In November 1995, while still a student, I went into Trócaire’s office in Booterstown, Dublin, and had a conversation that would change my life.
At the time, Nigeria was ruled by a military government, and it had announced that it was about to execute Ken Saro Wiwa, leader of the Ogoni people, alongside 8 other Ogoni leaders.
The “Ogoni Nine”, as they became known as, had been leading a peaceful struggle against the destruction of their land through oil exploitation.
I had arranged to meet Trócaire’s Campaigns Officer to volunteer as a student campaigner. The urgency and severity of the Ogoni case shocked me and I joined the struggle for justice for the Ogoni people. Within two years, I moved from being a student campaigner to becoming a full time Trócaire staff member.
The Ogoni nine were executed on 9th November 1995 in an appalling act of violence. This illustrated a dangerous nexus between dictatorial governments and multinational oil companies.
Today, I take up my new role of CEO in Trócaire. The world has changed in many respects over the last two decades. Thankfully there are fewer military governments. Public executions of activists by governments are rare.
However, governments that put the interests of business above the lives of poor people are failing to prevent the murder of hundreds of peaceful human rights defenders every year.
In fact, last year was the deadliest year on record for human rights defenders across the world. 207 activists were killed for attempting to protect communities, land and the environment from exploitation and human rights abuses.
A voice for those who take a stand against injustice
Under my leadership, Trócaire will continue to be a voice for those who take a stand against injustice and who put their own lives on the line.
We will continue to highlight how unfair policies, such as Ireland’s weak performance on climate action, impact directly on the most vulnerable people in the world.
We will work with those whose lives have been shattered by conflict, to help them recover from the trauma as well as physical destruction. We will call for those responsible for abuses of civilians to be held to account.
In the next two months, I will visit Palestine, Iraq and Ethiopia to witness the work of Trócaire and its partners. I am very much looking forward to meeting the people whom we are supporting and to ensuring that they know they are not alone, nor are they forgotten.
These are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters whose hearts beat with the same anxiety and hope as any of ours. As a mother, I know I will be affected by the children I meet in particular, but this will strengthen my resolve.
I want to make sure Trócaire is able to provide help where it is most needed, and that we continue to campaign and advocate for a more just world.
As CEO of Trócaire, I’m looking forward to taking on this challenge and to continue to dedicate myself to Trócaire’s mission for social justice.
Caoimhe de Barra succeeds Eamonn Meehan who has recently retired as Executive Director of Trócaire. She has over 20 years’ experience managing development and humanitarian operations with Trócaire and Concern. A fluent Irish speaker, Caoimhe is married to Carl, and has two sons, Fionán and Ferdia. She has a Masters in Development Studies from University College Dublin.