Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

11:00 am

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to make a statement to the House. It is almost impossible to find words to adequately describe the tragic events that unfolded on the morning of 26 December 2004. We have all been shocked and humbled by the sheer destructive power of nature and the enormous loss of life involved which to date is estimated at close to 300,000 people. Over 2 million people have been displaced and entire communities have been wiped out. Families have been destroyed, children orphaned and parents are grieving for their missing children. Livelihoods and whole communities of friends and neighbours have been washed away leaving those who survived with nothing but the rubble of their shattered homes and the memories of an awful day which has changed everything for everyone.

Ireland has not escaped the tragedy. 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. The families of Lucy Coyle and Michael Murphy still continue their lonely wait. There is little Ireland or the international community can do for those who have perished except to offer our most sincere sympathies to the families.

There is much that Ireland can do to help those who have survived these terrible events. Our focus and that of the international community must now be to assist these countries and communities in their recovery effort, not just in the short term but over the difficult months and years ahead as they begin to rebuild their lives.

Over the past month there has been an extraordinary demonstration of sympathy and solidarity and an unprecedented expression of generosity across the world. While the power of nature has been devastating, the power of the human spirit to respond with compassion has been astonishing.

As both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs stated in the Dáil, Ireland responded immediately to news of the disaster on St. Stephen's Day. The Government was one of the first governments to respond in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and the tsunami. On St. Stephen's Day, it pledged €1 million to the relief effort. This amount was doubled two days later when the scale of the disaster became more apparent. On New Year's Eve, the Taoiseach and I announced an increase in the funding to €10 million. Within six days of the disaster, funding for immediate relief increased from €1 million to €10 million.

Following the recent visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to the region, the level of funding has now been increased to €20 million. I considered it useful to arrange a meeting on 4 January between the key aid agencies and the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern. This was an important meeting and was a key signal to the public which prompted a generous response to the appeal for funds. The public responded accordingly to the display of unity by the Government and NGOs, acting as true partners in the face of this terrible tragedy.

On St. Stephen's Day a crisis centre was established by the Department of Foreign Affairs to provide assistance to families and friends of Irish people caught up in the affected region. The centre's work was augmented by staff from our embassies in the region who worked in Phuket, Thailand, and Colombo, Sri Lanka, to assist in locating and helping Irish people affected by the tragedy. The Garda also assisted greatly in this endeavour and a Garda team travelled to Phuket.

The Government has made clear that of the €20 million pledged for the tsunami disaster, €10 million is additional to the overall aid budget and the remainder will come from Development Co-operation Ireland's emergency humanitarian fund. The fund is deliberately designed to be flexible to respond to disasters of this kind wherever they occur. This is the largest amount Ireland has ever pledged to a single emergency.

Ireland's assistance is targeted at the most vulnerable populations in the affected region. The key sectors being addressed are food assistance, shelter, livelihood rebuilding, care and protection of children, water and sanitation. I have approved approximately €9.5 million to date in response to requests from people on the ground seeking assistance and funding.

As in all natural disasters the most immediate response in the vital first few hours is from the affected communities, which achieved a considerable amount in appalling circumstances. The Red Cross, because of its presence on the ground and its preparations for sudden disasters, played a vital role in providing immediate relief. Ireland, through its official aid programme, Development Co-operation Ireland, has a strong partnership with the Red Cross designed to assist the organisation to build local capacity in advance of disasters.

Emergency preparedness is a vital component of effective emergency response. The public often lose sight of this fact in the zeal with which they demand action when an awful tragedy or emergency of this nature occurs. While individuals frequently want to help or even travel to the region affected, the most important response to a disaster of this kind is that of local people. The work of our aid programme on an ongoing basis is to fund the Red Cross and United Nations to build capacity in developing countries to ensure local people, as opposed to people travelling into regions affected by disasters, provide the immediate response.

The Irish agencies and their partners in the region have responded, as on many occasions in the past, to this major challenge. The life-saving work being done by members of Concern, GOAL, Oxfam, Trócaire, Christian Aid and other organisations is worthy of the extraordinary public support of so many people here at home.

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 and early warning systems cannot be overstated. The lead of the United Nations will be critical as the emphasis shifts to longer term recovery and reconstruction programmes. The tsunami disaster, more than anything else, has underpinned the centrality and importance of the UN system in global matters.

The priority now for all donors, UN agencies and NGOs is to carefully co-ordinate their efforts with nationally devised plans which reflect the views and concerns of local communities and people. It is clear the recovery of the region will take years and the Government is determined that Ireland's role in rebuilding the region and relieving its suffering will continue long after the cameras have left. While the generosity of the public has been considerable, the Government's contribution will continue long after private donations from ordinary citizens dry up and attention switches to other issues and causes.

To this end, we will send Mr. Chris Flood, a former Minister of State and the current chairman of the advisory board of Development Co-operation Ireland, as a special envoy to the region. Mr. Flood will visit the region and speak to key UN agencies and NGOs which are in receipt of Irish funds. He will monitor progress to ensure maximum effectiveness of Irish funding and will be assisted by the emergency and recovery section of Development Co-operation Ireland. The reason for this is simple. At the start of the crisis, the public spontaneously showed its generosity in response to the obvious tragedy and disaster. In parallel, concern has arisen across the globe that money and assistance should reach the target recipients and be spent in the correct manner. Mr. Flood will be involved in ensuring that this is the case and that the public receive the necessary reassurance in this regard.

The Government sent a technical team, mainly comprising officials from Development Co-operation Ireland, to the region to carry out an assessment of the most pressing needs and the key challenges which lie ahead. The team has now returned and its recommendations are being examined by myself and officials. The team's report will guide Mr. Flood's work over the coming months. As a result of one of the recommendations, it is noteworthy that Ireland has provided the services of a number of skilled personnel from the Defence Forces who are working with the United Nations in Sri Lanka.

At European and UN levels, we will drive the issue of independent monitoring of assistance. We want to ensure pledges made internationally are followed up by delivery on the ground. I have requested the OECD, through the chairman of the development assistance committee, Mr. Richard Manning, to offer assistance in monitoring the delivery of pledges. Members would be aware that following previous disasters, such as that in Bam and the flooding in Mozambique, there were very serious concerns at an international level that pledges and commitments entered into by sovereign governments and states were not followed through in terms of donations. To that end and on my way to the Indian Ocean to a conference attended by a number of countries affected by the tsunami, I visited Mr. Manning in Paris and raised this specific point, that is, the need to track and monitor international donations so that recipients receive the money. As Members know, there are unscrupulous countries which, in the past, were prepared to pledge in a showy way but not deliver when the delivery was expected and required.

The EU has an important role to play in regard to this disaster. Earlier this week, EU Foreign Ministers met and approved an action plan developed by the EU Presidency. The plan is designed to better co-ordinate available EU resources at all levels to provide more effective follow up to the tsunami and possible future similar disasters. Ireland fully supports the action plan.

While at present we are all quite rightly concentrating on south Asia, funds are not being diverted away from other parts of our aid programme. Our long-standing focus on the eradication of poverty in the world's poorest countries, particularly in Africa, will not be diluted by the effort and spending we have engaged in to date.

Emergency assistance is a small part of our overall assistance programme. Of the total of €545 million we will spend this year on development assistance, over three quarters of our spending will be directed at long-term programmes in the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This has always been the focus of our aid programme and this year will be no different.

The events of St. Stephen's Day have shown both our shared vulnerabilities and our linked destinies as an earthquake in one continent has left families devastated in every continent. Rarely has the world witnessed such a sudden and appalling disaster. I say witnessed because with the speed of modern communications, this shocking tragedy unfolded in the homes of millions of people throughout the world over the Christmas period. It has united people as nothing else could in shared feelings of grief and sympathy.

There is a common thread of poverty and vulnerability between many of those affected by the tsunami and those struggling against grinding poverty in Africa. The extraordinary response of the Irish public is clear evidence that the people care about those who are less well off than themselves. As a public representative, that is heartening to see and I think all public representatives would share this affirmation of confidence. So often over the past few years, because of the boom in our economy, many people have tried to assert that the Irish value system has been lost with affluence and prosperity. The example of the tsunami and the volunteerism we witnessed during the Special Olympics suggests that we have not lost our values.

If one looks back to 1984 when Live Aid occurred, this was a country of mass unemployment and emigration but it is now a society of high employment and immigration. The value system has not changed in 20 years and the people remain robust in their solidarity with people who are in difficulty and remain generous. We were both a generous and welcoming nation during that period despite the huge disparity in income terms.

The Government is committed in the fight against poverty and the reduction of vulnerability across the world. The past four years have seen a greater increase in our ODA programme than at any time since the programme's foundation in the 1970s. Despite intense pressure on Government finances, the growth in our ODA programme in recent years is without parallel in any other OECD member state. Over the next three years, we will spend a minimum of €1.8 billion on aid to the world's poorest countries and most vulnerable people.

The Government remains strongly committed to achieving the UN target. The issue of how best to meet the UN target and in what timeframe is actively under ongoing review. In the coming months, Development Co-operation Ireland will launch a consultative process which will lead to a White Paper on development assistance. All interested stakeholders will be asked for their views.

Overall, in terms of overseas development, Ireland is in good standing internationally. During his visit last year, Kofi Annan told me that Ireland is viewed as a model UN country both in terms of the contributions it makes at UN level and its role in development matters. Ireland is a key partner of key UN agencies such as UNICEF and the World Food Programme. Indeed, we are among the largest donors in the world to these agencies. Only yesterday, the president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn — a president who has refocused the bank towards a poverty reduction agenda — stated that Ireland was a remarkable example to the world in terms of the response to the tsunami and in relation to development matters and issues generally. It is worthwhile quoting Mr. Wolfensohn because of his stellar reputation in development circles. In an interview on "Morning Ireland", Mr. Wolfensohn stated:

. . . and I must say here, that I am deeply impressed by what Ireland has done. I mean quite apart from your Government contribution of €20 million, the public has come up, as I understand, with €50 million. And so this €70 million from a country of 4 million people is quite remarkable, and I was able to tell the Taoiseach tonight how much of an example Ireland is, and also to talk to the Finance Minister and the development Minister, because your country has shown tremendous capacity and a tremendous heart, and I think the Irish people are to be congratulated on your approach to development.

I put great stock on a recommendation, endorsement or validation of that kind. That validation reflects on all of us in this House, both Government and Opposition, but, more than anything else, it reflects well on the public which has maintained a strong sense of the value system in which it was inculcated early on. It is still there and it is a matter of great pride for me that the public responded in this fashion.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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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.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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I warmly welcome the Minister of State on his first visit to the House on development matters. This time of year in this part of the world is never all that cheerful but a pall has been cast over the beginning of this new year by probably the worst instant natural disaster that has occurred in our lifetime. The Minister of State has cited the latest figure of an estimated 300,000 people killed in a matter of two or three hours. Our sympathies go to the Irish families affected but also to those inhabitants of what are generally poorer parts of the world.

