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Somalia's cause is Ireland's cause, says Tánaiste on visit
Irish Times
Monday, July 30, 2012

TWENTY YEARS after Mary Robinson shed tears at the plight of Somalis caught up in a devastating famine, another senior Irish politician has witnessed at first hand the realities of this ravaged country.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore flew into the country’s capital, Mogadishu, yesterday for a surprise and secret visit. The fraught security situation, namely the continuing threat posed by the extreme Islamist group al-Shabaab, meant the visit was not made public until it had happened.

During the six-hour visit, Mr Gilmore visited a school and nutrition centre run by Irish aid agency Concern, witnessed the appalling conditions of a ramshackle camp housing 100,000 displaced people and met the prime minister of the transitional government.

In the two decades since the Robinson visit there have been continuous war, periodic famines, massive displacement of people, no functioning government and lawlessness. Countless thousands have died, and there are almost three million people displaced because of famine and violence.

While there is a more than a glimmer of hope with the successful offensive earlier this year that pushed al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu, the crisis facing the country remains one of the worst in the world, according to the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator Mark Bowden.

Mr Gilmore had a substantial security detail attached to him, travelled through the destroyed city in an armoured patrol vehicle and wore body and head protection at all times. But the heavy security was interspersed with very human encounters. In the Wil-waal school run by Concern, he saw how such Irish Aid projects can transform lives. The school caters for 750 children from unimaginably poor backgrounds, with girls and boys, dressed in shirts and veils of stunning yellow, red and blue, greeting the surprise visitor with exuberant smiles.

“What we saw today was the worst and the best of human nature,” he said. “We have seen the consequence of 20 years of war, of a destroyed city, 1.4 million people displaced from their home, people exposed to famine and disease, and in appalling living conditions.

“But we have also seen the resilience of this people and the positive outlook of all these kids.”

In the school he met a group of poor women who are being trained to earn an independent income. “The people of Ireland are friends of the people of Somalia. We wish to work wish you to improve your lives and help you. The future will be better. Let us keep hope.

“Believe me, we will stay with you. We will see through the difficult times,” he promised them.

After meeting the prime minister, Dr Adbiweli Mohamed Ali, he visited a vast camp where 100,000 people live and heard about the lack of sanitation, water and how the raggy makeshift tents can’t keep out the rains when they arrive.

Mr Gilmore recalled Ms Robinsons visit in framing his own response yesterday. “She was moved and moved in turn the international community into responding.” Clearly moved himself, he vowed to UN, Irish Aid and Concern staff that the visit would allow him to talk in very direct terms about Somalia during Ireland’s EU presidency next year.

“I will make sure it does not slip from the agenda. There is an obligation on the international community to address the crisis here.This cause in Somalia is Ireland’s cause and I will provide a voice for that in the meeting halls of the EU and the UN,” he said.


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