Minister denies postponing Famine event

Mon, Jul 11, 2011, 01:00

THE GOVERNMENT has rejected claims it postponed the National Famine Commemoration Day due to the Queen’s visit but has declined to name a date for the event, other than saying it will take place in the autumn.

Last week, the commemoration committee of the Irish Famine Victims held a demonstration outside the Dáil criticising the Government for failing to announce a date. Since 2008, the Government has held a national commemoration in May in rotating provinces, with the 2009 and 2010 events taking place on the second Sunday of the month.

Michael Blanch, chairman of the Famine group, claims this date was set down during initial talks with the National Famine Commemoration Committee.

“But this year we had a visitor,” said Mr Blanch. “So the commemoration would have been on the Sunday and the Queen’s visit on the Tuesday. It would have been a nice curtain raiser. But who knows what the Government is thinking? This event happened in 1845 and we’re still suffering. It’s like a taboo subject in Ireland, like suicide and the abuse of children. It’s put under the carpet.”

A statement from Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan said: “It is important to note that there is no date set in the calendar for the event in question.”

Claims by Mr Blanch that the commemoration was abandoned due to the Queen’s visit were described as “inaccurate”.

The department said an Ulster venue for the 2011 event was announced over a fortnight ago on June 23rd. However, despite confirmation this year’s commemoration would take place in Clones, Co Monaghan, it fell short of announcing an official date, referring only to “autumn”.

Mr Blanch expected an official date to be announced in early June and has dismissed Mr Deenihan’s statement as “vague and up in the air”. The commemoration activist also expressed disappointment at the country’s “lack of awareness” of the Famine. He questioned institutions’ willingness to raise awareness, referring to the absence of a national museum in Dublin.

He said: “Strokestown House Famine Museum in Co Roscommon is better than nothing. It gives an input into what happened, what the people were suffering and there are a lot of documents there.” But he said people should not have to travel “miles away from the capital city” to learn about the Famine.

Terrence McDonough, a professor of economics who works on famine issues at the Moore Institute at NUI Galway, agreed that a lot more work should be done in Ireland to remember the Famine.

“The Irish Famine is very much underserved by the State’s various heritage institutions. A regular commemoration is extremely important.”