Trócaire Blogs


March 16, 2017

Why the Irish flag is a symbol of hope around the world

Sitting in a camp in northern Myanmar, surrounded by people who have had to flee their homes due to violence, there are constant reminders of how far you are from home. 

This is a remote part of a country that was until recently almost entirely cut off from the outside world. The sights and sounds are very different from what we are used to back in Ireland. One thing is familiar, however: the names of the people. 

Standing outside one makeshift home is Patrick. At the home next to him is Mary. In every camp we visit, we meet people with Irish names; people who have never travelled beyond their province of Myanmar but who are named after the people who have for many years delivered education and healthcare to them. 

People in that region have benefited enormously for decades from the support of Irish people. Many of them name their children in tribute to our country. 

It is just one example of how Irish people have had an extraordinary impact across the world and how our country and our flag are known for the goodwill they inspire.

Trócaire's Nicaragua teamTrócaire's Nicaragua team get ready for St. Patrick's Day by showing their colours. 

When I lived in Uganda and Zimbabwe, where I oversaw Trócaire’s projects, nothing gave me more pride than seeing the Irish flag proudly displaying on posters and billboards outside projects that had transformed people’s lives. 

I would visit communities where water wells and irrigation systems were allowing people to grow food. People would ask me where I was from and when I replied their eyes would immediately smile. 

For families living in these communities, the Irish flag came to represent hope. It often flies at projects that are giving families a chance to lift themselves out of poverty. 

Trócaire is enormously proud to be partnering with the Ceann Comhairle’s office and the Thomas Meagher Foundation to build even stronger links between the Irish flag and our projects overseas. 

The Ceann Comhairle’s Africa Project is supporting our work in northern Ethiopia, and the Foundation has generously come on board to support those efforts. Communities we work with in northern Ethiopia are impacted by very severe droughts, so with the help of the Ceann Comhairle Office and Thomas Meagher Foundation we are building irrigation and other systems to improve water access. 

The Irish flag itself is a powerful symbol of what Trócaire works for across the world. The green, white and orange represents peace and co-existence between people. Trócaire brings that message to the communities where we work; communities who have often suffered enormously because of conflict and where healing and mutual respect is needed. 

I have just recently returned from South Sudan, where over three million people have had to flee their homes due to conflict between political leaders. The conflict has led to a famine in parts of the country, with the lives of millions of people hanging in the balance over the next few months. 

How badly people in South Sudan need the message of hope Ireland’s tricolour signifies. 

Ireland is a small country but our flag is known around the world as a symbol of peace, hope and compassion. 

Trócaire works with the poorest communities in the poorest countries on Earth. Many of these people would never have heard of Ireland were it not for the support being given to them. 

They do not know much about Ireland, but what they do know is that Irish people are filled with compassion and generosity. 

When we look at our flag today, we should take enormous pride from that fact. 

This article was originally published in The Peoples' Flag supplement published in The Irish Indepenent on March 16th, 2017, in association with The Thomas F. Meagher Foundation. Read more about the Ceann Comhairle Project for Africa.

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March 16, 2017

Climate Plan ignores plight of poorest and most vulnerable

As drought pushes millions of people to the brink of famine in East Africa, Ireland yesterday published its Draft National Mitigation Plan on Climate Change. 

The plan is Ireland’s first in ten years on how it intends to reduce the harmful emissions that contribute to climate change.

Unfortunately, Trócaire is disappointed by the lack of new ambition in the plan. 

This is the first climate plan following the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement, which stated very clearly the need for a significant increase in action and ambition on climate change in all countries – we don’t see that increase in ambition in this Plan.  

The draft Plan gives no acknowledgement, reflection or engagement with the level of ambition that Ireland committed to when it ratified the Paris Agreement in late 2016.

Current levels of climate change are already having devastating impacts on the communities that Trócaire works with.  From storms and flooding in Central America to drought and hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa, climate change is destroying lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable people who have done least to cause the problem.

Kitui, Kenya, 2010

The reality of climate change: This photograph was taken in 2010 in Kitui, Kenya. It shows people who have walked for miles to the dried up river Enziu, where they must dig for water. This desperate situation is now the norm across areas of Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and other East African countries where climate change had a profound impact on rainfall patterns, leading to protracted, life-threatening periods of drought. Up to 70 million people in the region are facing extreme food insecurity.

The Plan fails drastically in acknowledging the economic, human and environmental costs of failing to take action. This is despite the fact that Ireland has the 8th highest emissions per person among OECD countries, with emissions increasing by 3.7% in 2015.  

Ireland is only one of two countries in the European Union which will miss its 2020 emission reduction targets. Absence of a concrete plan now will only further the challenge of complying with Ireland’s 2030 targets and long-term 2050 national objective of reducing CO2 emissions by 80%.

That there will be a public consultation on the plan is to be welcomed, and it is also positive to see that climate change will feature in the Citizens’ Assembly later this year. 

We need a real and honest conversation about the urgency of the climate crisis and how we respond as a country.  We are already seeing gains in poverty reduction being significantly eroded by climate change. If we fail to act adequately over the next five years, it may be impossible to deliver on the commitments in the Paris Climate Agreement. The implications for all countries would be devastating, but the poorest and most vulnerable will pay the highest price. 