In previous times it was said that natural disasters were evidence of God's anger at humankind. One commentator has observed that nowadays we are more likely to hear environmental doomsters pronounce that such occurrences are punishment for our environmental mistreatment of the earth. Nobody can make such a claim about this disaster, involving a natural earthquake which has nothing to do with the interventions of man.

However, because these types of disaster can occur in different parts of the world, there is a duty on us to take the preventative measures that will mitigate them. The absence of any type of early warning system contributed greatly to the level of casualties in this instance. This is something that must be corrected and will not even involve excessive expense. This applies to situations in other places, for example, the issue of building standards in Turkey in view of the risk of earthquakes in that country. Every area that is vulnerable must look to the way in which it plans housing development and so on to ensure the best possible protection against such occurrences in the future.

It does the country and the Government great credit that there was a tremendous outpouring of help, with €20 million coming from the Government and €50 million — the figure is probably still rising — from the public. The Minister of State said that the extraordinary response of the Irish public is clear evidence that the Irish people care about those who are less well off than themselves. I hope this will be quoted at the Cabinet table the next time allocations for overseas development aid are discussed.

The diplomatic service, to which in the distant past I once had the honour to belong, acquitted itself outstandingly on this occasion and showed that we have a superb public service which even during what is a holiday period pulled out all the stops to provide maximum help and information. When it was necessary to speak on a daily basis to the media, which is not perhaps very usual, public servants acquitted themselves exceptionally well. I ask the Minister of State to pass on the congratulations of this House to all those involved. While no one would wish that a disaster should occur, there is probably no disaster from which some good cannot subsequently be extracted. One of the effects has been to mainstream overseas development aid in a way that it was not beforehand.

The Minister of State spoke about producing a White Paper. I remember working in the mid-1990s with former Deputy Ray Burke, who is now in another place, on an interim target for overseas development aid, which was to be 0.45%. I regret that possibly because of very high growth in the intervening period, we have yet to achieve that target. Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the special envoy for the millennium goals, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine on 20 January, stated that the rich countries, of which Ireland obviously is one, should in the immediate future set aside 0.5% of GNP for overseas development aid. In the period between now and 2007 we should certainly not settle for anything less. While we all would have preferred to be even further ahead, that would be both a defensible position and represent substantial progress.

I reiterate a point I have made a number of times in this House. In an interview with The Irish Times on 12 January, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said that the emergency aid would likely focus on Sri Lanka, a country I visited in connection with its peace process two or three years ago. I would very much like to see us take on the challenge of making Sri Lanka an overseas development aid country that we help. It is a relatively small island, obviously with a much larger population than Ireland, which has divisions and a conflict not totally dissimilar from ours. While I realise that we have already encountered difficulties and obstacles in getting aid to the Tamil area with the agreement of the Government, we should not be deterred and should take on the challenge.

The Minister of State said that the Government was determined that Ireland's role in relieving the suffering and rebuilding the region would continue long after the cameras had left. Sri Lanka has no special relationship with the United States. The United States takes a very limited interest in Sri Lanka, whereas it takes significant interest in Indonesia, the Philippines, etc. We need to focus on this area. I very much welcome the appointment of Chris Flood as Irish tsunami aid envoy. I can think of no better choice given his track record in dealing with deprived and marginalised people at home. In years gone by I had the opportunity to visit one or two of our overseas development aid projects with the Taoiseach. We have a healthy concentration on the basics and essentials of life, which is very good.

Our young people in particular travel considerably. They should not be deterred by what has happened from travelling to these regions. It is very unlikely that something of this sort will happen again in the near future. Some of these places depend absolutely on tourism. My daughter is planning to go there in the summer. I hope that young people and people of all ages will travel to that area as this would be another way to show some solidarity.

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I wish to share my time with Senator Norris.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

12:00 pm

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I welcome some of the points in his speech. It is very important that the delivery of aid will be monitored by the UN and that we will give assistance in this respect. While promises were certainly made regarding the Iranian earthquake in Bam, apparently only one fifth of the money promised turned up. I am extremely glad that the Government did not attempt to send the Army into any of the countries as some people had proposed. This would have looked very imperialistic and most of those countries have very fine armies. To send a small number of specialist personnel from the Defence Forces was much wiser. I am also very glad that we are co-operating fully with UNICEF and the World Food Programme.

I ask the Minister of State to co-operate with and encourage UNFPA in assisting maternity services in these countries. I was extremely distressed to discover that many of the deaths are due to tetanus. A very high percentage of people in the affected countries have not been vaccinated. Death by tetanus is appalling. We had done very well in reducing maternal mortality and neo-natal tetanus by helping UNFPA to distribute its birthing packs, which only cost approximately 25 cents. They consist of very simple things like a clean blade to cut the umbilical cord, clean tape with which to tie it and a clean piece of plastic on which the woman can give birth. The Minister of State should ask whether such equipment has been sent to the region in sufficient quantities, as pregnant women will give birth when the nine months are up. It would be terrible to think of losing so many women and babies due to tetanus. I had never thought of tetanus being a major problem in such a situation. However, with all the filth in which people are lying, it was bound to become a very serious problem.

