Speech by Martin Rowan Honorary Secretary to mark 25 years of SLIP
This is not so much a speech as a therapy session for my recent obsession with multiples of 5. And anyway Umaru needs to know of our national problem with 5. In the Irish language, Umaru, Ireland is divided into five provinces or cúigiú, but there are only four on the map Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Connacht. Obviously there is one missing. If this happened in Sierra Leone your newspaper would be investigating who a sold a part of the country to the Chinese. But here nobody has noticed in thirteen hundred years. There’s a Province missing! Au foh do. Maybe that is why it is easy to build links between our two countries.
So now the fives.
This year marks:
65 years of SLPP
55 years of independent Sierra Leone
150 years of mission in Sierra Leone by the Irish Sisters of Cluny
5 years of the first ever Irish Ambassador in Freetown
And 25 years of the Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership
Even in last Sundays gospel I saw that Jesus had five loaves
made the people sit in groups of fifty
and fed five thousand
But then Umaru reminds us of another 5 – the 25th of May- is the Ebola anniversary.
Miriam Thereses O’Brien went to Charles Taylor’s home town of Gbarnga in 1988 armed with multiple copies of Training for Transformation and planning to train and transform throughout Liberia, and Development Education Network of Liberia (DENL) did indeed grow from her presence. However, Charles Taylor started something too, at the same time.
In letters and visits home after 1989 Miriam would ask us who is going to tell the world about what is happening here. Soon here, had become not just Liberia but Salone as well, and we set up the Liberia Sierra Leone Solidarity Group, which became Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership 10years later.
But the challenge of telling the world the story still stands today even though SLIP has got 25 years of practice at it. And also the conviction grows that the story of Sierra Leone needs to be told.
In 25 years I suggest SLIP has got better at checking out the story – hence putting before you this evening this fine pass all journalist, who follows, Ambassador Sinéad Walsh, Minister Joe Costello, Prof Tunda Zak Williams, Joan Burton, Nora Owen, Prionsias de Rossa, Aminatta Forna, Charles Margai, Mercy Peters, Bishop Patrick Koroma, Rev Christain Peacock, Tommie Garnet, Joseph Rahill, Sr. Mary Coleman, Fr. Brian Starken, Jusufu Jalloh- Cowfoot Prince, Patricia McKenna MEP, and many others who have led us in measured reflection at different times since 1991.
We have got better,too, at knowing who will listen to the story and do something about it. I think only Joe Manning did imagine, as we stumbled through the corridors of Irish Aid and Dáil Eireann at the start of this millennium, that one day Ireland would have Ambassador most dynamic, in Freetown. And this week Garrett Campbell of Global Schoolroom is on a visit to Salone with a view to a new possible connection.
And Sierra Leone is here now too. Well it always has been but locating the Sierra Leone diaspora in Ireland has been a great boost, in the last year. There are so many here, not known before, and they are so scattered.
But mostly SLIP is a pende mbu, a – under a tree- space to hold experiences and ideas, and exasperation, and memories, and relationship, and frustrations and excitments that Salone generates. And that space holds the memory of those who set out on the SLIP journey with us but have been called home, Miriam Therése O’Brien, Aidan Quinlan, Seán Finn, Jack McHugh, and most tragically Wokie Kpaka.
The first SLIP meeting on Good Friday 1991 was promoted by circulars copied on a Gestetner. Remember them. Dallas was still on tv, and as Linda Gray reminded us on tv the other night, there were no vcrs so you were either in front of the tv on Saturday night or you did not know what people were talking about all the next week. But this is now and the next SLIP committee meeting will be devoted to growing SLIP’s online presence so that the story of Sierra Leone becomes accessible on every device and Umaru has set the standard for how to be effective in that space.
I know you will groan when I mention another multiple but I did warn you. There have been 25 annual UN Human Development Index Reports since SLIP was founded. The average position of Sierra Leone in those reports, over the lifetime of SLIP, is 181st out 188 countries in the world. And that is exactly Sierra Leone’s ranking in the current Report despite the €1.5 billion, which the Irish High Commissioners points out, was given in Aid to successive Sierra Leone governments since the end of the war. We still have a long way to go towards getting the full story. But we de foh don and grap.