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Minister of State Cannon T.D. speech at the Green Fields of America Concert in the Printworks

The powerful but haunting works in Coming Home: Ireland and the Great Hunger remind us that the historical story of Irish emigration is a story about the challenges of poverty, conflict, injustice, and migration. The collection, so carefully curated by Quinnipiac, provides us with a unique opportunity for reflection. Reflection on a time, 170 years ago, that Ireland was unwilling and unable to provide for all its people. Reflection on the death of one million of our people and the emigration of two million more, one of the defining and most catastrophic events of the nineteenth century. Unfortunately these events were mired in silence for far too long. Scholarship by institutions such as Quinnipiac University has been fundamental in offering us the opportunity to reflect, to understand, to learn. I am absolutely delighted that my Department has been able to partner with Quinnipiac and provide funding to bring this important exhibition to Ireland.

Of the Irish who emigrated to America, Patricia Harty wrote “Fleeing starvation with few or no material possessions, they brought their music and song and tales of home as they spread out across the land, until there was not a corner they didn’t touch or leave their mark upon. They became American. And, yet, despite their identification with the American way of life, they continue to have an interest in their Irish heritage, and a sometimes poignant emotional connection to the land of their ancestors.”

With our diaspora of almost eighty million people worldwide, we become over 1% of the world’s population, a truly global community.

The Government of Ireland remains strongly committed to the global Irish community through the implementation of Ireland’s diaspora policy. At the heart of this policy is our Emigrant Support Programme, through which we support Irish community organisations across the world. Just as our people found assistance and opportunity when they needed it, we work to support those who now need our assistance to escape from conflict and hunger.

The values at the heart of Ireland’s development policy are deeply rooted in our country’s history of famine and migration. Our determination to respond in a spirit of solidarity and respect to others' poverty draws on the historical, political and social experience of Ireland, and how we ourselves came to understand the challenges of poverty, conflict and migration.

Investing in development cooperation is an investment in our global neighbourhood. It is about our safety and wellbeing. It is about containing disease. It is about helping respond to conflict and displacement, to natural disaster. It is about exporting support for a rules-based international order. It is about helping our friends turn their demographic challenges into dividends, building their economies and in turn creating opportunities, opportunities which we may share.

Through our engagement in the EU and the UN, we work to address the root causes of famine and migration. For many years, our overseas development programme has focused on fighting hunger and on building societies where famine and forced migration need no longer exist. We have become one of the most generous countries in building the foundations of a more famine-resistant world.

The Government is committed to expanding Ireland’s global footprint, a footprint that is in many ways defined by our people and our values. Our footprint is in our music, our movies, our writers, our teachers, our talent, our business, our agriculture: it is us, it our reputation, our stock in trade. We are custodians of the rich story of what it means to be Irish and what we represent as a country.

Our estimable poet Desmond Egan wrote “listen; there is famine in our music; famine behind our faces; it is only a field away”.

And yet from those experiences of scarcity and loss, we forged a music and culture of richness, harmony and possibility, to be enjoyed the world over at events like ours this evening.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

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