Dáil debates

Wednesday, 26 January 2005

Tsunami Disaster: Statements.


6:00 pm

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)

I propose to share my time with my colleague, Deputy Burton. In our lifetime few events have caused such an outpouring of human reaction as the terrible consequences of the earthquake off the coast of Indonesia and the terrible tsunami that followed it. The rest of the world watched in horror as first thousands and then tens of thousands and ultimately nearly 300,000 people lost their lives.

For most of us the first reaction was one of helplessness. However, it would be wrong to contribute to this debate without paying tribute to the people who reacted immediately to the terrible human disaster that unfolded. Non-governmental agencies, such as the Irish Red Cross, GOAL, Concern, Trócaire, Oxfam and others, backed up by the willing contributions of thousands of Irish people, set about the vital and urgent task of bringing practical help to the thousands of bereaved and homeless people. Not for the first time, Irish people led the world in their decency towards suffering people.

Following a slow and faltering start, the Government made a real effort to contribute and has committed itself in a variety of ways to remain involved in the long and difficult process of rebuilding that will be necessary. No doubt the Government will learn lessons from the way it failed initially to reflect the spirit of the Irish people in respect of the unfolding tragedy. I acknowledge the real and genuine commitment made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs during his visit to the region.

I acknowledge the supreme effort made by some of our diplomats in the region, especially Ambassador Dan Mulhall who made a huge effort to ensure that missing Irish people were found. The disaster has left a number of Irish families bereft and grieving. It has had horrendous consequences for people thousands of miles away from the region. For example, the number of British and Swedish people who lost their lives is staggeringly large but in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and other countries most directly affected by this natural disaster, it will take years, perhaps generations, to recover from the economic damage and the damage caused by so much loss of life and human suffering. We need to reflect on that. We need to look beyond the immediate task of giving help, urgent as that is. This disaster must be used as an opportunity for reflection by countries of the developed world on their policies towards those countries at risk from famine and natural disasters. Perhaps the best tribute that could be paid to all those who have lost their lives — the families of victims and others struggling to survive — is to use the opportunity for a new departure in international politics. This should include a renewed commitment to achieve the world millennium development goals, accepted by the United Nations in September 2000, and which include the achievement of universal literacy, halving of poverty and the elimination of the four major communicable diseases.

The aid and logistical support which is needed in South-East Asia must be additional in every respect to what is pledged to continents such as Africa. One section of the poorest of the world must not be asked to pay for a natural disaster that wrecks the lives of another section of the world's poor. This is a moment for a new departure with a renewed and strengthened United Nations enhanced by the establishment of a new logistical force with a capacity to respond rapidly to natural disasters. It is also an appropriate time to establish a free and just trade with the economies of the countries involved and to offer them such favourable terms as were enjoyed by Europe in the past.

The response of the IMF and the World Bank should be immediate on the issue of debt. Out of this, one of the greatest disasters of our time — and reflecting on its enormity — the best option for the world community is to commit itself radically to a new global partnership in which the resources of science, technology, economy and humanity can be deflected from tasks of war towards the enormously positive challenge of human reconstruction and renewal.

From our point of view, we need to revisit the decision to abandon the United Nations target of 0.7% on ODA. Ireland was held up as an example to others when the Taoiseach stated unequivocally that we would reach that target by 2007. Our commitment was particularly appreciated in continents such as Africa which so desperately needs untied aid and genuine assistance in its task of development.

Every year there are events with the horrific consequences of several tsunamis. Many go unreported or under-reported. There are few enough opportunities for people to express their views on them. There is little mobilising of international effort, few enough tours by foreign Ministers of the affected regions, little interest in sending camera crews and delivering nightly reports. Therefore, we are not told night after night that tens of thousands of people die from unnecessary malaria, three out of four of whom are children, 1.5 million people per year die from TB and 8 million are infected. Those are just some of the features towards which our commitment to meet the UN target was addressed when it was given in September 2000. The commitment is now abandoned. I understand from the Minister of State with responsibility for ODA last evening that it may be 2012 or 2015 before we try to reach the target. It is worth recording that the first swingeing cutback after the Government won the general election was to slash €40 million from the ODA budget and now we are betraying the Third World and the dozens of countries which voted to support Ireland's membership of the United Nations Security Council. Even now the Government should remember that it was supported for membership of the Security Council of the United Nations by those who believed it would meet its commitment and give a lead — and we should give a lead.

The unprecedented outpouring of generosity by people throughout the country, faced with this disaster, proves that Irish people are only too well aware of our global interdependence. The people know well that the unprecedented scale of the death and destruction unleashed on countries surrounding the Indian ocean represents a real test for the states of the developed world. If we want to take a lead in that test, as I believe we should, we must begin by recommitting ourselves to the promise we made on human aid.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.