Seanad debates

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The following motion was moved by Senator Ann Ormonde on Wednesday, 27 January 2010:

That Seanad Éireann fully supports the Government in its efforts to assist the people of Haiti in the aftermath of recent earthquakes.

5:00 pm

Photo of Niall Ó BrolcháinNiall Ó Brolcháin (Green Party)
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I acknowledge the presence of the Cuban ambassador and I am delighted an ambassador from another Caribbean country is present for this debate because this is time for solidarity with Haiti. All islands must think of the devastation in the country. Before the earthquake happened, Haiti was in enormous political difficulty. Ireland and Cuba - even though I have heard good reports about that country - may think they have problems but Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. We are debating the minimum wage currently while GDP per capita in Haiti is less than €3.80 per day.

I commend the many Irish aid agencies working in Haiti. I am glad that during the Celtic tiger era, overseas development aid increased. It is a shame the Government has cut it to the extent it has but, at the same time, a reasonable allocation is still provided and I am glad the Government is still committed to reaching in due course the target set many years ago. I commend the work of Concern in Haiti where it has operated and done significant work since 1994, as has GOAL. The famous John O'Shea is always good at getting to the nub of the problem when disasters occur. He highlighted the need to establish an "overarching entity to co-ordinate and control the operations in Haiti" and said, "Disasters on this scale of tragedy in Haiti are beyond the scope of any aid organisation to contain". There is a limit to what can be done given hundreds of thousands of people have died in this tragedy. Ireland had problems with flooding and snow but this disaster puts them in perspective. We do not know how many people are injured or the number of orphans left by this appalling tragedy.

Since the Republic was formed, we have always had solidarity with people from poor countries or countries that suffer great disasters, and this can be classed as an enormously appalling disaster. A former colleague of mine, Sister Rose Kelly, was based in Galway for many years but she has been on the ground in Haiti for five years. In correspondence with her, she stated:

The country's infrastructure is virtually non-existent. The roads are so bad it takes eight hours in a car to get to Port-au-Prince from not too far away.

The Dominican Republic borders Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, which was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Haiti has a population of 9 million. From an environmental perspective, few trees remain in Haiti whereas the border with Dominican Republic, which is more stable politically, is tree lined. It is easy to see the border as a result. Because of the poverty in Haiti, people have taken to using trees as fuel and charcoal for cooking. The level of poverty in this western hemisphere country is not something of which we in the West should be proud.

We all want to ensure we can give maximum support to the people of Haiti. I commend the number of fund-raising events held throughout the country. Money is important but the key is to use it wisely. The amount the Government and the EU is providing is important but the key is to ensure the funding is targeted. John O'Shea pointed out the major issue is logistics and ensuring aid gets to where it should. It is not only about sending sacks of food to the people there who face many difficulties. Ireland can address the logistics issue. Approximately 400,000 people are on the dole, many of whom are extremely skilled. Good use should be made of their talents. We should focus on spending funds allocated to Haiti through our overseas development aid budget on them. For example, engineers could go to the country and do enormous good if they are given proper support.

Ireland can take many initiatives to solve this problem and it is incumbent on the State to do that. Luckily, Ireland is one of the most earthquake free countries in the world. Thank God for that, given the devastation we have seen on our television screens recently. While there have been heart-warming stories about people who were trapped in rubble for days before being dug out, at the same time they are the exception rather than the rule. This is a human tragedy on a scale we cannot imagine. The people of Haiti are in shock. Their Government is not equipped to deal with the tragedy and, therefore, they need help from every outside agency. Given our great tradition, it is incumbent on us to give as much practical help to the people as we can. I commend the motion and I will support it.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I very much welcome the motion. The issue has the attention of the Irish people and it is on the political agenda as well. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs had an interesting and useful discussion on this subject this afternoon, in the presence of representatives of Haven, Concern and various other organisations. The delegates were looking for aid etc. They pleaded for practical things like 900 latrines. This is the level which the relief effort is at. I pointed out that the crisis in Haiti has to be seen in a political context. That is what the joint committee, like the Parliament as a whole, does. In that light, we must consider the immediate and the historical contexts. I have learned more about Haiti in recent days.

I am not sure if the Minister of State saw a remarkable documentary on RTE television last week, which dealt with the work of a Roman Catholic priest from Massachusetts and, more importantly, the work of two Irish women, Dr. Louise Ivers and Ms Gena Heraty. It was remarkable to see Dr. Ivers operating in very difficult circumstances. When I spoke to her on the telephone yesterday, she told me it is possible that there will be an outbreak of dengue fever in the area. It is an extremely serious matter. I am very proud of Dr. Ivers, as I am of Ms Heraty, who said on the documentary, as she cradled in her arms a young spastic child who had been abandoned, that every human being has the right to be protected, loved, hugged and walked with on their journey through life. It is an accident that the people of Ireland are so privileged. There was a justified sense of outrage in the voices of the three people who featured in the programme.

Many people do not know about the Haitian Revolution of the beginning of the 19th century, which was led by Toussaint L'Ouverture. Slaves who had been brutally wrenched out of Africa, and planted in Haiti to be tortured, murdered and raped, revolted for the first time in 1802 or 1804. Their punishment for asserting their independence continues to this day. The people of Haiti were punished shamefully by France. I did not know until recently that France forced Haiti to pay reparations until 1947. Similar interventions were made by the Governments of Britain and the United States.

One of my colleagues made a coy reference to a change of regime in Haiti. There have been several changes of regime in Haiti. The US helped to install Papa Doc Duvalier, who took approximately $900 million from his impoverished country. The US got rid of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was elected by over 70% of the people of Haiti, with the connivance of the Haitian military and the remains of the Tonton Macoute. They put him into a car, took him to the airport, put him on an airplane and flew him to South Africa. How is that for regime change? How is that for democracy?

No one can prevent earthquakes or hurricanes - they are natural phenomena. Although the documentary I mentioned was made before the recent earthquake, the situation was desperate even at that stage. Haiti is ranked 149th of 182 countries on the UN index. It is not an accident that Haiti is the only country in the western hemisphere with such a low ranking. That has not resulted from hurricanes and earthquakes - it has resulted from the way in which Haiti has been driven down. If the earthquake had happened in any other country in the region, it would not have done the same damage. The people of Haiti are so poverty-stricken that they are unable to build houses in the appropriate way.

I would like to make a practical point in the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power. A meeting that is taking place in Davos at present was brought to my attention by my colleague, Senator Hanafin.

