Wednesday, 2 February 2005
Tsunami Disaster: Statements.
Eamon Scanlon (Fianna Fail)
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute and, conscious of time constraints, will be as brief as possible.
Nobody really knows how many people lost their lives in the tsunami but the figure I have states that approximately 280,000 men, women and children perished. It is hard to imagine, without seeing it for oneself, the devastation the tsunami has caused.
Many of our European partners lost hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of their citizens in the tsunami and Ireland has not escaped its effects. Today, in particular, our thoughts and sympathies are with the families and friends of Eilís Finnegan and Conor Keightley who lost their lives in Phi Phi in Thailand, and with the families and friends of Lucy Coyle and Michael Murphy who are still missing.
As the Taoiseach said, we in Ireland responded immediately upon hearing the news of the disaster on St. Stephen's Day by 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; dispatching Defence Forces logistic specialists; setting up a 24-hour helpline for those suffering distress and trauma; and donating €20 million in Government aid.
The generosity of the Irish people should be noted. On the day of Live Aid, Ireland had the highest debt-per-head on the planet and yet donated more per head than any other nation. That same spirit, that same determination to dig deep is as evident now as it was then.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, visited the disaster zone with our main agencies and has spoken movingly of the devastation he witnessed in the affected regions. Whole towns and communities have been destroyed, particularly in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The Irish agencies and their counterparts in the region have responded, as they have done so many times in the past, to the enormous challenge. Concern, GOAL, Trócaire and the Red Cross, among others, have done life-saving work, and this has been made possible owing to the enormous support and generosity of the Irish people.
The importance of the role of the United Nations system in providing help directly, co-ordinating action on the ground and planning for future protection mechanisms cannot be underestimated. The UN will continue to play an important role as the emphasis shifts to longer-term rehabilitation and recovery programmes. While I am conscious of the time element I ask the Minister of State to ensure the Irish relief agencies and the UN do their best to provide protection for child survivors in the region. It is difficult to imagine there are people out there who would take advantage of orphans. I ask the Minister of State to use his good offices to ensure the best protection possible is provided for those children.