Politics

‘We remember’: Irish official evokes kinship with Boston in expressing support for Ukraine

"We remember well that others opened their doors, their hearts, and their homes to us."

Ireland's Minister of Education, Norma Foley, right, addresses the Boston City Council on Wednesday. Boston City TV

On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s Minister for Education took to the dais inside Boston’s City Council chamber on Wednesday, with a message of renewed kinship for the city she called “the capital … of Irish America.”

Minister Norma Foley spoke of the legions of Ireland’s own who left the Emerald Isle for life in America, fleeing the poverty and famine that gripped their homeland in the 19th century.

Many departed on so-called “coffin ships” — and many never returned — with little but hope for new opportunities and a promise for a new start. Many arrived ashore in Boston.

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And as the world watches a growing humanitarian crisis in Europe as Russia wages war in Ukraine, prompting over 3 million refugees to seek shelter elsewhere, two words Foley said were particularly profound: “We remember.”

“We have opened doors to those fleeing from conflict in desperate circumstances,” Foley said. “And we do this because we remember, and we remember well, that others opened their doors, their hearts, and their homes to us. As a nation, we have benefited hugely from the goodwill and political solidarity of so many in Boston, Massachusetts, and wider New England.”

Watch the full remarks:

Foley’s special visit to City Hall came as the Irish cabinet member met locally with Irish companies, including one that is expanding its operations to Boston, and took in holiday festivities.

After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, Foley said the Irish government is seeking again “to reconnect with our communities at home and abroad.”

“We consider ourselves blessed beyond measure to have a thriving and noble Irish community here in Boston,” she said.

Before her remarks to councilors, Foley took in a performance of an Irish jig from two students of South Boston’s Woods School of Irish Dance — a routine she said was indicative of Irish culture and heritage being “very much growing … and thriving here in Boston.”

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“It is true to say that the bonds between Ireland and Boston run very, very deep,” Foley said.

Indeed, Boston has continuously stood with Ireland as the nation across the pond chartered its own independence — officiated 100 years ago this year, Foley said.

Even more-so, Boston has played and continues to plays “a central and constructive role in securing peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland” — especially as the Irish free state ensures the strengths of the Good Friday Agreement are protected amid Brexit, Foley said. The 1998 document between Ireland and Northern Ireland is a pivotal agreement for the two states’ geo-political relationship.

“We are very grateful for that support and solidarity and we do not forget it,” Foley said. “So it is right at this moment in time that we show support and solidarity for others in their hour of need.”

So as Ireland marks its centenary this year, the nation stands “firmly in support and solidarity of the people of Ukraine,” Foley told councilors to applause.

Ireland has increased humanitarian aid and other support to Ukraine, and has opened its doors to those fleeing the war, she said.

Last week, Foley told The Kerryman, an Irish newspaper, her department will do all that it can to ensure Ukrainian children who arrive in Ireland will be able to continue their education.

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“We are using our voice in the European Union and our seat at the U.N. Security Council to seek an end to the conflict and to hold Russia accountable,” Foley said.

She also called on councilors to remember Irish journalist Pierre Zakrzewski, who was working as a Fox News cameraman in Ukraine when he was killed on Monday. Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, 24, who was working as a consultant for Fox News, was also killed when their crew was struck by incoming fire outside of Kyiv, according to the network.

“We also remember with acute sadness all the other families who have been impacted by the harrowing and unjust conflict in Ukraine,” Foley said.

As she finished her remarks, she left councilors with the blessing of Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, which she spoke in Irish, and a few words of her own:

“I say to you, thank you for your friendship, support and solidarity,” she said. “Long may it continue to grow and to prosper.”

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