STATEMENT BY MR. DERMOT AHERN T.D., MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, ON THE DISASTER IN SOUTH-EAST ASIA.
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A Cheann Chomhairle,
This is one of those occasions when we all struggle to find the right words to reflect the enormity of what has happened and the depth of our feelings about it.
280,000 fellow men, women, children have perished.
In Indonesia and Sri Lanka, entire communities have been wiped out.
Many of our European partners, have lost hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of their citizens to 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 Connor Keightley, who lost their lives in Phi Phi in Thailand.
They are with the families of Lucy Coyle and Michael Murphy who are still missing.
Their lonely wait continues.
We can only pray that it will be ended as quickly and as mercifully as possible.
As the Taoiseach has stated, we in Ireland responded immediately upon hearing the news of the disaster on St. Stephen's Day.
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 help line for those suffering distress and trauma.
Donating €20 million of Government aid.
And more than anything – through the generosity of ordinary Irish people.
It is worth recalling that on the day of Live Aid, Ireland had the highest debt-per-head on the planet.
And still, we 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.
I visited the disaster zone with our main Aid Agencies.
And I want to tell the House that;
No amount of television images,
Of reportage or description
Can brace the mind for the devastation and turmoil which the Tsunami caused to the region.
I have never seen anything like the destruction particularly in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Whole towns and communities have been destroyed.
Large boats normally moored in harbours are now in some cases over two miles from the sea. And of course there is the human cost, where people have lost loved ones and in many cases their entire livelihoods.
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.
The life-saving work being done by people from Concern, Goal, Trócaire, the Red Cross and others is truly worthy of the support of so many generous people back home here in Ireland.
The importance of the role of the United Nations system, in providing help directly, coordinating action on the ground, and planning for future protection mechanisms, cannot be underestimated.
In this regard I want to highlight the role of the UN who will continue to play an important role as the emphasis shifts to longer-term rehabilitation and recovery programmes.
The priority for all donors, UN agencies and NGOs is to carefully coordinate their efforts with nationally devised plans which reflect the views and concerns of local communities.
I am determined to ensure that Ireland's role in relieving the suffering and rebuilding this region will continue long after the cameras have left.
We will drive the issue of independent monitoring of assistance – to ensure that the monies donated by States are actually delivered.
We will send a special envoy to the region to serve over the next six months and to submit regular reports detailing progress –that Envoy will be Mr. Chris Flood, former Member of this House and current Chairman of the Advisory Board for Development Cooperation Ireland.
We will provide the Envoy with technical assistance from the Emergency and Recovery Section of Development Cooperation Ireland, and will designate specialists, as required, to provide additional support.
We will assist in whatever way possible with any conflict resolution issues hindering development in that region.
And we are in discussions with the UN regarding additional deployment of Defence Force logistic specialists to Indonesia.
We will also establish an Honorary Consulate in Phuket.
Pending its formal establishment, I have appointed an Irish resident there, Ms Fallon Wood, to represent the Department, especially in regard to the search for Irish citizens missing in that area.
I want to conclude by echoing what the Taoiseach has said regarding the overall focus of our aid programme.
The Taoiseach and I made it very clear in announcing the funding for this crisis, that of the €20 million allocated to-date, €10 million is additional to the overall aid budget.
The remainder will come from Development Cooperation Ireland's Emergency Humanitarian Fund which is specifically designed to respond to disasters when and wherever they happen.
We will not be diverting funds from Africa.
Our efforts elsewhere will not be diluted.
In conclusion, I wish to warmly thank Members of the House for their strong encouragement and support. We can all be very proud of the response of Ireland and the Irish people to this extraordinary disaster. And that response will continue and will be deepened as we work in partnership to help restore the lives and livelihoods of people who have already suffered too much. It is an objective worthy of the generosity of the Irish people that we deliver effectively on this challenge.