Letter from the SMA to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment

“And I put it to you as President of Ireland, how do we want to be seen from abroad? Giving a lead in matters like this, which a country like us, given our population size, given our record, can do so well. Or to be people who have recoiled, simply, in the politics of fear…”
– President Michael D Higgins

“I firmly believe this proposal presents Ireland with a unique opportunity to showcase increasingly strong leadership on Africa. The Great Green Wall’s vision of a self-empowered and resilient Continent is fully aligned with the outcomes of the 5th European Union-Africa Summit, which calls for European support for African-led solutions, in particular to the growing challenges of youth unemployment, peace and security and mobility and migration.”
– Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary, UNCCD

Editor’s Note: Below we publish a letter, signed by Fr. Maurice Henry SMA, on behalf of the Society of African Missions, to Minister Denis Naughten, in support of the UNCCD’s proposal to the Irish Government, inviting Ireland – the Emerald Isle – to take a leading role in championing Africa’s Great Green Wall. 

Background to the Letter:

On Tuesday 27 March 2018, the Society of African Missions facilitated a meeting between the United Nations Convention and Irish Government Ministers whose portfolios include Climate Action. The meeting followed the very successful gathering at Aras an Uachtaráin the evening before, hosted by the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins. Unfortunately, the much anticipated meeting with Government Ministers proved to be frustrating and unsatisfactory as the Ministerial Cabinet meeting, expected to end by midday, ran over. The meeting was dominated by pressing political matters resulting in them arriving late which, apart from Minister for State Andrew Doyle TD, meant they missed the excellent and moving presentation by the UN Executive Secretary, Monique Barbut. 

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten TD

What was positive, however, was the fact that, despite their busy schedules, the Ministers did make the effort to attend.

Following an impassioned intervention by the Society, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten TD, requested the UNCCD to forward a proposal to his office which he promised to bring to Cabinet. The UNCCD, in turn, requested the Society of African Missions to write to Minister Naughten in support of their proposal which was based upon Madam Barbut’s Op-Ed, published in the Irish Independent on the morning of our meeting, and which we published last week on the SMA website. The Op-Ed may be read by clicking here.

A response to the letter is assured and we will inform our readers of the outcome.

The contents of Fr. Henry’s letter follows:

Minister Denis Naughten T.D.
Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment
Department for CCAE
29-31 Adelaide Road
Dublin
D02 X285

4 April 2018

Dear Minister Naughten

On behalf of the Society of African Missions, I wish to thank you for your participation in the recent meeting, facilitated by Chief Whip, Mr Joe McHugh, between your Department, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification Executive Secretary, Ms. Monique Barbut, and Communications Officer Mr. Alex Asen, to discuss the Convention’s proposal to Ireland concerning Africa’s Great Green Wall.

We welcome your openness to consider the UN proposal which offers Ireland a unique EU and international ambassadorial role in championing the cause of this epic African initiative.
The SMA made the point during the meeting that the UNCCD’s invitation is too important to let slip through our hands. That is a position we continue to hold and will maintain.
From an Irish perspective, the proposal of the UNCCD and its link with the Society of African Missions’ initiative to promote tree planting and biodiversity in Ireland opens up many important opportunities.

It has been widely acknowledged by the Government, as well as many NGOs and Voluntary groups, that Ireland is falling substantially short of its commitments under the Paris Climate Accord. This is not only avoidable, but unacceptable and must motivate all parties concerned to seek immediate and effective ways of addressing these shortcomings in both current policy and practice.

The Proposal made by the UNCCD to the ministerial meeting on March 27th clearly offers a concrete way to address the current inadequacies of Ireland’s activity and an innovative way by which to help realise 15 or the 17 SDGs.

More than that, however, it offers Ireland the opportunity to be a global leader in supporting this unique initiative and in re-establishing Ireland’s “green” credentials on the world stage. It offers Ireland the chance to position itself as a country which has benefited from the affluence of the Celtic Tiger and has withstood the impact of the financial crash, and now sees beyond itself, beyond the alleviation of national debt and the re-ordering of financial accountability. It allows Ireland to acknowledge on the international stage that other issues are now on its national agenda, issues which derive from our global citizenship, which embrace Ireland’s history, with its experience of oppression, of hunger, of migration. Furthermore, it demonstrates a determination by Ireland to address climate change as the common and overriding threat to the wellbeing of so many, including those new Irish citizens who, until recently lived with such realities, realities with which SMA members have been all too familiar in their years of service in Africa.

These are benefits, not measurable by simple monetary contributions, important as those may be. These are benefits which can help to shape and build a national mindset and confidence, inclusive of all members of our society, regardless of their ethnic, religious or cultural background. This is an initiative which can offer the “New Irish” a meaningful channel of integration into their adopted homeland through recognition of the realities of their countries of origin.

Africa’s Great Green Wall will become a world wonder. And it will succeed because it is an African initiative, being delivered on the ground by the African people. In pursuit of this, one of the top UN officials, Monique Barbut, has come to Ireland and offered us a unique role in helping to deliver and grow it. We know from our contacts with schools, the faith community, civil society, as well as the Irish Presidency, that Africa’s Great Green Wall has the power to capture the imagination of all. This truly is a wall the whole world can believe in.

At the recent Aras reception, President Michael D Higgins, reiterating the opportunity which currently exists, issued the following challenge:

“And I put it to you as President of Ireland, how do we want to be seen from abroad? Giving a lead in matters like this, which a country like us, given our population size, given our record, can do so well. Or to be people who have recoiled, simply, in the politics of fear…”

We believe that the proposal presented to the Irish Government by the UNCCD represents an immense opportunity for Ireland to imaginatively lead on a new hope-filled journey of solidarity with Africa and renewed commitment to making the critical and unforgiving issue of our age, climate breakdown, a top priority. The Great Green Wall will inspire our young people to act locally and think globally through protecting biodiversity at home and being part of the growing of a world wonder. In addition, it offers a context within which to encourage young Irish people to emulate their ancestors’ impact on the wider world, whether as emigrants, pioneers or missionaries, and to ask what contribution they themselves can make to the global family, what they can do to shape the future of the human family, how they can address issues of universal concern.

The World Meeting of Families in August, and the attendance of Pope Francis, will bring international media attention to Ireland. This presents an opportunity to establish Ireland as a world leader in caring for the global family, incorporating care for others and care for creation in the vision of the Irish government and people, by way of a response to the challenge of Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ to establish “a new and universal solidarity”.

In conclusion, we entirely concur with the following statement by Monique Barbut which accompanies the UNCCD’s proposal and echoes the declaration of President Higgins:

“I firmly believe this proposal presents Ireland with a unique opportunity to showcase increasingly strong leadership on Africa. The Great Green Wall’s vision of a self-empowered and resilient Continent is fully aligned with the outcomes of the 5th European Union-Africa Summit, which calls for European support for African-led solutions, in particular to the growing challenges of youth unemployment, peace and security and mobility and migration.”

We recognise that this is an issue within your ministerial portfolio and that this alone merits its consideration by you. However, we would also wish to acknowledge your interest and engagement with the matter by your efforts to attend the meeting, despite your limited availability. We therefore ask you to consider this proposal with the generosity and imagination it deserves; and to also consider it as a visionary opportunity for the Government of Ireland to lead at home and abroad.

Yours sincerely,

Fr. Maurice Henry SMA
SMA Provincial Council

Cc An Tánaiste, MinisterSimon Coveney, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
MinisterMichael Creed, Department of Agriculture
Minister Joe McHugh, Government Chief Whip
Minister Andrew Doyle, Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture