Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 18 May 1988

Vol. 119 No. 13

Food Aid to Ethiopia: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann noting with concern the obstacles facing the transportation and distribution of emergency food aid to the starving people in Ethiopia, appeals to all concerned to take the necessary action in order for food aid to be adequately distributed, and calls on the Government to use its good offices to effect a ceasefire between all the forces involved in the conflict in Ethiopia.

I welcome the opportunity to introduce this motion, although I am not happy to have to do so. I am unhappy to do so because even as we debate this motion — which, by the way, I earnestly hope will receive all-party support — human beings are starving to death and, I will contend, needlessly starving to death. Whenever a person dies needlessly it is a tragedy but when ten or 12 die needlessly it is an even greater tragedy. How terrible it is, therefore, that those at risk from famine in Ethiopia are not numbered in dozens, or scores, or hundreds, or thousands, or even hundreds of thousands. The number of people in Ethiopia who very shortly will not have enough to eat is six million. Do we need another holocaust? It is incumbent upon us not merely to express our concern, we must do something. When we recall the previous famine in that unfortunate land, when we recall the mass transfers of population in Ethiopia and the conflicts that are taking place, with periods of greater or lesser tension in most of the famine stricken regions, when we think of the enormous prestige expenditure recently incurred by the Ethiopian authorities, when we are aware that last year the rainfall in Ethiopia was far below normal and that in some areas it rained even less than during the period preceding the severe drought and famine of 1984 and 1985 and when we know that in these circumstances there is threat of another terrible famine in many parts of Ethiopia, since according to initial estimates there will be a shortage of 950,000 tonnes of cereals and six million people will not have enough to eat, surely we must be not merely moved to pity, we must compelled to take action. We are a small nation but our response on a previous occasion was excellent and we have, to the best of my knowledge, contributed to charities more per capita than any other country and I have no doubt that we can be relied upon to do the same again. I am sure one of the reasons is that we have a very vivid memory of having our own population decimated by famine when even our closest neighbours stood by and nobody would help us.

We are also contributing on another level through the European Community. The focus of much of the EC development effort is the Lomé Convention. This is a trade and aid agreement between the EC member states and 66 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, an essential clause of which makes respect for human dignity a condition of long-term paid projects in the Third World. I understand that in June of this year the EC is considering giving, under the Lomé Convention, 230 million ECUs to Ethiopia. This huge handout, approximately 300 million US dollars, is based on said-to-be-reform of agricultural policies. I am not against giving these moneys but I am opposed to the giving of these moneys without any controls to ensure that they are spent on famine relief and not on arms.

Many people have voiced concern that a good proportion of the aid sent to Ethiopia during the last famine period was misappropriated and they fear that this will happen again. Mr. Tony Baldry, Conservative MP for Banbury in Britain is reported in The London Times of December 17 as saying in the House of Commons in December last that the Ethiopian Government was spending three-quarters of the national wealth on arms and securing a four billion dollar credit from the Soviet Union for more, as well as “press-ganging” 300,000 young Ethiopians into the armed forces. It was also reported that on December 6 last year Russian MIG fighters, owned by the Ethiopian Government, bombed civilian targets in Hasmet in northern Eritrea.

At present in Ethiopia thousands of political prisoners are being held without trial. Not least of these are the ten members of the former Emperor Haile Selassie's family who have been incarcerated in extreme conditions of squalor and discomfort since the communist revolution of 1974. Of this mostly female group, whose only crime is their relationship to the former Emperor, the eldest is 76 and may soon become the second to die in custody. Many African countries who are signatories of the Lomé Convention are rightly concerned that Ethiopia's lack of respect for human rights and dignity diverts attention from the real issues of long-term aid and development.

Mrs. Margaret Daly, who is an MEP for Somerset and Dorset in Britain, said in January last year that while acting as co-president of the Lomé Convention's, EC, ACP, Joint Assembly that the Ethiopian ambassador begged her to give his country more time before bringing the issue before public attention. Why would the ambassador make such a request of Margaret Daly? Perhaps the answer is to be found in the statement emanating from the British Horn of Africa Council dated 25 February 1988 and kindly forwarded to me by the secretary of that organisation, Mr. Louis Fitzgibbon. The statement reads, and I quote:

The most serious cause of trouble not just in Ethiopia but in the whole area is the concentration of Ethiopian resources on military and paramilitary expenditure. Ethiopia maintains, with some help from Cuba and the Soviet Union, the largest army in the African continent; larger indeed than that of two much richer countries, Nigeria and South Africa.

The Statement goes on to say:

Part of these armed forces are engaged in the prosecution of the civil war in Eritrea and Tigre. It is not for this Council to pronounce upon the merits of either side in these conflicts but we have a right and, I think, a duty to protest at the refusal at the Ethiopian regime to accept the ceasefire to which the Eritrea and Tigre resistance movements have agreed in order to facilitate the passage of food to the famine stricken areas.

