Reflections on the Refugee Crisis

srSr. Lena Deevy, a member of the Little Sisters of the Assumption is a former Executive Director of the Irish International Immigrant Centre in Boston. She was among the recipients of the first annual Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad. Sr. Lena has been active in many international peace and justice initiatives and campaigns. Originally from Co Laois but now  living near Carrickmacross, she continues her peace and justice work and is focusing in particular on the current refugee crisis. This week we invited Sr. Lena to reflect  on our role in responding to the crisis. She writes…

Daily we are reminded of the numbers of men, women & children fleeing the war in Syria.  We struggle to come up with an appropriate response we can manage.   We applaud the great work of the Irish Naval service in rescuing thousands of individuals from certain death at sea but we could play a greater role in the resettlement of refugees. As a country and as people our responses fluctuate  from a great compassion, generosity  and wanting to help,  to a  fear of being ‘taken over’ by people whose ethnicity, language, customs, and religious traditions are different,  and a fear that it will impact negatively on our  services for our own ‘vulnerable’ people.

Pope Francis has called on every parish and religious community to accommodate one refugee family and recently we were reminded by our President that “there are times in our life when we have to decide to do what is right”.   I believe that time is now.   We Irish are compassionate and caring and can respond with generosity. The collective outpouring of generosity and concern expressed by thousands of individuals in response to appeals for help proves this. In our own county,  Monaghan Credit Unions are helping to fund the cost of items needed by refugee families and unaccompanied minors as they reach Milan in Italy. Monaghan Institute has set up a collection point for goods to delivered to Syrian refugees who are camped at Calais in France. These initiatives are commendable.

Jean Claude Juncker, Head of the European Commission reminded us that it should not require a punch in the moral solar plexus to remember our past.  He went on to say: “Imagine for a second if it were you, your children in your arms, the world you know torn apart around you. There is no price you would not pay, no wall you would not climb, and no sea you would not go to sea in, no border you would not cross.”

I suggest that perhaps our fears around the issue are unfounded and instead of seeing migrants or refugees as a ‘problem’ and a financial liability we view them as an opportunity to be our best selves as a compassionate and generous people and in the process gain financially and culturally. Imagine a town where much of the buildings are boarded up and the younger population have emigrated and the local people are disheartened.   Welcoming refugees could be mutually beneficial.   Yes, our way of life may be disrupted but it could also be enriched by sharing our culture and customs with ‘strangers’ and telling our stories, inviting them to be part of our GAA games, cultural nights etc. We would expand our knowledge of others cultures and customs and in turn we learn about the life of migrants and their fears, hopes and dreams.

However for this to happen, a different ‘mind set’ needs to be brought to the resettlement programmes.  Local communities and agencies need to be involved at all levels and the hopes and fears of the refugees need to be respected.   Additional resources need to be invested into communities to provide culturally appropriate services, and ways to welcome people.   With thoughtful and planned local integration programme refugees could bring much needed lifeblood and indeed economic stimulus to small towns.

Ireland needs to be part of the solution — it needs to promote a unified compassionate response.   The numbers are daunting but we can do more. We can lobby, pray and work for the safety and care of the refugees in their search for acceptance and that the EU, the UN, and world leaders will be inspired in their efforts to bring about a successful and peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Last week, I and a group of individuals from six other religious orders, members of the Irish branch of Vivat International, an international peace and justice NGO with consultative status at the UN, highlighted via a national newspaper the fact that we are deeply concerned about this worsening humanitarian crisis.  You can also play your part by contacting your local Oireachtas representatives and asking them if they will lobby so that the Government will:

  • Communicate fully with NGO’s, local communities, and relevant agencies when refugees are being housed in an area.
  • Ensure that resources needed to help the homeless are not diverted to the refugee crisis.
  • Ensure that families and individuals in ‘Direct Provision’ for years are fast tracked out of Direct Provision.
  • Continue the great work of the Irish Navy Service in saving lives in the Mediterranean
  • Call on the European Commission to be a strong voice for refugees and migrants at a European level and for a united EU response
  • Encourage and support lasting solutions by world powers to tackle the conflicts and the climate crisis that lead to refugees fleeing their own countries.