I was very glad to hear the Minister of State say that aid to sub-Saharan Africa will not be cut. As he knows, that is very important to me. I have written to the Minister of State to ask if we could do something for Somalia, which is right beside Ethiopia, in which we have such very good programmes. I gather that President Museveni is trying to be as helpful as he can regarding the situation in Somalia. The newly-created Government in Somalia has asked for help and to date, as far as I can gather from the Internet, the response has come from South Africa, which has been very good, and a United States organisation, CARE. Further down the coast in Kenya and Tanzania, the Chinese are helping. Given that we have such good programmes right beside Somalia, we should be able to do some more. Just a few hundred people died in Somalia, as far as we know, but it has suffered from war, four years' drought and torrential rains. We should try to do something for its newly-established Government if we can. I ask the Minister of State to include such concerns on his list. Somalian fishing boats have been destroyed just as much as fishing boats in Sri Lanka.

Thailand has said it does not need outside assistance because it is one of the most prosperous countries in that region. I ask the Minister of State to examine the circumstances of the 20,000 or 30,000 Burmese workers in Thailand. I should submit an interest in this regard — we have made Aung San Suu Kyi a freeman of the city of Dublin. One of my sons helped to establish a strong support group, Burma Action Ireland, of which I am a member. The people of Burma have received great support from this country. Burmese workers in Thailand are afraid to come forward to get aid because some of them are there illegally. Perhaps some of the officials of our excellent diplomatic corps in Thailand can examine whether we can do anything for the Burmese workers. An initiative from our NGOs there could help them to receive some aid. I gather that the people in question are sheltering in the mountains, some of them with little food or supplies of any sort. They are afraid that they will be described as looters if they come down from the mountains with any possessions.

I note Senator Mansergh's comments about Mr. Sachs, who said that allocating 0.5% of our GNP is enough. Our embarrassment derives from the fact that the Taoiseach said at the United Nations that Ireland would donate 0.7%. Some people in developing countries might think we made the commitment because we wanted their votes to get onto the UN Security Council.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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They would be right to think that.

Mary Henry (Independent)
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No one would want that idea to become accepted. I would prefer it if we could try to get back to our original aim. When the reconstruction of tourist resorts takes place, could we remind those involved that the destruction of the ecosystem in parts of Thailand where tourist resorts are built may have contributed to the devastation in such areas? Mangrove swamps have been completely removed from the coastline to improve the beaches, for example. Burma may have been protected by its retention of mangrove swamps. The Minister of State should ask his officials, when they are giving advice about redevelopment, to remind those involved in reconstruction of the value of the ecosystems in those areas for their own protection.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He is right to state that the tsunami was an appalling catastrophe. It was a reminder of the immense power of nature. The first photographs I saw scarcely moved me because they were flat satellite photographs — the wave just looked like a kind of ripple. I was moved by a photograph I saw in a newspaper of people on a tourist beach. There was a wall of water behind them that was five times their height. They were dressed in holiday clothes and were almost smiling, but it was obvious they did not realise what was happening behind them. I do not think I would have realised because I would have thought of it initially just as water, even though it was on an enormous scale. I imagine that most people were killed by the debris — motor cars, boats, bits of houses, etc. — that was collected within the waves. Some people were smashed against rocks.

I would like to correct slightly Senator Mansergh's comment that the tragedy did not have an environmental element. Of course there was such an element. The impact of the wave was massively increased in areas in which mangrove swamps have been removed.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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He said that it had nothing to do with global warming and he was right.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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No, he did not quite say that. I do not intend to waste my time challenging Senator Dardis's interruptions. The impact of the wave was significantly less in areas in which mangrove swamps had not been removed to create beaches. The impact of the wave under the surface of the sea was minimised in areas where the despoliation of coral reefs had not taken place.

I understand that less than 50% of moneys pledged following most disasters are eventually received, which is utterly shameful. The Minister of State will recall that I suggested at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs that there should be a tracking mechanism. I am glad the Minister of State strongly endorsed my view today.

The Minister of State praised the Irish people, who showed themselves to be remarkably generous following the disaster. The people donated €50 million and the Government donated €20 million. I would like to analyse those figures later. Our donations pall in comparison to the extraordinary generosity of the people of East Timor, who gave $50,000 to Indonesia, which had oppressed and humiliated it and devastated its lands. The donation of $50,000 by such impoverished people represents an extraordinary thing. Xanana Gusmao went to Jakarta to present the money in a move of reconciliation. We need to examine the actions of the Indonesian Government, for example in Aceh, which was struck by the tsunami. The Indonesian Government tried to exclude certain people from the area because it does not want the world to know that problems similar to those in East Timor are developing there. I commend that matter to the Minister's attention.

I am glad that the former US President, Mr. Clinton, has been appointed to oversee the continuing monitoring of the implementation of the donated moneys. It is a very good thing.

The Minister of State has said that the Government is committed to the fight against poverty and the reduction of vulnerability throughout the world. I applaud that statement.

I congratulate the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, for his courage in saying that we need to examine farm subsidies. He was roundly attacked for his statement, but he was absolutely right, especially in respect of sugar beet and all that kind of stuff. If we want to create more fairness throughout the world, we have to accept some readjustment and pain in this country. It was marvellous that Archbishop Martin had the courage to make such a statement. He was absolutely right.

Ireland will contribute overseas development aid of €1.8 billion over the next three years, compared to €3.8 billion under the special incentive savings scheme. Our ODA allocation is not such an enormous amount of money. Ireland is a very rich country which can well afford to donate it. I do not accept that we should derogate from the 0.7% commitment. We should support the Minister of State's fight at Cabinet level to secure 0.7% of GNP. I do not accept for a second that we should reduce the allocation to 0.5% by 2007. Such a reduction, which has been implied, would be a real shame. I will not accept it. I will fight against it as hard as I can.