What's next?

A public consultation on the draft plan is now ongoing until 26th April, after which the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment will prepare a final draft to be submitted to the Cabinet in the first week of June.  

Trócaire and our allies in the Stop Climate Chaos coalition will be making a submission to the consultation, and will be contacting supporters to invite them to support our submission and recommendations. 

March 14, 2017

13 years after featuring on the Trócaire box, Josiane from Rwanda visits Ireland

Her photo has already been in a million homes and schools across Ireland, but this week, Josiane Umumarashavu is visiting Ireland for the first time to say thank you to the people of Ireland for their support.

RTÉ News caught up with Josiane as she visited a school in Knocklyon, Dublin.

In 2004 she was the girl on the Trócaire box. Back then, she was 12 years old and struggling after the Rwandan genocide had claimed the lives of her father, sister and two of her brothers.

Trócaire’s Lent campaign changed her life. Today Josiane is a university graduate and working as a finance intern for Trócaire in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

Josiane is being hosted in Ireland by Trócaire from March 9th to 20th visiting schools and communities around Ireland to share her story and show how support from Ireland is changing lives in the developing world.

Josiane's Story

Josiane Umumarashavu was a toddler when the genocide took place in Rwanda. In 1994 between April and July almost a million people were murdered, it is one of the most harrowing periods in world history.

Her earliest memory was when she was 3 years old (during the genocide) and her family left their home to find a safe place to hide. Her doll was left behind and she cried a lot wanting to go back but it was impossible.

When Trócaire first met Josiane she was 12 years old and living in a village in southern Rwanda. At that time her mother was really struggling to survive alone with three young children, living off a small piece of land and constantly facing the threat of hunger.

Lent 2014

(L) Josiane on the 2004 Trócaire box. (R) Josiane with her mother and brothers at their home in Rwanda in 2004.

During Lent 2004, Josiane appeared in homes and schools all over Ireland when her photograph featured on the front of the Trócaire box. With the support of the Irish public, the family was able to improve their farm so that they had enough to eat and could earn an income.

The generosity of Trócaire supporters also helped to provide many more families like Josiane's in Rwanda with the farming equipment they needed to improve their food production.

Her visit to Ireland

Her visit to Ireland, her first outside of Rwanda, highlights Trócaire’s Lent 2017 campaign and the importance of its continued work in the poorest communities in the world.

Josiane described how the 2004 Trócaire Lent campaign changed her life: “When I was a child we struggled to find enough to eat and we faced hunger. Thanks to Trócaire supporters, families like mine were provided with the different farming equipment we needed to grow more food. The support from the people in Ireland continued to help me and my family long after that campaign had finished. Life is definitely better now. We have a home, a piece of land, cows and goats. Because of this support I was able to finish my schooling."

“I still have a copy of the photograph and the Trócaire box in my home,” she said. “It makes me very happy to look at it and to think that people in Ireland saw my photo and thought about life in Rwanda.

“It was amazing to think that people from a different country were interested in my family. I am so happy to be in Ireland to say thank you and I’m very happy to be now part of the Trócaire team making changes in people’s lives in Rwanda."

Highlights from Josiane's trip with a special message for Trócaire supporters

Josiane at the sea in Clontarf, Dublin

Josiane sees the sea for the first time. At Clontarf, Dublin on March 13th 2017.

Read more about Josiane's story and see photos of her university graduation.

Learn more about this year's Lent campaign

March 13, 2017

Trócaire expresses regret at the death of Bishop Eamonn Casey

Trócaire has expressed regret at the death of Bishop Eamonn Casey, who was the Chairman of Trócaire for almost 20 years from 1973 to 1992.

eamonn casey

Bishop Casey speaking out against apartheid in South Africa

Bishop Casey was appointed Chairman of Trócaire following the organisation’s establishment in 1973. Working closely with the late Brian McKeown, Trócaire’s first Director, Bishop Casey shone a spotlight on situations of injustice overseas. He worked assiduously on behalf of marginalised communities, particularly in El Salvador, South Africa, Mozambique, Uganda, Malawi and the Philippines. 

Trócaire Chairman Bishop William Crean said his work with the organisation in the 1970s and 1980s had benefited millions of people around the world:

“Bishop Casey spoke out courageously in defence of persecuted communities overseas and was willing to place himself in danger in order to do so. His campaigning, both at home and overseas, raised awareness of grave injustices and helped to bring about positive change.”

Éamonn Meehan, Executive Director of Trócaire, said that Bishop Casey would be remembered with gratitude in communities across the developing world:

“For two decades Bishop Casey was the driving force behind Trócaire. Bishop Casey and Brian McKeown, the first Director, formed a dynamic partnership. Together, they stood courageously with the world’s poor and championed their cause when others would not do so.”

Trócaire was heavily involved in the fight for human rights in El Salvador in the 1970s, and Bishop Casey played a leading role in highlighting the killing of civilians, human rights activists and church leaders in the country. Trócaire was supporting the El Salvador Human Rights Commission, which had been set up by Archbishop Oscar Romero, and other human rights organisations in response to the unlawful killing of 8,000 people. 