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Labour)
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Excuse me-----

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I am sorry, I meant to refer to Senator Hannigan. What a blooper.

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Labour)
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There is a big difference.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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There is a very big difference. One might say it is the difference between right and left. Senator Hannigan mentioned the meeting in Davos to me. At today's meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, I said it is obscene that the International Monetary Fund has dared to respond to the Haitian earthquake by offering loans to that impoverished country. Haiti has so much debt that it has all the qualifications for being exempted from some of it. The IMF is offering loans to Haiti to impoverish it further. That must not happen. Rather than giving loans to Haiti, the IMF should cancel its debt.

Senator Hannigan has suggested to me that the Minister of State should get on the telephone after he leaves this Chamber. He should instruct the Irish representatives in Davos to state that it is a shame that the IMF, in the midst of this catastrophe, continues to expect Haiti to make repayments. How and when will Haiti be able to repay its debts? The west's interference in Haiti destroyed the presidency and humiliated and beggared the people. We do not appear to have any sense of our moral debt to that country. We owe it to the people to Haiti to cancel its debts.

I am proud of the Irish contribution to the relief effort, particularly the two women I have mentioned. As I said at this afternoon's committee meeting, I neither know nor care what their religious complexion is. However, I know, on the basis of my understanding of Christianity, that they are true Christians. We need to live up to their standards. We can help with the reconstruction of Haiti. It must be reconstructed properly, however. Denis O'Brien's Digicel house should not have been the only building to survive the earthquake. It should have been the case that 75% of the buildings in Port-au-Prince survived the earthquake, rather than 75% of them being devastated. I am proud of all the Irish organisations. It is wonderful that Aer Lingus has got involved as it has done.

While I honour the good work that has been done in Haiti by members of the armed forces of the United States and Israel, we should show a little caution. I am worried that the various countries are not acting in a co-ordinated way. Each country seems to be acting for itself. An Italian earthquake expert was quoted in the media the other day as saying that a "bella figura", or beauty parade, was taking place. People should not be allowed to use the aftermath of the earthquake to massage their image. The United Nations should ensure that a single person or small group of people is charged with the co-ordination of the relief effort. If that is not done, the response will be patchy. Aid agencies are competing and bidding for the parts of the city they want to work in, while large sections of it are not covered at all.

Life expectancy in Haiti is 59 years. The HIV-AIDS rate is 5.6%. Some 40% of Haitian households experience food insecurity. We need to do something serious about the current situation in Haiti. I would like to say, in the presence of Her Excellency, the Cuban ambassador to Ireland, that I was most interested in a reference to Cuba in a document published by the European Union Institute for Security Studies:

Haiti matters in the Caribbean. It is the most populated country in the archipelago and its closeness to Cuba makes it an appropriate place to launch operations or to monitor its anti-US neighbour. In short, cynics will say that sending marines to Port-au-Prince probably serves several purposes.

It is clear that from an American point of view, it is very useful to have troops saturating the island.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me his percussion. I welcome the motion before the House. I understand that no amendment to the motion has been proposed. The motion can be agreed unanimously and wholeheartedly. I hope Senator Hannigan will pursue the idea of contacting the Irish officials in Davos. He mentioned the idea to me this afternoon after I had spoken about the need to cancel Haiti's debt. It is a wonderful idea. I hope Senators on all sides of the House will support it.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power. I compliment him on representing this country with such distinction in the national and international media. I wish to speak briefly about the importance of the media in helping us to respond to humanitarian disasters. I compliment the Government on its quick and efficient financial response to the earthquake in Haiti. It has to operate within the confines of Ireland's national budget, which is quite modest when compared with the budgets of certain larger countries. I would like to respond to some of the comments made by Senator Norris. I compliment him on the passion he brings to an issue that needs passion.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Do I hear a "but"?

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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On Monday of this week, the news media reported that the head of Italy's civil protection agency, Mr. Guido Bertolaso, who is highly respected in the area of disaster management, has described the aid effort in Haiti as a "pathetic" failure. He said it has become a "vanity show" for the television cameras. He criticised the aid operation's lack of adequate co-ordination to date and called for the appointment of an international civilian humanitarian co-ordinator. The adequacy of the international community's response has been criticised in the aftermath of previous humanitarian disasters and international tragedies, such as the tsunami of 2004. We have learned little, however, from previous experience.

In 2007, as a member of the Council of Europe, I compiled a report for the Council entitled, Europe's Response to Humanitarian Disasters, which considered all aspects of Europe's response to the organisation of humanitarian and civil protection in the aftermath of a disaster. The European region alone provides more than 60% of material and financial international humanitarian aid. The scale of disasters and the experience of dealing with them have highlighted the need for a wider analysis of Europe's response and responsibility towards humanitarian disasters within Europe and elsewhere. My report concluded that the main problem facing Europe as regards its role in improving further the international co-ordination framework for humanitarian assistance was political. There is no political agreement between member states as to how humanitarian assistance and civil protection should be effectively organised. I made a number of recommendations and was interested that Catherine Day, representing the European Union as late as Tuesday, was bemoaning the lack of co-ordination between member states within the European Union and pressing for a co-ordinated response. The report, even though I could be accused of lacking in modesty, fulfils that need, as do other reports of a similar nature that seemingly have been gathering dust and about which Ms Day does not know. I have no doubt, having discussed the matter with the Minister of State, that he will take on board the existence of the report and attempt to implement some of its recommendations.

I made a number of recommendations in this regard. In the first instance, going back to Mr. Bertolaso, his comments, for which he was pilloried in certain quarters, were perfectly credible for those working in the area. If a united co-ordination platform is to be achieved, member states of the European Union must decide which of their interested national Ministries should play the central role in co-ordinating humanitarian aid within the various European and international humanitarian assistance and civil protection mechanisms. I mention this because in Ireland all humanitarian assistance is correctly co-ordinated through the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Under the civil protection mechanism initiative launched by the European Union in the mid-1990s, there is a separate channel of funding to justice and home affairs Ministries across Europe which are using the money as they see fit, primarily to fly the flag wherever there is a humanitarian disaster. That was seen during the crisis in Lebanon some years ago when Italy, in particular, sent battleships which sat off the coast of Lebanon, generating enormous publicity nationally that the Italian Government was looking after its own nationals. What about all the other nationalities? Other countries then sent warships and Ireland found itself in a situation where it had to rely on its international colleagues to get its people out of the country. That was purely a humanitarian assistance gesture but flag waving seems to be continuing, even in Haiti.

