‘Is it so different?’ – Irish President compares modern refugees to those who fled Ireland’s Great Famine
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‘Is it so different?’ – Irish President compares modern refugees to those who fled Ireland’s Great Famine

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has compared the plight of modern day refugees to the millions of Irish people who left Ireland due to the Great Famine.

Speaking at the unveiling of a new Irish Famine Memorial in Perth, Australia, President Higgins likened those risking everything to cross continents and seas for a better life today to Irish people who did the same in the 19th century.

The Irishman said that modern displaced people make up the largest number of refugees the planet has seen since World War Two.

He added that today – unlike between 1845 and 1852 in Ireland – we have the “capacity” to anticipate the grave threat posed by famine.

“Can we, of Irish extraction, borrow from our own history when faced, as we are today, with the largest number of displaced people on the planet since the Second World War?” Mr Higgins said.

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“Is the plight of those risking everything to cross continents and seas in search of refuge or a better life so different from the choices that faced our own people?

“Today, we have the capacity to anticipate the threat of famine. We have the capacity to take measures to avoid it.

“And yet we have almost a billion people living in conditions of extreme but avoidable hunger.”

The President said the “moral principle” remains the same, adding: “Should we adjust our populations to an abstracted economic ideology, be it laissez faire or neo-liberalism?

“Or should we, rather, use the best of our reason to craft economic and social models that can anticipate the needs and care for the peoples who share this fragile planet?”

The President also said that "the Famine, of course, was never merely an accident of nature, nor can it be explained as merely a series of mistakes”.

He added: “Indeed, recognising the full profile of the experience of our people is necessary, if we are to learn, to understand, even to forgive.”

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President Higgins’ state visit to Australia officially got under way on Saturday.

He was greeted at Government House in Perth by a traditional ‘Welcome to the Country’ ceremony involving a number of aboriginal elders, before a formal welcome by the Governor of Western Australia, Kerry Sanderson.

Mr Higgins also attended the Australasian GAA Championship Games on Sunday, where he met members of the local GAA community in Australia.