Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Tsunami Disaster: Statements.


12:00 pm

Brendan Daly (Fianna Fail)

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, and compliment him and the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on their work in regard to the disaster. Since taking up office, the Minister of State has had a baptism of water if not fire. This disaster sent a wake-up call throughout the international community. There is a necessity to deal effectively with many of the issues raised in this debate so that we will not witness tragedy similar to that visited on those in other areas, particularly in developing countries. To take the AIDS issue, some 40 million people, and 90% of the population of some developing countries, are affected by the disease. Even in Western countries, since 1995 the number suffering from AIDS has doubled. This tragic circumstance in south-east Asia and the Indian Ocean sends a loud and clear message to the international community in particular, and to Ireland, that immediate action is needed to deal with the issues raised in this debate.

I join with other Members in expressing sympathy to the relatives of those who lost their lives in this tragedy, in particular to the families of Irish people who lost their lives. The full extent of the deaths and devastation caused by the tsunami will never be calculated. Provisional figures indicate that in the region of 300,000 people lost their lives in the disaster. Some 70,000 islands were hit by the tsunami which was caused by the worst earthquake of the past 40 or 50 years. Many of the deaths that occurred on remote Indian Ocean islands would not have been documented so it is unlikely that the full extent of the tragedy will ever be determined.

In common with other speakers, I wish to pay tribute to the Minister of State's personnel in the Department of Foreign Affairs, including Ambassador Dan Mulhall. I worked with Mr. Mulhall when I was a Minister in the Department ten or 12 years ago. I also saw Ambassador Swift on television with the Minister of State during their visit to the affected region. During the post-Christmas period, these people and other departmental staff devoted their time and efforts to relieving the trauma for many of those affected. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. I hope the Minister of State will convey to Ambassador Mulhall and his staff our appreciation for the work they have done in that area.

It is important to have a co-ordinated effort to deal with the current situation in south-east Asia. According to some estimates, approximately €10 billion will be needed to remedy the devastation that has occurred. In appointing Mr. Chris Flood as Ireland's representative there, the Government has made a wise decision. I know Mr. Flood well; he is a deeply committed person with much experience in this regard. It is invaluable to have such a person working with the Irish aid effort, which includes personnel from the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces.

Co-ordinated aid efforts must also extend to non-governmental organisations. I am aware of the overseas development aid work that NGOs have done for many years. In this particular case, Irish NGOs have been to the forefront of the effort. While complimenting them, I would ask them also to co-ordinate their efforts because we do not want any overlapping or duplication. For that reason, the appointment of Mr. Chris Flood is very important.

The United Nations has seen the importance of appointing a special envoy to the area. In appointing the former US President, Mr. Bill Clinton, the UN has chosen a person with extensive experience. He will make an important contribution towards co-ordinating the overseas aid effort in south-east Asia.

What happened on 26 December 2004 in the Indian Ocean was a wake-up call for the international community, which will not go unheeded. Yesterday, I was pleased to hear experts from the World Bank indicating that the financial institutions, including the Paris Club, are at long last beginning to take heed of the devastating situation in the underdeveloped world. In a peculiar way, some benefit might come out of what has been an enormous tragedy.


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