Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Grasp opportunity to improve our world

Under slate grey skies and drenched by rain that poured for the duration, thousands of people gathered in Botanic Gardens on Saturday for the Big IF Belfast rally. Hundreds of charities and religious groups had launched the campaign to send a simple message to the G8 leaders. Starvation is a blight on humanity and should be confined to the past.

It was a peaceful and heartfelt gathering. A young boy called Frank from Tanzania told the audience that although he was now 16 he was nowhere near as big and strong as a typical teenager should be. Stunted by malnourishment during his childhood, Frank was not bitter about his upbringing. Joyously he told the crowd: "I am here with hope and determination to make sure no more people suffer."

That is what G8 summits do. They focus attention on global issues, force us to look beyond our own immediate concerns, to lift our horizons and consider the well-being of all the peoples. That is why the Lough Erne summit is so important. Eight leaders of the world's richest nations can make a difference. As host nation, the UK has made tax transparency the heart of talks over the next two days. At the weekend Prime Minister David Cameron reached agreement with British territories and Crown dependencies that they will join with an international agreement that seeks to clamp down on global tax avoidance.

That's a good start. It is potentially embarrassing for a PM to put tax at the heart of the talks when many of his own subjects live in what amounts to tax havens. For tax avoidance robs rich but more importantly poor countries of much-needed revenue. Companies that exploit the natural resources of the African continent, for example, can end up paying back very little to those people if their accounts are nestled safely in an island haven. So Mr Cameron is to be congratulated for making tax his biggest issue in Fermanagh. The leaders might also look at Third World 'land grabs' that see millions of acres of African land taken up to produce biofuels to run our cars at the expense of farmers who need that land to feed families. These are life and death issues the G8 can tackle.

The omens are not good though. Too many G8 summits have started with the best of intentions but delivered little. But there is a mood abroad that wants action on basic fairness, a new deal between the rich and poor nations and is fed-up of the super rich appearing to be above the law. It won't solve the world's problems but as a signal of intent if new agreements on tax transparency emerge from Fermanagh it will be a powerful start. It is not anti-capitalist to want this, it is about fairness.

So to the leaders of the G8 we say welcome to our small corner of the world. We hope you enjoy your stay and take away new impressions of our land and peoples. But more than anything else we hope you make the name Northern Ireland synonymous with decisions that made a real difference to the lives of all the people under the sun. What a great legacy that would be for us and the world.

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