The "I" in that paragraph refers to Julian Amery, who is the President of the British Horn of Africa Council.

The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, April 12, reported that Ethiopian warplanes had dropped napalm on a food distribution centre and an orphanage in a rebel-held town in northern Ethiopia, killing and wounding at least 31 people. The MIG-21 aircraft made the bombing run on the town of Wukro in Tigre province on Saturday, 9 April.

Again in The Sunday Telegraph of 17 April this year there is a report, and I quote:

An Ethiopian Army ground assault, using hundreds of Russian-built tanks backed by squadrons of MIG fighter bombers dropping napalm and nerve gas, is expected to send several hundred thousand refugees trekking to the Sudanese border for food.

Napalm, as we know is a substance, used expertly in Vietnam which clings to the flesh and burns it. It is a sad reflection on any Government when they drop this on a place which is handing out food or on an orphanage. When the EC is planning to send money to a government which is doing this and intent on using nerve gas, I think questions have to be asked about this.

It is only after several years of pressure from the World Bank, aided more recently by the European Economic Community, that the Ethiopian Government is said to have agreed to liberalise its policy on marketing of food in different regions, to raise prices paid and introduce other incentives to encourage farmers to produce more. These reforms are viewed as essential by many western donors if there is to be any attempt to remedy the situation of structural food deficit which is ever-worsening in Ethiopia.

Alan Woods, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, estimated on January 5 of this year that famine would be almost unavoidable in two weeks. That time has long since passed. He stressed the inflexible nature of the Addis Ababa's Government agricultural policy. On December 18 Washington announced additional aid of 105,000 tonnes of food, bringing to 250,000 tonnes the total U.S. assistance already pledged to Ethiopia for 1988. Canada promised to supply an extra 20,000 tonnes of food, along with one million Canadian dollars for the purchase of spare parts. However, to put that in context I have a little quotation here from the Indian Ocean Newsletter of January 9, 1988. It says:

Although it is necessary, the liberalisation of Ethiopia's agricultural policy will not fundamentally resolve the national food deficit problem whose basic cause is civil war which takes up 60 per cent of the State budget.

The Indian Ocean Newsletter goes on to comment:

In this respect, neither the Soviet Union nor the West is pressing for a political settlement of the Eritrean conflict.

We are not the only ones who are concerned about this problem. I refer to an extract from Hansard, the record of the proceedings of the British House of Commons. In written answers on 11 December 1987 dealing with Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, specifically Ethiopia, Mr. Julian Amery had the following question:

To ask the Secretary of State of Foreign and Commonwealth affairs if he will call upon the Ethiopian Government, and the resistance movements against which they are fighting, to negotiate a ceasefire so that aid provided by her Majesty's Government should reach the victims of the famine as soon as possible.

Mrs. Linda Chalker, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, said in a written answer:

The Twelve issued a statement on 13 November condemning attacks by rebel groups on food aid convoys and urging that no obstacle be put in the way of the transportation of food aid. With our European partners we have repeatedly urged progress towards a peaceful solution of the internal conflicts in Ethiopia. A ceasefire based on humanitarian considerations would relieve much suffering and assist relief efforts.

That last sentence of that written reply — a ceasefire based on humanitarian considerations — is an important one. This is a highly significant call for a ceasefire from the British Government and it applies equally to the Government of the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia as it does to the resistance movements fighting in different parts of Ethiopia.

I should like to see a similar call emanating from our own Government here but phased in much stronger and much clearer terms. What would I like to see happen? I would like to see the Government welcome the speedy action of the European Commission in response to calls for emergency food aid including transport and relevant infrastructures. I would like to see the Government call on the Ethiopian authorities to do everything in their power to facilitate the handling and distribution of this emergency aid to ensure that it reaches those really in need. I would like to see the Government call on the Ethiopian Government to agree to ceasefire with the forces in Tigre and Eritrea in order for food aid to be adequately distributed. I would like to hear the Government call for the continuation of emergency aid as long as current prevailing conditions persist.

I wish that our Government would express alarm at reports that forced resettlement and villagisation programmes may be re-introduced and call on the European Commission to obtain assurance that any such programmes will be undertaken on a voluntary basis only, that they will be fully respected and that they will fully respect the human rights of those involved. I want to hear our Government call on the Ethiopian Government to release, without further delay, those political prisoners and detainees, including members of the family of the former emperor, who have not been charged or tried as required under article 44 of the new Ethiopian Constitution. I would like to hear our Government call on the European Commission to re-affirm in all their negotiations with the Ethiopian Government that respect for human dignity has been formally recognised by all parties as one of the essential elements of the EC-ACP relationship and that continuing offences against human rights and unworkable transfer of population policies will bring into question the continuation of longer term aid.

