commemoration of the Famine, we must ask the question why we did not remember the one hundredth anniversary? In a sense it is a tribute to our general well-being, that we now feel free to remember what we did not feel free to remember when we were doing less well economically. What is good about the commemoration is that many areas are compiling and recollecting their own history.

On the issue of the divisions in Irish society, I agree with those who make the point that the Famine should not be used as an excuse for historial justification, almost in a tribal sense. We should not use the language of winning, of victors and losers, of who is responsible or who is not responsible. We should look, as compassionately and carefully as possible, at the history. For example, if one looks at the history of the labour movement in the UK in the same period and looks at different food shortages experienced in parts of the UK then, one will see that the response was no less callous because it was partly determined by the iron law of politics, of Government non interference.

If we are to recollect and recapture our history, we must capture all of the history of the Famine. This includes those who helped and those who answered the pleas of Irish people as well as those who, within the Irish community, regardless of religion, responded and sought to bring help. We must remember this, as well as remembering those who, largely based on political decisions, decided it was impossible to respond. The best memorial to the victims of the Irish Famine is in how we conduct ourselves in the world today as a small country with this history.

If find it very difficult to stomach, having studied the literature extensively over the summer recess, people suggesting that in some way we should enter into a dialogue of national breast-beating and forgiveness for what happened 150 years ago. From my reading, I was left with a feeling of deep anger and hurt. I know where the blame lies, and where it lies squarely. This is a reasonable, responsible debate, but we should not be in the business of sanitising Irish history 150 years after the event to suit what is happening in contemporary Irish history or in contemporary Irish terms.

This period in Irish history must be faced up to and the truth must be told about it. I agree with Deputy Michael McDowell, and others, that we are not in the business of apportioning blame, but for goodness sake let us not forget from where the problem emanated, which was, beginning and ending, with our then colonial masters. Let us make no mistake about it.

This is not a contentious debate and I do not wish to go down that road on this occasion. However, in the recent past we have heard much about the revisionists in Irish history and of an attempt to revise Irish history. Historians have recently taken up this very emotive subject and attempted to sanitise Irish history and to engage in a form of hysterical revisionism which is not acceptable to me or to my party. One cannot rewrite history and undo what was done.

I wish to endorse the cross-party comments by my party leader, Deputy Ahern, and by the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Doyle, on the work of the National Famine Commemoration Committee. I pay particular tribute to Deputy Doyle. She has done much work on the committee. I also pay tribute to my colleague, Deputy Kitt, under whose aegis the committee was first established on 4 May 1994.

The committee has important tasks, not the least of which is to advise the Government on how to commemorate a very painful period of history. However, I hope that its work will have a more enduring significance and act as a blueprint for how we may mark historical episodes of this kind in the future. Time was when we remembered the milestones of our history in a summary way. We issued stamps or held once off exhibitions which, once over were largely forgotten. In this way our commemorations often became exercises which were concerned more with marking the event per se than with examining the broader issue that the events raised. Very often they served to deepen the biases as the events of history were presented in a narrow and specific way.

In a sense all of this has been challenged by the anniversary of the great Famine and for that we are grateful. This is all the more reason why we should mark it in an appropriate way, in a way that will present the episode itself openly and honestly but also in a way that can teach us something about ourselves and our priorities as a society and as a nation.

The facts and figures of the period are well known. The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Doyle, outlined them in her very helpful speech. There was death on an unprecedented scale as a result of sickness and want, and emigration to Britain and America, again at an unprecedented rate. Between 1840 and 1850 the population of Connaught fell by as much as 30 per cent, and that of Leinster by 15 per cent. Approximately one million people emigrated between 1846 and 1851 and at least as many again during the 1850s. By any standards, therefore, the Famine was a devastating period in our history. It left scars, not only in Ireland, but wherever Irish men and Irish women settled. It is fair to say that these scars continue to fester and to remain unhealed in the national psyche.

Indeed, it is only recently that historians are beginning to assess the Famine under all its chapter headings and to present it in a more dispassionate way. Many of us read the most durable books. For example, there are those who read many years ago The Great Hunger by Mrs. Cecil Woodham-Smith, published in 1962, and have read it recently, together with the collection of essays published by Professor Dudley Edwards and T. Desmond Williams in 1956 under the title The Great Famine: Studies in Irish History, 1845-1852. I understand that Professor Theodore Mooney was involved in the compilation of this tract.

These books were important during their time but the story of how they came to be written is intriguing. I recently read an essay by Professor Cormac Ó Gráda from UCD on this subject. This essay was drawn from recently released papers and shows how the then Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, had intended the Edward-Williams volume as a suitable commemoration of the centenary of the great Famine in 1945. The fact that the volume did not appear until 1956 is an interesting story in itself and one which Professor O Gráda tells with great ease. However, for non-historians like me it sheds an interesting light on how historians differed on where the stress should be laid or, perhaps more properly, should not be laid in tackling this very emotive topic. It also discusses how politicians of all parties reacted to the exercise and how they understood the wider and more public role of history writing in Ireland at that time.

Professor Ó Gráda seems to suggest that we must present a complete and total picture of the Famine. The two books to which I referred tilted one way or the other. The Edward-Williams volume was described by one reviewer as merely presenting "a version of Irish history which downplayed the tragic dimension of Ireland's historical experience". Mr. de Valera was not very impressed with the volume as it did not include an analysis of the appalling conditions endured by the people of his home village of Bruree during the Famine. The emphasis placed by Mrs. Cecil Woodham-Smith is evident from the title of the book "The Great Hunger".

Against this background, I hope the Famine Commemoration Committee will present a total picture of the Famine. I believe that is what the Minister is striving to achieve but it may prove difficult. In this regard I welcome the committee's historical research project which involves a detailed examination of the records of nine poor law unions and will build a view of the Famine from the bottom up by focusing on localities, villages and individuals. It is only on the basis of local studies that a complete and honest picture can be drawn. I hope this kind of enterprise will not stop with the Famine but will lead to similar studies at local and regional level. This kind of activity has an obvious commercial aspect and, as my party spokesperson on Tourism and Transport, it would be remiss of me not to refer to this. However, some people might regard it as obscene to bring commercialism into this project. Nevertheless it enables a community to have a clearer sense of its identity and of developments over time.

The project will help to qualify the generalisations often made about the Famine. Sometimes these generalisations are made not as a result of research or reading but to serve a political purpose. In this instance politics and history are separate and we must not allow our view of Britain, whatever that may be — my view of Britain in regard to this espisode in our disturbed history is well known — to inform how we interpret British policy during the period of the great Famine. That policy was terrible, abject, a failure and anger making and many generations later I still feel angry about what happened to our people at that time. This is an emotive issue but if we are to present a full and honest picture of the period of the great Famine then we must reassess not only how and why it developed but how it was treated by the Administration at the time.

John Mitchell may have laid the blame for the Famine at England's door and some historians, historical revisionists, may have since criticised this view as too simplistic. However, one cannot reject Mitchell's comment as a kind of nationalist propaganda or mantra. Like the domestic history of the Famine, it may be uncomfortable to confront this chapter of the period but confront it we must in a dispassionate way and, above all, in a way that is removed from one's views of Anglo-Irish relations.

Regardless of when and where it occurs, famine is a catastrophe, and while it cannot be blamed on anybody, in the narrower sense of that word, it can be avoided. Some historians tell us that what happened in Ireland during the 1840s was the result of dependence by the people on one staple crop, the potato. By definition this made the Irish peasant vulnerable and reduced him to a marginal position. When the blight occurred his vulnerability was exposed. This kind of economy still exists in some parts of the world.

When I was Minister for Foreign Affairs I witnessed the effects and brutality of famine at first hand in a number of countries. Ireland in its own small way, through the great help and assistance of our respected President, had a hand in bringing the famine in Somalia to an end with the consequent saving of many thousands of lives. I also saw how countries with many natural resources had been reduced to the most appalling conditions as a result of the failure of their staple crop.

This indicates the need to use our overseas development programme to encourage not only self-reliance but also a diversified culture in those parts of Africa which suffer now as Ireland did during the 1840s. This would be a real and living memorial. I am sure the Minister will discuss this issue with her estimable committee. It is important to give consideration to the erection of a suitable memorial in stone and in the meantime we should discuss the possibility of having living memorials which would be a help to contemporary society at home and abroad. While I commend the Government for its commitment, through the establishment of the committee, "to relieve famine and drought, of lasting effect, in selected overseas areas" this should be supplemented by targeting some of that money to encourage more economic diversification in selected areas.

This should also be central to our ODA policy and the policies of the UN agencies involved in relief work. I cannot over stress the importance of this and I ask the Minister of State to ensure that the ODA budget is not slashed when the Minister for Finance is looking for budget cuts in Departments. This would cast a very dark veil over the broader role and function of the Famine Commemoration Committee.

Has the Deputy's party reformed its view on slashing the ODA budget?

The Minister without interruption, please.

I was the Minister for Foreign Affairs who gave the ODA fund the kiss of life.

I agree but does the Deputy not remember what happened in 1988 and 1991?

It was this decision by me which ensured that the fund is now £81 million.

I accept that but——

Deputy Andrews without interruption, please.

It was I, on behalf of the then Government, who gave the ODA fund the necessary kick start.

Hear, hear.

Thank you. This commemoration raises the issue of how we look after the less well off sections of society. This brings me back to the living monument proposal to which I referred. These people have largely been ignored in the committee's brief and some might say that the Minister has been reticent to associate today's poor with the unfortunate people of the 1840s. However, the commemoration of the Famine should transcend this specific event and encourage us to ask how caring a society we are, whether we have adequate services in place to help the less well off in our society and, if not, why not. These questions are as relevant, if not more so, than some of the projects listed in the Minister's press release on the commemoration committee. This committee can have an important role to play over and above the immediate events which it commemorates. I wish it well and hope it will provide some answers. However, even if it cannot do this I hope it will not be afraid to ask the necessary questions.