Crucial in achieving the aim of co-ordination is designing a national focal point to co-ordinate national responses to international humanitarian crises and emergencies to avoid a proliferation of unco-ordinated mechanisms, collision of mandates, competition for resources and the overlapping of initiatives that have a negative effect on the international system's capacity to deal timely and effectively with emergencies at a global level. Much of the unco-ordinated response in Haiti could have been avoided if this key recommendation had been heeded.

The current position is that the European Union is a relatively recent but increasingly significant actor on the international humanitarian stage and an essential partner in supporting and complementing the United Nations' work on all three pillars - peace and security, human rights and development. European states can participate in international aid responses to humanitarian disasters through a number of mechanisms or combinations of mechanisms. As such, humanitarian intervention may involve taking action directly and unilaterally through civil or military intervention, subject to the authority of the recipient state. The various channels by which European states respond to European disasters, therefore, constitute a multi-faceted and complex environment and may involve a presence and participation at several levels.

The challenge of co-ordinating international humanitarian responses is difficult, as I readily concede. In addressing these complex problems, my report recommended the use of the EU civil protection mechanism. This mechanism has been operating since 2002 when it was instituted to facilitate reinforced co-operation between member states in humanitarian crisis intervention. However, the precise nature of its role and involvement in international responses outside EU territory does not yet appear to be clear. I advocated that it should be given an enhanced role in co-ordinating member states' response to a humanitarian disaster such as the current crisis in Haiti.

I compliment the Irish media on its conduct in raising wider awareness among the Irish public of the effects of this terrible disaster. It is important to consider the enormous role to be played by the media in shaping the perception of a crisis and response to emergencies and to speak with one voice and facilitate the response to them.

The problem now facing the European Union in its role in developing an international co-ordination framework for humanitarian assistance is political. There is no political agreement between member states on how humanitarian assistance and civil protection, respectively, should be effectively organised. This lack of co-ordination has tragic consequences for those suffering in the wake of a disaster, as we see in the heartbreaking scenes from Haiti on our televisions. Reforming humanitarian assistance mechanisms and the related co-ordination issues should additionally serve as a strong reminder to member states to renew their commitment to their international humanitarian assistance obligations, given their central role in determining the future structure of intervention, especially at European level.

I compliment the Minister of State and the State on the magnificent gestures they have made in raising more than €10 million in public donations from this wonderfully charitable people.

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State and start by expressing the sincere condolences of the Labour Party to the people of Haiti for the recent terrible catastrophe that visited their shores. When the earthquake struck, it took over 100,000 lives and left 3 million injured and traumatised. I want to focus, however, on the response to the tragedy and what needs to be done in the years ahead. While I generally agree with Senator Norris, perhaps in my naïveté I have been impressed by the reaction of the United States to date. I saw President Obama on television in the aftermath of the emergency and Secretary of State Clinton visiting Haiti. Their response was heartfelt and measured up to what was required. I was similarly impressed by the efforts of other countries in the region. I single out Brazil and Cuba for their reactions and recognise the attendance of the Cuban ambassador this evening. We can also be proud of our own efforts. Some of the Minister of State's own staff are in Haiti doing their best to help with the relief efforts. It brought out the best in the Irish people.

I share Senator Mooney's feeling in that I am not convinced that the response at European level has been satisfactory. The response from many of our EU neighbours has been excellent but we must up our game at EU level. The response from the NGO sector has been extremely good. I mention Haven, in particular, an Irish charity which specifically deals with the provision of housing in Haiti. It has committed to the construction in the next two to three years of an additional 10,000 houses in the Port-au-Prince region which will meet about 5% of the home needs in the area. The group should be commended for its commitment and ambition.

I am also impressed by the efforts of organisations such as GOAL, Concern and Oxfam. I note the Red Cross's analysis of the situation, that recognises the massive disaster that has taken place and the huge relief effort needed, not just now but on an ongoing basis. Given the complex logistical hurdles that need to be overcome, effective co-ordination has been recognised as something that will be a key concern.

Wherever one looks, one sees Irish citizens doing their bit to raise money for the people of Haiti. For example, Leinster House staff have organised a coffee morning for next week to raise funds for the relief efforts. This morning, the Greenhills school in Drogheda visited Leinster House and collected money for the relief efforts. On Friday evening, I will attend a table quiz in Ashbourne to raise money. We have all seen numerous examples across the country of the best of the Irish in people who have come out and tried to raise funds.

Regarding future actions, Senator Norris mentioned debt relief. Currently, the Haitian Government owes approximately $900 million. I would like to think that we all agree on the need to write that debt off. An IMF loan of $100 million has been proposed, as its mandate does not allow it to give grants. The Minister of State might clarify whether it is possible for the IMF to agree a loan and immediately write it off. Ireland is represented at the IMF by Canada in a constituency that also incorporates numerous Caribbean countries. A board meeting of the IMF is being held in Washington today. Senator Norris stated that it would be in Davos, but I understand it will be held in Washington. It will be another few hours before the board meets and, while it has probably been a long day already for the Minister of State, I suggest that a telephone call be made to the Canadian representative, who represents all of our interests, to ask him or her to impress upon the board the need to agree the loan of $100 million, write it off immediately and write off the existing debt of $890 million. It is clear that the reconstruction of Haiti will be considerably more expensive. We need to ensure that funds are put in place.

I wish to discuss briefly the need to constitute a UN humanitarian relief force. Such a force was lacking previously and would have been helpful. Had there been a relief force in Rwanda, many lives could have been saved. From the analysis of Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian general sent on behalf of the UN to try to prevent the outbreak of genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s, it is clear that the lack of a UN rapid reaction humanitarian task force hampered the prevention efforts. A similar task force would have helped Haiti and put more people on the ground straight away. Perhaps we could learn a lesson and put something in place for the future.

Natural disasters will occur, but the area of earthquake prediction must see more research. Buildings must also be better designed. If the Haitian earthquake had hit the San Andreas fault in California, we would not have seen the same level of catastrophic loss. We must learn lessons about building in regions prone to earthquakes. I do not know whether adoptions have been mentioned. While it is important that our rules not become lax in respect of adopting children who have lost parents in this tragedy, any previously agreed adoptions that are being processed could be fast-tracked with all due consideration and care for individual cases.

