Call to 'confront lessons of the past'


Ireland and Britain must lay their over-lapping histories side-by-side and confront the lessons of the past, rather than indulging in 'a state of amnesia', President Michael D. Higgins has declared.

Speaking in Liverpool tonight, Mr Higgins recounted the city's links with Ireland built through the suffering of the 1.3m Irish people who fled hunger from Ireland during the Famine.

"Often they left no surviving family behind to remember them," said Mr Higgins, who gave the John Kennedy Lecture to the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool.

"These waves of desperate Irish people seeking survival were moving into urban spaces that had already experienced hostility and sectarianism," he went on.

"We must never forget the suffering of the victims of the Famine, including those who perished en route to this city or shortly after arrival, as well as those who gave their lives helping the sick and dying.

"It is a testament to the people of Liverpool today that so much has been done to mark that dark period in our history, such as the Great Hunger Memorial where I laid a wreath earlier today," he declared.

Quoting historian, Graham Davis, Mr Higgins recorded how the influx of Irish immigrants was exploited by Protestant Irishmen in the city to whip up anti-Catholic feeling in a bid to control the city's council.

British newspapers of the time, he went on, gave their readers 'regular recitals regarding Irish characteristics, which were hardening into suggested permanent, even racial, features'.

"Sometimes too the Irish, even at the height of the Great Famine, were accused of a lamentable ingratitude," he went on, even though the evidence showed that the Irish worked hard and long when they got work.

Later generations of Irish immigrants to Liverpool 'nurtured and strengthened the traditional Irish organisations such as the GAA' and established welfare agencies still operating today.

"It was their spirit of volunteerism, their willingness to give so freely of their time, energy and imagination that ensured the survival and continued success of community and cultural organisations in Liverpool.

"They embodied the particular virtue of so many Irish people that, when faced with challenges, we try to ensure, if I may use a Liverpool phrase from a different context, that nobody will have to walk alone," he said.

Earlier, Mr Higgins supported declarations from the head of the Brent Irish Advisory Service, Mr Mike McGing, who had called on the successful Irish in Britain to do more to help weaker members in the community.

Calling on all those 'who have been luckier and those who have surplus', Mr Higgins said: "If we are all Irish together we have to take responsibility for each other."