Professor Ó Gráda's article "Completion of the Great Famine" provided a morale boost to historians in Earlsfort Terrace and led to a resolution to lay greater emphasis on 19th century studies there. In nearby Merrion Street the departmental file on the great Famine closed on a further request for funds from the Irish Committee for Historical Sciences, this time for a subvention towards a book on the Fenian era. The Government denied that request.

I hope the work of the current committee will provide a morale boost in all the areas it has targeted. However, I hope if it ends up displeasing the Government of the day it will not end up like its predecessor in the 1950s. In fairness I know it will not. I hope it will be renewed in some format and while I can already see a similar committee being formed to consider the 1798 rebellion in Wexford——

It is already formed and I am chairing it.

That is excellent. I am delighted about that. That gives it added status, greatness and hope. I hope this exercise will continue.

Deputy Andrews is looking at a living monument.

I wish the Minister and the committee well.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Costello.

I am sure that is in order and agreed.

It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate on this subject. I come from a part of the country which was probably one of the worst affected areas by An Gorta Mór, the great Famine. County Roscommon had the unique distinction of having one of the few, if not the only, landlord to be assassinated, Thomas Mahon of Strokestown demesne. While returning from a meeting of the Roscommon poor law guardians, a forerunner of our current local authority, he was assassinated by brigands as the official report stated, who set upon him on his way home because he adopted a policy on his estate, probably the most congested in the country, of subsidising his tenants to travel to the new world, the United States of America. Some would claim it was an enlightened policy. Rumour had it, and I understand it has now been dispelled as untrue, that the ships he hired were leaky and as a result many hundreds were lost at sea and that he pursued that policy out of his sense of purpose. It inspired some people to take his life. I make those points to illustrate that the Famine is very much etched in the consciousness of the people, particularly of the constituents I represent.

I disagree with some of the comments made by Deputy Andrews and agree with those made by Deputy McDowell. I would not accuse the British Government of the time of maliciously and purposefully set out to destroy the Irish race by way of the Famine. There are echoes of that allegation in Deputy Andrews's contribution. By their neglect they did it but above all by their belief in a system of laissez-faire politics. When Daniel O'Connell, the Member for Clare, raised what was called during the Famine years “distress in Ireland” with the then Prime Minister, Robert Peel, Mr. Peel read out the usual laissezfaire mantra and the fact that the British had to protect the benefits gained from the reform of the Corn Laws. There are plenty of such economic mantras spouted in this House and by those in the economic community today.

O'Connell said that one cannot reply or respond to the cry of want with quotes from political economy, and he was right. It is interesting to note how little the world has learned to this day as we respond to the cries of want from all over the Third World, particularly those from the African continent where millions of people live under the threat of famine because of lack of food security. Today for many millions of African people, like many in Ireland in the 1840s, the issue is not the amount of food produced that is available, but the amount of food one can afford to buy. That is the system under which we operate. Until something fundamental is done about that, we will not address the fundamentals of famine, food shortage and the misery it causes in those parts of the world where famine stalks the land.

It is a sobering thought that a little more than half the world's staple crops like food grains and root crops such as potatoes, sugar beet and so on goes directly for consumption for human beings and approximately 47 per cent of it goes towards animal feeds to produce meat, milk, eggs and so on. That is not a very efficient way of transforming one form of food into a more refined form, but that is what is happening. Less than half of what is grown on the land is used to feed animals. A large percentage of it is to used make non-edible products in industry and so on. It is a sobering thought that the world's food supply is ordered in that way. We have not learned a lot since the 19th century.

Returning to the points made by Deputies Andrews and McDowell, the British Government's response to famine in Ireland was basically the same as its response to famine on the mainland — a term that is out of fashion today. There were local famines in Scotland, Cornwall and in the 1840s in places as close to London as Kent which were related to crop failure. What was the response of the Government? It was the same as its response to the famine in Ireland, laissez-faire economics — it could not intervene. That was Thomas Malthus's idea of nature looking after a growing population where there is not a supply of food to feed it. That was rooted in the political and economic thinking of the time. Those people acted not out of ill will or malice, but as a result of the thinking developed at that time. While I lay blame at the doorstep of the system and the people who operated it and their ignorance, in another sense they are not to blame. While famines occurred in Scotland, Wales or areas of mainland England, 95 per cent of the population on the other island were not affected and did nothing about it. They did not raise it as an issue perhaps because of the old idea that the poor and the starving will always be with us.

The Irish Famine was a seminal political event and it had consequences which we do not often consider. If there were not an Irish Famine, probably such a large number would not have emigrated to America. There might never have been a Henry Ford in America because, I understand, one of his ancestors was a Famine emigrant. John Kennedy, who I believe was one of the better presidents of the United States in this century, might never have been president were it not for that his ancestors emigrated from County Wexford.

He might have been a TD representing Wexford in this House.

He might have been. The late President Woodrow Wilson's ancestors came from Ireland. They may have come from another tradition, but they emigrated from Ireland in or around the time of the Famine. We often forget that many of that class of Irish people who emigrated to the United States arrived there shortly before and immediately after the civil war at a time when the political culture of the United States was forming. They played a major role, and Tammany Hall was part of it, in the evolution of the American political culture. They made an enormous contribution to the development of a country which today is considered the greatest power in the world.

That contribution was made by and large by poor Irish emigrants who had probably two advantages. Most of them spoke English and they were highly politicised. They went to the United States more politicised than the Italians or Poles who did not speak English as a native language or the other Europeans who crowded into the United States at that time. They were more politicised because we were part of the Union and we took part in the democracy. We sent our representatives to Westminister — I know it was not a perfect system of election — and we were part of a very live political system. That tradition was brought by Irish emigrants to America and practised by them.

One could say a vacuum was created which allowed a new political system to be formed and they were the people who did that. It involved a lot of "big city bosses" type politics, much of which we would decry here but that political development owes much to the Irish emigrant who travelled to the United States at that time.

The same could be said about Australia. The tens of thousands of people who emigrated there made a tremendous impact on that country. A new political culture was formed there also. Thousands of people also emigrated to the great industrial cities in the north of England, including Michael Davitt and his parents. The people who emigrated to England did not have the same impact there as those who emigrated to Australia and the United States. They remained very much an underclass and did not have any great political impact on the country.

I want to pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, for her work as chairperson of the Famine commemoration committee since it was established earlier this year. She approached the task with great imagination and has done an enormous amount of work which increases awareness of the Famine. We should not be ashamed about the Famine in the way we were at the time of the 100th anniversary in 1947. Hardly a word was spoken about it at the time and a sense of shame prevailed. We have grown up since then and the Minister of State is to be complimented on her approach to this issue.

I compliment also the many groups throughout the country who commemorated the Famine this summer. In my own village of Frenchpark in County Roscommon, the Hyde Summer School, one of the first to be established here, commemorated the Famine. We established the first summer school on the Famine and many distinguished speakers told us stories such as the one involving Queen Victoria who, because she had donated £10,000, a £20,000 donation from the Sultan of Turkey could not be accepted because it was a greater amount than that being offered by the Queen. We heard many other anecdotes, all of which were very interesting. Such stories helped us to take a fresh look at the Famine.

I wish to refer to a unique institution which is the result of a farsighted enterprise by a businessman in my constituency. I want to pay tribute to Mr. Jim Callery who established the Strokestown Famine Museum from private resources and its curator, Luke Dodd, who developed it to what it is today. The Leader of the Opposition spoke movingly about the museum and the atmosphere that permeates the old stables courtyard in which it is located. There is almost something forbidding about it. The way it weaves together the story of the Famine with families that have occurred in modern times is excellent. The establishment of that museum is a wonderful achievement on the part of private enterprise. The museum has been very well funded by official sources, including the European Union, but it is the product of the vision of one or two people and they are to be complimented.

I regret my time has run out as there were many other matters to which I wished to refer including the food shortage throughout the Third World, a pet subject of mine, but that will have to wait for another day.

I thank Deputy Connor for sharing his time with me. I welcome this debate and congratulate the Minister of State on the wide-ranging programme of events she has outlined. I compliment also her predecessor, Deputy Kitt, the original chairperson of the National Famine Commemoration Committee. I welcome the fact that the commemoration has been extended to cover the years 1845-50. Effectively, it will be a five year commemoration from 1995 to the year 2000. That is appropriate because it was during that time that most of the devastation took place.

The Famine was a particular tragedy, irrespective of where the blame is laid. In the minds of the people the blame is laid very much at the feet of those who were the rulers. It is a tragedy also in terms of the deaths that occurred. People died at home, in hedges, in hovels and in ditches. In my native county of Sligo the countryside was the hardest hit. The poorhouses and the Famine graves are visual evidence and a legacy of the past both in physical and psychological terms.

Hundreds of thousands of people emigrated on the coffin ships during the Famine. Images of Ellis Island in the United Sates and Hungry Hill in Ring-send, where people waited for the boats to arrive, spring to mind when we talk about the Famine. Ireland's future was soured by this event. The legacy of the Famine has affected us psychologically. One could say there has been psychological devastation of the Irish persona. A change of values occurred and the behaviour of an entire people was utterly changed as a result of the traumatic effects of the Famine.

Another important development which took place was of a political nature. There was a renewed determination among the people that the structures which gave rise to the Famine would be broken. From that point we can trace the determination of a people to gain its independence. The Fenians made a militant attempt to break the Union, we had home rule, the Land League, the Gaelic League, the various cultural and Irish language developments and, finally, the independence movement which originated through Sinn Féin. That eventually produced modern Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and, indeed, aspects of the Labour organisation, the Irish Citizens' Army, James Connolly, etc., which are all part of that legacy also. One could say the independence we achieved in 1922 came about as a result of the Famine and we who are Members of this House are, to a lesser or greater degree, products of that tragic event in our past.