Volunteering presents an excellent opportunity for experienced sanitation and water engineers, teachers, medical professions and so on to give of their time. I include people who have recently left employment. Experience is key. I encourage people to get in touch with relief agencies and to offer their skills on a three-month or six-month basis. Their contribution to the efforts would be extremely valuable at this time. The Labour Party will support the motion and I commend the Minister of State on his efforts to date in this respect.

Photo of John Gerard HanafinJohn Gerard Hanafin (Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to support the motion and the Minister of State's actions. Before the earthquake, Haiti was a tragedy. It has an interesting history, in that it was the first black-led republic and the first independent Caribbean state. However, everything went downhill. The island's former colonial masters, the French, insisted on reparations that were only completed in 1949. Billions of euro in today's money was taken out of a fragile and poor economy. Haiti got no support. Naturally, the colonial powers believed that Haiti could have been a template for elsewhere, so they ostracised the state and ensured it would not receive any help or support. Over the years, this made a significant difference, so much so that many people's perception of Haiti is of a country associated with the Tonton Macoute, a powerful underworld group, Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier, people who raided their state's coffers, and voodoo. Much of this image is wrong. Unfortunately, much of it is also correct. For example, books and films like The Comedians and "Live and Let Die" portrayed the drug culture and the fear engendered in people.

According to the Haitian Government, 150,000 people have died. There has been widespread destruction of infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, water and electricity supplies have been severely disrupted and there is a growing concern about the spread of disease. The Irish response has been excellent. At the outset, the Government pledged emergency assistance for the victims, deployed specialist emergency teams and freighted consignments of emergency supplies on behalf of the Irish people. The Government approved €600,000 in emergency funding to the UN to respond to the disaster. Given the fact that our Republic comprises 4.2 million people, the public's generosity in giving €10 million has been outstanding. Further emergency aid is on its way and all of the major support agencies, including GOAL, Concern and the Irish Red Cross, are in Haiti supporting its people.

There is nothing sinister in the way in which the Americans have come on board. Their taking control was badly needed, as there would have been a complete societal breakdown. Haiti is a country of 10 million people in 27,000 sq. km, slightly larger than Munster. Even before this disaster, aid was needed in light of Haiti's deprivation and deforestation and its lack of business and agriculture. At least now there will be an opportunity for it to get that aid. I support Senators who asked for a Marshall aid-type plan for Haiti. If there is any nation that needs support and has had more than its fair share of man-made and natural disasters, it is Haiti. In 2004, floods killed 2,600 people. Much of the flooding owed to deforestation. When the rains came, they flowed down the mountains and people were flooded. In 2004, tropical storms killed 1,900. In 2007, they triggered mudslides and floods. In 2008, three hurricanes hit Haiti and a tropical storm killed 800. Now, an earthquake has struck Port-au-Prince. The Minister of State is acting correctly and swiftly, ensuring that Irish aid is co-ordinated and going to the right place. It is always a concern with aid in ensuring it goes to the right people in sufficient quantity. 6 o'clock

The next step has to be the rebuilding of Haiti. As has been achieved in many other states, it appears that it is now time to build a new city for Haiti. Port-au-Prince is built on a fault line and is in the direct line of tsunamis and hurricanes. The building of new cities has been successfully achieved in Israel and Egypt, where whole areas have been moved from the Pyramids, creating full communities with infrastructure and community centres. This can and must be done again. The amount of aid this requires is in the region of €3 billion. In light of the supports currently available internationally, this could be reasonable.

When the country is being rebuilt it should be done correctly and to the standard that is possible. This month alone, on 19 January, the national planning and building commission in Israel approved a newly planned town that will house 50,000 Israelis in the Negev. That is just one example of many towns and cities which have been rebuilt. It can be done and is possible in engineering and architectural terms. We should be part of that project and look to rebuild on the basis of what is necessary for the country.

What is also necessary for that country is a government that works and a stability for that government. The constant coups and counter-coups, as well as the corruption that is endemic in the police force and public service in Haiti, must be stamped out. There must be a new and fresh start. We do not want to hear in two years that aid has been siphoned off and moneys did not get to the people living in shanty towns in areas that will be flooded when the rain comes.

Ireland has a very good and proud track record in this area. We have responded immediately. It is good to see that at times when people are recognising that we are in recession, they still gave generously again. The Government, on behalf of the Irish people, also gave generously. I commend the Minister of State on his work and ask him to continue it to the next level and take an interest in a former French colony that has suffered more deprivation than most. It is now on its knees and needs help.

Port-au-Prince is not the first city to be destroyed. Nagasaki and Hiroshima were destroyed and 2,000 years ago Pompeii met destruction. The capital city of Montserrat was rebuilt after a volcano erupted. It is possible in the Caribbean and now is the time for us to support the overall effort to rebuild the country. The immediate problem is to get the aid as quickly and as evenly distributed as possible so all people can benefit from it immediately. This would save lives and allow people to be settled immediately in short-term housing. We could then look to the future for Haiti, which has suffered long enough. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, on his continuing work.

Photo of Peter PowerPeter Power (Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Seanad Éireann for affording the time to have a discussion on this appalling catastrophe which has befallen the country and people of Haiti. I also thank Senators for their good wishes and congratulations on the Irish response.

I begin by echoing the sentiments expressed by all Senators and reiterating the Government's condolences to the people of Haiti and, in particular, those many thousands who lost loved ones in their families, such as parents and children, in the earthquake on 12 January. Our thoughts also go out to the family of Irishman Andrew Grene, to the families of all those UN personnel who lost their lives and the family of the Concern employee killed in the disaster. I recognise the presence for much of this debate of the ambassador from Cuba. What Haiti needs just as much as financial and humanitarian aid for many years to come is the solidarity of the global community. It will also need the help of close neighbours, including Cuba.

The tragic events in Haiti have touched people all over the world. We all empathise with the families who have been torn apart, the children who have lost parents and with the many thousands who will never know for certain the fate of friends and family. News footage of bodies scattered across the streets of Port-au-Prince and Haiti's other cities is fresh in the mind, as are the pleas of survivors for help from the international community.

The precise death toll may never be fully known but it is clear that this has been one of the worst natural disasters to affect any country in over a century. It is important to emphasise at the outset that few countries could be worse equipped to deal with a disaster than Haiti. Today, just over two weeks on, the humanitarian emergency continues. Aid workers continue to struggle to provide all of those who require assistance with emergency medical care, shelter, food and water.

