Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Tsunami Disaster: Statements.

 

1:00 pm

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)

I thank the Senators who contributed to the debate. It was an education for me to see the level of erudition here. I assure Senator Scanlon that the child survivor issue is a priority for us and we are earmarking funds for that specific purpose.

I thank Senator Bradford for his generous and kind remarks both on the response of the Government and that of the public. The issue of a geographic focus to our programme is one that is under active consideration at European level. There is an issue about co-ordinating and harmonising best practice in terms of development and support for countries at a European level. That issue of how we can target overall long-term development aid to particular countries in a co-ordinated fashion is being looked at and debated. There is already informal co-ordination between donors on the ground in Africa which is leveraging better results in terms of value for money.

Senator Mansergh referred to the interim target and Jeffrey Sachs said it should be 0.5%. That is an informal target for us as announced in the Estimates. We want to be within striking distance of the 0.7% target in 2007. During the next few months we will set out a timetable within which we will achieve the 0.7% target. We are committed to putting in place a new target date which is realistic and can be achieved within the shortest possible timeframe. I say that advisedly because there are value for money issues about increasing a programme. I do not have to tell Senator Quinn that if one doubles the resources available to an organisation the actual impact of that within the organisation in terms of resources and personnel is significant.

Senator Henry raised the issue of the UNFPA. Ireland remains a great supporter of the UNFPA. I have met Thoraya Obaid, a Saudi national, director and head of the UNFPA, twice, on the matter of assistance for women, and most recently at a conference in Dublin. We will continue to respond to requests for assistance from the UNFPA. We regard it as a fantastic agency that we are proud to assist.

Senator Norris referred to quotes attributed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on the matter of indigenous agencies only being the beneficiaries of the next €10 million of the €20 million we have pledged. That is not the case.

Brian Scott of OXFAM raised the issue with me and I contacted him directly to reassure him that it would be open to any agency, global or national, to apply for the funding if it has a programme or project that we could fit in with our particular objective. There is no question of it being restricted to indigenous NGOs. I want to clarify that point. For logistics and housekeeping purposes, of our €20 million, €9.5 million has already been signed off. I am the person who signs the cheques on overseas development aid. A sum of €9.5 million has been approved, sanctioned and sent into the field to assist the projects on the ground. There is a follow-on €10 million which we must spend in the weeks and months ahead. The focus on the second tranche of the €20 million the Government has pledged is to ensure it goes into the recovery and reconstruction side. That has to be closely monitored, controlled and properly deployed. There is no question of that money not being spent.

The issue of farm subsidies was raised by Senators Norris, Quinn and Ryan and earlier by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin. I agree totally with the archbishop's statement. We have to tackle the underlying issue of trade which is the substantive issue. I do not have to tell Members that developing countries gain seven times more from trade than from overseas aid. We need to look closely at our own house. I do not say that to be provocative with regard to our farmers and the agricultural interests generally or the food industry in Ireland. While we have a significant vested interest as a country we have to look at our position. I hope the White Paper will be an occasion for people to look at this issue closely not necessarily for urgent but planned action, within Europe and Ireland, towards removing ourselves from the subsidy system which so adversely affects developing countries.

Senator Dardis said there was a need for a co-ordinated approach at supranational level through bodies such as the EU. I agree with him. The additionality issue is a firm principle that is being maintained in respect of the tsunami and will be reaffirmed on all occasions. There should be additionality for disaster relief and not a substitution or switching of funds from one area to another or within a region. We saw that happen in matters relating to Iraq where some countries diverted their aid from other parts of the world into Iraq for an obvious political purpose, with which the Irish would not agree.

Senator Minihan's point about the Maldives is well received. I met with representatives of the Maldives when in the Indian Ocean region at a conference on the small island developing states. Due to the fact that it is an exotic holiday destination, many misunderstand the sheer effect of the devastation. I am pleased that Senator Minihan understands fully that island has been devastated by the disaster. I intend, and I gave a promise to the representative of the Maldives who was present at the conference, that we would seek to assist them in a generous manner. We are prepared to look at other and smaller regions that may have been affected in an adverse manner. It is important to remember that because they would be a source of prejudice in certain quarters of the developing community who might suggest that as these are exotic holiday destinations they are somehow very rich. That is not the case. Anyone who bothers to explore when in these locations is aware that when one moves beyond the resort there are terrible extremes of poverty. Therefore, it should not be viewed in that sense.

The other issue about the primacy of the UN system was raised by Senator Ryan. On the issue of the 0.7% target we intend to put the timeframe in place, hopefully during the next few months. It will certainly be done before the Taoiseach and I and others travel to New York for the summit in September to review progress towards the millennium development goals.

Senator Daly summed up what I felt was the spirit of the debate. He said the tsunami was a wake-up call for the international community. It has been viewed and analysed as such by many. If one wants to conduct a war against terrorism and to eliminate many of the overarching political and security threats on the globe today, one must first address the level of poverty because it is from poverty that a great many of the frustrations that lead to terrorism and international turmoil arise. If we are to address the underlying causes of world tension, world poverty must be addressed in terms of the clear disparity of income between the developed and the developing world.

Senator Feighan's point on the warning system is correct. The work is being done. Obviously that is the first matter that has to be tackled. There are proper warning systems. I was very struck by what our ambassador in Madrid, Declan O'Donovan, who was previously an ambassador in Japan, told me on the way back from the meeting in Brussels in response to the tsunami. He said that along the whole western coast of Japan, a very affluent country, there are concrete pyramids in the sea to prevent precisely what happened in regard to the tsunami and there are well developed warning systems. It does not make for an attractive beach or coastal vista but it works.

The point made about the environment is true. I attended a conference in Mauritius, a particular section of which was devoted to the protection of coral reefs and coastal zones. One of the lessons being learned from this tragedy, to which Senator Norris referred, concerns mangroves and proper foreshore afforestation. The tragic loss of life was worsened in this case because of the type of development that occurred in these coastal regions where hotels and housing are closer to the sea than they should be. This issue will be addressed in the recovery phase when proper environmental practices will need to be developed in order to protect both against coastal erosion and to save lives should anything like this ever occur in the future.

I thank Senators for a very profitable and worthwhile debate. I congratulate Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for the courage of his remarks. He is a new broom in the Catholic Church in Dublin and in Ireland. From my experience of listening to him at conferences dealing with development he has conducted himself very well.

He is correct in his view that if we do not tackle this problem we will not substantially benefit at all even if the target of 0.7% is achieved. I want to make the point very clear in the context of the White Paper that if this is not tackled, reaching the target of 0.7% means nothing. In my view the 0.7% target can be achieved within a timeframe perhaps of between now and 2012. It would be pointless reaching that target if we do not address the underlying trade and debt issues which are adversely affecting developing countries. Unless we grasp that nettle we are going nowhere.

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