I want the Minister to take this debate up to the Cabinet table and down to the floor of the Lower House. When the Minister makes a reply I do not want to hear a wishy-washy statement about the Twelve doing all they can. I am not suggesting for a moment that the Minister will do this, but I would appreciate a reply with a bit of bite to it. The other statements have already been made. For example, a reply to the European Parliament about the problem on behalf of the Ten in June 1983 — as far back as that — stated that "while considering that the Eritrean problem is an internal matter for Ethiopia, the Ten express the hope that a political solution can be found which will bring an end to violence, ensure the observance of human rights and take account of the historic and cultural identity of Eritrea." More recently, in their statement of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa in July last year, the Foreign Ministers of the Twelve "urged the governments concerned to take further steps to achieve the peaceful settlement of internal conflicts".

We are all agreed about the depressing state of affairs in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Government's human rights record is very poor and their economic policies contribute to the dreadful recurring famine. There has been no evidence in recent years that either the Ethiopian Government or the other belligerents have been serious in seeking anything other than military solutions to their problems, though the provisions on "autonomous regions" under the new Constitution may just provide a ray of hope.

There is so far no sign of a Soviet reluctance to supply Ethiopia's military needs. In general, policy towards Ethiopia presents us here with a dilemma. We and other donors need to provide humanitarian assistance to the starving without conditions. We also need to apply all the pressure we can on the Ethiopian Government to make changes in their economic policies, to improve their agricultural production. We have to take a strong line in the European Community and maintain momentum. Let Ireland take the lead in this regard. Signor Lorenzo Natali, Vice-President of the European Commission, said in December 1987 that "the Commission is ready to act in co-ordination, both with other Community institutions as well as with international institutions, in any effort to bring peace inside the Ethiopian borders." He said he was sceptical about the usefulness and the effects of a truce call in civil war regions. He went on to say, "but I certainly will not be in the way if one or more member states want to put forward a proposal for collective action". I hope we will be in the vanguard of that collective action.

I look forward to hearing the views of other Senators on this matter. May I remind all here present that, when we leave this Chamber this evening after this debate, to enjoy dinner in the plush surroundings of the Members' dining room, there will be people not so very far away who at this time have not, and have no hope of getting, sufficient food to even exist at the most basic level. Those of us who have visited Ethiopia, those of us who have talked with relief workers and those of us who have seen on television the gaunt faces of mothers with eyes bereft of hope and the pitiful figures of babies and children with swollen bellies, cannot but be moved to pity and impelled to action.

I will finish with a quotation from a 19th century work, "The Present Crisis" by James Russell Lowell:

"Once to every man and nation comes a moment to decide,

In the strife of Truth with Falsehood for the Good or Evil side."

Let there be no equivocation on the part of Ireland in this most sad, tragic and imminent matter, I ask that the motion be supported.

I will not delay the House too long in seconding this motion. It is a motion that should come before this House. I do not think anybody who has any concern for people could not but be concerned about the situation not alone in Ethiopia but in Sudan and various other places on the African Continent.

Having said that, we must look at the history of these countries. There is not a country on that Continent which was not the victim of colonialism and whether that colonialism came from Belgium, Britain, Holland or Germany, it has to be said that there is not one single country in that Continent which has not suffered under colonial expansionist regimes. We in this country can talk about the problems of that Continent. We can ask for solutions to be found because we have never been involved in colonising. Some people might say we did a certain colonising by virtue of the fact that a number of our priests went out there and tried to change certain people in Africa from their original concept of one God of religion to our God of religion. Unfortunately some of them failed but some of them did a marvellous job. The problems facing the people of Ethiopia are not problems that we can resolve by debating them here but we can at least show that we are cognisant of the fact that there is a country which is torn by civil strife and civil war and because of that there are people starving. Some people might say we should send aid in terms of money or grain.

Unfortunately, the solution to the problem is not as simple as that because when the rains come and when the potential for enormous growth in the area is realised the only cash crop that small farmers have is grain which they sell. If the country is flooded with grain these people have no cash crop and no way of existing even in good times. Gorta over the years have had the right attitude towards development in the sub-Sahel in the Ethiopian area. They provide funds for the people of the area to produce food for themselves. I would ask people who are sending aid to Ethiopia or to the African Continent, to think twice before sending products which farmers in the area produce as a cash crop. Famine can be created if there is too much food coming in from outside so that the indigenous farmers have no cash crop to rely on.

I would agree totally with the sentiments that have been expressed by Senator Lydon about the civil war and the effects the civil war is having on that area. The civil war would never have occurred if it were not for the colonial aspirations of the French and the British. We have to go back as far as that to get to the basis of the Eritrean and the Ethiopian problem.