The Government responded efficiently and rapidly in the days immediately after the disaster. It acted on the immediate need for assistance by making an immediate allocation of €2 million. It is a pity, however, that some subsequent decisions were delayed as we awaited the return of the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern. The delay at that time was unhelpful and not in line with good practice. It is good to get news from the front, but many NGOs feel that the delay was regrettable and should not be repeated.

Reports in the media claimed that the Minister for Foreign Affairs stated that specific emphasis will be placed on what he described as "indigenous Irish NGOs". Such a phrase can easily slip out, but I would like to ask some questions about it. What is meant by "indigenous Irish NGOs"? Is a criterion of specific Irishness being introduced? I am glad that the Minister of State is shaking his head, but I would like him to place his thoughts on the matter on the record. I would like to think that the relevant criteria are those stemming from agreed international best practice. I refer to the usual things like needs capacity, local track record and the use of local capacity. I am glad the Minister of State is now nodding in agreement.

The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, was also quoted in the media as saying that the first €10 million pledged by the Government was additional money and that the second pledge was taken from the DCI's emergency aid fund. As the Minister of State knows, when this matter was raised at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, it was explained that the fund would be replenished, which I welcome. I understand and accept that fully. Can the Minister of State explain the process that the replenishment will involve? We would like some of the detail of the replenishment to be fleshed out.

Will the Minister of State clarify whether this replenishment will take place before or after the finalisation of the Finance Bill in the Oireachtas? Does the Minister intend to publish the decisions on emergency aid in full? DCI only publishes the total amount of funding and not a breakdown of its distribution among the various recipients, including the various UN organisations and NGOs. From their point of view and in terms of planning, it would be a great help if we had such a breakdown. I commend the Minister on his efforts.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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I propose to share my time with Senator Minihan.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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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.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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Hear, hear.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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Some of the calls that were made to have a widespread Army presence in the region were dubious as I really do not know what the Army personnel could have done. We are dealing with sovereign states and unless people are invited thereto and asked for specifically, it is better not to get involved. One should just send the type of expertise that is required.

I support Senator Mansergh in his remarks on aid for the Tamil people. It is very important that they are not left out during the distribution of aid in Sri Lanka. I very much share Senator Norris's view that it is critical we retain our objective of donating 0.7% of our GDP in overseas development aid and that we achieve the millennium goals set out by the United Nations. I accept the fact that because the economy has grown so rapidly, it has been difficult to achieve our objective regarding overseas development aid. In absolute terms, there has been a very significant increase in the money devoted to overseas development aid. The objective is important nevertheless and must be achieved. The Minister of State is committed to doing so and I commend him and encourage him in that regard. I thank him for his contribution to this debate on aid for the regions affected by the tsunami.

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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I too welcome the Minister of State to the House and welcome the opportunity to speak about the extraordinary and tragic events that unfolded in the Indian Ocean at Christmas. The tsunami affected a vast geographic region and caused such loss of life so quickly that it is difficult for those of us who did not witness it to appreciate fully the extent of the tragedy. There is no need to remind the House of the consequences of the disaster. We have all seen and read graphic accounts of the tragedy by various media outlets, depicting the dead and, most tragically, the countless children who have been orphaned.

At a time when relief efforts begin to slip from the media's radar, it is opportune for us to examine how we in Ireland reacted to the tragedy, determine the lessons that can be learned and ascertain how we should view the disaster in a global context. The Irish reacted in a way that exemplifies our generous response to all such disasters, whether they be extraordinary, such as the tsunami, or ongoing, such as those that afflict Africa. In giving to established charities or projects aimed at bringing relief to specific communities in the Indian Ocean area, we have been both generous and imaginative. While I am loth to single out any specific charity, I will take the opportunity to mention two that captured my imagination. The Hope Foundation in Cork, which primarily works with children in Calcutta, has raised in excess of €200,000 to provide emergency medical supplies, food, water and clothing to 30,000 people in 11 villages in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Such local efforts have been replicated throughout Ireland, which is to be commended. National charities have also been hard-working in raising funds for the relief effort. Amanda Hughes's Irish Sri Lanka trust fund particularly caught my imagination. I believe Vincent Van Gogh stated: "The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore." For Sri Lankan fishermen, fishing is not just a way of life because the fish they catch are vital to their daily diet. Amanda Hughes's project aims to use funds raised in Ireland to purchase locally built boats to put fishermen back to sea.

The most appealing aspect of this project is that schools can raise funds and name their own fishing boats. In this way Irish communities can form a lasting relationship with beleaguered families and communities thousands of miles away.

I compliment the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and the staff in his Department. From the moment the true impact of this disaster was known they have worked tirelessly to identify and bring relief to the Irish citizens in the region. In particular, we should acknowledge the sometimes harrowing work of Dan Mulhall, the Irish ambassador in Thailand, and his dedicated team of voluntary and Civil Service staff. Seldom have Irish citizens served this country so well.

We must now examine how we can best reach and react to future disasters. In the aftermath of the tsunami there was much talk of sending Defence Forces personnel to aid the relief. While I echo the comments of Senator Dardis, and have the highest regard for the skills of the Defence Forces, the scale of this disaster was such that even the US military had difficulty bringing relief to areas of Indonesia. It has been suggested that in future disasters of such magnitude our Defence Forces could specialise in one aspect of relief, for example, supplying clean water. I am sure the Government and the Defence Forces will take this suggestion on board.

