Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Tsunami Disaster: Statements.


11:00 am

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)

I welcome the Minister of State and thank the Leader for organising the debate. I congratulate the Minister of State on his involvement in this issue and commitment to try to bring some degree of relief and hope to a sad and stricken region. It is also fair to say that this is not a party political issue and we, on this side of the House, must be big enough and realistic enough to give credit to the Government and, in particular, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, for his decision to visit the region. On occasion some of these ministerial visits, while perhaps well-intentioned, end up as little more than photo opportunities. However, this occasion was different and from speaking to some of the representatives from the aid agencies, the Minister's visit was a watershed. Not only did it bring the Minister closer to the problem, it will help him to outline future Government policy in regard to development aid.

I note the Minister of State said that Development Co-operation Ireland will launch a consultative process leading to a White Paper on development assistance and that it will look for submissions. That is important because it is not only a question of how much money is spent. To date, €70 million has been spent — €20 million from the Government and €50 million from the public. Some €70 million is an outstanding contribution by Ireland to the tsunami relief fund. As we go forward, we must look more closely at how this money and other moneys are spent to ensure we are doing the right thing in the right way.

This disaster was seen almost live on television. In the era of Sky News on which everything is seen almost instantly, it brought the tragedy into every home the day after Christmas Day. We have not seen or experienced a tragedy on this scale in generations. The graphic nature of what we saw touched everybody and caused the outpouring not only of sadness and sympathy, but of financial assistance, which we must welcome.

I welcome the fact the Government has now pledged €20 million. I am satisfied with what the Minister and the Government have said in that this is additional money and it is not a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is important other aid projects to be funded in 2005 by the taxpayer through Ireland Aid receive the necessary moneys. I am satisfied this is a separate allocation for south-east Asia.

I congratulate the Irish public on the donation of more than €50 million. In almost every area there has been some degree of fundraising to bring hope and help to those stricken by the tsunami. Hundreds of thousands of clubs and organisations have taken part in these efforts. This is positive in two respects. First, it means that urgently needed money is raised and will be spent effectively in the coming months. The second benefit is that it helps people, if only for a brief time, to reflect on this type of tragedy, what needs to be done to ensure it will not happen again and the actions that must be taken on the world stage to bring about the necessary economic and social changes to give people of this and other poorer regions a proper basis for a new start.

I hope a consequence of this dreadful disaster is that we will not only pour money into rebuilding lives and regions in the short term but will also plan for the future by thinking seriously about putting in place, through various world agencies including the World Bank, the financial underpinning required by these countries. This will allow such regions to survive a similar disaster and to attain a sound economic future upon which to build. This is an objective towards which we must strive.

I am pleased the Minister of State's former constituency colleague and former Minister of State, Mr. Chris Flood, has been appointment as a monitor in the affected region. This is an issue I have taken up at Oireachtas committee meetings in recent weeks. As a country and a Parliament, we send monitors across the globe to monitor democracy by ensuring that elections are conducted in a proper fashion. It is also important that we monitor how Irish money is spent. The issue here is not the concept of value for money because every euro spent in south-east Asia is producing some positive effect. However, we must monitor expenditure to ensure it is being put to best effect and is producing a long-term result.

In congratulating the Minister of State and his Government colleagues on selecting former Deputy Flood for the role of monitor, a former colleague of mine with an exemplary record of public service in the Oireachtas and who was always prepared to take a brave rather than a popular stand, I hope we can persuade our EU colleagues to take similar action. A significant amount of EU money is being poured into the aid programme. Every country should have a monitor in place from whom we can receive information as to how operations can be improved. There is no perfect government or system and no perfect way of spending money. However, we can learn from the reports sent back by Mr. Flood and others. I hope the Minister of State will put this suggestion to his EU colleagues.

I have also suggested, though not with the same degree of success enjoyed by my monitoring proposal, that we must think more seriously about regionalising our aid. It is important that the moneys we collect and spend continue to grow. However, I wonder about the impact of spreading aid money significantly across the globe. Should we try to concentrate it more into a country or region where there would be a hands-on Irish approach by means of which, as a country and as a Parliament, we could forge close links with a specific area, whether a country, region or network of cities or towns? I do not refer to a simplistic type of twinning arrangement but rather to the approach taken by Development Co-operation Ireland, for example, which has tried to concentrate much of its programme in a small number of countries.

We will not solve the world's problems. This is one of the interesting points to emerge from our meetings with aid agencies. We have a moral responsibility to respond to issues such as this but this State cannot be expected to provide the answers to all problems. The donation of €70 million is major from an Irish perspective, equating to probably the highest per capita contribution internationally. However, it is a drop in the ocean in terms of what is required. We must ensure our aid donations produce positive results in the long term.

I congratulate everybody involved in the positive, progressive and appropriate work done to date. However, we must take a forward-looking approach. Today's crisis is often tomorrow's story in the history books. We must keep the overall problem in mind so that a region is not merely assisted in the short term but that we plan a better future for the millions of people living in that area.

It is important not to lose sight of the other ongoing problems in the world and in the African continent in particular. As I have said in this House on several occasions, it remains an absolute tragedy and political disgrace that Sudan is allowed continue as it has been heretofore. There had appeared to be progress in recent weeks but this progress seems to have stopped. We have become very taxed in this House over Iraq and other issues. Meanwhile, a problem of greater proportion, where larger numbers are dying and under daily threat, is not receiving the political attention it deserves, particularly on the part of the United Nations. I ask the Minister of State to keep this issue at the top of his agenda.


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