Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Tsunami Disaster: Statements.


12:00 pm

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)

I welcome the debate and thank the Leader for arranging it at such an early stage. I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan, for the work he has done since the appalling tragedy took place. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and others are also to be commended. In particular, mention must be made of the work done by Dan Mulhall, ambassador to Malaysia, who responded so rapidly and effectively when the tragedy took place.

The tsunami lends a new meaning to the word "apocalypse" in that it was apocalyptic in scale. However, it was not unprecedented. We spoke about the media during the Order of Business this morning. It is a tribute to the television age and the powerful images we saw on our television screens that the impact of the disaster on world opinion was so great. Our own potato famine was an apocalypse of even greater magnitude but it occurred over a longer period. The tsunami gave us an idea of the immediate devastation that occurs in the aftermath of an atomic bomb.

It was very understandable that the response to the tsunami was so rapid and dramatic, particularly that of the Irish Government and public. I commend the Minister on the moneys that were allocated. A small church-going community from the Curragh in County Kildare raised €11,000 for the recent Trócaire appeal at Sunday masses. This was a remarkable sum to have been raised by a relatively small number of people. The response of the group serves to indicate the extent of the national response. The Minister of State has outlined the relevant figures in this regard and also the remarks of the president of the World Bank regarding our dramatic contribution per capita.

At a meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs last week, we had the opportunity to speak to the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, before he went to the General Affairs Council in Brussels on 31 January. I am pleased to note that the action plan has been approved by the European Union, as indicated in the Minister of State's speech. The main point that must be made is that there is a great need for a co-ordinated approach at supranational level through bodies such as the European Union. Otherwise, much of the moneys will be dissipated.

The disaster highlighted the ineffectiveness of much of the aid donated for other disasters. In demonstrating that only a very small proportion of the moneys pledged for other disasters was actually spent, the Minister of State mentioned the example of Bam. Honduras provides another example. I hope and am confident that this will not happen in the areas affected by the tsunami.

One important point I raised with the Minister last week, which was also mentioned by Senator Norris, concerns the need for additional aid. The Minister has explained what is happening in our case. Some moneys are being diverted and other moneys are additional. However, I have serious worries that moneys that should be spent in Africa, where the need is enormous, will be diverted. The need is great in both Africa and south-east Asia and additional funds should be pledged. Otherwise, we will fall badly between two stools.

The capacity of Somalia, as an economy, to deal with its problems is much lower than that of some of the countries that have been affected very badly by the tsunami. It must be borne in mind that we must not take our eye off the African ball. The Minister will share my view very strongly and he is committed to ensuring that the problems in Africa are addressed.

I join other Senators in sympathising with the Irish families that have been bereaved. It is appalling to realise that two people are missing and that their families cannot achieve closure, if that is the proper term to use in these circumstances. It was gratifying to hear the Irish families traumatised by the disaster being very complimentary about the role of the Government with regard to the help they received. In that context, the Garda presence in the affected region needs to be acknowledged. The work of the gardaí involved must be very difficult and painful and they are to be congratulated.

I share the view that it was good that we sent some Army specialists. However, the decision resulted from populism.


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