glanced approvingly at the grey, overcast skies
as we came in to land at Dublin airport last Saturday
four weeks working for Goal in the blazing sun and
daily temperatures of 33 degrees in Niger, for the
first time in my life I was looking forward to a
dose of cold, wet, Irish weather.
than anything else, I was looking forward to seeing
my family again. I was able to make periodic contact
with my wife while away, but international phone
connections were, to put it mildly, somewhat unreliable.
necessity, our conversations had been confined to
family matters. On the road from Dublin to Northern
Ireland, she brought me up to date on some of the
news I had missed: the sad loss of Mo Mowlam (our
greatest ever secretary of state), the death of
Lord Gerry Fitt and the still-unfolding disaster
in New Orleans.
a happier note, I learned of Northern Ireland's
surprise victory over England and Liverpool's progression
to the group stages of the European Champions League.
as we travelled along perfect roads, alongside other
immaculate vehicles, and I gazed absent-mindedly
at row upon row of well-kept houses, happy as I
was to be with my family again, I was distracted.
I couldn't quite put my finger on was eating at
the weekend, as I read back-copies of newspapers
and listened to media reports of street violence
breaking out in many parts of Northern Ireland,
the uncomfortable feeling I had had since travelling
from Dublin began to take solid form in my mind.
The contrast in weather conditions was welcome,
but it was another even more stark difference which
had so disconcerted me.
disparity between the living conditions of the populace
I had left behind in Niger and the society I had
just re-entered had struck me like a sledgehammer.
And, more than that, I felt deep anger that we,
like most people in the West, have absolutely no
appreciation of just how fortunate we are.
are almost completely oblivious, or simply don't
care. We live in luxury while other human beings
are dying in circumstances we could do an awful
lot more to alleviate. A majority of the world's
citizens cannot even begin to imagine, much less
aspire to, the quality of lifestyle we enjoy. For
people in places like Niger, every day is an uphill
struggle. Life amounts, quite literally, to a daily
against-all-the-odds battle to find enough food
and water for survival.
this is the ever-present fear of sickness, disease
and the dangers which come with sharing semi-desert
living space with all kinds of harmful flora and
fauna, in complete absence of anything that could
even remotely be described as a viable healthcare
ambition extends little beyond a dream that some
day such basic necessities as adequate sustenance
and clean, germ-free water can be taken for granted.
Sadly, a large majority of people in the world today
live in similar, or only slightly better, conditions
to those in Niger.
was against that backdrop that I returned home to
Northern Ireland to hear complaints about poverty
and deprivation here.
are relative terms, of course, but you can take
relativity only so far.
witnessing genuine poverty and deprivation at first
hand, it strikes me as bordering on the obscene
that any section of our over-pampered Northern Ireland
society should use such language to describe their
own sense of grievance. And even more so that they
should then embark on a three-day orgy of violence
and destruction to try to prove the point.
Ireland, a prosperous, well-educated and almost
fully-employed society, we should remember, has
received in the region of £7 billion in aid
over the past 10 years. Some poverty, some deprivation.
the Republic is now deemed to be among the wealthiest
countries in the world.
a debate is raging within Government on whether
the target date for a miserly donation of 0.7 per
cent of gross national product for overseas development
assistance should be 2012 or 2010. I'm sure the
malnourished people of Niger and beyond will be
dancing with glee in the streets on learning of
again, the celebrations might be slightly muted
if they discover that an earlier promise to reach
the 0.7 per cent GNP target by 2007 was abandoned.
short our collective memory is as well.
centuries, as economic migrants or fleeing persecution,
Irish people of every religious and political persuasion
settled around the world.
both North and South, too often we demonise and
discriminate against those who have recently come
to these shores seeking sanctuary or a better standard
of living for themselves and their families: human
beings in need, whose skin colour, religion and
culture we should recognise as mere incidentals
and the location of their birth as accidental.
Sunday, a friend welcomed me back to "reality".
I smiled and thought: I haven't returned to reality,
I've just left it.
reality of Niger will haunt me for a very long time
- forever, I hope.