President Higgins tells famine commemoration that Ireland has 'moral duty' to those seeking asylum

President Higgins tells famine commemoration that Ireland has 'moral duty' to those seeking asylum

PRESIDENT Michael D. Higgins has said Ireland has a 'moral duty' to those seeking asylum and refuge.

Mr Higgins was speaking at this year's National Famine Commemoration in Milford, Co. Donegal this afternoon, where he said the legacy of An Gorta Mór was one of 'involuntary emigration, cultural loss, demoralisation and loss of confidence'.

During the event, the president also joined those laying wreaths at the site of the old Milford workhouse to remember all those who died or were displaced by the Great Famine.

Struggle 'engrained in our collective memory'

Addressing those gathered, President Higgins said the impact of the famine on Ireland meant the plight of those suffering similar hardships today would resonate with Irish people.

"The strong commitment of the Irish people to humanitarian aid and relief is of course strongly related to our own past struggle with hunger, engrained in our collective memory," said the president.

"It is an example of the Irishness we wish to be known by, one grounded in decency, in ethical principles, taking our share of global responsibility.

"We have a moral and ethical responsibility to support our global family in dire need, to help with sustainable solutions to ending all famines, wherever they occur on our shared, vulnerable planet, and to provide a decisive response to climate change which itself is leading to an increased incidence of famines globally."

Parallels with An Gorta Mór

The president also drew parallels between those forced to leave Ireland during the famine and the current displacement of people from Africa, with more than 11,000 dying at sea while trying to enter Spanish territory.

"This excludes the many who die before they make it to the coast," said President Higgins.

"The UN migration agency believes that two people die in the Sahara for every one who drowns at sea.

"The parallels with An Gorta Mór and the mass displacement it caused 175 years ago must not be lost on us.

"We have a moral duty to continue to honour our commitments to those vulnerable and displaced who seek asylum and refuge on our shores."

Today's commemoration also featured music, readings and poetry recitals as well as prayers led by Defences Forces chaplain Fr Jerry Carroll.