All-Ireland Plan to Save our Bees & Other Pollinators

The recent launch of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan identifies actions to help protect pollinators and the livelihoods of farmers who rely on their invaluable pollination service. In recent years the decline of our wild flowers has been decimating our bees and pollinating insects. This Plan which aims to help our bees and other pollinating insects to flourish has been agreed by 68 organisations and makes Ireland one of the first countries in Europe to have such a strategy.

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When we think of pollinating insects we usually think of the honey bees but there are many other bees and insects that pollinate our crops and plants. Most of them are declining in numbers in recent years which if it continues would be disastrous for many crops and wild plants and ultimately for humanity and the planet.

This new Pollinator Plan identifies actions that can be taken on farmland, public land and private land to deal with the problem. These actions include creating pollinator highways along our transport routes, making our public parks pollinator friendly and encouraging the public to see their gardens as potential pit-stops for our busy bees. It is also about raising awareness on pollinators and how to protect them. With the support of organisations                        A swarm of honey bees gather         like An Taisce Green-Schools, it aims                        on a tree branch in                             to ensure that everyone, from schoolchildren to Castleblayney earlier this year.         farmers, gardeners, local authorities and businesses,                                                            knows what pollinators need and which simple cost-                                                              effective actions they can take to help. The Plan will                                                              also support Ireland’s bee-keepers in keeping our                                                                  Honeybees healthy.

“Unfortunately, Irish pollinators are in decline, with one third of our 98 bee species threatened with extinction,” said Dr Úna Fitzpatrick from the National Biodiversity Data Centre, who chaired the Plan steering group. She added “bees are declining because we’ve drastically reduced the areas where they can nest and the amount of food our landscape provides for them.” If you’re a pollinator, finding enough food is the biggest challenge you have to face. Fertiliser application has resulted in increased crop yields, but in strong declines in wild flowers in managed field and in adjacent semi-natural habitats. Our tendency to tidy up the landscape rather than allowing wildflowers to grow along roadsides, field margins, and in parks and gardens is also playing a big part in fewer of these resources being available. The Pollinator Plan is not just about protecting bees but also about protecting the livelihood of farmers and growers who rely on their ‘free’ pollinator service, which allows consumers to buy Irish fruit and vegetables at an affordable price. This service is worth over £7 million per annum for apples in Northern Ireland, and €3.9 million for oilseed rape in the Republic of Ireland.

It’s not just crops; about three-quarters of our wild plants also require insect pollinators. Without pollinators the Irish landscape would be a very different and much less beautiful place. The value of

pollination to tourism and branding our produce abroad is enormous, but has never been assessed in a monetary sense. Dr Jane Stout, Associate Professor in Botany at Trinity College Dublin, who co-chaired the group, added: “If we want pollinators to be available to pollinate our crops and wild plants for future generations we need to manage the landscape in a more sustainable way and create a joined-up network of diverse and flower-rich habitats as well as reduce our use of chemical insecticides. This doesn’t just mean in the countryside, but in our towns and villages as well.” Responsibility for delivering the 81 actions has been shared out between the supporting organisations, which include the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Teagasc, Bord Bía, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Heritage Council, Fáilte Ireland, An Taisce Green Schools, Tidy Towns and Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations,.

The National Biodiversity Data Centre will track success in the Plan by measuring increases in the abundance and diversity of pollinators within the Irish landscape as the 81 actions are implemented. For details of the Plan and practical tips to help our pollinators see

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              A typical insect / bee hotel is a home for pollinators and a great educational           resource for children

In our own county the initiative to develop Monaghan as a biodiversity town will involve helping to make the area in and around Monaghan town more suitable for pollinating insects. This will involve planting apple trees and wild flowers and so will complement the Pollinator Plan. For details see The challenge of addressing the decline of bees globally will be one that local man Philip McCabe will be tackling in his new role as President of Apimondia, the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations.

