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Ireland can help Uganda out

By Kevin Kelly

Remembering Ireland’s own recovery as a nation, it stands with Uganda in her journey to prosperity.

St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s national day, is celebrated on 17th March every year.  On this day, Irish people and their friends across the world engage in celebrations of our heritage and culture.  It’s a day that reminds us of the enduring solidarity of the global Irish family, the strength this unity gives us, and the pride we feel about being Irish.

It is appropriate to remind ourselves that as recently as the 1950s, Ireland was still one of the poorest countries in Europe. Our economy was stagnant and many of our people were forced to emigrate in search of work.  It was not until the late twentieth century that we finally managed to shake off many of the historical legacies that continued to hold us back and finally emerge as a strong and proud nation.

How did this happen?  A number of factors contributed to our success.  We became a member of the European Community in 1973 thus opening the way to new markets and to assistance from Europe in developing our infrastructure. A lot of effort went into attracting foreign direct investment into the country.  We invested heavily in our education system.  And we finally managed with our closest neighbour the United Kingdom, to secure a peace dividend in Northern Ireland, with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.  We continue to build upon this historic achievement which has helped bring an end to the long period of conflict there.

We have learned lessons along the way, and in recent years we have faced major economic challenges. In tackling these challenges however, we take hope and inspiration from past problems transcended, from the peace which is growing in our land and from the depths of courage and generosity which underpin the rich community and civic life we enjoy.  Ireland is emerging from recession and the fundamentals of our trading economy are strong.  Ireland continues to be a very attractive location for business and is ranked first in the eurozone for ease of doing business.  Ireland ran the second highest trade surplus in Europe after Germany in the period from January to November 2010, and we are now among the largest net exporters of pharmaceuticals in the world. We still have a young, highly educated and flexible workforce.  The new government just elected last week has dedicated itself to getting the economy moving, restoring confidence, fixing our banking system and supporting the protection and creation of jobs. The government is determined to rebuild Ireland’s reputation internationally and to drive export-led economic recovery.

Ireland has always been known for its creative genius, and for the friendliness of its people.  It continues to produce outstanding writers, musicians and artists.  Dublin is one of only four cities in the world to be designated a UNESCO City of Literature.  Ireland is now the fifth most popular tourism destinations in the world on the social network Facebook. The Irish community around the world is one of our strongest assets.  We are determined to work with our Diaspora and the Global Irish Network to build a new strategic relationship which will bring practical benefits to the Irish at home and abroad.

St. Patrick was not in fact Irish.  He was an immigrant who came to Ireland as a missionary and spent the rest of his life there.  His example subsequently encouraged the many thousands of Irish missionaries who have given their lives overseas in the service of their adopted countries. One was a young Irish woman from Wicklow called Teresa Kearney who arrived in Mombasa in 1903 and then made her way 800 miles inland to Buganda until she reached Nsambya. Teresa, or Mother Kevin as she became known, established two orders of religious sisters, one Irish and one Ugandan that today have hundreds of sisters. By the time this remarkable woman died in 1957 and received a Chief’s burial in Nkokonjeru, she had left behind a tradition of Irish humanitarian engagement, a legacy of over 80 different institutions (schools, hospitals, clinics, training centres) and a culture of sustainable development that has influenced us all.

The achievements of Mother Kevin soon attracted the attention of other Irish missionaries who also came and established schools and hospitals in Uganda.  Irish NGOs such as Concern, Goal and Trocaire arrived during some of Uganda’s darkest days and have stayed to assist Uganda on its impressive journey.  The work of these humanitarians then caught the attention of the Irish government which decided to put its foot in the water in 1994 by opening up a diplomatic mission which today is providing assistance to the tune of €33 million per year.

And so the Irish engagement in Uganda has continued to widen to include partnerships between Irish and Ugandan universities, training programmes between Irish and Ugandan police but perhaps most importantly, a growing Irish economic trade interest in the country. A number of serious investors such as Tullow Oil have seen the benefits of investing in the future of Uganda. A very potent symbol of the close connection between Uganda and Ireland can be found in the fact that one of our own, the formidable Dr Ian Clarke, was recently elected as Chairman of Makindye. Dr Clarke and his wife Robbie made Uganda their home many years ago but are still proud of their Irish heritage!

Uganda stands at a crossroads.  It has made great progress in a number of areas with consistently high economic growth, a reduction in poverty levels, a peace dividend throughout most of the country, and strengthened institutions.  It still faces major challenges.  We will continue to assist the people of Uganda to address these challenges through well targeted interventions aimed at capacity building, institutional strengthening and a focus on chronic poverty. Central to our partnership is a commitment to human rights, democratic participation, safety, security and prosperity for all.  Remembering our own recent journey as a nation, we stand with Uganda in her journey towards prosperity.

I will leave the last words to our President, Mary McAleese who sends the following greeting in our native language: Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig ar chlann mhór dhomanda na nGael, sa bhaile agus ar fud no cruinne, as ár la náisiunta ceiliurtha féin.  “The blessings of St. Patrick on the large worldwide Irish clan, at home and abroad, on this our national day…

Kevin Kelly is the ambassador of Ireland in Uganda

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