Minister questions military element of Famine commemoration

Fine Gael TD calls for ‘fixed date’ for a national Famine day on second Sunday in May

Minister for Heritage Heather Humphreys has questioned the statutory requirement to have military ceremonial elements in a national Famine day commemoration.

Ms Humphreys said that the Famine commemoration in Northern Ireland in 2015 had no military involvement. She said including a requirement for a military element in ceremonial commemorations of the Famine “could create difficulties for organisers in future years”.

Ms Humphreys was speaking in the Dáil as she agreed to support, at second stage, a Private Members' Bill by fellow Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy seeking a fixed date to be set every year for the commemoration of the Famine which he defined as occurring between 1845 and 1852.

The Bill calls for the annual commemoration to be fixed for the second Sunday of May each year and states that it should be known as the National Famine Commemoration Day.


Mr Brophy’s Bill also includes a requirement for civil and military ceremonial elements and states that it should also include an inter-faith service.

Ms Humphreys said it was noticeable that the religious component of the Northern Ireland commemoration in 2015 “was significantly reduced by agreement with the local organisers”.


The Minister said the National Famine Commemoration Committee endeavoured to hold the ceremony on the second Sunday of May each year but a degree of flexibility was beneficial to ensure the president or taoiseach of the day was available for the event. Commemorations were held in September last year because of the number of 1916 centenary ceremonies.

Ms Humphreys said she believed the challenges of setting a fixed date could be overcome and she acknowledged that “by fixing a date we are saying, without hesitation, that the Famine has left an indelible mark on Ireland and can never be forgotten”.

Mr Brophy said that nine years on from the first commemoration in 2008 “all too few people in this country even know this national day exists. Very few talk about this event and even fewer children in our schools learn about this day when they study the Great Famine as part of the school curriculum.”

However, the Minister said that children and young people learned about modern famine, poverty and the challenges of developing countries through a number of school subjects.

Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín questioned why the Government, given its commitment to “new politics”, did not accept almost exactly similar legislation that he introduced last year.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times