The scale of this disaster, concentrated in such a small geographical area, is like nothing the modern world has ever seen. The death toll continues to rise and it is quite possible it could exceed that of the 2004 tsunami which devastated countries across Asia and the Pacific. As we know, this devastation is concentrated in an area much smaller than that affected by the tsunami. No single community has ever had to bear such casualties from a natural disaster and it is important to emphasise that few countries in the world were less equipped to cope with this disaster than Haiti.

Ireland, along with the rest of the European Union, the United Nations and the international community, is doing everything possible to provide assistance and ensure it reaches those who need it most as quickly as possible. Our thoughts and our planning have moved from search and rescue and from the immediate relief effort to meeting the ongoing needs of the earthquake survivors and to the reconstruction of Haiti. This will take many years.

The unanimous view of the Haitian Government, the United Nations, the European Commission and our own expert team, which returned from Haiti yesterday, is that shelter, water and sanitation will be the number one priorities in the coming weeks. Hundreds of thousands are sleeping in the open in Haiti. In Port-au-Prince they are camping in parks and other open areas surrounded by the ruins of their capital city. Many thousands of others have moved into the countryside and the hills surrounding Port-au-Prince.

Since the earthquake struck the weather has remained dry and warm. However, in a matter of weeks the rainy season will begin and Haiti will face a second humanitarian crisis if emergency shelter is not provided to hundreds of thousands of people. The Government is conscious of this danger and on Monday I authorised a second Irish airlift of emergency supplies to Haiti. This consists of tents and materials for use in building temporary shelters, as well as water containers and sanitation equipment. This new consignment is in addition to the 84 tonnes which the Government sent to Haiti last week and which was distributed by Concern and GOAL. Between these two consignments the Irish taxpayer is providing a roof and basic infrastructure for more than 12,000 Haitian families.

At a global level, an international conference will be held in March in New York to harness the outpouring of support for Haiti and to ensure its recovery is built on solid foundations. The European Commission has already indicated it will contribute over €300 million to the long-term reconstruction of Haiti. Ireland will participate in that international conference and I assure the House of the Government's commitment to stand with the Haitian people in the long term as they rebuild their shattered lives and country.

I acknowledge the contribution of Senator Cummins in this respect and I have made this contribution to the European Council of both foreign and development ministers in the past seven days. An exact expression of the aid is not what is needed at the moment. It is a very solid and clear commitment that whatever it takes to rebuild the country on solid foundations will be done by the international community. Ireland will not be found wanting in that respect.

The Government commitment reflects the desire of the Irish public to contribute to the relief of Haiti. This is clearly illustrated by the extraordinary level of generosity towards appeals from NGOs and UN agencies over the past few days. Large sums have been donated at a time when many people are feeling the effects of the recession, have lost their jobs or have seen their salaries reduced. This level of generosity towards and solidarity with the people of Haiti is something of which all of us in Ireland can be proud. My office has received many calls from members of the public asking how they can help. Every effort will be made to harness the goodwill of the Irish people and the expertise consistent with best practice and with a co-ordinated response, to which Senator Mooney and others referred. I commend every member of the public who has contributed. Their support will help relieve the suffering of thousands of Haitians.

I pay particular tribute to the many Irish people working in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti to distribute aid, provide medical attention and, wherever possible, to save lives. Many Irish people are daily risking their personal safety to bring relief to the Haitian people. All of those working with the UN, NGOs or as part of private initiatives deserve our recognition and thanks.

The Irish response, at Government and non-governmental level, has been swift and decisive. Within hours of the earthquake, Irish Aid was in contact with NGOs such as Concern and GOAL to make emergency funding available to these organisations. Our mission in Geneva and our emergency and recovery unit were in communication with the UN from early morning on 12 January to assess the scale of the disaster, the likely needs and the contribution Ireland could make. By lunchtime, we had pledged €2 million to support the initial emergency relief effort, €1 million of which was allocated to a UN emergency appeal for Haiti. Of this money, €300,000 each was immediately paid out to the World Food Programme and the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is co-ordinating the international relief effort. A further €250,000 was paid out to the Red Cross and the remainder of this funding is being channelled through NGOs such as Concern and GOAL.

In addition, two members of the Irish Aid rapid response corps have deployed to Haiti. The deployment of these individuals can only be made at the request of the UN, consistent with the co-ordinator's response and on which many Members touched. The two members are an electrical engineer and an IT expert who have been assigned to the World Food Programme. Other rapid response corps members with specialised skills in engineering, logistics and water and sanitation are on stand-by and we expect them to be called upon in the coming days and weeks. Corps volunteers provide highly specialised skills to humanitarian agencies operating in crisis situations and can be deployed within days or even hours of a disaster. Another corps member - a Defence Forces engineer - travelled to Haiti with the Irish Aid technical mission, which I dispatched last week to assess how Ireland can best contribute to the international relief effort.

I will shortly meet the team to hear their recommendations on how we should direct our funding. These will be central to our approach to the ongoing humanitarian situation in Haiti, as well as to our pledge at the international conference on Haiti next March in New York. The total value of the Government response, both financially and in kind, is well in excess of €3 million. This figure will undoubtedly increase further as the full picture of Haiti's needs becomes clearer in the weeks leading up to the international conference. This is in addition to our ongoing contributions to the UN's central emergency response fund, which was established, with our assistance, following the 2004 tsunami to provide the UN with a ready pool of emergency funding for crises such as that in Haiti. The lessons of the tsunami have been learned and are being put into effect. Within days of the earthquake, the UN drew down US$25 million to fund the international relief operation and the Irish Aid team has praised its quick impact in the disaster zone.

Ireland was one of the countries which pressed for the establishment of the fund. We have contributed €73 million since it was set up in 2006, including €20 million last year. I expect that much of that funding is currently being drawn down to manage the immediate emergency and relief effort. We can be proud that our funds are helping to save thousands of lives in Haiti, as they have in other disaster areas across the globe.

The Government and my Department drew many lessons from the 2004 tsunami. In the aftermath of that enormous tragedy, we reflected on how we could respond more quickly and more effectively to future disasters. We identified those parts of our own system which could be improved, and put in place the structures which have allowed us to react quickly to the Haiti disaster.