When Archbishop Romero was murdered while saying Mass in 1980, Bishop Casey attended his funeral. The funeral was attacked by death squads and Bishop Casey narrowly avoided injury. He spent two hours ministering to the wounded. He was reported to have been the only Bishop to have remained at the Cathedral, with other visiting Bishops brought away for their own safety.

As an outspoken critic of apartheid, Bishop Casey called on the Irish Rugby Football Union to cancel a proposed tour of South Africa in 1981. He spearheaded Trócaire’s calls for the Government of Ireland to introduce trade sanctions against South Africa.

In February 1984, Bishop Casey went to visit the late Fr. Niall O’Brien in jail in the Philippines where he, along with two other priests and six lay workers, had been wrongly accused of murder. Bishop Casey described conditions in Bacolod Jail, where Fr. O’Brien was being held, as “sub-human” and called on the Irish government to condemn publicly the Philippines government, not just for the wrongful imprisonment of Fr. O’Brien but for the many cases of injustice in the country. In earlier years, he had also been instrumental in persuading the ESB to withdraw from its consultancy contract with the Philippine National Power Cooperation. In interviews he gave at the time, Bishop Casey said ESB involvement in the Philippines raised serious questions about human rights abuses and Ireland’s role in the developing world.

Bishop Casey

Bishop Casey on the steps of the Cathedral in San Salvador after 50 people were massacred at the funeral of Archbishop Romero.

Additional notes: 

1.       Before his appointment as Bishop of Kerry in 1969, Bishop Casey had spent ten years ministering to the Irish in Britain. This experience, he always said, was a defining moment for him. He set up the Shelter organisation to help Irish emigrants and others to acquire housing. He also saw how migrant workers found themselves socially excluded and quickly came to the realisation that in order to create change he had to engage in political processes and to hold people to account. 

2.       Fr. Niall O’Brien was arrested in the Philippines on false murder charges in May 1983. Trócaire had supported Fr. O’Brien’s work in the Philippines and campaigned for his release. Bishop Casey visited Fr. O’Brien in prison and also visited the United States where he made representations to the US Catholic hierarchy. As a result of this, the US Bishops subsequently urged the Reagan administration to put pressure on the Philippines government to release Fr. O’Brien. In July 1984 the charges against Fr. O’Brien and his eight co-accused were dropped. 

3.       Bishop Casey visited Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador in 1979 and was hugely affected by what he saw in the country. Following the Archbishop’s murder in 1980, Bishop Casey attended the funeral, which was attacked by right-wing death squads. The Irish News (8 April 1980) reported eyewitnesses saying that Bishop Casey stood at the door of the cathedral “while bullets were flying and guided people inside, trying to calm them and bring them to safety”. Bishop Casey was hugely critical of US government aid to the military of El Salvador and in 1984 boycotted a reception for President Reagan held in Galway in protest at American support for widespread human rights violations in the country. 

4.       South Africa was a priority country for Trócaire in the 1970s and 1980s at the height of the apartheid regime. The organisation began funding trade unions and other groups in South Africa in 1975. Bishop Casey was heavily involved in the organisation’s calls for the Government of Ireland to introduce trade sanctions against South Africa. In late March 1986 the Irish government announced a ban on imports of fruit and vegetables from South Africa.

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March 09, 2017

Seeing the impact of Lent donations in Zimbabwe

In November 2016, a Bishops Delegation travelled to Zimbabwe to see Trócaire's work firsthand. 

Four bishops, accompanied by Trócaire staff, visited Trócaire projects and saw the impact of Irish public's generous Lenten donations.

Bishops delegation to Zimbabwe

Photo Caption L to R: Bishop Noel Treanor of Down & Connor Diocese, Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Diocese, Bishop Brendán Leahy of Limerick Diocese and Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin Diocese, Éamonn Meehan, Trócaire Executive Director, in Zimbabwe, November 2016.

The group visited projects ranging from water schemes which provide clean water sources for families to drink and to grow food, to projects supporting people living with HIV, to legal support for families fighting injustices.

Large Garden irrigated by new water scheme, Zimbabwe

Photo caption: Vegetable garden irrigated by a new Trócaire funded water scheme.

"We saw firsthand the work of Trocaire in practice. With three other bishops and some Trocaire staff I travelled to Zimbabwe for a week where I saw how Trocaire does not give handouts but a hand up. We visited two water schemes, which are part-funded by Trocaire but run by local people who take responsibility for the projects. From these water schemes hundreds of locals benefit by having clean water sources for drinking, washing and farming. I witnessed how Trocaire helps people living with HIV to have a good diet and educates them in the importance of taking their medicine and living a healthy lifestyle. I saw how Trocaire funds local legal firms to fight the causes of the poor to retain ownership of their own lands or fight an unjust conviction or police detention." - Most Reverend Alphonsus Cullinan, DD, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore

Watch this video recorded at the start of Lent 2017 by the Most Reverend Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down & Connor Diocese, as he reflects on the work he saw on his visit with Trócaire to Zimbabwe.