IRISH PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has drawn comparisons between Ireland’s Great Famine and the unwillingness of a number of European nations to react swiftly to the current refugee crisis.
President Higgins was speaking at the National Famine Commemoration held at Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery yesterday, where he unveiled a permanent memorial to victims of the Famine.
Commenting on the donation of a 19th century Celtic cross by the Glasnevin Trust, President Higgins said it would serve as a “permanent reminder to those people”.
As part of an emotional address to those gathered at the annual remembrance service on Sunday, he also urged countries across Europe to apply the “lesson” of the Irish Famine to the current situation in the Mediterranean.
“As we pray for the souls of all of those lost to famine, and in particular those lost in our own Great Famine, we must pray, too, that we are not condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past as we deal with the challenges of feeding the hungry in our own times,” he said.
"Is there not a lesson for all of us, as we are faced in our own time with the largest number of displaced people since World War II, as the Mediterranean becomes, for many, a marine grave, as European nations fail to respond to their humanitarian obligations?
"We now have the capacity to anticipate the threat of famine. We have the capacity to take measures to avoid it; and yet we allow nearly a billion people across our world to live in conditions of extreme but avoidable hunger.
"The moral principle - the moral challenge of our humanity- remains the same: should we adjust our populations to an abstracted economic ideology, 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?"
Mr Higgins was also keen to emphasise the human hand behind the famine in Ireland as part of his warning to Europe.
“Famine was never only an accident of nature. It was more than a series of mistakes. It was not (Divine) Providence.
“Isn’t some of the rhetoric invoked today similar to what in the worst periods were the opinions of the London Times?”
— Heather Humphreys (@HHumphreysFG) September 11, 2016
Between 1845 and 1852, over one million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland as the Great Famine took its toll on the country.
A recent report by the United Nations found that some 50million children have been displaced as part of the current crisis, while over 3,000 refugees have already died in attempts to cross the Mediterranean this year.
Arts Minister Heather Humphreys also spoke at the event, where some 50 ambassadors from around the world paid their respects before laying wreaths.
“People from the four provinces of Ireland, those from Dublin and those who made their way there in search of reprieve, are buried throughout Glasnevin Cemetery, making it one of Ireland’s largest Famine burial grounds,” Ms Humphreys said.
“Records from Glasnevin Cemetery show that at the height of the Famine, 50-60 funerals were taking place here daily.
“It is fitting therefore, that the Famine Cross will stand in Glasnevin as a permanent memorial to the Famine victims, adding to Glasnevin’s status as a repository of our history.”
Ms Humphreys also drew comparisons between the horrors of the 19th century and today’s crisis.
"While reflecting on issues beyond our own country we should remember that, while the Famine is a historical event for us to remember, similar suffering remains around the globe today,” she added.
This year’s commemoration was the eighth ceremony of its kind, with the first also having taken place in Dublin in 2008.
Since then, ceremonies have been held across Ireland and Northern Ireland as part of recognising the famine’s effect throughout the nation.