Lord Provost, I left Ireland nearly 20 years ago, to travel the world.
It will come as no surprise to anyone in this Chamber that when I came to Glasgow three years into my travels, I was taken by the warmth and friendliness of the people and I made this great city my home. I have always been made to feel extremely welcome here, and so, Lord Provost can I please start by saying in my native Irish tongue, go raibh míle míle maith agaibh, a thousand thousand thank yous or in Scottish Gàidhlig, moran taing,many thanks.
Lord Provost, the potato blight of the 1840s affected large parts of northern Europe. Countries such as Belgium, Prussia and France were greatly affected.
However, it was in the Scottish Highlands and Islands and in Ireland where the potato blight had its most devastating impact. And at the time, they were all part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
With this in mind, let me read this quote: “That one million people should have died in what was then part of the richest and most powerful nation in the world is something that still causes pain as we reflect on it today. Those who governed in London at the time failed their people through standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive human tragedy. We must not forget such a dreadful event.”
These of course were the words, in 1997, of the then UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
And this human tragedy knew no national, knew no sectarian boundaries. People of many different faiths both in Scotland and Ireland suffered. But what they had in common was an over dependency on a single food crop.
And why had they become so overdependent on the potato? One fundamental reason; poverty, a man-made disease that still plagues us today.
Only last week we heard shocking accounts of children living in the margins in our city going to bed hungry.
And what of the reality of famine. Thankfully, most of us in this chamber, cannot begin to imagine the total despair and agony of mothers and fathers as they watch their beautiful children slowly waste away in front of them.
At the time, those who could afford it made for North America. So in Glasgow, the poorest of the poor flooded the city, peaking at a rate of 1000 per week.
An article from the Herald at the time reads: “The streets of Glasgow are at present literally swarming with vagrants from the sister country and the misery which many of these poor creatures endure can scarcely be less than what they have fled from or been driven from at home.”
The article goes on to detail how the authorities were overwhelmed but still did what they could to help. Despite the negative reaction of some there were many who acted with compassion and charity. In today’s terms millions of pounds were raised.
Glasgow’s population expanded at a rate not seen anywhere else in Europe. Only New York had a similar population explosion. And there are many parallels between that great city’s story and our own.
Lord Provost, I came to this city out of choice not necessity. In May, I was very honoured to take my seat as a city councillor.
However, as I sat here during our first full meeting, I felt a great sense of melancholy and humility, thinking of my compatriots both Irish and Scottish who came to this city before me with the horrifying sole purpose of survival. But survived they did. And we are their children. We are, the children of survivors.
will pay tribute to the survivors and to those who perished.
will act as an educational focal point for future generations.
will tell visitors who we are and what we have come from.
will be a testament to the charitable and generous nature of Glasgow’s citizens.
and as citizens of the world it will be a strong message to those in the world today still suffering from famine and other symptoms of poverty that we in Glasgow stand in solidarity with you.
Lord Provost, I am honoured and proud as an Irishman and as a Glaswegian to move this motion and I hope it receives the support of this House.