Whether Russian MIGs or American SAMs are being used does not make any difference. They are killing people and that is not what we want. The percentage of GNP, mentioned by Senator Lydon, that is spent on war is unbelievable but it is no greater than the percentage of GNP spent by other countries within the area which do not have famine conditions.

Haile Selassie's family have been mentioned. I must say that I do not want to go into the amount of money that Haile Selassie's family have milked out of that whole area, not alone Ethiopia. He was a member of a family which milked the people of the Sudan and the people of Ethiopia for many, many years. We must consider how we are going to protect the existence of Ethiopia and Sudan. There is a Bill going through the Dáil at present which will come before the Seanad very shortly, the Forestry Bill. I was looking at the Brazilian situation where 17,000 square miles per year of Equatorial trees in the South American area are being knocked down and because of that a quarter of the world's oxygen is being lost every year. Africa has been totally denuded of trees. Ethiopia was denuded of trees by the colonial powers who went into it. Originally the people who lived in Ethiopia had a system of farming which was based on cut and burn. They cut the tops off the bushes and they burnt the rest. When the waters came, because the roots were left there you had growth and once you had growth you could expect to have the production of whatever commodity was left. The colonialists went in. They were European and they decided on a deep farming system. They cut out the roots and suddenly Ethiopia, like many other places was denuded of the roots, was denuded of bushes, was denuded of trees. You then had the advent of the famines we see today. The Sahel area is extending at the rate of 25 miles every six months. That means that desertification is extending at that rate every six months. Why? Because the colonialists denuded the area of the roots which would have held the water.

There is no way that Ireland can solve the problems of Ethiopia but, having said that, there are a number of organistions, such as Concern, who have to be thanked by the people of the area and also thanked by our own people for their very positive response to famine and other problems in Ethiopia. There is Gorta which has, with Government subvention, a "grow" policy. They give money only to projects which will provide growth in a certain area. I must say I never thought much of John O'Shea as a journalist. He was a gossipy journalist. He would ring you up on a Friday night and ask what the Kilkenny team was going to do on a Saturday and they would not be playing until the Sunday. John O'Shea and his committee of GOAL have done a tremendous amount of work. John O'Shea deserves the thanks not only of the Irish people for what he has done on an individual basis, he deserves the thanks of those who have survived the catastrophes of the past ten or 15 years of famine. As I said, I have no great respect for John O'Shea as a journalist. John O'Shea as a man is somebody who should be in this House fighting the cause of the deprived of the world. He is somebody for whom I have an enormous respect. What can we do within the EC?

Mention has been made of the Russian MIG fighters. Mention has been made of foreign involvement. The Cubans have been mentioned. There is a delegation from Cuba here in Ireland at present. I have the greatest respect for what the Cubans did to make certain that they became an independent island and an independent entity, but they have become involved in the foreign policies or the internal politics of other countries. I am a member of a Cuban friendship group but I always said to them: "Stay at home. Solve your own problems. Do not get involved with other people's problems". Unfortunately, that is a message Washington has not learned, Cuba has not learned, Moscow has not learned. We in this country perhaps can solve the problems we have. Having listened to last night's "Today Tonight" programme I think there is a prospect of our Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leaders in the North coming together which will not resolve our political problems but at least may prevent unnecessary deaths. This motion has not been put down as a contentious motion. It is not a motion that is going to carry any weight unfortunately. The motion was put down to ask the Government to ensure that the great work that is being done by them will be carried on. Within the EC we have a major voice in non aligned countries. We are one of the few countries within the EC that has not got a colonial background. Therefore, we can go into conflicts which other EC countries cannot go into and we can be the honest brokers. There is no such thing as brokering, unfortunately, within a conflict such as exists in Ethiopia but we can ask, as the motion says, that the transfer of foods to starving people should not be stopped irrespective of the conflicts on a political and military basis within that country.

People think Africa is a country in which people are dirty, that they have not the same standards of hygiene as we have. Anybody who has seen the dust from the Sahara in the past couple of weeks will understand the difficulties that are faced daily by people who have to live in that environment. We got the end of a Saharan storm. People in the Sahara, The Sahel and the sub-Sahel live through that every day of their lives.

I ask the Minister to convey to the relevant people our concern that political implications, political desires, political aspirations should not inhibit the transfer of food to people who are dying of starvation. I ask the House to agree to this motion and I am delighted that the motion was put down. It is one that I could get very emotional about, but there is no point in getting emotional as people are dying of starvation not because there is not enough food around but because there is not the political will to distribute the food that is around.

It gives me great pleasure to support this important motion. As the previous speaker has said, the placing of this motion on the Order Paper will not, on its own, make any major difference to the situation in the unhappy country that Ethiopia is. It will help to raise public awareness, within this country and hopefully within the European Community through the presence there of our Government, of the present difficulties being faced by the people of Ethiopia and of the future difficulties which we see as almost certain to happen if the situation in that country continues as it is at present.

