Dáil debates

Wednesday, 26 January 2005

Tsunami Disaster: Statements.


6:00 pm

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)

I join with the condolences offered to the victims of the tsunami by previous speakers but I wish to address the statement, made last night on RTE's "Prime Time" programme, by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for overseas development aid that he only envisages the Government attempting to reach the target of 0.7% of GNP for ODA spending between 2012 and 2015. This is a further shameful betrayal by the Government of a promise freely given by the Taoiseach at the UN and various international meetings. The blustering by the Minister of State on RTE last night was in stark contrast to the efforts made by hundreds of thousands of Irish people throughout the length and breadth of the country during the past few weeks to do whatever they could to assist the tsunami victims. People in Ireland can be justly proud of the contribution they have made and the contribution made on their behalf by Irish development agencies, such as Trocáire, Concern, Christian Aid, GOAL and others working to assist the tsunami victims.

It is important, and I agree with what the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, said last night, that the money collected, whether by individuals, and donated to development agencies, and that contributed by the Government, is spent in a sensible and coherent way and that the solidarity and commitment of the Irish people and the Government should be for the long term and not only for the time the tsunami remains in the media spotlight. Many of the Governments in the region, particularly in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia, have significant military personnel and financial resources. Most people in Ireland are aware the Indian Government has long had a large infrastructure devoted to the rapid relief of humanitarian disasters, whether from natural disasters, such as the tsunami, or from other causes. Nevertheless, there is a role for solidarity from countries such as ours.

As other speakers have said, Ireland has been particularly concerned with African countries, such as our partner countries in Tanzania and Zambia. Not only do such countries suffer from the aftermath of wars and natural disasters but in many cases there is relatively little infrastructure and, therefore, their needs are correspondingly greater. Asia is different for that reason and if the international community is able to organise, through the United Nations and its various organisations, a properly targeted disaster relief and rehabilitation programme this may signal a turning point for development assistance not only for Asia but for the ongoing needs in Africa. Organisations such as Oxfam and Concern have made special studies of the process of disaster relief, how it can best be focused and how it can go to those most in need.

There are a number of important principles which the Government accepts. The first is that as far as possible, the resources, skills and knowledge of local people and local communities must be utilised so that outsiders, however well meaning, have key local advice to ensure that what they do is sensible and sensitive to local customs, culture and religion.

The second principle is that in so far as possible, aid relief and rehabilitation supplies should be bought either in the region or as close to it as possible. This prevents foreign assistance from swamping and destroying local markets, particularly those relating to agriculture and food production and helps to provide purchasing power to local markets so that local economies can begin to recover as soon as possible. Third, in some cases of African disasters in particular, inappropriate donations such as second-hand clothes have done enormous damage to local textile markets and industries. Many Irish agencies have experience in this area and I hope the Government can indicate that the lessons of the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda have been learned. Many UN organisations compete with each other for funds. It is not a pretty sight in the aftermath of a disaster to behold the competing efforts of different UN agencies.

I join with my party leader in congratulating the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, for visiting the region. The full-time presence of the Minister of State who is responsible for overseas development aid is very important. He should be working full-time on this matter and should be the leader of the Irish campaign to ensure that the aid is properly spent.

I refer to the extraordinarily generous donation of Bill and Belinda Gates of $0.75 billion to fund research into vaccines for child killer diseases such as malaria. The Gates' challenged the political leaders of the world to match their private generosity and already, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, has indicated his willingness to rise to that challenge on behalf of the UK Government.

It is imperative that the Government rises to the challenge. With what we now know about the tsunami, it is now time for the Taoiseach to acknowledge that budgetary cutbacks to the overseas aid commitment were wrong and should be reversed. The Irish people would strongly support this Government honouring its commitments to overseas development aid.

I advise the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, who is new to the job, that the survivors who will be most damaged in this disaster will be the women and children. Last night on "Prime Time", the Minister of State said that if the budget cuts were restored, he would not be able to spend the money.


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