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Address by MoS Ciarán Cannon T.D. - Meeting with Irish Aid Fellows

Good morning, I am delighted to welcome you all to this virtual seminar, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Irish Council of International Students (ICOS). Cead Míle Failte.

I wish to acknowledge the on-line presence not only of our Fellows, but of representatives of some of the Higher Education Institutions and their representative bodies. Thank you for being with us.

To our Fellows, firstly I would like to congratulate you all on your achievement of receiving the scholarships after a highly competitive process, and on all your hard work through the year.
To say these last few months have been unusual is a bit of an understatement. I know that the experience of lockdown is far from what you would have had in mind when you arrived in Ireland last September.

It has been a very challenging time. Things that we all took for granted a short time ago such as the ability to meet friends, or – in your own case - to attend classes in person, to wander on campus, or explore the city or town where you are living, have been severely curtailed.

It must be especially difficult for you being so far away from your homes and your families - at the very time you would most like to be closest to them. You are deserving of the highest praise for adapting in such a flexible and resilient manner to these vastly changed circumstances.

I am aware that you have established strong support structures amongst yourselves, such as whatsapp groups, zoom meetings and quiz nights. This is very important at a time like this. While it is not an ideal substitute for face-to-face interaction, we are fortunate that technology has provided us with alternatives to in-person meetings and gatherings of people.

The Higher Education Institutions deserve praise for their early transition to remote learning to ensure students can complete their courses with minimum disruption. I also wish to thank them for the tremendous support they have provided to international students during this crisis.

Despite the challenges, this difficult period will pass. I hope that when you return to your country of origin you will do so – despite everything – with fond memories of your time in Ireland.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 2020 is the 46th anniversary of Ireland’s Fellowship programme, with more than two thousand scholarships awarded since 1974.

In recent years, we have expanded the programme to invite applicants from new countries and, this year, I am delighted to welcome Fellows for the first time from Eritrea and Palestine.

The Ireland-Palestine Scholarship Programme is a new development in our longstanding support for education in Palestine, and we look forward to seeing it develop further in the years ahead.

I would also like to welcome students from Lesotho and Rwanda as I know this is the first time for some years that these countries have been represented.

The Fellowship programme is in a phase of evolution and will be expanded further again this year, with candidates from Small Island Developing States coming to Ireland for the first time. The Irish Government has also made a commitment in our new Africa Strategy to double the number of Ireland-Africa fellows by 2025.

The Africa Strategy aims to deepen and strengthen Ireland’s political, economic and cultural relationships with Africa contributing to peace, prosperity and sustainable development.

We expect approximately 100 fellows to come from Africa this September – a one-third increase on the current number.

The growth of the Fellowship programme and the inclusion of new countries is part of Ireland’s response to the evolving context and changing needs of its partner countries.

Having read some of your profiles I am aware of just how much talent we have gathered here today. However, talent is often only one factor in the equation. As a former Education Minister I am acutely conscious of the fundamental importance of opportunity – of access to learning - to our ability to develop and flourish.

Education has been one of the key drivers of our own development here in Ireland in recent decades, providing personal choice and opportunity at an individual level, while supporting sustainable economic growth and productivity at the level of society.

I hope that the qualification you have gained during the Fellowship programme will help to move you on to the next level of success at a personal level while also enabling you to make a greater contribution at the level of society.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the three Fellows who will speak today about the journey that has brought them here:
- Ms. Bronwyn April, from South Africa, who is studying at the Institute of Technology, Carlow
- Mr. David Mugarra, from Uganda, who is at the University of Limerick
And Ms. Pham Thi Yen Nhi, from Vietnam, who is studying at University College, Dublin.

I look forward to hearing from them about their time in Ireland and their area of scholarship.

To the rest of today’s participants, I hope that this seminar will provide a moment to reflect and to cast your mind back to when you arrived in Ireland. No matter who you are, or where you have come from, you have been on a journey in recent months. You have adapted to a different culture – and a different climate. Despite the pandemic and the restrictions that it has brought, I sincerely hope that you will leave Ireland with positive memories.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Director of ICOS, Sarah Lennon, and her team for their commitment to providing a personable and professional service to Fellows every year and, in particular, for helping you to cope with the many issues that can arise in adapting to a new country and culture.

I would also like to thank the Irish Universities Association and the Technological Higher Education Association, and all the Institutes of Higher Education, who work closely with us and with ICOS on the Fellowship Programme, and who provide such a warm welcome to the fellows and such a rewarding experience.

Ladies and Gentlemen, It is a pleasure to address you all, the next generation of thinkers, policy makers, analysts and leaders. I hope I am not placing too big a burden on you when I describe you as such.

I am sure that during your time in Ireland you have engaged in a critical, thoughtful, imaginative and inclusive way and through your studies you are responding to the many challenges that we are presented with, including poverty, inequality, climate change, humanitarian crises, poor governance and gender inequality.

Before concluding, I would ask each of you to stay connected with Ireland upon your return to your home countries. I am aware that fellowship alumni networks are active in many of your countries. Engage our embassies and engage each other. Hopefully you have made bonds and friendships over the course of this year which will last a lifetime and hopefully one of these is with Ireland.

I wish you the very best of luck.

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