Senator Lydon, in a most eloquent speech, gave us a very detailed account of the unhappy history of that community and also of the perilous future which it seems to face. He spoke rightly of the responsibility that not only we and the European Community in general have for it but also USSR. The Government in Ethiopia are in a sense nothing much more than a puppet regime of the Soviet Union. We are told, of course, that there is a socialist regime in Ethiopia but that, in fairness, is an insult to the word "socialist". I can assure the House that I would be the last person to defend any sort of socialist policies but the policies being carried out by the Government of Ethiopia are neither democratic nor socialist.

Senator Lydon spoke of the total lack of human rights and respect for human rights within that country and he is, of course, totally right. The result of that lack of respect for human rights is the continual strife which has taken place within that country for the past number of years and in particular the internal civil war in the provinces of Eritrea, Tigre and Wollo. If things continue as they have been going in Ethiopia, it will have to be classed as a country of self-destruction and that, indeed, is a great pity. There was a well-known phrase which people used to describe the situation in Cambodia when they referred to "The Killing Fields" which was the title of a famous film based on events in that country. When you speak of Ethiopia you could refer to it as "The Dying Fields" because of its history of famine.

I suppose our main emphasis here tonight must be to ensure that the dreadful famine of the past number of years in that country, in particular the 1984-85 famine, will never again be repeated. At present it would appear that there are up to seven million people being threatened by famine. Over half of these people are living in the Northern Provinces of the country, the provinces of Eritrea, Tigre and Wollo, the provinces hit most severely by the internal strife and civil war within the country. The liberation movement within these provinces would be considered by the Government of Ethiopia to be fully responsible for this internal strife and the Ethiopian Government would say that the responsibility rests with the liberation movements in those countries to come to an immediate cease fire to allow for a peaceful solution to the problems.

However, I am sure that if we were in a position to discuss the scenario with people from those liberation movements they, of course, would paint a very different picture. Unfortunately, it would appear that there are no short term solutions to the civil war within the country and, arising from that, there is now a grave difficulty being faced in regard to the transportation of the food aid which is so badly needed within the country.

The rebel forces, I believe, have agreed to a cease fire in order to allow food transportation to take place and indeed it is the Government forces there who have not been able to agree to that cease fire. It is most regrettable that a cease fire cannot be reached even for a limited period to allow for food transportation. That, as is stated in the motion, must be one of the primary concerns of the European Community when it is trying to ensure a solution to the problem. There is, I believe, the promise of enough food for the country. The difficulty is the transportation of that food. It is a pity, when the necessary foodstuffs are available, that we are not in a position to transport that food to the people who need to so badly. As a result of the strife within the country and as a result of the Ethiopian Government's very shortsighted response to the problem as a result of their fear of outside and foreign interference within the country, they have imposed a ban on all foreign relief workers within the country.

Senator Lanigan mentioned the outstanding work being done by the GOAL organisation in that country and indeed in many other famine hit countries. Indeed, there are many other organisations like GOAL who are having n impact in Ethiopia and who are responsible for the saving of many tens of thousands of lives due to their tremendous utilisation of their meagre resources. It is, therefore, very tragic that the Government of Ethiopia is placing a ban on all these foreign relief workers. Our Government and the European Community should be calling on the Ethiopian Government to lift this ban immediately and to allow these foreign relief workers to continue the great work they are doing.

Many of the relief workers within the country are risking their own lives by continuing to remain in the country to work for the people. They are giving a very commendable service and we should be fully supportive of them. The ban imposed by the Ethiopian Government applies only to foreign relief workers. It does not apply to local relief workers nor does it apply to teachers, who would be working on long term projects. That is something which we welcome but the only solution is a complete lifting of the ban on the foreign relief workers.

The motion is very much tied up with the impact which the European Community should be having on the situation on Ethiopia. When you think back to the last famine in Ethiopia, the major famine that came to our notice in 1984 and 1985, we would have to submit that the European Community was slow in reacting to it. I am sure that all the countries within the European Community acted on their own, and in a very laudable fashion, to it, none more so than this country. But the overall response of the European Community as a central body was indeed quite poor. It must be hoped that a response from the European Community to the present situation in Ethiopia will be more forthcoming and will be more effective.

