Dáil debates

Wednesday, 26 January 2005

Tsunami Disaster: Statements.


7:00 pm

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Louth, Fianna Fail)

We are also preparing for the first time a White Paper on ODA, and the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, will lead on this. I will not take any lectures from Deputy Burton. Ireland is the eighth highest donor of ODA in the world. We have tripled it since 1997 and over the next three years, we will put in place €1.8 billion in ODA.

Deputy Sargent referred to the meeting with the aid agencies. We had a very fruitful meeting with the aid agencies on 4 January and, as a result, I suggested to them that I, and the leaders of the leading agencies, visit this disaster area. There was some trepidation as to the type of reaction people would have in regard to a proposed visit by me to that area but it was common cause by all the people and the agencies who participated that it was a very fruitful decision. We were able to glean a huge amount of information from that short visit which, in turn, overlapped the technical assessment team we sent to the area.

On such an occasion, we struggle to find the right words to reflect the enormity of what has happened and the depth of our feelings about it. As previous speakers said, 280,000 people perished. Entire communities, particularly in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, have been wiped out. We saw clear evidence of that. Many of our European partners have lost hundreds, if not thousands, of their citizens in the tsunami. On Monday, I visited Sweden and Finland, which have lost hundreds of citizens. In Sweden, for instance, 15 people have been confirmed dead but over 800 are still missing.

Ireland has not escaped the effect of the tsunami and our thoughts and sympathies are with the families and friends of Eilís Finnegan and Connor Keightley who lost their lives in Phi Phi in Thailand. Also our thoughts are with the families of Lucy Coyle and Micheal Murphy who are still, unfortunately, missing. The families' lonely wait continues. We can only pray that this wait will be ended as quickly and as mercifully as possible.

The Taoiseach stated that Ireland responded immediately on hearing the news of the disaster on St. Stephen's Day. We did that by immediately establishing a crisis centre, sending staff to Phuket in Thailand and to Colombo in Sri Lanka to assist in locating and helping Irish people affected, dispatching Garda forensic experts and Defence Forces logistic specialists, setting up a 24 hour help line for those people suffering from distress and trauma and donating €20 million in aid. More than anything, Ireland should be proud of the generosity of ordinary, Irish people. It is worth noting that on the day of Live Aid, Ireland had the highest debt per head in the world yet we donated more per head than any other nation. That same spirit and determination to dig deep is as evident now as it was then.

Again, I echo the words of praise from many speakers for embassy staff, such as Dan Mulhall and Pat Bourne, and many other Irish people and other nationalities who gave their time in these locations and who volunteered to assist the effort to find Irish people. As I said, I visited the disaster area with the main agencies. No amount of television images, reportage or description could brace the mind for the devastation and turmoil which the tsunami caused to the region. I have never seen anything like it and I probably will never see anything like it again in my lifetime. Whole towns and communities were destroyed. Large trawlers normally moored in harbours were, in some cases, found over two miles inland. Of course, there was the human cost which we saw, particularly in Banda Ache where people had lost their loved ones and, in many cases, their livelihoods.

The Irish agencies and their counterparts in the region have responded as they have done so many times in the past in other difficulties areas of the world. Life saving work is being done by people from Concern, GOAL, Trocáire, the Red Cross and others. It is truly worthy of the support of so many generous people in Ireland.

The importance of the UN system in providing help directly, co-ordinating action on the ground and planning for future protection mechanisms cannot be underestimated. In this regard, I want to highlight the role of the UN which has continued to play an important role as the emphasis shifts to the long-term rehabilitation and recovery programmes. The priority of all donors, UN agencies and NGOs, is to carefully co-ordinate their efforts with nationally devised plans which reflect the views and concerns of the local communities. I and the Government are determined to ensure that Ireland's role in relieving the suffering and rebuilding this region will continue long after the cameras have left. We will drive the issue of independent monitoring of assistance, something I did at the most recent meeting of EU Foreign Affairs Ministers. Independent monitoring is needed to ensure that moneys donated by states are delivered. In this instance, Ireland has a good record compared with some other countries.

We will send a special envoy to the region to serve over the next six months and to submit regular reports to the Department detailing progress. I will nominate Chris Flood who has agreed to be that envoy. He is a former Member of this House and the current chairman of the advisory board for Development Co-Operation Ireland. Technical assistance will be provided to that envoy by the emergency recovery section of Development Co-Operation Ireland. We will also designate specialists, as required, in order to provide additional support. We will also establish an honorary consulate in Phuket. Pending its formal establishment, I have appointed an Irish resident, Ms Fallon Wood, to represent the Department.

The Taoiseach has spoken about the overall focus of our aid programme. We have made it clear in announcing the funding for this crisis that, of €20 million allocated to date, €10 million is additional to the overall budget. The remainder will come from Development Co-operation Ireland's emergency humanitarian aid fund, which is specifically designed to respond to disasters when and wherever they occur.

I thank Members for their strong encouragement and support and their comments on this issue. We can all be proud of the response of the State and the Irish people to this extraordinary disaster.


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