Speech at a reception for Chernobyl Children International
Áras an Uachtaráin, 19 December 2018
You are all most welcome here today to Áras an Uachtaráin. It is good to see so many of you here today.
It is over 32 years since the world's worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl occurred, its repercussions continuing to echo across lives three decades later.
There can be no doubt that the 26th April 1986 was a day that cast a dark shadow across human history, a shadow that has profoundly shaded the lives of many of you in the room today.
Those of us who remember that fateful day also recall the horror that we all felt, the terrible understanding that this was a catastrophe that would have very serious consequences indeed.
But I doubt that many of us realised that thirty years later that so many people, including those not yet born in 1986, would continue to suffer the repercussions of that tragic event.
Neither, of course, did we realise that the seeds of a strong and enduring link between Ireland and Chernobyl had been sewn on that pivotal spring day many years ago.
The tragedy of Chernobyl prompted a remarkable spirit of human solidarity, across the world but particularly here in Ireland. We became one of the first countries to respond to the humanitarian crisis by providing support for and meeting the needs of thousands of Chernobyl's victims. It is a hand of friendship we continue, and will continue, to extend because I can assure you that as long as the people in Ukraine and Belarus continue to live with the tragedy of Chernobyl, you will never be forgotten here in Ireland.
The profound connection that exists between Ireland and Belarus is due, in no small way, to Adi Roche's Chernobyl Children International which has become a world leader in supporting and advocating for the children who were affected by the disaster across the stricken regions.
Across three generations, Chernobyl Children International has maintained this pioneering role through the extraordinary work of its tens of thousands of volunteers – those here in Ireland who collect and organise humanitarian aid and those who travel to the region to provide medical relief, and support, or respite care for children and young adults.
In many ways, perhaps, the most visible and moving connection is that created by the many Irish families who have opened their doors to children from Chernobyl-affected and disadvantaged areas of Belarus. Every summer without fail a group of children come to Ireland to stay with host families whose profound generosity enables these young people to spend valuable time in a nuclear free country, greatly benefitting their health.
Many of those families have reached out to the same child or children year after year, involving them in their family life, ensuring they receive important medical treatment and including them in holidays, outings and significant events.
I thank those families and I thank all those who work so tirelessly to help the victims of Chernobyl bringing hope, compassion and great empathy into those whose lives have been deeply affected by one of history’s worst tragedies.
Children, you are most welcome. I hope you enjoy all of your time in Ireland will be happy and to the families, I am so proud of you for your efforts, year after year.
Guím Nollaig faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise oraibh go léir. Go raibh míle maith agaibh, beir beannacht.