At present the European Community is distributing food aid through the local agencies and, as I mentioned earlier, these agencies at present are not banned by the Government and this food aid is getting through. It is unfortunately not getting through as well as it should be due to the transportation difficulties within the country caused by the internal strife and the civil war. As of now, I believe, many roads in the country are closed and this is causing dreadful difficulties for those people who are involved in the transportation of the food aid. The areas which are most troubled had, up to a few weeks ago, according to the information I have at present, small stocks of food aid but obviously on a daily basis those stocks are getting smaller and smaller. It would appear that as of now they are almost totally extinguished. So those parts of the country without any stocks of food, without any chance of transport access to them, are facing a very frightening future. Unless the transport situation within the country can be sorted out in the immediate future then we are back again to the spectre of huge numbers of men, women and children dying. It will blaze across our television screens but unfortunately we will be too late in reacting at that stage. The European Community has asked for those roads to be re-opened immediately. I am not sure how much pressure can be exerted by the European Community but I hope that the maximum possible will be applied. I also feel that the Soviet Union, who are very good at getting involved in the affairs of countries such as Ethiopia, will do their moral duty in this situation and will insist on the Government of Ethiopia immediately re-opening all these roads and allowing the starving people in the more threatened provinces access to the food which is available.

Senator Lanigan mentioned the difficulties that many countries, such as Ethiopia, are facing at present as a result of outside interference and influence, whether it be from the USSR, the USA, Cuba or other countries. I would agree with him that the impact these countries are having on the countries of Asia, and, indeed, Central America, are certainly not to the good of these countries. Indeed, they are very detrimental to the cause of these countries and their peoples. It is tragic that as a result of outside interference in countries such as Ethiopia, you end up with a government within that country who are unable and unwilling to react speedily to problems within their own territories and as a result can cause tens of thousands of their own people to lose their lives.

It is a tragic situation that powers that consider themselves to be world powers can act so irresponsibly and we, as a small country, have a duty to call on these super-powers, and to ensure that the European Community will call on them, to use all the resources available to them to ensure that famine difficulties and indeed other difficulties in countries such as Ethiopia are ironed out as quickly as possible.

When you think back to the famine of 1984 and 1985 in Ethiopia, you will recall that at the time there was a difficulty of making sufficient food stocks available to the people when they were required. The tragic situation being faced in Ethiopia at present is that the food stocks are readily available but cannot be transported. As the motion states, it is of vital importance as of now to ensure that all obstacles to food transportation are removed and that the civil war within the country, which is causing such dreadful difficulties, be addressed by the powers within the country and be solved.

I do not think that we, in this House, are sufficiently aware of the internal situation in Ethiopia to pass judgment on either side. At a time when the rebel movement, if you wish to call it that, is willing to allow a limited ceasefire to ensure that food transportation is possible, the Ethiopian Government have a duty to reciprocate that arrangment. I hope this motion, limited as its effects may be, will in some way help to highlight the situation within this country and within the European Community. Like the two previous speakers, I appeal to the Government to use their maximum influence at European level to ensure that there is a European response to the problems of this troubled country and that the people of Ethiopia will face a better future than the despondency and despair they have been used to for far too long.

Like the other speakers, I commend Senator Lydon for his initiative in placing this motion before us. As Senator Lanigan correctly said, perhaps in our contributions we may not be able to do anything practical to alleviate the problems and suffering of the people of the Sub-Saharan district, but at least we will be voicing our concern in the national Legislature.

I would like to approach the problem a little bit differently from the other speakers who have been talking about acting in concert with our colleagues in the EC. We in Ireland have had for some considerable time the high moral ground in relation to Third World aid. We are not and never have been a colonial power. We have a history which is similar to that of many of the countries in Africa that are experiencing famine. We have a tradition going back over many centuries of sending our sons and daughters abroad to spread the light of the faith and also to give sustenance where such sustenance is needed. I would like to see Ireland taking a stronger stand on matters that affect the Third World.

It is easy, perhaps, to talk in terms of supplying more and more food aid or technical expertise in these countries. The motion seems to suggest that, if food was getting through regularly and normally, at least it would be helping the suffering people of Ethiopia and other countries. However, I think the answer lies more in helping the economies of the African Continent to develop a certain degree of self-sufficiency. Senator Lydon said that 60 per cent of the gross national product of Ethiopia is being spent on arms. That is not unusual on the African Continent. If European countries, in particular some of our neighbours like France who have a long tradition of arms selling, were to link such policies to economic self-sufficiency, we might see a beginning of the end of the spiral of poverty which has affected many of these countries in the post-colonial era.

It is in that context that I would see Ireland initiating specific policies and fighting for those policies at EC level. More and more of the produce of African countries could be purchased by the first and the new world—the first world being Europe — and in that way these debt ridden African countries who suffer crippling debt burdens as a result of the huge interest rates which are imposed on them by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, could see some light at the end of the tunnel.