We established the rapid response corps to meet the need for highly specialised skills in a major emergency and to harness the enormous talent and volunteer spirit which exists in Irish society. We developed emergency stockpiles of humanitarian materials in depots around the globe, precisely in order that we could react as we have done. Today in Haiti, thousands of people are receiving lifesaving supplies as a result of this initiative driven by the Irish Government and distributed by Irish aid agencies.

The Irish response is part of a combined EU relief effort in Haiti totalling €122 million and agreed at an emergency meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, which I attended in Brussels last week. In addition to this financial support, the EU provided 400 rescue workers from a variety of EU countries, as well as field hospitals, medical posts and nearly 300 medical personnel. It was also agreed this week that the EU would provide 300 police officers to reinforce the UN presence in Haiti and provide the stability necessary for the reconstruction effort. Although the debt cancellation to which some Members referred is not strictly within my remit, I will convey the strong views of the House to the Minister for Finance on the issue.

While there has been some criticism of the speed of the international response, the difficulties in getting supplies and workers into Haiti are substantial and were exacerbated by the almost total destruction of Haiti's infrastructure. In a disaster of this severity, humanitarian aid, no matter how swift, can never be quick enough to help the suffering. Even before the earthquake, Haiti had only the most basic transport and communication network. The little that existed was severely damaged, meaning that the international relief effort had to begin almost from scratch. Every government ministry was destroyed. This country was almost unique in its inability to deal with a crisis of this scale and magnitude.

The Irish Aid team, which observed the relief effort at first hand, has praised the efforts of the United Nations to co-ordinate the hundreds of agencies operating in Haiti. However, it is an unfortunate fact that the scale of the disaster, combined with the weakness of Haiti's infrastructure and the sheer number of groups participating in the operation, overwhelmed the UN's co-ordination capacity in the initial aftermath. Many hundreds of UN workers who were in Haiti at the time were killed. The UN co-ordination in Haiti was decapitated almost instantaneously and this must be taken into account.

Co-ordination is critical in the global and international response to a disaster of this magnitude. Senators Ormonde, Norris and Mooney made informed comments on this aspect. Something of the scale and magnitude of this disaster, the like of which has not been seen for over a century, needs a global, co-ordinated response. It is something we addressed at length at the EU co-ordination meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council and the meeting of development Ministers last week. I wish I had had the benefit of Senator Mooney's helpful report to inform my contribution at that meeting. I have had the opportunity to read the report since and I commend Senator Mooney on its incisive and instructive comments.

I wish to draw three real distinctions with regard to co-ordination of the global response in this respect. It depends on number of factors and is predicated on three phases of the disaster. First, there is the initial, immediate response to the chaos caused in Port-au-Prince. Second, there is the short-term humanitarian need once the recovery effort is completed. We are now at that stage. There is also the medium-term response over the next few months but there is also a long-term response. Each one of these responses requires co-ordination of different types and depends on a number of factors. Most important is the proximity of a major power such as the United States, which had the military and logistical capability, proximity to the disaster zone and the ability to deploy thousands of people in an organised way in a very short period.

I echo the comments made by a number of Senators that the US Government, President Obama and the US military made a significant contribution towards the immediate emergency relief effort. It is fair and proper that this is acknowledged. That does not mean that a military force should co-ordinate the humanitarian effort in the short term following the initial chaos. That is not best practice. It should be co-ordinated by a global organisation such as the United Nations. This has the legitimacy of the international community. This is something we will return to repeatedly. The response must be highly co-ordinated and we must learn from the lessons of the tsunami. Sometimes hundreds and thousands of aid agencies arriving in a disaster zone in a short period can create more problems than it solves. That is why co-ordination is very important.

When the cameras leave Port-au-Prince and the journalists dwindle to a small number, the real relief effort will come into place. That is when the work that will benefit millions of people in Haiti will begin and this must stand the test of time. Global organisations such as the United Nations, the United States and the European Union, proven actors in the development and reconstruction business, need to step up to the mark because that is when the real work will be done. This must be done in a co-ordinated way. This should be done through one unified delivery mechanism, almost separate from the existing mechanisms. I have not formed definite opinions in this respect, nor has the Government, but it might be worthy of debate in this House and in the Lower House in time to come. Co-ordination of the relief effort has improved from the tsunami, as witnessed by the more efficient distribution of aid in recent days. However, many agencies in Haiti are operating independently of the UN co-ordination structures. It is clear there will be much to learn from the way the international community reacted to this crisis, how its response was organised and how its co-ordinating structures can be improved.

The Haiti earthquake has shocked the world by its scale and intensity. Television cameras could barely convey the sheer magnitude of the catastrophe. When the cameras have gone, the suffering will continue for many years. During this period the Irish people can be certain that Irish Aid, the people's aid organisation, will stand in solidarity with the Haitian people. Haiti cannot manage this enormous task by itself. It will require financial support, programme support, specialised skills and know-how. For Ireland and the rest of the international community, the challenge will be to remain with Haiti as it makes the slow transition from relief to reconstruction and development. As its resilient people pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and start to build for the future, I assure the House that Ireland will be equal to the challenge.

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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I apologise for being late for the speech of the Minister of State. I wish to share time with my colleague, Senator Regan.

I heard an interesting discussion on the radio this morning. A Haitian gentleman was interviewed and he spoke passionately about how this was the fault of the white people. His frustration was palpable when he asked what we were doing. He spoke about the lack of shelter on the golf course in the centre of Port-au-Prince where the non-governmental organisations, the UN and the US Army are milling around. Sheets that we use on our beds are what they use for protection against the blazing sun. They are all getting sunburnt and becoming dehydrated because they do not have enough water. There are horrendous problems with sanitation. What will happen in the next few days? The rain will come. This is what was said on the radio by people who know better than me. Human excrement now being buried will flood through the camp which houses thousands of people. I do not accept for one minute that things have improved. This is an outrage. I commend the Irish people and I commend the Minister of State on the work he has done. An amount of money is coming in but there is a lack of logistical evidence. Basic necessities are needed, including water, shelter and sanitation.

I do not agree with the Minister of State when he says the US Army is the wrong organisation for this job. How can the Minister of State be so sure it should be the UN? How is that organisation leading from the front? I agree with the statement of Mr. John O'Shea when he speaks about a global fire brigade. We need one strong organisation that can deal with these eventualities. Unfortunately, there will be more. Haiti has already suffered from hurricanes, after which $1 million of international funds was pledged. However, it has not been forthcoming. These unfortunate people will experience further disasters. People have already been injured in subsequent tremors. I agree with what Mr. O'Shea says because NGOs can give the love and concern that Irish people want to give because our hearts are broken for these people. However, we need strong logistics to distribute aid. That is not forthcoming.

