The National Famine Commemoration Committee was first established in July 2008, following a Government decision to commemorate the Great Irish Famine with an annual memorial day.

The main objective of the National Famine Commemoration Committee is to consider the most appropriate arrangements for an annual national commemoration of the Great Famine. The committee is now in its third term of office and the members of the committee will serve for a period of two years, at which point the terms of reference and membership of the committee may be reviewed.

The general legacy of emigration, cultural loss and the decline of the Irish language, together with the specific issues of food security and the strong commitment of the Irish people to humanitarian aid and relief, are particular themes that have been explored by the committee during its work to date. The committee’s work programme for the current term comprises four key strands:

  • Community, local and youth participation in the National Famine Commemoration;
  • Historical perspective;
  • Famine, hunger, food security and aid in the modern world; and
  • Annual International Famine Commemoration and involvement of Diaspora communities.

The members of the National Famine Commemoration Committee 2014 – 2016 are:

  • Dr. Majda Bne Saad
  • Professor Tommy Cooke
  • Professor Mary Daly
  • Mr. Brian Hanratty
  • Ms Mary Kennedy
  • Mr Mike Murphy
  • Dr. Éamon Phoenix
  • Mrs Norma Smurfit
  • Mr. Hugh Swift

The Committee is supported in its work by and also includes representatives of:

  • The Department of the Taoiseach
  • The Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht
  • The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Irish Aid
  • The Department of Education and Skills
  • The Department of Defence
  • The Defence Forces
  • The Office of Public Works (OPW)


Brief biographies for the members of the National Famine Commemoration Committee 2014-2016 are provided below:

Dr Majda Bne Saad

Dr Majda Bne Saad holds a PhD and MSc Agriculture Science, (University College Dublin) and a BSc. Agri. Sc., (Baghdad University) and HDip Agri. Econ., (Sofia Institute of Agriculture). She has been a lecturer at the UCD Centre for Development Studies where she has lectured on food security and development management and has carried out research on rural poverty and vulnerability, food security, agricultural policies of developing countries and ICT for Development. She was the Director of the Centre for Development Studies from 2002 to 2006 and an executive member of the European Association of Development Research and Training from 2002 to 2005. She has been an expert evaluator to the EU PF 5 and 6. At national level, she was a member of two Irish Aid task forces on Information Communication Technology for Development and worked with Irish Aid in promoting agricultural development in their programme countries. She is co author of ‘Trade, Aid and Development’, UCD Press 2006 and author of ‘The Global Hunger Crisis: Tackling Food Insecurity in Developing Countries’, Pluto Press 2013.


Prof Tommy Cooke

Professor Tommy Cooke was Director of the Community Links Programme in the Dublin Institute of Technology from 1996 to 2011. During the 1980s and 1990s, he worked on behalf of the Irish Government in Lesotho, Southern Africa and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. More recently he worked in the Chernobyl affected region of southern Belarus. Professor Cooke was a board member of the Higher Education Authority from 2005-2011 and Chairperson of Pobal from 2006-2011.


Professor Mary Daly

Professor Mary Daly is President of the Royal Irish Academy. She graduated from UCD with a double-first in History and Economics and a research masters in History, which secured an NUI Travelling Studentship. Her doctoral research was carried out at Nuffield College, Oxford. She has been a member of the UCD Faculty since 1973, and has also held visiting positions at Harvard and Boston College. Her teaching and research have concentrated on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Ireland. She has written eight books, and edited/co-authored five books and numerous articles. Mary has also played an active role outside UCD, as a member of the National Archives Advisory Council and the Irish Manuscripts Commission. Secretary of the Royal Irish Academy 2000–2004, she was vice-chair of the Academy’s Working Group on Higher Education, whose report was published in July 2005.