The Famine precipitated a haemor-rhage of people from Ireland who did not have any choice but to flee the country to survive. Approximately 43 million people in the United States claim Irish ancestry. We must be thankful to countries like the United States who accepted the weary, downtrodden and famished people arriving on their shores. Australia and the United Kingdom also were recipients of large numbers of Irish people. One third of the population of Australia claim Irish ancestry. The focus of Irish emigration, which had been largely on the continent in previous years, had shifted towards the western world.

It is now time for us to unite the diaspora. The President came into this Chamber not very long ago and spoke about the great diaspora and the linking of the Irish nation in all its facets throughout the world. It is largely because of the Famine that so many people of Irish descent live abroad. The Minister is providing scholarships for the United States and Third World countries and that will create an interesting link with Ireland, where the problem began. We were an oppressed people. Our people went abroad and became minority ethnic groups but they have established themselves very effectively. They retain the folk memories and a tremendous nostalgia and wish to link up with Ireland.

The proposal in our programme for Government to allocate three Seanad seats for our emigrants is an excellent one. I would like to see them divided up as follows: one to the US, one to Australia and one to the UK where there is the greatest concentration of Irish emigrants. In that way we would give a substantial political dimension to their Irishness so that they could participate in the domestic life of the country even though they live abroad. There is now a hunger among Irish emigrants for information about Ireland, a hunger to participate as part of the Irish nation. It would be in our own interests to cater for that need because many of those people are anxious to invest in Ireland. They have a particular sympathy for Ireland and have memories of their homeland and its origins.

I welcome the debate and congratulate the Minister on the wide range of activities she is preparing for this commemoration. It is appropriate that we do not neglect to commemorate the great Famine, An Gorta Mhór, as we did in the 1940s and that we commemorate it properly on this 150th anniversary.

I welcome the debate. I join other speakers in complimenting the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, on the work she has done in commemoration of the Famine. I thank her also for hosting a reception for a committee of the Council of Europe, the Committee for Migration and Refugees, a committee with which, perhaps, not many Members are familiar. This committee, of which my colleague Deputy Mattie Brennan is a member, was interested in the fact that we were commemorating The Famine. Deputy Brennan invited the committee to Ireland and to Sligo at the end of August and early September. The committee was impressed by the Strokestown Famine Museum. It was appropriate that my colleague, the Leas-Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Senator Brian Mullooly from Roscommon, was able to host a reception for the committee.

I wish to refer to some of the points made about the Famine. It was disappointing that we did not commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Famine. In regard to apportioning blame the Irish bishops' pastoral which was read at Masses last Sunday week got to the heart of the whole question of famine whether it happens in Ireland or elsewhere. It said: where famine happens it does so largely as a result of human action and human inaction. That sums up what happened in Ireland in 1845-47. What happened then still holds true today. We might say, and rightly so, that the British did not have advanced technology in the 1840s to predict crop failure. Neither did they have the technology to point out where there was likely to be a food scarcity. The sad fact is that action was not taken to prevent the Famine. Unfortunately in Rwanda, Burundi and in the Sub-Saharan region there is still a famine problem. There are 700 million people who do not have enough to eat each day, 40 million people die each year from hunger and hunger related diseases and one-third of all children in Africa are malnourished. We should remember the ongoing problem of famine as we commemorate the great Irish Famine. There was a suggestion that a famine fund would be set up by the Department of the Taoiseach.

I compliment the Minister of State on the projects she announced. The four projects are: storage silos for grain in Ethiopia; a potato and maize seed project in Eritrea by the Carlow-based Self-Help International organisation; research on blight resistant potatoes at the International Potato Centre in Mexico; and a sanitation project in Lesotho. These projects are excellent and worth supporting. I hope the projects as well as the scholarships announced will be of benefit.

Yesterday we discussed the food aid convention for 1995. While the overseas development aid budget increased significantly we discovered that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has reduced its contribution by £20,000 compared with last year. That is disappointing. Perhaps the Minister of State will discuss the matter with her colleague, Deputy Yates. The point was made yesterday that the 4,000 tonnes of food which is Ireland's share of the ten million tonnes is not normally given by way of food but by way of cash. Our contribution to overseas development aid has been reduced while the price of cereals has increased. Because our contribution is in cash that is all the more reason we should increase our contribution to the food aid convention. The contribution estimated for 1995 was £620,000 but the actual figure was £564,000 which was less than the 1994 figure. I make that point in passing. I am aware the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has other projects under the food aid Vote.

The location of the memorial, which the Minister announced during the year. may prove divisive. The Minister suggested — perhaps she is sorry now — it should be at a major port. Deputies from the west have all made the point that there was a 30 per cent fall in population in Connacht which suffered the worst effects of the Famine. The Western Development Partnership Board said it would be ironic if the proposed memorial was located anywhere other than in the west. They went on to say that some memorials on the east coast might be associated with emigration and gave the good example of the museum in Cobh, County Cork.

Because of the severe effects of the Famine in the west, seven county managers in the region have submitted a proposal to the Department of the Taoiseach with a request that the Famine memorial be located in the west. The Minister is aware of this and will, I understand, announce the location before Christmas. I hope she will give serious consideration to the proposal made by the Western Development Partnership Board.

I referred earlier to overseas development aid. I agree with what the Minister of State said concerning the target countries. It would be symbolic to commemorate the Famine by increasing our involvement in the overseas assistance programme. What I find totally contradictory is the political structures in very poor countries that allow them to buy arms when they are unable to feed their people. The European Union and the international community have a role to play in this regard. European countries have sold arms on occasions to the two warring factions in African countries, thereby prolonging the war. We have called on the European Union to ban totally the sale of arms to countries where there is conflict. We have already had a useful discussion at our committee meetings on banning the use of landmines. The landmines, which can be bought for as little as a few pence, not only cause millions of pounds of damage but claim the lives of people every day. We should apply a ban on all arms similar to what applies under the convention on landmines which the Government has signed.

Many countries have introduced a system for giving votes to emigrants. The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography proposed a system whereby a person with a passport from their country would be allowed to vote. I hope the Government will look at that system. I have no objection to respresentation in the Oireachtas by emigrants but the Government went about it in a very cumbersome way and I was not surprised at the decision to defer the referendum because it had not been fully thought out. How do you organise emigrants in Australia, the United States or nearer home in Europe and Britain to vote for Senators or, if emigrants from Australia were elected, how would they come to the Seanad to make their contribution? Even at this late stage I hope the Government will retain the names of recent emigrants on the register, as other European countries do, and allow them to vote in general elections. The Government has not initiated a debate, published the proposed wording of the referendum or set a date for the proposed referendum on votes for emigrants. I had hoped this would be done as it is a very real way of remembering emigrants and commemorating the Famine. Thousands of millions of people have left these shores since the Famine and we all know from our correspondence that emigrants want a vote. I hope the Government will come up with a simple way of doing that.

The Minister is aware that the Famine is being commemorated in the regions and I hope the Department of the Taoiseach and the Minister's committee will help the local organisers in every way possible. I attended the ceremony in St. Mary's Church in Tuam at which the Minister was present. Archbishop Eames gave an excellent sermon on how we could learn from what had happened and face the challenges of the future. I particularly liked his reference to the vision, the courage and the Christian understanding we should have of the bitterness of the past. This excellent ceremony was broadcast on radio.

We could commemorate by helping associations dealing with emigrants. Since 1984 DÍON has provided funding for emigrants in Britain. Grants totalling £500,000 were divided among 36 groups in 1994 and I hope that funding will continue this year. There are also emigrant groups in the United States and I am aware that Members have been lobbied by emigrants in the Boston emigration centre. Last year, grants totalling £150,000 were given to 11 organisations in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco and I hope this will continue.

FÁS has information on employment services in other European Union countries and there is a transfrontier committee between the British and Irish authorities. I hope this will continue. The feedback I get from emigrant organisations is that pre-emigration services should be funded.

Was it the Deputy's intention to share with his colleague?

Yes, I wanted to give some of my time to Deputy Mattie Brennan.

Acting Chairman

I regret there are only three minutes remaining.

I would like the Government to provide funding for those who propose to emigrate as emigrants who are well counselled and well informed do not get into the difficulties that those who leave without that type of advice experience.

Acting Chairman

Deputy Finucane is happy to give Deputy Brennan five minutes of his time should he require it.

I brought the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography to Dublin and Sligo a few weeks ago. They were delighted with their visit to Ireland and were very impressed with the Minister of State, Deputy Avril Doyle whom they met at Dublin Castle and afterwards at a reception in Government Buildings. I thank Deputy Doyle for that. We had a wonderful few days in Dublin and an even better time in Sligo.

This year is the 150th anniversary of the great Famine in Ireland which began in 1845 and lasted for a number of years. It was a massive catastrophe. In 1845 the potato was the staple food of the vast majority of the people. When the crop failed because of blight, over one million people died of hunger and disease. Over a million people emigrated and many died on the coffin ships on the way to the United States.

I lived as an emigrant in the US for four years and there I met many people of Irish descent whose forefathers were victims of the Famine. Most of our people did very well in the US; some of the great political families there, for example, the Kennedys, emigrated from Ireland during the Famine.

Nearly four years ago the Taoiseach at the time, Deputy Albert Reynolds, appointed me to represent this country a committee of the Council of Europe. I regarded that appointment as the highlight of my political career. My membership enabled me to travel widely, to make many friends, meet many wonderful and gifted people, get involved in discussions and make recommendations to solve the problems of migrants, refugees etc. I brought the committee to Ireland and asked that the great Famine in Ireland be included on its agenda, and the Minister of State, Deputy Avril Doyle, addressed a meeting of the committee.

