CONOR LENIHAN TD Minister of State visits SMA, Blackrock Road, Cork

Conor Lenihan TD (Minister of State) with Fr Martin O Farrell SMA and Fr Damian Bresnahan SMA On Tuesday, 11 May 2005, the Society of African Missions was host to a representative gathering of Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles, Franciscan Missionary Sisters of St Joseph, Mercy Sisters, Little Sisters of the Assumption, Holy Rosary Sisters, Bon Secours Sisters, Presentation Sisters and Brothers, Christian Brothers, Good Shepherd Sisters, St Louis Sisters, Augustinian Community, Sacred Heart Missionaries, Society of St Patrick and the Society of St Columban.

The occasion was the visit to SMA House, Blackrock Road, Cork of the Minister of State for Development Cooperation and Human Rights, Mr Conor Lenihan TD. The Minister had come to Cork for a public meeting. He took the opportunity to meet missionaries because of their long-standing commitment to the spiritual, material, medical and educational development of peoples in Africa and elsewhere.

Minister’s Talk
The Minister told the meeting that “the Government has decided to prepare a White Paper on Ireland’s official programme of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA). The White Paper will set out clearly the Government’s policy for the future direction of its official programme of ODA which is managed by Development Cooperation Ireland, a Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs”.

“The record of the Irish Church and Irish clergy of all denominations shows the enormous contribution and the footprints that you have left in Africa and other places around the world”, he said. “If one has to look for an area of moral leadership in Ireland where the Church and churches and churchmen and churchwomen have shown huge leadership, it is in the area of development, particularly in relation to Africa. I was absolutely astounded and perhaps I shouldn’t have been. But everywhere I went in Africa, I found a footprint left by Irish missionaries, priests and nuns and brothers… there is a footprint there that preceded the creation of our own aid programme which stands at €545m this year.

“I’m been my job since September. But in this room there is several hundred years of experience of development, individually and collectively.

Minister Conor Lenihan with Sister Agnes FMJ from Kenya“I am here in Cork to speak on Overseas Development Assistance, but it is you missionaries who have led this whole issue in Ireland… The truth of the matter is this. There has been a lot of social commentary about our most recent ascent to affluence. A lot of people have said that in moving from that relatively poor, high emigration, high unemployment society to a society of full employment that there has been some loss in the value system and that we have become individualistic and materialistic. And I have to say that this is outright rubbish. An example I use to show and make this point clear is that, when this country was affected by high emigration and high unemployment and by a culture of failure in the 1980s and when Bob Geldorf led an appeal even in those stressed times in Ireland to give generously to express solidarity, there was a huge response. And when you flick down the years and see the tsunami response from a much different society, of inward migration as distinct from emigration, of full employment, a society of affluence and plenty, yet the value system of generosity hasn’t changed at all in those twenty years. And that is a tribute to yourselves because you have led the way in this regard, you are the people who preached and talked about this issue about world poverty and poverty at home as well… You have led the way in this area and that is why I am here tonight to acknowledge that contribution and to listen to what you have to say.

“Ireland now is in a position of affluence… and we are leaders in development. We are the ninth largest per capita contributor to overseas aid. That is only the contribution that the State makes, not to talk of what you and Irish NGOs do on the world scene. So we are leaders in this area. There are only five countries who have achieved the 0.7% of GNP and we are in the chasing pack of four or five countries which can actually attain it before the 2015 deadline set by Kofi Amin and the UN. And we will achieve that. It is my view that we can not only achieve it, but we can exceed it, as countries, for instance, like Norway have done. We can do it and we will do it because we are building on a very strong foundation built by yourselves and your ‘fore-fathers’ so to speak… There is also another issue… Ireland has a tradition of giving. The memory and legacy of famine still lives on in our minds and in our culture… And we were conquered and we were colonised… But because we did liberate ourselves from oppression we can also give something that other counties simply cannot give who have not had these experiences… We do also receive kudos in return for what we do… we get respect on the international front for the role that we play in development and for what we have achieved we gain an influence beyond our weight… For what you have contributed to this I say thank you.”

Questions and Issues
After his contribution the Minister answered questions from the audience covering such issues as:

  • G8 and Third World Debt and the necessity for Ireland, which is committed to 100% release from debt, to lobby G8 members to help developing countries overwhelmed by their incapacity to ever meet these debts many of which would seem to be unjust
  • The need to have an immigration policy that would be fair and efficient for asylum seekers
  • Concern about the delays in the present process that impact negatively on the mental health of applicants
  • A recent situation when an immigrant had been in Ireland for three years and had permission to work; but when he applied for a work permit the fourth year to the Department of Labour he received a message “on information received from the Department of Justice your work permit cannot be renewed”
  • The lack of trust or the apparent reluctance of the Department in the past in funding projects through missionaries, indeed Irish missionaries, already working in areas of grave need, a situation which some would argue still prevails today

In introducing the Minister, Fr Martin O’Farrell SMA, Director of the SMA Development Office, spoke of the cordial relations that have existed for many years now between the Department of Foreign Affairs and missionaries, especially in Africa. The cooperation and encouragement that was received was appreciated.

He then explained the new company recently set up by the Irish Missionary Union called the IMRS. The primary role of the company is to support the development work of Irish missionary organisations and their partners in the development world. The initial emphasis of the company is on the sourcing and allocation of funds for missionary development personnel and projects. One such source is the Ireland Aid under the auspices of the Department of Foreign Affairs. This year Ireland Aid provided €12 million to IMRS and there is a draft proposal to raise the amount to €20 million over the next three years.


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