‘They chose to work to help others in need’: Tributes to Goal staff killed in Turkey-Syria earthquakes

Tánaiste says each of the 32 deceased ‘leaves an extraordinary legacy of kindness, compassion and humanity’

Tánaiste Micheál Martin praised the work done by aid agency staff, often in difficult circumstances, as tributes were paid to 32 Goal employees killed last February when earthquakes hit southern Turkey and north-west Syria.

“They chose to work to help others in need,” said Mr Martin, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. “There can be few callings in life that are more important and noble than this.

“For many years they put their own lives at risk for the benefit of others. Each one of them leaves an extraordinary legacy of kindness, compassion and humanity.”

Addressing Goal staff still operating in the region, he added: “I extend my condolences to you on the loss of your colleagues and I am sure that loss is still felt each day. I believe there is no greater tribute you can pay to their legacy than the work you undertake every day. Your continued courage and resilience is an inspiration for all.”


Mr Martin was speaking at a memorial service for the 32 deceased, which he hosted at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin.

“When I see the pictures of those 32 staff members, it strikes me how youthful so many of them were; young men and women in the prime of their lives. That deepens the sense of tragedy. Their lives were cut short far too soon,” he added.

Goal chief executive Siobhán Walsh said she hoped “that none of us ever have cause for another service to remember so many lost colleagues”.

“In times of grief, words and deeds of solidarity matter a great deal, and the kindness and support all of you in the room and beyond have provided to Goal over these past few months has meant so much to the Goal family,” she said.

Ms Walsh recalled visiting the stricken region, where at least 50,000 people died following the earthquakes, in the weeks after the disaster and said “the gut-punch of this tragedy has left no one in Goal untouched”.

“Many colleagues in Turkey and Syria have lost loved ones in addition to the 32 close colleagues we are commemorating,” she said.

She added that “while there is still deep trauma among our staff, there is an even deeper resolve to honour the legacy of those who lost their lives”.

In honour of those deceased colleagues, Ms Walsh said Goal was setting up a scholarship fund to provide opportunities for colleagues, particularly field staff, to pursue a one-year Masters degree in Humanitarian Practice at University College Dublin.

It was “one practical action” that would ensure their memory lived on, she said. “It is hoped that we will enlist some corporate partners to help us continue this scholarship fund in the years ahead.”

She welcomed Turkey’s ambassador to Ireland, Mehmet Hakan Olcay, and paid warm tribute to the Tánaiste for hosting the event at Iveagh House and for his “heartfelt sympathy in those shocking early days” following the disaster in February.

“Grief,” she observed, “is what separates who are from who we were. It is not a place but a journey. It does not end but it does ease.” She hoped the memorial service “has been a small step to ease that journey.”

The service included a video tribute to the Goal staff members who died in the earthquakes, which was introduced by Goal chair Barry O’Connell. Turkish and Syrian poetry was read by Elif Celikatas and Hakan Kokacara from the Goal Türkiye team and by Nasser Al Manla and Mustafa Al Manla from the Goal Syria team.

Former president Mary Robinson paid tribute via video link as did UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders Mary Lawlor.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times