Refugees today are probably no different from those of the Famine days. However, there is more media coverage of their plight and, as a result, they get more support. That was not the case 150 years ago, but quite a number of things could have been done had we only realised there was plenty of cattle, which were not killed, and money was freely available. So many Irish people should not have died. Unfortunately they did, but many later did well in the United States, Great Britain, Australia and other countries.

The Western Development Partnership Board is anxious that the proposed national memorial to the victims of the great Famine be located in the west. I fully support the board's suggestion because the worst effects of famine were witnessed in the west. It would be ironic were the proposed memorial to be located elsewhere. One can see the potato ridges on the mountainsides in the west which have not been cultivated since the Famine days.

I thank my colleagues, Deputies Kitt and Finucane for giving me their time. I am delighted to have been involved in this debate.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I compliment my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Avril Doyle, on her many initiatives to commemorate The Famine. It is fitting that we commemorate this event, even though it was a sad event. People of Irish extraction whose forefathers left this country at the time of The Famine have a tremendous affinity with Ireland which stems from the historical perspective from which they came. The Famine events will be commemorated not only throughout Ireland but in many parts of the world.

Recently there was a very interesting seminar in Roscommon. We visited Strokestown House which was impressive and there we read an analysis of what took place during The Famine. The stories make grim reading.

Previous speakers focused on the effects of The Famine in the west. However, The Famine affected all parts of the country. An invitation has been extended to the Minister of State to visit the Knockfierna site in County Limerick to get a perspective on the effects of The Famine in that area. I want to take the opportunity, because one rarely gets the chance, to congratulate Mr. Pat Donovan and the Knockfierna heritage committee who, ten years ago took an interest in this area and established a rambling house which has been extremely successful in showing aspects of Irish life in the past particularly music, dancing etc. This has been a popular focal point for tourists who want to capture what is natural in this country instead of the artificial material often served up to them.

In recent years, even before so much attention was focused on the Famine, the heritage committee had already begun to try to recreate the effects of the Famine in their area. They have successfully reconstructed and restored nine of the stone houses which were abandoned on Knockfierna Hill, a small hill outside Ballingarry, and have effectively captured how they looked at the time of the Famine. The lazy beds where the potatoes were blighted have also been reconstructed. This open air exhibition simulates a village area of the time of the Famine and demonstrates the effects of the Famine on it. The area is now sparsely populated, but in 1841 it had a population of 629 people. Ten years later the population had fallen to 465 people and many houses lay empty and desolate.

The committee has written to the Minister — I am sure the Minister has been assailed by groups from all parts of the country indicating they would like their place to be the national commemoration centre. It would be remiss of me if I did not compliment the Knockfierna heritage committee on their efforts. It is a voluntary committee which has taken an interest in the Famine. I hope at some time in the near future the Minister will have a chance to look at its achievements.

Our attention has recently focused mainly on the Third World, particularly Africa where we have seen the effects of famine. Often there is a knee-jerk reaction to famine sending food and money to famine areas. It is in that context that I pay tribute to a mostly voluntary organisation called Bothar formed in 1991, the headquarters of which is in Limerick. It is pleasing to note the attention that has focused on the operations of that organisation. In two recent editions of "Glenroe", groups of school children were shown collecting funds to get a farmer to supply an in-calf heifer for the scheme. Many people may not be aware of the achievements of Bothar, a laudable venture, formed by various farmers, churchmen and businessmen under the chairmanship of T. J. Maher, a man who is well respected for his contribution to politics and farming. Its theme is very simple, namely, the supply of in-calf heifers to selected families in Africa. It originally concentrated on Uganda. They prepare the African farmer in advance and ensure that his family receive sustenance and food on an ongoing basis as a result of getting the animal. Another member of the local community is then selected to receive the first calf from that heifer and elephant grass is grown specifically to feed the animals. It is interesting to note that originally where an African cow produced approximately one litre of milk per day, an Irish cow is now producing 20 to 30 litres per day.

Much attention has recently focused on the export of live animals. On Tuesday last 70 animals were flown to Uganda and the organisers of the scheme have discovered that flying is the most effective, cheapest and least stressful way of transporting animals to Africa. In the four years since its establishment the scheme has exported 482 in-calf heifers, 141 dairy goats and a number of artificial insemination straws. It is a good example of a way to improve the livelihoods of those in the Third World, rather than the knee-jerk reactions of the past of sending money or supplying food that does not reach the people for which it is intended. The organisers of the scheme originally concentrated on Uganda but because of its success they are now operating in Tanzania and the Cameroon and hope to shortly send a number of dairy goats to Poland. The scheme is an effective example of how we could deal with the position in the Third World and I compliment those involved.

This morning I received a copy of an article published in the Limerick Chronicle of 1847 from Michael Fitzgerald, the Archdeacon in the Knockfierna area which makes very sad reading. One wonders why it was all so necessary. It is sad to reflect on poor people who in inadequate clothing had to break stones on the side of a hill for one-fifteenth or one-sixteenth of a penny while every one appeared helpless in regard to providing food.

In a speech in Strokestown a journalist focused on the manner in which the media in Britain reacted to The Famine, particularly that satirical paper, Punch. It caricatured the Irish people and probably started the “shoneenism” attitude to Irish people but failed to reflect the suffering of the people. It produced very misguided journalism that did not take cognisance of the serious position here. When one reflects on the history of British invasions and so on, is it not ironic that a famine that was unnecessary caused far more devastation than any of the British invasions? I could read at length from the article sent to me by Archdeacon Fitzgerald, but it would make very morbid reading.

While it may be strange and inverse, the focus on The Famine has brought back a sense of Irishness to many. It is only right to reflect on what our predecessors had to endure at that time. In an inverse way, as President Robinson stated recently, many of the diaspora around the world owe their origins to our predecessors who left this country in coffin ships and succeeded in other countries. That is what makes the diaspora so proud of their Irish identity.

I am pleased to participate in this important debate. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on the difficulties this country endured. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Doyle, and her officials on the great work done to commemorate the Famine. I also thank her predecessor, my colleague, Deputy Tom Kitt, for his initial work on the commemorative events.

The great Irish Famine of the 1840s was the first fully documented and recorded natural disaster affecting a western country in recent historical times. Since it was not known at the time that the blight was caused by the parasitic fungus, phytophthora infestan, the many desperate, though well intended control measures proposed in the 1840s and 1850s, were mainly ineffective. The most vulnerable section of Irish society, the two million landless labourers who existed almost entirely on the potato, were practically eliminated as a class by The Famine.

In the winter of 1846-47 conditions caused by The Famine necessitated that formation of a public welfare system to cope with the millions needing assistance. Ineffectual in the main, the system was left to be funded by local entities since, though Ireland was considered to be part of the United Kingdom, its Government did not consider it a region for which it had any responsibilities, particularly human ones. The officials in charge of the welfare programmes believed in the natural superiority of the rich over the poor, Anglo-Saxon over Celt and Protestant over Catholic. They failed to see the poverty as arising from social inequities or exploitation by the wealthy landholders. In their view the Famine was a natural check on population growth, a sad reflection of the time.

As a result of that view most relief took the form of manual labour or confinement in prisonlike workhouses. By March 1847, the Famine had led to desperate conditions. Eye witnesses told of corpses lying unburied on the streets for days. Entire families were found dead in their cabins. Press reports of these and even more terrible events prompted emergency collections throughout the country and other areas, a serious reflection on the responsibility of those in charge at the time. Despite the increase in the death rate in 1847, due to epidemics as well as famine, funds were still withheld. The welfare system slowly expanded. The way we survived this dreadful trauma in our history shows that we are a resilient people. This could be compared to the resilience in respect of the Irish language which has had a bumpy ride over many generations. With its melodic and musical tone, it has managed to survive and given us a special identity. I hope it will become more widely used in a modern generation of more enlightened and better educated people.

On 10 September 1994 I was very pleased to have presided over the first Famine commemorative event which was held in my parish of Colemanstown, County Galway, the purpose of which was to acknowledge the special contribution made during the Famine by the Society of Friends. A Quaker commemoration Famine group was established locally. The Society of Friends provided vital food relief to the starving population and obtained much needed financial support for the improvement of the appalling conditions witnessed at the time. Largely inspired by this initiative and the leadership given by the Society of Friends, the United States of America was the first country to come to our assistance and provide relief on a large scale during those terrible years.

The west was badly affected by the Famine. Most of the native population lived on small farm holdings and was totally dependent on the potato crop for survival. I acknowledged what Deputy Brennan said. I live in a beautiful part of rural Ireland and the topography of the small hills surrounding my parish remains untouched.

According to the 1841 census, there were 1,418,859 people living in the province of Connacht, which broadly corresponds with the population of the city and county of Dublin today. The 1851 census returns show that the Famine had a devastating effect on the five western counties, the population of which decreased by almost one-third through death and emigration. When the potato crop failed small farmers and their families were destroyed. Without the help of the Society of Friends the consequences of the potato blight would have been even more catastrophic.

Commemorative events are being held under the direction of the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, and her committee both this year and next. I am delighted that the Minister of State said that the celebrations will be brought to a conclusion by holding a major event. It is important that this be done.

Similar events are being held in the United States and the United Kingdom. In this regard it is important that an event is held in Liverpool where, at the Merseyside docks, many of those who sailed in the dreadful coffin ships from Cobh were supposed to transfer to other ships which were to take them to the United States. Unfortunately, many died en route. There is an excellent museum in Merseyside which commemorates this event. There is a great bond between Irish people and the people of Liverpool where many third and fourth generation Irish families live. In the early 1990s I had the great pleasure to speak at the official opening of the Liverpool-Irish Society centre to mark its 25th anniversary. Perhaps the Minister of State would preside over an event in Liverpool to commemorate the Famine.

