Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Tsunami Disaster: Statements.


12:00 pm

Photo of Geraldine FeeneyGeraldine Feeney (Fianna Fail)

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to the House. I congratulate him and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on the excellent work they have undertaken to date. Mr. Dan Mulhall, our eminent ambassador to Thailand, has carried out wonderful work in a dignified manner. When we watched events unfold on television over the Christmas period, Mr. Mulhall proved truly to be an ambassador in every sense of the word.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the fallout from the tsunami, which was a terrible tragedy. The world's reaction to the events has been heightened because it was a terrible natural disaster. People have been frightened and upset by it because it was outside their control. Thankfully, such disasters occur irregularly. Since 26 December we have all been educated and our awareness has been heightened to a large degree. People may say that this type of disaster could never happen on this side of the world but I am afraid it most certainly could. For example, a mountain in the Canary Islands is currently under threat and may fall into the sea. If that happened we would be in danger of being struck by a tsunami.

As a nation, we can be proud of our response to the tragedy in south-east Asia. Whenever we are called upon to provide international funding we have always responded positively. Our hearts were bursting when we saw the level of response to the tsunami appeal. Every fundraising function around the country, including church collections and sporting events, provided extremely generous donations. A couple of weeks ago, Leinster played a rugby match where €50,000 was collected on the gate for the tsunami. Golf clubs and many other sporting and non-sporting organisations collected money all over the country. A few days after St. Stephen's Day, I was at my own golf club in Rosses Point, Sligo, where buckets were overflowing with donations for the tsunami disaster.

I am delighted to see that €50 million has been raised by the Irish people and another €20 million is being provided by the Government. Whether the money is coming out of the emergency fund or elsewhere, it is welcome. Emergency funds are there for such eventualities. I am delighted to see that Mr. Bill Clinton has been appointed as the US special envoy. He will ensure that the necessary follow-through occurs. The former Minister of State, Mr. Chris Flood, has been appointed as Ireland's special envoy to the region.

I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to use his power and good offices to ensure that the UN and individual countries will devise a satisfactory early-warning system to alert us to future natural disasters, such as the tsunami. It may not save every life but it would reduce the tragic losses we have witnessed in this case.

I sympathise with people here in Ireland who have lost loved ones, as well as those in Sweden which, with a population of 9 million, lost thousands of its citizens. I know the Minister of State's attention will not be diverted from the African continent which requires so much aid. I have travelled a little in that continent so I am aware of the good work that is being done there by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

I heard the expert from the World Bank on the radio yesterday morning. It may reassure Senator Ryan to know that the provision of foreign aid is still very much top of the agenda here. This small country of 4 million people always responds by looking after those who are worse off than ourselves.


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