MINISTER FOR Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin began a two-day state visit to Ethiopia yesterday by lauding the work of Irish missionaries in their fight against HIV/Aids, and then went on to meet Irish business people investing in a range of projects across the country.
Speaking at a social service centre for HIV/Aids patients in Addis Ababa, Mr Martin said that if it wasn’t for the work of priests, brothers and nuns who left Ireland to go overseas, Ethiopians and Africans would still be suffering the worst effects of the deadly virus.
“Long before governments became involved in meaningful ways in HIV/Aids, missionaries were there before them,” he said. “You can pass on this centre knowing in your heart that you have made a significant difference to the lives of Ethiopians.”
The Medical Missionaries of Mary-run centre was founded in 1992 by Irish-American UCD medical graduate Sr Carol Breslin, who is now passing it on as the order looks to consolidate its operations. Funded by Trócaire and Irish Aid, the centre helps integrate patients back into the community, finding them jobs and supplying free anti- retroviral treatment.
“Because we can now supply patients with treatment, it means they can get on with their lives and provide for their children,” said Sr Breslin. “Before, it was a matter of ‘I am going to die. What can I do between now and then to provide for my family?’” Mr Martin later visited a drop-in centre for street children run by Goal, where he fitted in a game of table football before meeting his Ethiopian counterpart to discuss May’s controversial general election and the ongoing peace process in Sudan.
Mr Martin then took a tour of the new Radisson Blu Hotel building site, a €25m project that is majority owned by Emerald Hotel plc, an Irish firm run by Jarlath Sweeney, a native of Ballyconneely, Galway. “This is the Brussels of Africa. There are more international delegations here than the UN in New York because of the African Union headquarters, but there is nowhere for them to stay,” said Mr Sweeney.