The Society of Friends comprises many wonderful families, some of whom are household names, tremendously successfull commercially, in that they head up many corporate entities. The purpose of the event over which I presided was to acknowledge the efforts of the Society of Friends in establishing the Quaker model farm in Colemanstown in the heart of east Galway to improve the living standards of those within the locality and the starving Irish in general. As I said on that occasion, many of us might not be around today were it not for the assistance offered by the Society of Friends to our forefathers at a dark and difficult time.

The Society of Friends also established a model farm in Athenry, in the main by the Goodbody family who are well known today. In 1902 they handed over to the State 640 acres of prime agricultural land which today marks the location of a thriving agricultural college. The Society of Friends carried out similar work in Ballina, County Mayo.

I am delighted that the Minister of State and her committee have decided to conduct research into this area. Bearing in mind that Connacht and the west in general lost much of its population through emigration, I ask the Minister of State to ensure a detailed study is conducted to assess the effect the Famine had on the province.

I endorse the request from the Western Development Partnership Board that the national Famine commermorative centre should be located permanently in the west, perhaps in Athenry agricultural college where comparisons could be drawn between agricultural methods at the time of the Famine and today. The commemorative centre could also be located at Colemanstown where the model farmyard is still in sound structural condition, although investment would be required. It has a major Ulster connection in that it was acquired by a highly successful Ulster family. Ballina and many other places could also be considered. It is important that the commemorative centre be located in the west to enable the modern generation understand the difficulties encountered by their forefathers. I hope the Minister of State and her committee will favourably consider this request, given the terrible effect the Famine had on the west.

I pay tribute to the Galway Great Famine Commemoration Committee established in 1991, the members of which have toured America, given lectures and raised funds for various events. It has received great support.

I pay tribute to the Irish Great Famine Committee established by Teagasc in 1992. I hope the Minister of State's committee will liaise with these organisations and ensure unity of purpose in having a commemorative period in modern history which will allow future generations to recognise, in a tangible way, the devastating effects of the Famine and the nation's resilience in surviving them. We are the beneficiaries of modern Ireland and are the fourth best fed nation in the world which says a lot for the standards we enjoy today.

I thank the Minister and her officials and wish the commemorative events every success.

I now call Deputy Broughan.

There was a general view that Deputy Sargent could speak for a few moments.

That is news to me.

I was hoping to speak.

Is the House agreeable to Deputy Treacy's time slot being completed by Deputy Moffatt and after that I will call Deputy Broughan? Agreed.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this issue. I thank the Minister for her approach to the commemoration and for selecting Ballina, County Mayo, for analysis. We will derive a great deal of knowledge about what happened in local regions from an analysis of the famine. I thank the Killala Diocesan Group, under the chairmanship of Jim Maguire, for the wonderful work and the research they are doing in the north Mayo region. I commend our friends in Northern Ireland who have come to the Heritage Centre in Enniscoe, Crossmolina and examined some aspects of what happened in Connaught/Ulster. This will have great relevance as times goes by.

Members mentioned the devastation in the west. One third of the population was lost. However, this is not a time to apportion blame. We must learn from what happened and analyse why it happened. Why were the people so dependent on the potato? How did politicians and landlords react? I hope these matters will be reassessed in a pragmatic manner and not with a view to blaming those who lived 150 years ago.

It will be interesting to look at different features of the Famine, for example, to see why the people were dependent on one variety of potato, what was done to prevent the blight and if it was successful in some areas and not in others. Those in the medical sphere will be interested in what caused the people to die. Revisionists will put their spin on what happened during that time, nevertheless it provides us with a great opportunity to see what happened to those who left the land and how successful they were when they went to America, Canada, Australia and Britain. It would be interesting to know how they react to famine in other countries.

The great Famine has coloured our thinking on famines in Africa and so on. The President did great work in Somalia. We realise what families can do to a nation and its people and it is important that we do whatever we can for those affected by famine.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to join my colleagues in marking the 150th anniversary of the great Famine, the most cataclysmic event in our history. The Minister stated that we need the catharsis of a commemoration which would fully recognise the terrible anguish and suffering this disastrous occurrence brought to our country. During the summer I read about the commemorations in 1945 by Eamon de Valera. They were low key because the people found it difficult to come to terms with the Famine.

Famine may be caused as a result of political, ideological or socio economic factors. At the conclusion of her speech the Minister asked why we have famine in the modern world. We are the fourth best fed country. It is an outrageous travesty that there should be famine in today's world. Overriding political issues caused the famine in Sudan where the Arab Muslim North attempted to hold the Christian South against its will. In Ethiopia a brutal communist regime sought to impose its will with absolute disaster. In Somalia a State regime fell apart. It was a political disaster to leave Rwanda and Burundi as separate countries when the Belgians left that part of Africa. Famines are caused by political incompetence, irresponsibility and grotesque errors. That is why, 150 years later, I seek to cast blame for the Irish Famine.

I agree with our great singer Sinéad O'Connor that the Famine was politically motivated. She is right to be so angry and express it in her art. We should be equally angry as we commemorate the awful death of one million of our ancestors and the forced flight of two million of them between 1845 and 1855. In The Sunday Business Post a few months ago Tom McGuirk correctly asked that there be a major memorial commemorating this dreadful event in our history. Although I agree with his request and with the Minister of State's proposals that we should initiate something along those lines, they tend to forget the fact that these Houses of the Oireachtas and this Republic constitute the true memorial of the Famine. When one studies Irish history, particularly if one has had the luck to do so at University College, Dublin under its President, Dr. Art Cosgrove, one inescapable fact emerges, that the Protestant elite lost its nerve when the whole Protestant-nationalist case degenerated into a sectarian melange in the seventeen nineties. Some 50,000 having died in the 1798 Rebellion, when there were terrible sectarian slaughters in many parts of the country, it remained inconceivable that the Irish nation would remain within a British polity.

One huge effect of the Famine was the driving force emanating from our relations across the Irish Sea and elsewhere to ensure absolutely that this would become a separate, independent nation. For example, it is no accident that in 1848 to 1849 the Young Irelanders, the successors of Thomas Davis, men like John Blake Dillon, John Mitchell and William Smith O'Brien at least endeavoured to strike against what they perceived as the political administration responsible for that disaster. A few years later, in America, the Irish Republican Brotherhood was founded which was to lead relentlessly to the new departure, the Parnellite movement, the land war, Michael Davitt's great national Land League, to the whole development of cultural nationalism which led ultimately to the events of 1916 to 1922.

Perhaps it was no accident that the pre-eminent leader of that time who served as a Member of this House, Eamon de Valera, had been born in America and returned to lead this country. This State constitutes that memorial which we must never forget, particularly since there are some who would adjure use to easily enter military alliances, to forego our currency and take the route of some super State in Europe. We must never forget what our ancestors suffered in the 1840s when another administration, deeply hostile to everything for which they stood, governed this country. The lesson to be learned from all of that is the very establishment of this independent Republic.

There were obvious socio-economic causes for the Famine, to which Deputy Sargent may allude later, occasioned by the huge demographic expansion, the early marriage system, the huge, growing numbers of cottiers and farm labourers, a key factor in all of which was the absentee landlord class, one reason being the political administration whipped from Dublin in 1800.

In the first year of the Famine, Robert Peel and the Tories, by purchasing food and implementing public works schemes, endeavoured to keep the mortality rate as low as possible. In 1846 when Lord John Russell and the ideological-driven Whigs took over — in some ways perhaps predecessors of the present Progressive Democrats Party — their policy was of no imports, of leaving everything to the market, laissez faire economics, encompassing all kinds of ludicrous rules and regulations, including the famous Gregory clause, under which, if one possessed one quarter of an acre of land, one would not obtain any relief under the Poor Law Union. There was the total disaster in the following year, 1847, when the potato crop was totally blighted. The manifestation of laissez faire capitalism, led by the English Whig Government, which provoked the total disaster — the imposition of all the reliefs on rates, particularly those of landlords who were doing their best in some parts of the country — was the coup de grace for so many of our tormented people.

It must also be remembered that, in a sense, this period was a political disaster also for the United Kingdom. A. J. P. Taylor said, writing about the 1920s, that there was a sense of sadness among the English upper classes as the Irish Free State withdrew. One could say that sense of sadness was inevitable following the terrible mishandling of the events of the 1840s. It cannot be doubted that had the Famine happened in Scotland, Wales or, say, Yorkshire, the response, even of a brutally ideological-Whig Government, would have been different, that more determined measures would have been taken to avert it.

It is ironic that one young Irishman who had been evacuated from his house, along with another 100,000 people, comprising some 20,000 families, was Michael Davitt who never forgot and always wanted to have a land system which would have served our people.

I know other Members have spoken about the massive rural depopulation. The population of our towns, despite the Famine, rose from 1.25 million to 1.5 million between the years 1850 and 1911 while the rural population fell from something approximating seven million to three million.

James Connolly, the founder of my party, writing at length about the causes of the Irish Famine in his great work Labour in Irish History, blamed it preeminently on the capitalist system. While it was a significant cause, there was also huge political responsibility as food continued to leave our shores.

I suppose all Members and others are interested in finding where their ancestors were located during those terrible days of the late 1840s. I know my paternal ancestors were in County Wex-ford, just outside New Ross, not too far from another famous emigrant family. Mine remained so that I stand here today. It was one of those parts of the country that did not suffer the devastation and horrors of the western counties and the region generally. My maternal ancestors came from west County Dublin and east County Meath, an area which, although it suffered somewhat, did not endure the intense suffering of our compatriots on the western seaboard.

It must be remembered that the key assistance which had such a huge impact on our country in a period within which some two million people left in a huge flight between 1845 and 1855 was the emigrant remittances sent home. Listening to a programme on the Famine I was interested to learn that in 1852 those emigrants already were sending home some £1.4 million, the equivalent nowadays of many hundreds of millions, demonstrating that they never forgot their fellow countrymen remaining here. Among them the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the radical republican tradition developed, leading ultimately to the foundation of this State.