Another approach could be to incorporate Irish efforts into those of a European rapid reaction force deployed to give humanitarian assistance under the Petersberg Tasks. There has been opposition to Ireland's participation in such a force. Disasters such as this, however, require rapid response and we cannot wait for a UN debate or resolutions. The triple lock mechanism should never apply to humanitarian work. It has also been suggested that, given our size, we should concentrate our relief efforts where we can make a real difference. This too has merit.

The Maldives have perhaps been neglected because of the scale of the disaster elsewhere. One third of the population there — 100,000 people — have been affected by the tsunami. More than 15,000 remain homeless. Major work is required to restore this country. The World Health Organisation has identified the supply of adequate clean water, sanitation and the building of its public health infrastructure as priorities. We could adopt one area affected by the disaster and undertake this work.

The death toll following the tsunami was only a fraction of that suffered in Africa every year. The Government has correctly targeted six African and one south-east Asian country, East Timor, as major beneficiaries of the Development Co-operation Ireland programme. We should now add the Maldives to this programme. Lest we affect those countries already receiving aid, the Government must reinstate its pledge and redouble its efforts to reach the target of 0.7% of GDP for overseas aid by 2007.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, for coming to the House today, and the Leader for organising the debate. I congratulate the Government, the non-governmental organisations and the citizens who responded so rapidly and efficiently to this disaster. In light of the sum of money collected we should redouble our efforts to bring forward legislation governing charities and the collection of money. It is imperative that we do this.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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We have never received such a salutary and visible reminder that we are guests on this planet as that provided by the tsunami. It demonstrated too that our belief that science and technology can control the forces of nature is an illusion. We survive on this planet because the temperature fluctuates between limits which can support life, and because of other delicate balances.

The positive aspect of globalisation is to show us the scale of the effect when one of those balances goes wrong, even temporarily. It is not to belittle what happened to say this is not the first tsunami but it is probably the first of the global communications era. This has shown in a spectacular way that, despite our foibles about immigration and race issues, we recognise human suffering and respond to it.

I compliment the generosity of the people and the Government, whose response was as good as anyone could have wanted. It shows once again the quality of the people who work in the Department of Foreign Affairs, particularly our ambassador in the region. Those of us who have visited Irish Embassies know the quality of those who represent us abroad. Other European countries, some of which I wish we would emulate in many respects, showed a more limited capacity to understand how to deal with human suffering than our officials.

According to my rough calculation, combining the generosity of the Irish people with the Government's commitment, for the United States to contribute as much proportionately would require a donation of between $7 billion and $10 billion. That is the scale of generosity here. I do not say that as a reproach but this is a small country.

To a degree, the people drove the Government on this issue. I do not wish to engage in a silly argument about the Government but simply remark that it followed public opinion which took this issue to its heart. The Government's heart was in the right place. It was the most positive sign of globalisation I have seen since the term first impinged on my consciousness. These things usually impinge on me ten years later than on everybody else because I am a bit slow.

Several factors emerged from this and require blunt acknowledgment. Whatever its limitations, the United Nations has a central role in activities such as this. Where multiple problems arise in a range of countries no other organisation can take the leading role of persuasion or smoothing over the difficulties. For the chief executive of GOAL to devote considerable time and attention in recent weeks to lambasting the United Nations does no good for any development objective.

The universal remedy of that organisation to every crisis is to send in an army. That has not worked. George Bush Snr. thought he could use the US armed forces in Somalia, for what were at the outset genuine humanitarian reasons. It does not work and the regular chorus "send in an army" whenever there is a crisis is a diversion. The way to deal with such crises is for constructive voluntary organisations, including GOAL, to work in a small scale, piecemeal way with people on the ground.

We need to ensure that the pledges made are real, which they are in Ireland's case, and that they are kept. We do not want the situation that has emerged in countries such as Iran or Honduras where the scale of what was promised is a quantum size greater than that which has been delivered. International vigilance is necessary, not just for this country but for large countries too. Arguably, some major countries, not particularly the United States, were slow and ungenerous in their initial response. Public opinion in these countries drove their governments in a way the Government here, I am happy to say, did not need to be driven, into a scale of response. If they were reluctant to make the promise, we must assume they will be reluctant to keep the promise. However, we must ensure the promise is kept.

The Minister referred to the issue of Ireland's development co-operation. This is a cruelly unfair world, with perhaps 2 billion people living on less than $2 per day. As a parliamentarian from another country pointed out to me, we expect 2 billion people to live on $2 per day while the European Union gives its cows a subsidy of perhaps $6 dollars per day and Japan gives its cows a subsidy of $30 per day. There is significant need in this regard.

Ireland still has credibility, although it had more, as a country that gives untied aid without an underlying political agenda, and which, unlike many of our high-minded Nordic colleagues, does not insist that the money must be spent on products made in Ireland. We are not into tied aid and I hope we never will be because it has been a monumental failure. However, it needs to be stated that what the Irish people wanted, attempted and thought would happen has been betrayed by the Government.

The withdrawal from the pledge was a betrayal, not just of the poor of the world but of the goodness and generosity of the Irish people. The Minister has not helped in this. He has not succeeded in holding a line on overseas development aid, ODA. One unfortunate remark of his in regard to value for money has given all sorts of critics, particularly in the Department of Finance where ODA has never been a priority, yet another reason to procrastinate. It is a pity that a Minister who was responsible for fighting the political battle for this has, perhaps unwittingly, given hostages to fortune to the Department most unfriendly to ODA. That we promised to reach the target when we were looking for the votes of developing countries will have repercussions for Ireland and the perception thereof in other countries. When we got their votes and finished our term on the UN Security Council, we walked away from our promise.