I am also concerned about the fact that people are still buried but the searches have stopped. A person was found this morning. That is not very good co-ordination. Why are they not searching for more people? Every day they find one more person and in my naive mind I assume there are more people alive. My colleague and Fine Gael spokesperson on foreign affairs, Deputy Timmins, received the unanimous support of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs for his proposal to forgive Haiti's sovereign debt. I propose that we make a similar request in this House.

I was struck by the story of the man who lived with his five children under a thin sheet. I do not accept that the logistical operation is working efficiently enough.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive report on what has been done thus far by Ireland and the EU to deal with the Haitian disaster. Haiti is a unique state with a long history of political instability and natural disasters, of which this earthquake is the most dramatic instance. That the country's plight has given rise to extraordinary generosity in a time of recession in this country and elsewhere is gratifying. It is also heartening to see the efforts of personnel from Concern, GOAL and other Irish NGOs to bring food and medical supplies to the people who need their assistance.

I was struck by the amount of aid provided by Europe. The United States has made an extraordinary contribution but the EU is also playing a significant role. It is providing approximately €120 million in direct aid as well as €300 million for long-term reconstruction. This is relevant to the debates we have had on the Lisbon treaty and whether Europe is a force for good. The aid provided by the EU compares very favourably to the US contribution of $90 million, including $22 million in non-food assistance. This response demonstrates the effectiveness of the European Commission and other EU institutions in responding to disasters.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share time with Senator Daly, by agreement.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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I commend the Minister of State on the role he has played in Ireland's response to this terrible tragedy. We are not strangers to tragedy on a vast scale. It was asked in regard to the Great Famine why other people did not help us in our hour of need. Those who came to our assistance have since become part of our folklore. The full extent of this tragedy and its effect on the people of Haiti are beyond our human imagination. This is one of the reasons we have seen such generosity from the Government and people of Ireland.

The problems in Haiti will not be resolved in a few months or years. The March meeting to which the Minister of State referred will be important in this regard. I hope the urgency with which the meeting was arranged is an indication of the attention which will be brought to Haiti in the coming years but I fear the great powers will be distracted by other matters before long. I cannot imagine anything which could distract us from this tragedy. I see some good coming out of the earthquake, although I regret that it is at the expense of the people of Haiti. It is an exceptionally poor country which has been bedevilled by both national and international politics. While the tragedy could not have been avoided even if conditions there had been different, the possibility of recovery might have been greater. Outside actors, such as the EU and the United States, will only be able to intervene from a distance and recovery will be much slower in the absence of local structures. There was no sadder sight than the starving people of Port-au-Prince seeking help. As they were unable to restrain themselves, further penance was inflicted upon them. I do not blame anybody for this because order has to prevail.

If we can get a positive message from the disaster it is that we are working for peace rather than war. If countries which are able to declare wars and move aircraft and troops to flash points at very short notice brought the same urgency to bear on peaceful missions, they would make significant progress. I recall the television images of the invasion of Iraq, which were like a video game, and the bombs dropped on that country. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the early days of the invasion.

I do not want to score political points when I praise the Minister of State for his response. I hope we will find a mechanism to keep the issue alive. In many ways, people look to Ireland for symbolism. It is strange that we have never been responsible for hostile acts against other countries. We occupy an unique role in this regard. Our international status is as givers of assistance rather than invaders. We could prompt bigger powers to continue providing assistance to Haiti, which could take as long as ten years to rebuild. However long it takes, I hope we can help to bring change. I know the Government will, in each forum in which we are represented, stand up with strength of character, based on our own history, and ensure it never drops to the bottom of the agenda. We will not talk about tokenism but we will talk about conclusive investments and assistance. There is a lot to be said for the voluntary corps. If a structure is available to them, many people in this country would give part of their time and skills to help. That would be true of other countries, but it will only work if a proper co-ordinating body is in place.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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As Senator Ó Murchú pointed out, this country is well aware of the consequences of disaster. Having gone through the Famine, this has inspired us as a nation to help others in the sort of situation in which Haiti now finds itself. One of the most telling remarks in the entire history of the Irish Famine was uttered by that famous Englishman, Lord Trevelyan, when he decided to cut all aid and said that the situation in Ireland would be left to the operation of natural causes. This condemned many millions of Irish people to their graves. As a result, the Irish people even in this time of recession will once again step up to the mark. The Minister of State made an important point about the need for both immediate and long-term action. When Haiti is no longer making the 6 o'clock or 9 o'clock news or the newspaper headlines, there will be a need for a long-term agency to oversee not only the rebuilding of the infrastructure but also the rebuilding of the Government of Haiti. Unfortunately, Haiti does not have a great history of good governance and it is one of the poorest countries in the world. This earthquake has shaken it back into the Stone Age.

There has been some criticism of the response but the response is never good enough and it is never fast enough. On the Order of Business on another day, I commended the United States on its efforts. Too often the United States is lambasted for its actions but when it does good on behalf of people near and far, it should be praised for its efforts. Cuba and the Dominican Republic are playing a significant role in assisting the delivery of aid from Trócaire, GOAL and Concern to those who need it most. Trócaire has been in Haiti since 1991 and much of its good work is now in ruins but will need to be rebuilt again. The second airlift announced by the Minister of State is to be welcomed. However, it is the Haiti of ten years' hence which will be decided in March. Ireland will be represented by the Minister of State who will make his views known. Whether the UN or a European, American or Caribbean effort will be decided upon, it is certain that an agency with a powerful chief executive will be required to elicit the funds which are currently being pledged. Too often it is the case that funds are pledged but the cheques are never written. A person of the calibre of Bill Clinton, who showed his concern for Haiti, would be needed to lead in the rebuilding of the country. The Minister of State's suggestion of a dedicated and well-funded agency is what is required in the long term.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I wish to share my time with Senator Paddy Burke.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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That is agreed.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I congratulate the Minister of State on the comprehensive outline he gave Members. I thank him for the composed manner in which he has dealt with this issue in the media and his avoidance of grandstanding, so to speak. This is not surprising because in my dealings with the Minister of State on behalf of another continent, I have always found him to be aware well-informed and committed to his brief. The details of Haitian history have been well rehearsed by a number of speakers, including Senator Norris, Senator Hanafin and others.