‘The True Cost’ of the Clothes we Wear

When was the last time you bought a cheap t-shirt in a high street store and thought about its origin or how it was made? Jenniftrue coster McAree of Transition Monaghan reviews a ground-breaking documentary film called ‘The True Cost’ that pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, ‘who really pays the price for our clothing?’

Photo courtesy: ‘True Cost’

I watched this documentary recently on Netflix. I have an interest in both fashion and sustainability, so the film’s message of the disconnection between the act of buying my clothes and their source really hit home. Most of us don’t think about the origin of the clothes we buy. We are delighted to bag a bargain €20 pair of jeans, but the person making them might receive under 50c for the privilege.

Ninety-seven per cent of our clothes are now made overseas. There are 40 million garment workers worldwide and of these, 85% are women. The ‘True Cost’ film focused on Bangladesh, India and Cambodia, where labour costs are low and weak worker protection and environmental laws exist.

Conditions in garment factories were highlighted in April 2013 when the ‘Rana Plaza’ complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing 1,133 people and injuring 2,500. Many were employed to produce clothes for stores like H&M and Primark (Penneys). We have become de-sensitised to the term ‘sweatshop’, but it really comes to life on screen. On a trip to Bangladesh some years ago, creators of the film saw that each employee worked very long days and was under strict instructions to make up to one hundred pieces an hour. They had two toilet breaks per day and if anyone fell ill and missed work they were fired and replaced immediately.

Personal stories were told throughout the film. An intelligent young Bangladeshi woman works hard to survive and raise her little girl. She cannot afford child-care and by taking her daughter to the factory she exposes her to harsh chemicals, so she must leave her with relatives in the countryside for good. Villages in India have been ruined with chemicals running directly into water supplies from the dyeing processes. Numerous local residents have suffered from cancer and other diseases which it is claimed is related to these chemicals. In the countryside, heavy spraying of pesticides on cotton crops has led to many children being born with horrific life-long complications.

In Cambodia, garment workers tried to protest peacefully about their paltry wages and conditions, but some were attacked and even killed by police in the process. Large fashion multinationals say they have no control over foreign workers’ circumstances, but that they are trying. An example of a company that is recognised as a pioneer in Fair Trade and environmentally sustainable fashion is the UK based company ‘People Tree’. Unfortunately few such alternative companies exist, but the fashion world is starting to take note in some quarters.

This documentary was hard to watch but it has catalysed a change in my buying behaviour. I have since avoided high street shops where possible, look at labels and follow websites such as Clothes made in European countries like Portugal and Romania are more likely to be ethically produced and organic cotton is best. I visit charity shops more often and plan to take a sewing course in order to make and mend by myself! If you do one thing this week, be sure to watch ‘The True Cost’ on Netflix, download it or buy the DVD from

Clogher Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Group Launched Bishop MacDaid urges action on the refugee crisis


Pictured at the launch of the Clogher Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Group in Enniskillen were: front row (left to right) Ann Molloy, Neville Armstrong, Fr Joe McVeigh, Patricia McKeever, Bishop Liam MacDaid (who launched the Group), Andrea McManus and Sr Mary Kate Hagan. Back row: Sr Nellie McLaughlin, Paddy Gilgunn, Liam Murtagh and Dermot McCarron.

The Clogher Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Group is a new diocesan based group that aims to highlight issues of social injustice at home and abroad and undertake or support local responses. In launching the Group, Bishop Liam McDaid said that he believed that the Group will “help all of us in this beautiful part of our world to be more aware of our responsibilities with regard to justice and human rights and the protection of Creation”.