For example an Irish initiative might be to try to reduce the debt burden or perhaps eliminate it in some countries, particularly where it is seen that those countries could respond positively. They could be given a clean sheet and they could start to rebuild their economies. They are the long term answers to the problem of Third World poverty. I do not believe the answers lie in food aid or technical expertise alone. They are short term measures. A fundamental policy shift is needed and, as I have said, we have the high moral ground on that. Unfortunately we are — and I have often said this in another context — part of a colonial club in Europe and old traditions and habits die hard. We have shown ourselves to be resolute at international fora where the interests of Third World countries have come up for discussion and where human rights have been an issue. Ireland has a very proud record in that regard and, in the context of this motion, that is the way we should be going.

I would also like to support the call from Senator Lydon that the Irish Government should add their voice to the other voices within the EC and outside it who have expressed concern to the Ethiopian Government at the incarceration — that is the only word one can use — of members of the former Ethiopian Royal Family of Haile Selassie. I fully accept what Senator Lanigan said about the legacy that Haile Selassie left to his people, a legacy of abject poverty and ignorance. In no way would I wish, in calling for the release of his family members, to condone his record. He was the longest ever living monarch in our memory. His sister and two of her offspring were imprisoned eight years ago and they have been languishing in jail in Ethiopia without trial and without any charges brought against them. They are no threat to the Ethiopian State. They are apolitical. They were caught up in the coup that took place at the time and were an unfortunate by-product of that coup.

I believe on a humanitarian level that, if we in Ireland — I am one of those who shouted loudly about the human rights and humanitarian aspect of some of our citizens in other jurisdictions — can justifiably raise their case, how much more justifiable is it to raise the case of people who cannot fend for themselves and have nobody to turn to? Ireland would not be criticised for taking an initiative on that. I echo Senator Lydon's call that the Irish Government should come out publicly and call for the release or the charging and bringing to trial of the members of the Haile Selassie family.

I also endorse the call for a ceasefire in Ethiopia. It is interesting when one looks at the problem in Ethiopia in relation to food transportation to note that the position and conditions in Ethiopia are not unique to the African sub-Continent. A similar situation has developed in Sudan where Irish relief workers are operating at great threat to their lives and where a civil war is in progress. Tributes have been paid rightly to the relief workers from this country who are operating in the Third World, specifically John O'Shea and his GOAL team who are doing magnificent work. John and his team are working in several countries, as has been pointed out.

Perhaps for those of us here at home who think only of the heroism of that fine body of Irish people and of the contribution they are making as if it were just another job and as if we just admired the vocational aspect of it, an incident which happened in Sudan last weekend will bring home to us the serious dangers our Irish relief workers are facing in Africa. An innocent family who returned to do more good work, to help people less fortunate than themselves, found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, in the Acropole Hotel in Khartoum where a bomb was placed as a result of the internal civil strife in Sudan. A husband, wife and two small children, an entire family were wiped out. It was all the more ironic that they had travelled to Khartoum to get directions as to where they should go to continue their humantarian work.

That could have happened to an Irish citizen. As I said, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That points out the serious threat to life that is experienced daily by Irish workers operating in the Third World. In sympathising with and in remembering, as both Senator Lanigan and Senator Bradford have said, the suffering being faced daily by the victims of famine, we should also spare a thought for those who are trying to alleviate their sufferings and who could also be caught up in the internal strife going on in those countries.

While the position in the Sudan differs from that in Ethiopia, in that the reasons for the civil strife in Sudan are largely religious and the Ethiopian problem is largely political and concerns autonomy and independence, the reality is that in both countries important relief aid and important work is being held up as a result of militarism. It is important that we utilise whatever means we have at our disposal to rectify that position. In the context of the motion, this is an ideal way to highlight our opposition to, rather than just concern about, the continuing civil strife in countries which need to get on with the business of living and of rebuilding and restructuring their economies without the threat of militarism.

As I stated at the beginning of my contribution, Ireland has a very significant role to play here. We can never be accused of taking one side or the other. We can never be accused of having a vested interest. Sadly, many of our European colleagues have not got as clean a sheet. Motions such as this help the Government to reflect on the very widespread feelings of concern that is felt and to act accordingly.

I could not sit down without putting on record my disappointment, and I know it is a disappointment shared by the Government, that in the present economic climate the level of overseas development aid cannot be greater. I hope that this is only a temporary setback in a proud tradition that has been continued by successive Governments in Ireland to give as much of our gross national product as is possible to help those less fortunate than ourselves. I do not agree with those who have criticised the Government's budgetary allocation in this area. In the present economic climate the amount given is a fair and honest indication of the genuine commitment the Government have to continuing overseas development aid. I hope that this is only a minor aberration and that as the economy improves the allocation to overseas development aid will improve.