We should remember the lessons learned from that era whenever we come within the grip of a huge super State over which we have little influence. When we form any liaisons with our European Union partners we should recall the traumas and difficulties suffered in that period.

I am enormously proud of the action of the previous and present Coalition Governments and the manner in which they have enormously increased overseas development aid to other needy countries now suffering in a way ours did in that Famine period. It is a great tribute to our small State that £90 million are now being expended on overseas development aid, demonstrating we have learned one lesson from our experiences.

I also welcome all the initiatives taken by the Minister, such as scholarships and the like for people in Africa and Asia. We must also have a great sense of pride in the leadership of our nongovernmental organisations, such as Concern, GOAL and others carrying on this great tradition of assistance to those now suffering as we did.

I welcome all the commemorative events embarked on. Deputy Noel Treacy referred to the need for greater research. I am aware that tremendous work has been undertaken in County Clare in compiling extensive records of the post-Famine period. One of the disasters was the loss of the records office in 1921 when the national movement split and many of the pre-famine records were destroyed. There was also a welcome series of programmes on RTE and a particularly welcome involvement with the history of teachers' association to encourage young people to be aware of what happened.

The Minister rightly noted the huge impact on women. The fact that so many women emigrated was undoubtedly a key contributory factor to the rise in the marriage age in Ireland right up to the 1950s when the average age at which farmers married was 40.

I congratulate the Government on the commemoration. There was political responsibilities which should be recognised. We in this House should always be proud that we are the memorial to victims of the famine.

I call Éamon Ó Cuív.

I had thought I was next to speak.

The Deputy knows the debate must go from the Government side to the Opposition side——

I am in the Opposition.

——and I have been informed that in this instance the Deputy has been allocated a slot in Government time.

I did not know that.

That is my information.

Cuireann sé áthas orm deis a fháil labhairt ar an ábhar seo. Sílim go bhfuil sé ceart go ndéanfaimís comóradh ar an nGorta Mór agus ar an scrios a rinne sé don tír seo. Ba chóir dúinn iarracht a dhéanamh freisin foghlaim ó na ceachtaí atá le foghlaim uaidh.

Tá sé éasca a rá gur tharla an Gorta i ngeall ar an teip agus an dúchan a tháinig ar an fataí sna blianta 1845, '46 agus '47. Ach dáiríre chaithfeá staidéar a dhéanamh ar cén chaoi a tharla sé go raibh an oiread sin daoine ag brath ar fhataí le maireachtáil agus freisin cén chaoi ar tharla sé nach raibh de ghabháltaisí acu ach an leath-acra nó an t-acra féin. Tá sé intuigthe, ó tharla go raibh sé éasca fataí a fháil, go mbeadh go leor den phobal ag brath ar fhataí thart ar an am sin. Ach an rud a bhain leis an gcóras polaitíochta a bhí i bhfeidhm ag an am ná nach raibh acu ach an beagán talún — go raibh an oiread sin daoine ag maireachtáil ar bheagán talún agus nach raibh aon airgead acu le bia eile a cheannach nuair a theip ar na fataí.

Sin an fáth nach Gorta sa ghnáthchiall a bhí sa Ghorta Mór in Éirinn, ach gorta a bhí timpeallaithe ag an gcóras polaitíochta a bhí i bhfeidhm ag an am.

Caithfimid a thuiscint go raibh an córas sin bunaithe ar shaint agus ar chumhacht, cumhacht ag daoine le saibhreas ar dhaoine bochta. Mura dtuigimis é sin ní thuigfimid go deo an Gorta Mór. Agus ní thuigfimid ach oiread cén fáth a ndeachaidh sé chomh mór sin i bhfeidhm ar mhuintir na hÉireann. Go deimhin, mar a mhíneofar ar ball, chuaigh sé i bhfeidhm go mór orthu.

Rud aisteach ar ndóigh faoin nGorta Mór, gur tharla sé, mar adúirt mé, i ngeall ar an gcaoi a raibh an beagán ag caitheamh leis an mórán. Ach is aisteach mar a chasann an roth. D'fhéadfá a rá gurb é an Gorta Mór a chuir deireadh dáiríre le cumhacht na dtiarnaí talún in Éirinn. Cuireann sé iontas ormsa, mar shampla, nuair a théim go Sasana a fheiceáil cé mhéid talún atá fós i seilbh tiarnaí móra agus, mar shampla, an méid talún atáa fós i lámha lucht ceannais an Stáit sin thall. B'é an Gorta Mór, dar liomsa, agus Conradh na Talún a tháinig ina dhiaidh, a chuir i gcloigne an phobail a chinntiú nach mbeadh an cineál sin greama ar a saol níos mó ag an mbeagán.

Is dóigh freisin go gcaithfimid a thuiscint gur thaispeáin muintir na hÉireann teacht aniar iontach aimsir an Ghorta. Ainneoin go bhfuair os cionn milliún duine bás agus go ndeachaidh milliún eile ar imirce ba aisteach an méid fáis agus foráis a tháinig ar rudaí éagsúla tar éis an Ghorta Mhóir, chomh scioptha agus a thug an pobal arís faoi na haislingí náisiúnta a bhí acu féachaint le déanamh cinnte nach dtarlódh a leithéid arís. Laistigh de 20 bliain i ndiaidh an Ghorta bhí Éirí Amach na bhFíníní ann. Shílfeá chomh gearr sin tar éis an Ghorta nach bhféadfadh an pobal ar an scála a raibh siad agus an méid daoine a bhí cláraithe leis na bhFíníní a bheith ag smaoineamh ar éirí amach arís. Ar ndóigh bhí éirí amach 1848 ann freisin, díreach bliain tar éis an Ghorta. Ach ní hé Éirí Amach na bhFíníní an rud a chuirfeadh íontas ar dhaoine ach an líon den ghnáth-phobal a bhí páirteach ar bhealach amháin nó ar bhealach eile leo.

Ag deireadh na haoise sin — 40 bliain tar éis an Ghorta — bunaíodh Conradh na Gaeilge agus Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. Ceann de na fáthanna ar bunaíodh an Cumann Lúthchleas ná arís le cumhacht an duine mhóir ar an duine beag a bhriseadh agus le cinntiú go mbeadh daonlathas i gcúrsaí spóirt agus go mbeadh deis ag chuile dhuine a bheith páirteach.

Beidh mé ag caint ar ball ar thionchar an Ghorta ar an nGaeilge ach arís bhí an-teacht aniar ann leis na hiarrachtaí a rinneadh ag deireadh an chéid seo caite le fóirthint ar an nGaeilge a bhí ag fáil bháis go scioptha ag an am.

Tar éis an Ghorta tháinig Conradh na Talún chun tosaigh agus tá sé an-éasca é sin a thuiscint. D'fhoghlaim muintir na hÉireann rud amháin as an nGorta, go gcaithfeadh siad ceannas a fháil ar a saol féin, go gcaithfeadh siad deireadh a chur le saol ina bhféadfaí iad a chaitheamh amach ar thaobh an bhóthair gan trua ná taise. Thaispeáin an pobal i gcoitinne nach rabhadar chun luí síos faoin chóras a bhí ann agus a tharraing an oiread sin anró orthu. Tá an rian sin agus rian an Ghorta le feiceáil i ndearcadh an phobail i gcoitinne go dtí an lá atá inniu ann maidir le cúrsaí talún in Éirinn.

Creidim go raibh níos mó baint ag cuid de na rudaí a chuirtear i leith na hEaglaise Caitlicí ó thaobh cúrsaí mórálta agus cúrsaí pósta agus rudaí mar sin, leis an nGorta ná mar a bhí acu le teagasc na hEaglaise féin. Caithfimis cuimhneamh gur tháinig go leor de na sagairt agus de na heaspaig ó chúlra na bhfeilméarachta, gur chuir siad leagan áirithe chun tosaigh go láidir mar gurb shin é an leagan a chinnteodh trí moill ar chur ar an bpósadh, nach dtarlódh arís an méadú uafásach a tháinig ar an daonra idir 1800 agus 1845.

Bhéadh sé an-spéisiúil a dhéanamh amach i rith an staidéir a bheas á dhéanamh, cé mhéid de thuairimí sóisialta na tíre seo le 100 bliain anuas a bunaíodh ar thaithí an Ghorta agus ar an intinn a bhí ag an bpobal a dhéanamh cinnte nach dtarlódh sé arís.

Cúpla bliain ó shin cuireadh sraith cláracha amach ar Raidió na Gaeltachta maidir leis an Ghorta Mór. Bhí cuid de na cláracha sin, más buan mo chuimhne, bunaithe ar scríbhiní a rinne múinteóir, Seán Ó Mainín as Cnoc na hAille i dtaobh an Ghorta Mhóir i gCois Fharraige sna 1840aidí. Ba uafásach an scéal a bhí le hinsint aige. Bhí sé ag tarraingt ar fhoinsí eágsúla — obair na sagart ag an am sa pharóiste sin agus an drochchaoi a bhí ar mhuintir na háite. Caithfidh mé a rá gurb é ceann de na cur síosanna ba luachmhaire agus ab fhearr a chuala mé ar cén chaoi a raibh sé don ghnáth-phobal i rith an ama uafásaigh sin. Bheinn ag súil go smaoineodh Raidió na Gaeltachta ar ath-chraoladh a dhéanamh ar na cláracha sin i mbliana, tráth Chomóradh an Ghorta Mhóir. Sa taighde a rinne Seán tá saibhreas aisteach ann ar díreach cén chaoi a rug an tubaist seo ar an ghnáthdhuine ar an gcósta thiar.

