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National Missing Persons Day 2020

YSI Alumni Jacqui Walsh reflects on the “Forget Me Not” Campaign that led to the establishment of Ireland's national day of remembrance.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, T.D., today hosted the commemorative ceremony at Farmleigh House to mark the fifth annual national Missing Persons Day.

Missing Persons Day is an annual day of commemoration and takes place on the first Wednesday in December each year. It commemorates those who have gone missing and recognises the lasting trauma for their families and friends. It also draws attention to open or unsolved missing persons cases, and creates an opportunity to provide information on available support services.

In 2012, the YSI team 'Forget Me Not' from Davis College, Mallow, Co Cork began to successfully lobby for this national day of remembrance. We previously asked Jacqui Walsh, Forget Me Not team member, to share her memories of campaigning on such an important issue during that continues to have such lasting impact.

The thing about a big idea is that it can always be traced back to the smallest of seeds. The Forget Me Not campaign grew from the simple aim to help a family that we saw suffering. As a group we felt compelled to not only shine a light on the topic but also to bring about change. 

When the Forget Me Not campaign, an awareness campaign for Ireland’s missing people, began in 2011 none of us could have imagined the impact it would have on the families of the missing in the coming years. What started as a YSI project spearheaded by a group of inspired teenagers in Davis College, Mallow turned into a national campaign that would provide hope and solidarity for more than 900 families in Ireland. 

We began by outlining some clear objectives that would help achieve our aim. We wanted to raise awareness for the issue of missing people in Ireland, to raise funds for continued searches, Looking at the bigger picture, we also wanted to create change in Ireland and beyond so that the suffering and plight of these individuals is recognised and so the missing people are not forgotten.

Our team carried out a number of initiatives to achieve our goals.

We developed an “Exit Point Strategy” which was displayed in Irish ports, airports and ferries. This was to prevent future cases of people going missing and a plea for new information on existing cases.  

We also had the opportunity to present our campaign to President Michael D Higgins and asked him to plant an oak tree in the president's garden as a symbol of hope for the people who have gone missing. Lobbying the government with 12,000 signed petitions for a National Missing Persons Day. 

Achieving each of our objectives took months of hard work for our team at Davis College. As a team we played to our strengths and delegated tasks according to people's skills.

The support of our school and YSI enabled us to create social change and from that we realised our own potential as change makers. As a culmination of our hard work and persistence a National Missing Persons Day was declared in Ireland and takes place on the first Wednesday of December annually. 

Speaking at the inaugural National Missing Persons day in 2013, I could finally see what our campaign had been working so hard for. While working with our heads of government was an empowering process during the campaign, the greatest satisfaction came from helping the families of the missing. An indelible memory from that day is how truly grateful the families were to have a recognised day that they could come together and remember their loved ones who are missing. The unity of their hope lit up the room. I felt undeserving of their thanks and appreciation, as it is their hope that makes the day so special and it is for them we created this day.

Not only did this project impact the families of the missing it also affected me on a personal level. Since being involved in the Forget Me Not campaign I have a keen interest in working in the area of social innovation and social justice. 

During my undergraduate degree at University College Cork I was awarded the Quercus Active Citizenship Scholarship as a result of my involvement in the Forget Me Not campaign. What’s more I continued working with YSI as a Den panelist and speak out panelist. I want to dedicate my career to making a difference in Ireland and beyond. 

Our idea that began in 2011 is still making an impact on the families of the missing and is certainly still making an impact on me. 

Written by Jacqui Walsh, founding member of the 'Forget Me Not' project in David College.