However, an issue has arisen in the context of the discussion about the roles of the UN and the United States and the criticism of the United Nations. We should call a spade a spade in this discussion. I agree the United States is doing excellent work in Haiti. I ask the Minister of State to say how much is owed to the United Nations by the United States. Before we criticise the United Nations, it should be borne in mind that the biggest problem for the United Nations is that it is not a democratic body. The UN Security Council is not democratically elected and its members are there by right in the case of certain countries. If every state in the world had an independent vote in the United Nations, even a weighted vote relating to population as is the case in Europe or a need for a qualified majority vote, then all the issues which Senator McFadden referred to would have been dealt with. The UN is not able to do the things it wants to do because it does not have the full support of all the nations of the world, in particular the United States. I do not wish to be critical but I am using the United States as an example. In the International Criminal Court, China and the United States are the two biggest abstainers. It was interesting to hear on last night's "Newsnight" a commentator make the point that these days, the former British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, must be keenly aware of where his plane might land because he might be arrested for crimes against humanity by a country which would bring him before the International Criminal Court. I am not for one moment saying that will happen but this is the difference and these are the issues.

It is very easy for John O'Shea, much as I admire him, to be critical of various aspects of aid but it is just not that simple. Many of us could take a simplistic line and ask why there are so many competing aid agencies in Ireland, all of whom are superb, and question whether there is replication of administration and fund-raising and competition between them. These are issues we need to examine closely.

There should be a soft debate on the relationship of the United States with the UN in an effort to bring the United States fully in support of, fully committed and subservient to the UN but without threatening the national identity of that country. I have listened to many speakers speak about the great surge of support throughout Ireland for Haiti. We all know there is latent racism in Ireland and I wonder where it goes to at these times. Do we all need to learn from each other and together? Is it a common worry about a part of the world that makes us look at people as human beings rather than considering the colour of their skin or the fact that they might be a threat to us? This is relevant today on the anniversary of Auschwitz.

The Canadian Prime Minister has taken a very positive role in this issue. He is putting together a group in North America and asking people around the world to commit funds and support that will be delivered. I remember the last time in Gleneagles when so much money was grandstanded, so to speak, and they all met Bono and they were going to save the world but it was slow in coming and much of it has never been delivered. In this situation, at least, if people give commitments, they should only be acknowledged when we have the cheque in our hands. That is the way forward.

The debate has been stimulating and important. It is good that we can take different angles on it. I commend the work of the Minister of State and urge him to continue it. The elephant in the room is the importance of overseas development aid, ODA, and our commitment to reach the famous figure of 0.7%. I accept our level of ODA has improved in recent times. I do not go along with those who mindlessly criticise the Government. I know there are other demands on us and can understand why things have slowed down, but it is important that we confirm that reaching the figure of 0.7% is our aim, although the rate of reaching it has slowed down.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator O'Toole for sharing his time with me. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, and congratulate him on the work he is doing.

An unbelievable disaster has taken place in Haiti. The Minister of State has outlined how the Government and his Department, in particular, have drawn many lessons from the tsunami in 2004. It is great that we have learned from the past about what to do in such disasters. Reference was made to the rapid response unit and the stockpiles of humanitarian assistance material stationed in depots around the globe. These measures allowed us to act swiftly in response to what happened in Haiti. It is great that the Minister of State has drawn lessons from the past in order to allow us to respond more quickly to disasters. He is to be congratulated in that regard.

This country has experienced tough times in the past two years in terms of the high level of unemployment, the depression affecting people with big bank loans and huge debts and a loss of jobs. People are to be congratulated, therefore, on how they have responded to the crisis in Haiti. Some have volunteered to help in the relief effort and paid their own way to Haiti. The resilience of people in this country is unbelievable. They are to be sincerely congratulated. In particular, I congratulate a person from Westport, Ms Gena Heraty, who is working tirelessly on behalf of the people of Haiti. Mr. Paul Claffey of Midwest Radio is hosting an auction in Westport in the next couple of days to which people are being asked to bring material. The money collected will go straight to Ms Heraty in Haiti. That is a great initiative undertaken by Mr. Claffey on behalf of people in the western region who will bring goods to be auctioned in order that funds can be sent to Ms Heraty who knows best what to do with the money in her area.

I also congratulate the many doctors, nurses and lay people who have gone to Haiti at their own expense to help this cause. People in this country are resilient, especially as we have had our own disasters, not least the one affecting the economy, but also the flooding in Athlone, Galway, Cork and many other areas throughout the country. People have given an amount of goods to these causes, not to mention in this case, on which they are to be congratulated.

Photo of Ann OrmondeAnn Ormonde (Fianna Fail)
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I appreciate the Minister of State's interest in the matter under discussion. He listened to the contribution of each Member, as was clear from the way he responded to the matter and the comments of various speakers. It shows clearly that he understands the problem very well. What happened in Haiti was a massive disaster. People have lost their loved ones, their houses and possessions. Children who have been left as orphans need our help. I am pleased the Minister of State knows how to respond.

Certain points made by the Minister of State will require further reflection by us. He has indicated that two members of the rapid response corps were deployed to Haiti, namely, an electrical engineer and an IT expert. The third member was a Defence Forces engineer. The Minister of State said he would await their return to hear their recommendations on how the disaster relief effort was progressing. He will then decide on how we can best move forward in terms of the way in which the Government is monitoring the aid effort in conjunction with the aid agencies which are to be congratulated. Many of the agencies working with the Government are doing great work. I listened to some of them this afternoon. The main concern coming through their contributions relates to co-ordination. Because the undertaking is so massive the relief approach has splintered. That is the nature of the problem. A co-ordination centre is required to monitor the relief work.

I welcome the work being done in Haiti by the European Union, the United Nations humanitarian section and all other bodies, including the United States military forces. All of these groups have to be knitted together in some way to ensure the provision of shelter, food, water and sanitation equipment. I accept we are working on this but co-ordination is required. I urge the Minister of State to reinforce these points. Concern emerged in the debate about co-ordination and how our funding was being received on the ground in Haiti. In this regard, much work remains to be done. I compliment everyone involved, especially the Minister of State. I am happy that he is monitoring the approach of the Government and know that he will be vigilant in his work. I thank him for his contribution.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

7:00 pm

Photo of Ann OrmondeAnn Ormonde (Fianna Fail)
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Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.