In a lecture given in London on 26 October 1995, President Mary Robinson called for British and Irish governments “to express genuine regret” for the Great Famine.
The President echoed sentiments previously expressed in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern who stated,
A frank acknowledgement and expression of regret from the highest level about the shortcomings of the then-British Government's response to the Famine would contribute to a better climate of relations.
Joe Lee, Professor of Modern History at University College Cork questions whether we need these expressions of regret or apology.
While he acknowledges the good intentions behind this current trend for retrospective apologies, Professor Lee wonders where should we begin to draw the line. He would prefer to have a debate about the ground rules for apologies.
As a historian, an apology would not make any difference to Professor Lee. He thinks it is a far higher priority for us to understand what happened during the Great Famine. While he is not trying to avoid the allocation of responsibility, based on President Robinson’s statement, he cannot understand why the present Irish government should be deemed to have some sort of retrospective responsibility for what happened during the Famine.
A ‘Morning Ireland’ report from David Hanly broadcast on 27 October 1995.