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What in the World? 50 Countries, 50 Stories' exhibition launch - Speech by MoS Ciarán Cannon T.D.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for coming tonight to Kevin Street Library to participate in this launch of the What in the World? 50 Countries, 50 Stories exhibition.

Tonight brings together three different elements of public service.

This 114 year old library was established to enable the people of Dublin access stories from around the world, and provide them with information to help them understand this city. I’d like to thank the library team and Dublin City Council for making this beautiful space available to us, and for the enduring commitment to knowledge that this library represents.

It is that enduring commitment to knowledge, and in particular to the dissemination of stories of those who face challenges around our world, that has characterised RTE’s What in the World television series over 12 seasons. The only series on Irish television dedicated to global development issues, it is a true exemplar of public service broadcasting. I’d like to pay tribute to Peadar King and his team for their work over the years in uncovering and revealing stories which have informed us all. Thank you too to Dee Forbes and Colm Ó Mongáin from RTE for joining us here tonight.

The third public service contribution is from my own Department, that of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in particular its international development wing, known as Irish Aid. We have been proud to partner with Peadar and RTE on the What in the World journey, which in its exposition of the circumstances of those less fortunate than ourselves has been a reminder of our global citizenship, our interconnectedness, and the need for us to respond to the needs of others.

That’s why we were excited when Peadar approached the Department with the suggestion of developing this exhibition and taking it to public libraries around the island.

Excited because this exhibition reminds us of fifty stories which were highlighted over the years on RTE. Stories told that need to be retold, because they continue to resonate and impact. Stories which live longer than their time on television, which require time for reflection and revisiting.

Excited too that in this era with a multiplicity of delivery channels that Peadar proposed to go back to a quieter, traditional media platform, the public library, to host What in the World? 50 Countries, 50 Stories. There’s something about the quietness of a library that invites inquiry. The silence allows us a moment for contemplation, for consideration, and for connection.

As the writer John Lubbock said, ‘We may sit in a library and yet be in all corners of the earth.’ The realisation of this exhibition shows the truth of that statement.

I hope that taking these fifty stories to public libraries around our island will open a space for people to reflect on our world and on our shared humanity, notwithstanding the very different lives which we live in different parts of our world. Lives sometimes privileged. Lives more often filled with day-to-day struggle. Many lives marked by disadvantage and suffering.

This exhibition gives us a window into the lives of others, their struggles and their communities. Where better for that contemplation than in libraries, which are at the heart of our communities?

I was struck by the sense of community with those less fortunate which was manifest at the public meetings I attended as part of the process that led to Ireland’s new Policy for International Development: A Better World, launched a year ago. Our core commitment is to reach ‘the Furthest behind First.’

Underpinning that is a sense of global citizenship, a sense that progress and security on our island is entwined with, and dependent on, progress and security everywhere. Realising our vision of A Better World is part of our vision for a better Ireland. That means we must work harder in support of the international rules based order and in support of human rights and peace, to promote gender equality, address climate issues and, above all, to continue the fight against poverty and hunger.

It is important that in reflecting on our world we also recall our own story. Ireland has been marked by poverty, conflict, injustice, and emigration. 150 years ago the stories which Peadar has collated were those of our forebears. Indeed, many similar stories are no doubt to be found on the bookshelves of the libraries which this exhibition will visit.

A story – a truth – which should be on more bookshelves was the solidarity which the Choctaw Indians showed us during our famine.

A solidarity given by a people who had little to those who at the time had less.

A solidarity recalled in a marvellous sculpture in Middleton in Cork called Kindred Spirits.

A solidarity which remains at the heart of our mission in Irish Aid, as we work with kindred spirits everywhere to try to build that better world we want. In 2019, Ireland was again found to be the international donor most effective at targeting extreme poverty. We have consistently had a real impact in reaching the furthest behind.

I am proud of this work we do on behalf of the people of Ireland. But I do not take their support, their kindred spirits, for granted. Essential to that support is ensuring their understanding of the realities faced by those affected by poverty and injustice around the world. This exhibition helps build that understanding.

It does that through the authority of its storytelling, the craft and professionalism which Peadar and his colleagues applied. Skills which we cannot take for granted, particularly in the ever more complicated media landscape which is the reality at the start of this new decade.

I am conscious of the role which we expect our media to play in raising public awareness of global issues, including those of fundamental human rights and development. As our society becomes ever more multicultural, there are new connections, new identities which we share with those overseas. The developing world was once a place populated in the Irish imagination by our missionaries, our volunteers. Today, it is the home place of our neighbours, our classmates, our colleagues, our carers – in short, of us. There are new stories to be found and told as we explore our new kindred.

This exhibition we open tonight is a reminder of that mission also, one to which our journalists are responding, including through use of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund established by Irish Aid.

This exhibition is also a reminder of the power of good journalism, and the role it plays in a healthy democracy, in revealing the bare truth and the harsh realities of life such that we must respond. Over the years, the producers of What in the World have demonstrated an unfailing commitment to ensure stories that really matter are told in Ireland and my Department is proud to have supported them in that endeavour, alongside RTÉ and others. It is fitting that through this exhibition these stories have another telling, and that their impact will resonate around our island.

Thank you Peadar, and to your team, and to everyone who made this exhibition a reality. Yours is a true public service.

And thank you all for coming tonight.

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