Honorary Conferrings Speeches Archive

    at Aula Maxima, UCC

  • 05 Jun 2009

 

OLLSCOIL  na  hÉIREANN

 

 

THE NATIONAL  UNIVERSITY   OF IRELAND

 

 

 

TEXT OF THE INTRODUCTORY ADDRESS DELIVERED BY:

 

 

PROFESSOR PATRICK FITZPATRICK, Head of the College of Science, Engineering & Food Science in University College Cork on 5 June 2009, on the occasion of the conferring of the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on FR JACK FINUCANE

 

 

 

A Sheansaileir agus a mhuintir uilig na hOllscoile,

 


“Who is my neighbour?” This question lies at the heart of the Christian response to poverty and hunger. Its call to action touches the essence of what it means to be human. For the past 40 years, Fr Jack Finucane has been a living embodiment of that response.

 

 

Through his work with Concern, the organisation he helped to found, he has tirelessly answered that call. In doing so, he has helped shape our experience and understanding of emergency response, foreign aid and international development. Through his dedication, energy and courage, he has been an inspiration to several generations of aid workers, volunteers and development professionals.

 

 

Jack Finucane was born inLimerick in 1937. Educated at CBS, he played on the Limerick minor hurling and football teams, before studying philosophy at Kimmage Manor and becoming a teacher atRockwellCollege inTipperary. He returned to Kimmage Manor in the early 60s to study theology and in 1963 he was ordained a priest of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, more familiarly known as the Holy Ghost Fathers.

 

 

Jack was posted to Biafra, inNigeria, and he was there when war broke out in 1967. In the wider world, television had barely reached us when we became mute witnesses for the first time to disaster as it was happening. In summer 1968, 6,000 children were dying every week, and there were 650 refugee camps holding 700,000 people, and a further 4m displaced people outside the camps, searching for food.

 

 

The response from a small group of concerned citizens in Dublin led to the creation of Africa Concern, which later became Concern and later still Concern Worldwide. Food was sent from Ireland by ship and into Biafra by plane and then organised into truck conveys by Jack and his brother Aengus, also a Holy Ghost Father, and their fellow priests. By the end of the war Africa Concern had organised daily flights for 11 continuous months. The Nigerian authorities did not welcome the position of solidarity withBiafraadopted by the Irish priests, and Jack was briefly imprisoned in 1969 before being expelled.

 

 

The experience ofBiafrahad transformed Jack and into a life as teacher, priest and confessor, he incorporated the roles of aid worker, paramedic and political advocate. It became the springboard for his life’s work.

 

 

Following a period as Dean of Rockwell College and an MA in Education from the University of San Francisco, Jack was sent to Bangladesh in 1973, in the wake of the cyclone and the effects of the war that eventually led to the political separation of East and West Pakistan, and the creation of the state of Bangladesh. Soon afterwards, in 1974, he went to Ethiopia in the newly created position of “country director”. There he organised Concern’s response to what Jonathan Dimbleby called “the unknown famine”. When the political situation in Ethiopia became too unstable in 1977, the whole Concern team was withdrawn, and Jack took a year out to study for his Diploma in Development Studies at theUniversity ofBath. He returned as country director toBangladeshin 1978, where the after-effects of the war were still being felt. Until 1984 he remained there, responsible for the management of large multi-skilled teams of professionals.

 

 

Around that time, Concern initiated a series of fundraising events throughout Ireland and got the whole country involved, particularly in the annual Concern fasts. The response of the Irish people in supporting Concern’s work in famine relief was enormous. As President Mary McAleese recently interpreted this phenomenon so eloquently “Ireland is a First World country with aThird Worldmemory”.

 

 

In 1984, Jack was back inEthiopia, amid the unforgettable scenes of famine, relayed by Mohamed Amin’s films and documented so poignantly by Michael Buerk, to be witnessed on television screens across the globe. One million people died. The response of Bob Geldof in organising Band Aid/Live Aid, which ended up raising in excess of $150m worldwide, and stimulating the engagement of a whole generation of young people through the pervasive influence of television, meant that the collective response to the question “who is my neighbour?” was truly global for the first time.

 

 

It was around this time that Bono and his wife Ali Hewson met Jack in theWolloProvince inN. Ethiopia. Bono has often acknowledged Fr Jack’s profound influence on his own involvement inThird Worlddebt issues.

 

 

Among numerous international relief organisations, Concernwas the sole Irish recipient of funding from Live Aid. Jack Finucane was a key advisor to Bob Geldof and his team in how the funds should be distributed and how they should be spent. Jack displayed powerful political courage in going against the prevailing views among the aid community, in the aftermath of the Ethiopian famine, and continuing to work in the government-established resettlement villages in the south west.

 

 

With Concern, Jack continued to be deeply involved at the heart of relief efforts throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, and into the new century. In 1990, he returned to Dublin and, as Regional Director for the Horn and West Africa, and later for Central Africa, he managed the agency’s response in those regions until 2002. He initiated Concern’s involvement in Somalia when it descended into civil war in 1992. He was central, again, to Concern’s efforts in Rwanda following the genocide and civil war in that country, and – even though he officially retired in 2002 – he was soon afterwards back in the field in Darfur, and coordinated the Concernresponse in Sri Lanka to the 2004 tsunami.

 

 

Jack Finucane and his brother Aengus were awarded the freedom of their native city of Limerick in 2005. The legacy of Jack’s work is clearly seen in the growth and influence of Concern. In the 40 years since its inception, Concern has been intimately involved in the transformation of the world’s perception of emergency, and its attitude to aid and development. There is no longer any possibility of an emergency, whether natural or man-made, being unseen. Global challenges are recognised as such – food and water shortages, disease control, climate change, human rights, and so on. We understand now that these cannot be faced by communities or countries acting alone or independently. The influence of Concernon that worldwide understanding of sustainable development cannot be overestimated.

 

 

Concern Worldwide now has 3200 employees, of 50 nationalities, in 30 of the world’s poorest countries. Its annual income in 2008 was over €130m, of which more than 90% was spent in the field. Guided by Jack Finucane and his colleagues, Concernhas developed from a local Irish organisation dedicated to emergency relief to a genuinely global development enterprise whose principal objective is still, I suggest, to respond to the challenge in the question “who is my neighbour?”

 

 

As we in UCC move into a new phase of our work on international development, especially in support of third level education in the developing world and the direct involvement of our staff and students through teaching, research and volunteering, we recognise in Fr Jack Finucane those qualities that are required: courage, perseverance, leadership, political skill, and the ability to inspire by example.

 

 

Jack is also a wonderfully warm person, with a fine sense of humour. In retirement, while he continues to take a keen interest in the development work going on at Concern, he tells me that he is also keenly interested in the development of his golf handicap – and we wish him well with that!

 

 

 

It is indeed fitting that we in UCC honour Fr Jack Finucane today by conferring an Honorary Doctorate in Laws. It is a great honour, Chancellor, for me to present him to you.

 

 

Praehonorabilis cancellarie, totaque universitas:

 

Praesento vobis hunc meum filium quem scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneum esse qui admittatur, honoris causa, ad gradum Doctoratus in utroque Jure, tam Civili quam Canonico, idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo totique Academiae.

 

 

 

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