There are good reasons for a White Paper on development because it is a complicated issue and many models of and attempts at development have failed. However, one thing is clear. The only real long-term route to development is trade. On sugar or agriculture generally — I may get into more trouble with my party on this — we can talk all we want about development but if the three biggest economic powers in the world, the United States, the European Union and Japan, are not prepared to do what is necessary to allow free trade in the goods and products in which the developing world has a comparative advantage, all of the talk about aid is essentially hot air. While I would not dismiss the issue of aid, we must bite this bullet sooner or later.

I do not understand why the Government decided to bring so much grief on its head in the context of the target. What motivated the Government not to keep a promise so firmly made in many public fora by everybody connected with it? If these people felt they had to do this, as they obviously did, why was this so? We heard occasional remarks from the Minister about capacity. Every development co-operation NGO I know of accepts there is capacity to absorb any amount of aid this country could generate. If there were not, at a time when the country is rich we could set up a development co-operation fund, similar to the national pensions reserve fund, to be judiciously used when or if needed.

The idea that we would have to wait until there were sufficient numbers of crying needs to reach our target is a betrayal of the 2 billion people who live on less than $2 per day. The Minister should explain why the Government retreated because I do not accept any of the arguments advanced to date. We are not poor. The Government is not short of money. The argument that because we are growing fast it is more difficult to reach the target is the most peculiar and inverted argument I have ever heard. It is as if the reason we cannot build more schools or hospitals is because we have more people. How could it be more difficult to build more hospitals or schools when we are rich rather than poor? The idea that somehow it would be easier to reach the target if we were growing at a slower rate is nonsense.

It would do the Government a great service to drop it and tell us the real reason, namely, the vigorous resistance of the Department of Finance. When we reach the 0.7% target, there will be no going back. It will be a non-return valve through which we will move and the Department will be stuck with the 0.7% target.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator's time is up.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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As long as we do not meet that threshold, we will have room to manoeuvre. When we meet it, the Department will be stuck with a percentage. The fundamental problem is and has been the Department of Finance. It is a huge tragedy that despite the popular and political goodwill witnessed repeatedly in this country, the Government betrayed the target. This is despite the fact that the Government has no opposition to meeting that target and the Opposition is totally at one with it.

The Government did a good job, for which it deserves credit, in its response to the disaster.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator must conclude.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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I am about to finish.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator was about to finish three minutes ago.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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It was one minute ago.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Other Members are anxious to speak.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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I compliment the Government on its actions following the tsunami. The same values could motivate its attitude to ODA and the country would be much the better for it.

Brendan Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share my time with Senator Feeney, by agreement.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Brendan Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, and compliment him and the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on their work in regard to the disaster. Since taking up office, the Minister of State has had a baptism of water if not fire. This disaster sent a wake-up call throughout the international community. There is a necessity to deal effectively with many of the issues raised in this debate so that we will not witness tragedy similar to that visited on those in other areas, particularly in developing countries. To take the AIDS issue, some 40 million people, and 90% of the population of some developing countries, are affected by the disease. Even in Western countries, since 1995 the number suffering from AIDS has doubled. This tragic circumstance in south-east Asia and the Indian Ocean sends a loud and clear message to the international community in particular, and to Ireland, that immediate action is needed to deal with the issues raised in this debate.

I join with other Members in expressing sympathy to the relatives of those who lost their lives in this tragedy, in particular to the families of Irish people who lost their lives. The full extent of the deaths and devastation caused by the tsunami will never be calculated. Provisional figures indicate that in the region of 300,000 people lost their lives in the disaster. Some 70,000 islands were hit by the tsunami which was caused by the worst earthquake of the past 40 or 50 years. Many of the deaths that occurred on remote Indian Ocean islands would not have been documented so it is unlikely that the full extent of the tragedy will ever be determined.

In common with other speakers, I wish to pay tribute to the Minister of State's personnel in the Department of Foreign Affairs, including Ambassador Dan Mulhall. I worked with Mr. Mulhall when I was a Minister in the Department ten or 12 years ago. I also saw Ambassador Swift on television with the Minister of State during their visit to the affected region. During the post-Christmas period, these people and other departmental staff devoted their time and efforts to relieving the trauma for many of those affected. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. I hope the Minister of State will convey to Ambassador Mulhall and his staff our appreciation for the work they have done in that area.

It is important to have a co-ordinated effort to deal with the current situation in south-east Asia. According to some estimates, approximately €10 billion will be needed to remedy the devastation that has occurred. In appointing Mr. Chris Flood as Ireland's representative there, the Government has made a wise decision. I know Mr. Flood well; he is a deeply committed person with much experience in this regard. It is invaluable to have such a person working with the Irish aid effort, which includes personnel from the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces.

Co-ordinated aid efforts must also extend to non-governmental organisations. I am aware of the overseas development aid work that NGOs have done for many years. In this particular case, Irish NGOs have been to the forefront of the effort. While complimenting them, I would ask them also to co-ordinate their efforts because we do not want any overlapping or duplication. For that reason, the appointment of Mr. Chris Flood is very important.

The United Nations has seen the importance of appointing a special envoy to the area. In appointing the former US President, Mr. Bill Clinton, the UN has chosen a person with extensive experience. He will make an important contribution towards co-ordinating the overseas aid effort in south-east Asia.