Mr Brian Hanratty

Brian Hanratty held several management roles in the Financial Services sector between 1971 and 2004. During that time, he served as Regional Secretary of the Institute of Bankers and on the Boards of the Irish Direct Marketing Association and the Marketing Institute of Ireland. He also acted as a Senior Consultant on EU; EBRD and other Programmes in Slovenia; Slovakia; Poland; Romania; Montenegro and Malawi. In 2004, he was appointed as Head of Fundraising and Development at the Community Foundation for Ireland. Between 2006 and 2013, he served as Chief Executive Officer of GORTA – The Freedom from Hunger Council of Ireland. While CEO at GORTA, he was elected to the Board of Dochas, the umbrella Association for Irish NGDOs and later became Vice-Chairman there. He was a member of the RDS Committee of Industry and Commerce and represented Ireland as a Trustee of the European Association of Planned Giving. A Life Member of the Co. Louth Archaeological and Historical Society, he is also co-founder of The Battle for the Boyne, a cross-border heritage and environment forum.


Ms Mary Kennedy

Ms Mary Kennedy is an RTÉ broadcaster and presents the regional features programme ‘Nationwide’ three nights a week on RTÉ 1. She has provided commentaries on RTÉ coverage of major events such as the State funerals of former President Patrick Hillery and former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, as well as that of Mother Teresa. Ms Kennedy presented the ‘Eurovision Song Contest’ in 1995. She is a former Secondary School teacher and has written three books, a memoir, ‘Paper Tigers’ and two books of reflections, ‘Lines I Love’ and ‘Lines for Living’.


Mr Mike Murphy MA FBCart.S.

Mr Mike Murphy works as a professional Cartographer in the Geography Department, University College Cork. He has been researching and producing maps along with teaching Cartography for over twenty-five years. He was made a fellow of the ‘British Cartographic Society’ in 2002 and received an Honorary Masters in 2014 for his ‘Outstanding Contribution to Cartography’ His work appears in numerous publications. He was Cartographic editor for the ‘Atlas of Cork City’ and for ‘The Iveragh Peninsula’ which were both international Cartographic award winners. His most recent work is as Cartographer and one of three editors of the highly acclaimed and multi award winning ‘Atlas of The Great Irish Famine’ for which he won two commendation awards from the British Cartography Society in 2013. He has lectured on the Famine in the UK, America, Australia and on many occasions closer to home.


Dr Eamon Phoenix

Dr Eamon Phoenix is Senior Lecturer in History at Stranmillis College, Belfast. A former research fellow at the Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s University, Belfast, and sometimes Archivist at St Malachy’s College, Belfast, he has published a number of scholarly articles on modern Irish history and a school textbook. He has written extensively on historical issues for the Irish Times and Irish News and is a well-known broadcaster. He is continuing research into Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland and its leadership.


Mrs Norma Smurfit

Norma Smurfit set up First Step in 1990 to assist new businesses that had been unable to get commercial or state support. It had a mentoring panel of retired executives, who provided free assistance. It lent in excess of €10 million supporting 2,100 projects on a nationwide basis and created 5,000 jobs. In 2013 it was incorporated in the Government’s Social Finance Foundation and is now called Microfinance Ireland of which Norma is a Director. She founded the Irish Famine Commemoration Fund in December 1998 which supports the Homeless and Disadvantaged Youth of Ireland. She is a Director of the International Charity Bazaar and a Council Member of The President Awards Gaisce and Director of The Jefferson & Michael Smurfit Foundation. She is a past Board Member of The Natural History Museum London, The National College of Ireland Foundation and past President of The Irish Youth Foundation.


Mr Hugh Swift

Mr Hugh Swift is a retired Ambassador of Ireland. During his career with the Department of Foreign Affairs, (now Foreign Affairs and Trade), he served as Director of the Irish Bilateral Aid Programme and represented the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the Boards of the Agency for Personal Service Overseas, and GORTA. He supervised Irish Aid’s disaster relief programmes in Somalia and Southern Sudan. As Ambassador, he worked closely with Irish Aid in a range of developing countries. From 1981 to 1990 he represented the Commission of the European Communities in (successively) Zambia and Tanzania, where a principal focus of his work was food security. He is a trained economist with a particular interest in the economics of development.


Main Menu