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The President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, gave a stirring closing speech at the 2009 World Forum on Early Care and Education in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Here is an excerpt with the full presentation available on the World Forum website:
"The writer Cynthia Ozick once said, 'What we remember from childhood, we remember forever — permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen.' My granny, who had eleven children and sixty grandchildren put it more tersely 'What's learnt in childhood is engraved on stone.' When the headstone on my grandfather's grave was put up, it carried a small misprint which we were told was engraved so deeply in the granite that the only solution was to do it all over again and put up a new one. We don't get that chance with our kids, we get one go around.
"We have learnt a lot on this island about the permanent ghosts of childhood — the bad engraving on children's lives that left them scarred for life. So many young lives were blighted here by sectarian and political bitterness that was taught in the home and reinforced in the community. We have seen, in recent days, the outworking of racism and the misery it can inflict on the innocent. The cruel stories of institutional abuse of vulnerable children described in the recent Ryan Report south of the border demonstrate just how long-term is the damage done in childhood. It robbed them not only of the loving childhood they should have had but acted like a wrecking ball through their later lives, leaving a landscape of broken relationships, mental ill-health, under-achievement and sheer, appalling waste.
"There is some good news on the horizon though and that is the human capacity to change, to shift gear and to walk a new path. Today the people of this island have taken ownership of their problems, they have faced into the painful and shameful dark side of their pasts, acknowledged the pain they caused and set their faces towards healing, reconciliation and amendment. Those who fought for Irish freedom in 1916 issued a Proclamation in which they set out their ambition that Ireland would become a place which cherished all its children equally. It was then and it remains a noble ambition. We have made an important start in removing the obstacles which lie in the way of making that ambition real."
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