What happened on 26 December 2004 in the Indian Ocean was a wake-up call for the international community, which will not go unheeded. Yesterday, I was pleased to hear experts from the World Bank indicating that the financial institutions, including the Paris Club, are at long last beginning to take heed of the devastating situation in the underdeveloped world. In a peculiar way, some benefit might come out of what has been an enormous tragedy.

Photo of Geraldine FeeneyGeraldine Feeney (Fianna Fail)
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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.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
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I wish to share my time with Senators Ulick Burke and Quinn.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to the House. Along with myself and a number of other Members of both Houses, he played his part last week when the Oireachtas XI played a football match for the tsunami appeal. We were unsuccessful but at least we succeeded in the overall objective of raising funds. I join with previous speakers who have expressed their gratitude to the Irish people for their tremendous response to the tsunami relief effort. Over €50 million has been collected among the general populace, while the Government is committed to providing a further €20 million for relief in the areas affected by the tsunami.

Previous speakers mentioned the failure of governments other than ours to give money they promised. It is particularly shameful and shocking if people who are desperate are offered monetary help and the offer is not acted upon. I hope that will not happen in this case.

I concur with what other speakers said regarding those who lost their lives as a result of the tsunami. Given the number of Irish people who travel to that part of the world, it is remarkable that more Irish people did not lose their lives. I was shocked to hear from a number of people my age from home whom I know well that most of them had at some time been in some part of south-east Asia. It probably heightened the response of the Irish people that many families have members who have visited the affected region. It is remarkable that so few Irish people were affected. Needless to say, I sympathise with the families who lost loved ones.

There is merit, as many previous speakers have said, in the proposal to focus Irish aid on a specific country or group of countries. The proposal was floated by a number of Senators. It should be considered, and I ask that the Minister investigate it, as sponsoring a particular country could be a more effective way of giving aid.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Phelan for sharing his time.

I endorse all that has been said regarding the officials in the Department, the Minister and the Minister of State and the work that has been done at a time of crisis. It is important also to recognise the contribution of many Irish people who were in the vicinity of the tsunami, who travelled from surrounding areas and volunteered to help the various agencies. These people were on holidays and forfeited their holidays to go to those areas in greatest need and work in what were obviously very difficult circumstances.

The co-operation and co-ordination of the agencies in carrying out their work and spreading their efforts and endeavours must be acknowledged. There was no competition between the voluntary agencies representing Ireland. They went into various areas by agreement and did their work in those areas rather than competing in a particular targeted area. Wherever there are advisers on the ground representing the agencies and the Department and where restoration and redevelopment is taking place, I ask the Minister to indicate the necessity of advice that was perhaps lacking in the haphazard way development took place in the past. There is a huge volume of money available that should be targeted in a planned way in the future.

We were touched locally by the tsunami in that a Sri Lankan priest who is studying in our diocese and was in the area lost some of his family. When he returned to complete his studies a week or a fortnight ago he acknowledged the work of Irish volunteer groups on the ground. While we can all say it from a distance, it is important that someone who has been to the region should come back and report on the value of the agencies' work.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I thank Senator Phelan for allowing me to share his time. I congratulate the Minister on the Government's rapid response as the tsunami crisis developed.

There is an old Oxfam saying, "if you give somebody a fish you feed them for a day but if you teach them to fish you feed them for life". I recognise that when disasters happened in the past we have helped financially. What we have not done and what we must do in the future is change our attitude to fair trade in the developing world. We will not get on top of this if all we do is help out when a disaster occurs. I am always proud to be Irish and to be European. However, it makes me ashamed when I see how we in Europe trade with the rest of the world, how we dump our products on the rest of the world, how we subsidise our own products and refuse to allow in products from other parts of the world. That is something we should address, much more than any other help.

I was delighted to hear the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Martin, speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week. I congratulate him for his courage in saying what he said in spite of the criticisms. If we are to do anything to help the developing world it cannot be merely financial. We must do more than that. I urge the Minister of State to use his power to ensure that in the immediate future, not just in the long term, we follow what Bono said, also at Davos, and move to enforce in Europe a different attitude from the one taken in the past. We are taking steps in that direction but we are so protective of our own and each step we take to protect our interests in Europe damages the rest of the world and ensures that developing countries will never get off the ground. I urge the Minister of State to do something about that because that is how we can help the developing world. We respond very well to disasters. Let us make sure that we respond on the other issue and do it ahead of time.

I have heard informal reports that the 0.7% we set as a target should include all private help to the developing world. Will the Minister of State confirm that that 0.7% is Government aid to the developing world and does not include other investment? We as a nation have helped privately in various ways over the years. I would like the Minister to assure me that the target of 0.7%, which may not be reached in 2007, refers solely to Government aid.

1:00 pm

Photo of Eamon ScanlonEamon Scanlon (Fianna Fail)
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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.

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

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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Will the Minister of State confirm that the target of 0.7% is the Government aim and does not include private contributions?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for the opportunity to clarify the position. Much as we might like private contributions to be part of the assessment in respect of the levels of aid, the OECD does not view private funding as part of the mix. The main reason for the OECD policy is both philosophical and fundamental. There is greater clarity in government donations rather than in those of citizens. It is also very difficult to calculate and capture the level of private donation, even in respect of the tsunami. We do not have a clear picture of the final figure of the public's generosity because many members of the public donated the money directly. Senators will be aware of some striking examples of this generosity.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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I hope this will be the first of many visits to the House by the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan.

Sitting suspended at 1.15 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.