Go minic chloisfeá daoine ag fiafraí cén chaoi ar tharla i gceantar ar nós Chois Fharriage, áit a raibh fáil acu ar an bhfarraige, gur buaileadh iad go dona ag an nGorta. Ach caithfear an galar a lean an Gorta agus teip na bhfataí a thuiscint. Caithfear an laige a bhí ar an daoine agus an ganntanas a bhí orthu a thuiscint, leis, sa chaoi nach raibh siad in ann fiú tairbhe a bhaint as an bhfarraige.

Molaim an obair atá déanta ag Raidió na Gaeltachta ar an ábhar seo thar na blianta. Bheadh súil agam anois mar chuid den Chomóradh, ní amháin go mbeadh cláracha mar atá ráite ag an Aire, ar RTÉ, teilifís agus raidió, ach go dtabharfaí airgead agus cúnamh do Raidió na Gaeltachta chun taighde a dhéanamh ar na téipeanna ar fad atá acu atá bunaithe ar insint agus ar eolas atá curtha ar fáil ó fhoinsí stairiúla nach bhfuil i bhfad siar.

Ar ndóigh, níl an Gorta i bhfad uainn. Caithfimíd cuimhneamh air sin. Mo sheanmháthair féin, ba chuimhin lena hathair sise an Gorta. Níor bhásaigh sise go dtí 1975. Mar sin, i dtéarmaí ama nílimid ag caint ach ar roinnt glúnta siar. Ach tharla go minic go mbíonn teangbháil ag glúin amháin, an ghlúin seo mar shampla le dhá ghlún roimhe, i dtéarmaí glúnta agus teangbhála le daoine de, tá tú ag caint ar thrí nó cheithre chéim bheag siar.

Caithfimíd a thuiscint gurb é a tharla sa Ghorta Mór ná go raibh drochchóras polaitíochta ann ag an am, agus ansin tháinig an tubaist nádúrtha. Nuair a cuireadh an tubaist nádúrtha sa mhullach ar an ndrochchóras polaitíochta a bhí ann ba é sin a tharraing an t-uafás. Nuair a smaoinímid ar sin tuigimid nach toil Dé a bhí ann agus nárbh teip theichniúil, nó teip na bhfataí é ach oiread, ach an ceangail a bhíonn ann go minic idir an teip nádúrtha, droch-chóras polaitíochta agus an tsaint.

Bhí muid ag caint sa Teach seo inné maidir le cúrsaí gorta ar fud an Tríú Domhain i láthair na huaire. Níor cheart dúinn in Éirinn dearmad a dhéanamh ariamh go bhfuil daoine ag fáil bháis ar fud na cruinne i láthair na huaire i ngeall ar easpa bia. Cibé leithscéal a bhí ann céad go leith bliain ó shin, níl an leithscéal sin ag éinne inniu. Bhí daoine ag rá ar an gcéad dul síos nár thuig siad an tionchar a bhíonn ag drochchóras polaitíochta ar bheatha dhaoine agus nach raibh a fhios acu céard a bhí ag tarlú. Tá a fhios againn go bhfuil daoine ag fáil bháis den ocras. Tá a fhios againn nach easpa bia ar domhan is cionn tsiocair le seo agus gur saint an domhain ó thuaidh, saint na ndaoine saibhre sna tíortha ina bhfuil an gorta ar bun i láthair na huaire agus ní toil Dé ná easpa bia is cionn tsiocair le gorta an domhain.

Dá mbeadh muid ag iarraidh comóradh ceart a dhéanamh ar an nGorta agus má tá muid ag iarraidh cuimhneachán ceart ar an nGorta a dhéanamh, ba cheart dúinn troid a dhéanamh níos géire, fiú má chosnaíonn sé airgead orainn féin, fiú más rud é nach dtagann sé le tuairimí cuid de an daoine móra agus go gcuireann sé as dóibh agus fiú má tá muid ag dul i n-éadan an chineáil smaoinimh atá ann maidir le cúrsaí eacnamaíochta go mba cheart ligean do na marbh i gcónaí. Ba cheart dúinn, má tá muid i ndáiríre ar chuimhneachán ceart a dhéanamh ar an nGorta Mór, deánamh cinnte go bhfuil muid sásta labhairt amach i ngach uile fóram domhanda ina bhfuil muid páirteach in aghaidh aon chóras a chuireann faoi ndeara do dhaoine dul tríd an gcruatan a ndeachaigh ár bpobal féin tríd céad go leith bliain ó shin.

Ba mhaith liom tagairt a dhéanamh do rud a luaigh an tAire Stáit ar maidin agus ba mhaith liom creidiúint a thabhairt dó as é lua — i ndáiríre níl dóthain aird á thabhairt air i láthair na huaire i gcómhthéacs an Ghorta — agus is é sin ceist an tionchar a d'imir an Gorta ar mheán na Gaeilge sa tír seo. Tá súil agam go ndéanfar roinnt mhaith staidéir air seo agus ar an tionchar a d'imir imeacht na teanga ar féin-mheas mhuintir na hÉireann. Níl aon amhras ach go raibh an Ghaeilge ag cúlú roimh an nGorta, ach is dóigh go raibh an Bhreatnais ag cúlú sa Bhreatain Bheag ag an am gcéanna. Níl aon amhras go raibh cuimse úsáid na Breatnaise ag an eaglais sa Bhreatain Bheag ag tabhairt cúnaimh don teanga ach bhí tionchar thar na bearta ag an nGorta ar intinn an phobail maidir leis an nGaeilge.

Ceann de na rudaí is mó a rinne an Gorta agus an imirce a lean é ná gur chuir siad in intinn an phobail, dá mbeadh siad le dul i ngleic le cúrsaí polaitíochta — ó tharla go raibh greim ag Rialtas Shasana ar an tír seo — agus dá mbeadh siad ag dul i ngleic le cúrsaí imirce, go gcaithfidís dul i ngleic leis an mBéarla freisin. I ngeall ar an úafás a tharla in intinn an phobail, cuireadh an milleán ar go leor rudaí. I measc na rudaí a cuireadh milleán orthu ná easpa Béarla. Tá sé beagnach dochreidte smaoineamh anois gur éirigh le dhá ghlúin an teanga a chailleadh. Bhí suas le dhá mhilliún duine le Gaeilge agus an t-úafás daoine nach raibh aon Bhéarla acu i 1840. Bhí an Béarla in uachtaracht go hiomlán sna ceantair sin faoi am an chéad ghlúin eile. Thóg sé sin iarracht dochreidte ó thuismitheoirí teanga a iompú chomh sciobtha sin — in iompar na boise i ndáiríre — i go leor ceanntair. Caithfear staidéar a dhéanamh ar céard a thug ar an bpobal an t-iompú sciobtha sin a dhéanamh. Cruthaíonn sé sin cé chomh mór agus a bhí an Gorta Mór mar thubaiste in intinn an phobail, cé chomh mór agus a chuaigh an tragóid seo isteach go croí an phobail ar fad agus go rabhadar ag iarraidh bealach éalaithe ar bith a bhíodar in ann fáil amach as an sáinn ina raibh siad. Ceann de na bealaí as an sáinn ná dul ar imirce go Meirceá agus go Sasana ach, chuige sin, bhí an Béarla ag teastáil. Ba cheart staidéar a dhéanamh ar a gcaoi a gceanglaíonn sé seo le chéile.

Tá caint ann ar chuimhneachán náisiúnta a thógáil. Ba cheart é sin a dhéanamh, ní amháin ag comóradh iad siúd a fuair bás nó iad siúd a chuaigh ar imirce ach freisin chun comóradh a dhéanamh orthu siúd a d'fhan sa bhaile agus ar éirigh leo teacht slán as an nGorta Mór.

Thaispeáin an dream a d'fhan sa bhaile misneach. Thaispeáin an dream a d'imigh misneach agus flaithiúlacht agus dílseacht dá muintir sa mbaile. Agus ar ndóigh ná déanaimis dearmad ar an dream a fuair bás. Bheinn ag súil nuair a bheidh an tAire Stáit ag déanamh cinnidh ar an gceist seo go mbeidh comóradh cothrom á dhéanamh ar an tríú ghrúpa sin. Bheinn ag súil freisin go gcoinneodh sí ina hintinn freisin go raibh an Ghaeilge mar chéad teanga ag go leor daoine a fuair bás aimsir an Ghorta. Mar sin go ndéanfaí cinnte go mbeadh comhchéim tugtha don Ghaeilge agus don Bhéarla in aon chomóradh a dhéanfar ar an nGorta.

Tá súil agam nach ndéanfaidh muintir na hÉireann dearmad riamh ar an nGorta Mór. Tá súil agam go dtabharfaidh siad maithiúnas — agus tá maithiúnas tugtha acu — do Shasana agus do gach duine eile a raibh baint acu leis an tubaist seo agus sin mar is ceart. Ach níor mhaith liom go ndéanfaí dearmad air mar má dhéanfaimid dearmad air ní dóigh liom go mbeimid chomh dírithe ag cinntiú go ndéanfaimis gach dícheall mar náisiún beag le cur in aghaigh a leithéid ag tarlú i dtír ar bith eile ar domhain.

Ba mhaith liom ar dtús mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire Stáit, leis na hAirí eile agus leis na hoifigigh sna ranna éagsúla atá páirteach sna hullmhúcháin don Chomóradh seo. Tá sé an-tábhachtach go mbeadh comóradh cuimsitheach ar an 150 bliain ó tharla an Gorta.

I welcome, as far as it goes, this commemoration of the largest of several Irish famines and the one which left the greatest legacy of sorrow and bitterness in the Irish psyche. It is worth recalling that one of the first pieces of legislation enacted in the Dáil was to abolish the poor houses, which were a terrible sign of those times.

A great deal of research continues to be done. Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Christine Kenneally who is a fellow of the University of Liverpool. She has written a book on the Famine which she researched for 15 years. She says that what she calls "this great calamity" lasted from 1845 to 1852. It is often forgotten that the effects of the Famine lasted as long as they did. It continues to live with us through memorials, folk memory and academic research.