The formation of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Groups in each diocese is being encouraged by Catholic bishops nationally. Members of Clogher Group come from Counties Monaghan, Fermanagh and Donegal. The Chairperson is Patricia McKeever and the Secretary of the Group is Neville Armstrong. The Group was convened by Fr Joe McVeigh and support in its development was provided by Roisin O’Hara of Trocaire. The launch on Thursday, 3 September took

place at the premises of Waterways Ireland in Enniskillen and was very well attended. Among the various speakers was Dean Kenny Hall of the Church of Ireland, who in his address wished the initiative well, saying that its objectives are ones that are shared by all Christian churches.

The Group will focus initially on the issue of climate justice and also on the homelessness issue. In his address Bishop McDaid referred to the current refugee crisis. “We have all been shocked and moved to seek appropriate action when we are brought face to face with the plight of refugees in different parts of our world…. We realise that we all need to be disposed to search ourselves and to urge our governments to search for the causes of this distress and to take whatever steps are necessary to create a situation in our world where the gifts of creation are shared in such a way that justice can be seen in action and we never witness the horror of a mother and child found washed up dead on a shoreline trying to escape from a situation which should not exist”.

The Clogher Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Group plans to develop initiatives that will involve parish groups and, in particular, younger people throughout the diocese. For further information on the Group, email

Transition Monaghan AGM: New Members Sought for Innovative Projects

Pictured above are some of those who attended the recent Transition Monaghan AGM.   Front row (left to right): Liam Murtagh, Margaret Palmer, Jennifer McAree, Susanah McKeon, John McKeon.  Back row:  Mícheál Callaghan, Michael Connolly, Dearbhla Lenehan and Ollan Herr.

Pictured above are some of those who attended the recent Transition Monaghan AGM. Front row (left to right): Liam Murtagh, Margaret Palmer, Jennifer McAree, Susanah McKeon, John McKeon. Back row: Mícheál Callaghan, Michael Connolly, Dearbhla Lenehan and Ollan Herr.

On Saturday last Transition Monaghan elected their new committee for 2015 – 2016 at their AGM in Monaghan town. The group also reflected on a busy year and discussed a number of innovative sustainability projects planned for the coming year. Mícheál Callaghan who was re-elected Chairperson says that anyone who is interested in joining the Group to become involved in a project would be welcomed by the group.

The new committee is comprised of Mícheál Callaghan (Chairperson), Conan Connolly (Secretary) and Michael Connolly (Treasurer). Transition Monaghan is a county wide voluntary initiative which seeks to promote sustainability and well–being in Co. Monaghan. As well as this weekly column, we run a number of events throughout the year, such as our cost efficient home event last year. We have just received a grant from Monaghan County Council to take part in their 2016 commemorations next year. We will begin work shortly on organising an event which looks at how various groups can improve the quality of life in Monghan over the next 100 years, with various sustainability challenges in mind, such as climate change. We will also focus heavily on updating our website and reaching out to new members over the coming years. Membership is free, and we always welcome new input and ideas. If you feel that you have an idea to suggest, or some time to give to the group over the coming year we would love to hear from you. In particular, we would welcome any volunteers with expertise in PR and web – design, as well as anyone with a background in the arts or culture who may have ideas for creative campaigns and event. You can get in touch with us on

Mobilising for Paris Climate Conference

The Climate Conference (COP21) in Paris this December represents an important moment in the struggle to tackle climate change. For two weeks (30 November – 11 December) leaders and teams of negotiators will be locked away in negotiations to hammer out a new global deal on climate change. Here in Ireland the ‘Stop Climate Chaos’ coalition is planning to facilitate a group of people to travel to Paris to participate in activities on 11 & 12 December. As part of the mobilising of young people An Taisce proposes to create a ‘National Youth Forum for Engagement with Climate Change’. They are seeking crowdfunding support, i.e. donations in order to help support the initiative. For details on the above see ‘Latest News’ at