'A dark day in human history' - President Higgins is first head of state to back Cherbnobyl Remembrance Day
President Michael D Higgins has become the first head of state to back International Chernobyl Remembrance Day as recalling "a dark day in human history."
His comments came as Chernobyl Children International (CCI) founder Adi Roche and international director Ali Hewson fly to Belarus and Ukraine to mark the 31st anniversary of the nuclear reactor tragedy.
Over the past 30 years, the Irish charity has helped raise Euro 105m in aid for the radiation hit areas of Belarus and Ukraine.
CCI have also worked to bring 25,500 children to Ireland for vital rest, recuperation and medical treatment.
President Higgins said the world needed to remember the shocking events at Chernobyl on April 26 1986.
"On this terrible day, 31 years ago, the world's worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in the Ukraine occurred," he said.
"It was a dark day in human history."
But he said the tragedy also triggered incredible human solidarity, particularly in Ireland.
"Ireland's response was unique - we were one of the first countries to respond to the humanitarian crisis by providing support for and meeting the needs of thousands of Chernobyl's victims."
"Adi Roche's CCI has become a world leader in supporting and advocating for the children who were affected by the disaster across the stricken regions."
"Across three generations, CCI has maintained this pioneering role through the extraordinary work of its tens of thousands of volunteers."
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said Chernobyl must never be forgotten by the modern world.
Adi Roche and Ali Hewson will now fly to Belarus and Ukraine to mark the 31st anniversary and to highlight the ongoing need for support for Chernobyl victims.
In Belarus they will meet teams of Irish volunteer medics who are currently working with the families of desperately ill children who are part of community care programmes in remote towns and villages.
In Ukraine they will meet members of an Irish funded “Flying Doctors” mission where leading international cardiac surgeons from the US this week performed complex life-saving operations on young babies and children suffering from congenital heart defects as a result of inherited radiation exposure.
The “flying doctors” team is led by US cardiac specialist Dr Bill Novick.
The CCI founder said the special UN-backed Remembrance Day is vital to Chernobyl's living victims.
"This historic Remembrance Day is our legacy to the victims of Chernobyl," she said.
"This commemoration is so much more than one day - it is the world's way of telling the past, current and future generations of Chernobyl that they are not alone."
One million children still reside in a radioactive environment across both Belarus and Ukraine.
A giant new sarcophagus has been installed over the wrecked Chernobyl reactor to prevent future radiation leaks.
However, long-term plans to dismantle the site have been described by Ms Roche as "gargantuan."
"We must be vigilant that the safe disposal of the radioactive material inside the crumbling reactor is the highest priority," she said.