It is very sad that we do not seem to have learned the lessons of the Famine. We do not seem to have resolved problems which arose at the time of the Famine and were accentuated by the level of suffering. First, millions died and millions emigrated. It is often forgotten that when many of those who emigrated to places such as Liverpool applied for relief, they were turned away as it was not granted unless one has lived in the country for five years. Therefore, the suffering was accentuated by a ruthless system of bureaucracy.

Second, the laws of the free market, referred to by Deputy Broughan, caused a great deal of suffering but the limitations of that economic system have not penetrated the thinking of the decision makers which rule not only Ireland but also the greater part of Europe. The arms industry benefits from that system. The suffering caused by everything from nuclear testing to land-mines is documented daily in this House but the link is not made with the economic system which gives rise to that hypocrisy.

Similarly, farmers are still being forced to leave the land. The system has not changed that much, although it has been rounded at the edges and spin doctors have been brought in to present the best possible scenario. However, the signs are still there — although the suffering could never be as horrific as it was at that time. It is a pity that all the Fianna Fáil Deputies have left the Chamber because a founding principle of that party was that as many people as possible should be retained on the land. That seems to have given way to the free market economics which seem to dominate all decision making nowadays.

The third aspect, which has been sadly forgotten in this commemoration, is the huge loss of the Irish language which resulted from the death and emigration of so many people whose first, and in many cases only, language was Irish. That shows a great lack of understanding of where we are in Ireland today. The loss of that language was not just a matter of cultural starvation, but is also fashioned the type of Ireland with which we are coming to terms today. It is an Ireland I would like to see greatly changed with a proud position for the Irish language in public and commercial life — in advertising, labelling, road signs and so on. I would prefer not to have to make such an issue of it today but because of the situation I have no choice.

Cé go gcuirim fáilte roimh na hócáidí go ginearálta is mór an trua nach bhfuil aon tagairt díreach déanta don chailliúint teanga a tharla sna blianta sin agus ó shin i leith. Tá tagairt ceart go leor do chomórtas aistí agus go bhfuil an rogha ag daltaí scoile Béarla nó Gaeilge a usáid. Is dócha go gcaithfimid a bheith buíoch de sin ar aon chuma. Ach ní chuireann sin leis an tuiscint atá riachtanach ar an gcailliúint a tharla le linn an Ghorta.

Is mór an trua é sin mar tá tionchar ag an gcailliúint sin ar gach páiste scoile in Éirinn ó thosaigh an Stát seo i leith má chuimhnimid ar an méid ama a bhíonn mar pháisti a chaitheamh ag iarraidh an teanga sin a fháil arais. Tharla sé seo cuid mhór de bharr an Ghorta sin. Tá an tionchar sin fós sna scoileanna agus i saol gach duine in Éirinn inniu.

Is mór an trua freisin go bhfuilimid ag déanamh dearmad air de bharr an cheangail a bhí ann le bochtanas sna blianta atá caite agus atá anois níos measa ná riamh de bharr an Ghorta. De bharr gurb iad na daoine ba bhoichte a cailleadh a labhair an Ghaeilge san am tá an náire sin fós le brath i muintir na hÉireann, náire orthu nach féidir leo Gaeilge a labhairt nó náire orthu toisc leisce a bheith orthu Gaeilge a labhairt agus mar sin de. Is mór an trua é.

Ba cheart go dtuigfeadh muintir na tíre é sin go soiléir mar chabhródh é leis an tuiscint atá ag fás, le foghlaim na teanga agus le féin-mheas mhuintir na hÉireann a thabhairt i réim arís mar tá sé caillte cuid mhaith.

The Famine was the greatest ecological disaster in our history since the Ice Age. The big difference is that it could have been avoided. Dr. Kenneally's research clearly indicates that before the Famine the food grown on this island could have fed ten million people. According to her research, only half of those people were dependent on the potato. The population was eight million, four million of whom were dependent on the potato — and they were fine, strong, healthy people — and the other four million had a varied diet which would be considered quite adequate today — and envied by many people around the world. That shows how Irish economics gave way to the Famine, has never managed to get back on its feet, and needs to be examined.

Our politicians must believe we can have this level of self sufficiency. We do not need to import the amount of food we import nor do we need to import the level of animal foodstuffs we import. It is a poignant fact that much of our imports come from very poor countries who should not export their nutrition for our luxury needs.

There are many other lessons from The Famine. From 1845 onwards the response of the British Government changed. Research indicates that between 1845 and 1846, there were no deaths from starvation because relief was made available. Although he had many weaknesses, the Prime Minister at the time, Sir Robert Peel, believed direct action and aid was required in the form of food, rather than in the form of the public works that followed. However, he could have been considerably more in touch with reality. For example, he is reputed to have remarked that there was such a tendency to exaggeration and inaccuracies in Irish reports, that delay in acting upon them was always desirable. This represented a death knell for many people.

Even worse was the election of Sir John Russell in 1846. The Whig Government at the time introduced a system of public works to give people enough money to buy food without realising that in 1845 and in the winter that followed there was much hardship, with people having to pawn their goods, including their warm clothes. Women and children, some as young as eight or nine years of age, were forced to work on the public works. Food prices were high as a result of shortage, so the money earned bought very little and many of those who depended on fishing or had the equipment to fish had to pawn it. It is, therefore, small wonder that fish was not a source of food in coastal areas. In addition, very little turf was cut because women and children were working so hard on the public works.

Famine and starvation was accentuated by cold and disease, and the miserable scenario got worse, especially as the winter of 1846-87 was bad, right into the spring of 1847, with a late snow in April of that year. In view of all of this, one of the greatest tragedies was that Irish ports remained open, a terrible indictment of free market economics. Other countries, such as Italy, France, Egypt, Russia and Turkey, closed their ports when famine and blight struck. That occurred in many other countries around the world at that time.

In the spring of 1847 the soup kitchens were started. Perhaps some of the free marketers may note that these cost far less than the public works and saved many more lives. Approximately three million were dependent on soup by July 1847, although the extent of dependency varied around the country. For example, 80 per cent of the people in County Mayo were dependent on it, whereas nobody in County Down depended on it. That illustrates the difference in the levels of affluence. The soup cost £2 million, at the rate of three farthings per day per person — some of this went on wages — whereas the public works cost £4.5 million. The lesson for today is that it is not always the economic option to create ineffective, expensive jobs when some of that money could well go, as those in the Conference of the Religious of Ireland would probably argue, on systems such as the guaranteed basic income scheme where people can add to that income, rather than having to work for every penny. Sometimes it is more economic to give the money. This was certainly the case at the time of the Famine.

Other comparisons with today are made from time to time. People refer to the Live Aid phenomenon that occurred during the 1980s. During the Famine, many people outside the country engaged in high profile fund raising events. It is often mentioned how society ladies organised themselves into knitting circles to make garments to raise money for the starving Irish. High profile people gave help. For example, the Sultan of Turkey gave £1,000, Pope Pius IX gave £1,000, Saint Petersburg City gave £3,000, the former slaves in Jamaica, only a few years free from slavery, gave £2,000, the often remembered Choctaw Indians who suffered so greatly in 1831, gave £170. Arthur Guinness — perhaps he could have afforded more — gave £60.

Queen Victoria is sometimes maligned and some untrue stories are told about her involvement. However, she is reputed to have given £2,000 and her husband, Prince Albert, gave £500. While I do not wish to make too many comparisons with President Robinson, Queen Victoria was protected, as the Head of a State, from seeing the reality which President Robinson has gone out of her way to see in these situations, although when she visited Argentina she was prevented from seeing the poorer areas. This would remind one of the visit of Queen Victoria to Ireland during the Famine. She was brought to Dublin, Belfast and Cork, but travelled between the cities by sea to avoid her having to be exposed to the misery that she might otherwise encounter if she travelled by land.

In the summer of 1847 there was a general election, a consequence of which was that, in the autumn of 1847, the British Government declared that the Famine was over and there was no further need for any donations. It brings to mind how a statement, when it is made as gospel and not critically examined by the media, can cause misery. In this instance, the media was proven to be very powerful because donations dried up, causing another tragedy, the lesson of which we should learn. More local famines occurred up to 1852 and beyond, and they are still happening around the world.

Acknowledgment and thanks must go to those involved in organising local Famine commemoration events. They enhance the commemorations made by the Government. Dr. Kinealy visited Skerries last Sunday and spoke at the "spotlight on Skerries" event which I attended. Ardgillan Castle in Balbriggan, north County Fingal, has an exhibition which will run up to next Christmas, on the Famine, poverty and the potato. In addition, those involved in drama and art, such as Mr. Bill Hughes, who has written a drama — An Crécht Mhór — which is to be an oratorio on the great Famine, should be thanked. This saturday, Balbriggan Historical and Cultural Society will have an in-depth seminar on the famine in County Fingal to which I look forward. The Irish Organic Trust are beginning to bring today and the past together by holding a fund raiser, like the very successful one in the Botanic Gardens, where the famine was analysed for the first time in Ireland.

All of these events are very important, and I hope they will give a message that we are not simply commemorating an event. We are commemorating a change in political thinking, a change which will ensure that we do not turn our back on human misery for the sake of short term profit which can ultimately cost money, as illustrated by the cost of the soup kitchens compared to the cost of the public works and the human cost to the people who have had to emigrate. In spite of what work they may get abroad, they would prefer to be here. This should be remembered as we commemorate the Famine.

I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Avril Doyle, on her great efforts to commemorate the Famine. People in my part of the country are known for commemorating events and it is important to commemorate this traumatic period in our history. Thankfully the many people who survived the Famine and emigrated to Canada, the US and Australia did extremely well for themselves.

Debate adjourned.