Finally, although it may not be worded as such in this motion, what we are really talking about here is respect for human rights. We are talking about a government having respect for their citizens, for a fundamental basic right to live, to be safe, to have a roof over one's head, to have food in one's stomach and also to have a job. They are basic rights. They are basic to living. This Government and this country can continue to take the high moral ground and can continue to put forward what is a moral argument. Those rights must be respected. When we, working in tandem with our colleagues in the EC, are in a position to contribute money we should do so. We should say to Governments that are abusing human rights: "Thus far do you go and no further; if you continue to allow your people to live in fear and ignorance, famine and pestilence, then we will stop aid." We will tell them that we are not prepared to give any more aid until they respect the basic human rights enjoyed by the rest of us living in the more affluent and more fortunate parts of the world.

Like my colleagues, I heartily endorse all that has been put forward in this motion. I hope that it will have a beneficial effect and that it will help the Government in their deliberations in relation to the Third World generally but specifically to the African sub-continent. At least we, in this House, will feel that we have justifiably put forward an issue that is reflecting a genuinely held concern by the citizens of this country.

I support this motion and I would like to pay tribute to and congratulate Senator Donal Lydon who brought this matter to our attention. I would also like to congratulate the many good relief workers who have left the comfort of their homes and families to go out to play their part in trying to alleviate the distress there. Of course, it is a tradition of this country to be helpful to others. It is many years ago since John Boyle-O'Reilly wrote: "War battered dogs are we, gnawing a naked bone, fighting in every land and crying for every cause but our own." We have learned to fight our own cause since that quotation was written but we are still fighting the cause of others. We are appealing now to the Government to take strong action and to do everything in their power to fight that cause.

It is terrible that there is food available but we cannot get it to the countries in need. Human beings are deliberately stopping the transport of food which would save lives, desperation and poverty. We are told that the most cruel form of death of all is death from starvation. It is a terrible thing and it is probably not new. As Burns once wrote — and I am sure you have read it —"Man's inhumanity to man makes countless millions mourn". Certainly it is man's inhumanity to man that is the cause of all this great suffering in Ethiopia today. We should do everything in our power to alleviate that suffering. We should try to educate people to realise that as they live, so also should other human beings. If they were taught that, many more people would be happy in this world today. People are starving to death while there are billions of tonnes of food in cold storage in the western world. If we could only release that food to those people what a great advantage it would be. It is terrible to realise that food that is lying there rotting could save so many lives.

The real problem is war. As we know from our history books, there is nothing as bad or as severe as civil war and it is a civil war that is causing all this trouble. Pope Pius X once said that nothing can be lost in peace, everything is lost in war. That is as true today as when it was first spoken. It is difficult to know how to avoid civil war. All our voices, small as they may be, can help. Small snowflakes fall and at first one does not take much heed of them because they are very small but eventually they build up into huge snow drifts that can stop the world from moving. If enough of us keep talking and keep passing on the message, our little efforts will keep the wheels of progress moving, slowly perhaps, but moving and eventually we will break the grip of turmoil and the grip of those people who are in power and who, with the stroke of a pen or with just a kindly word, could alleviate so much of the suffering people are enduring today.

It is difficult to speak on this motion without being repetitive. As has been said by previous speakers, we must all make every effort possible. I know the Government are doing what they can but perhaps they could do more if they pulled out all the stops? Even if that was done, are we powerful enough in this big world? We are like the mainspring in a watch. It may not be the biggest part but it is a very important part because if it stops, everything stops. We can contribute to the power of the mainspring and we can continue to make our voice heard. We can encourage our workers who are in those countries. They keep us informed about what is happening. Together we can alleviate that terrible suffering in Ethiopia. That must be done. Some way must be devised to ensure that the food that is available can reach those people. We must ensure by some manner or means that transport is allowed through. It is terrifying to see on television pictures of children trying to suck their mothers' milk and the mothers, in many cases, are dying on the roadside.

The disastrous situation in Ethiopia is created by other human beings. If it was some misfortune or if it was something that could not be put right you could understand it. This is something that could be put right if we could only get the goodwill and assistance of people in high places. We must try to work through diplomatic channels in whatever way possible to let the Government of Ethiopia know that Ireland and the world condemn them for the way they are letting people starve to death. They are the culprits. They are doing that deliberately. It is not something they are doing unconsciously; nor is it something that is happening by accident. They are deliberately ensuring that those people have to suffer in the way they are suffering.

Our Government are doing, and have done, everything they can. This year, unfortunately, the Government cannot give as much from the national purse to those people as they have given in the past but that is a very short term process. In a year or two, when we get our finances in order, we will certainly give more money to overseas development aid. I know the ordinary people of Ireland are supporting GOAL, GORTA and the other organisations more unselfishly than ever before. They are continuing to give voluntarily. We must ensure that all that aid reaches the starving people and that it is not being ripped off somewhere along the way by agents, or other people who are trying to hold it for expenses of one kind or another. That is part of the transport problem. We must ensure that the money, the pounds given by old age pensioners and the tenpenny pieces given by children, are not syphoned off by some get-rich-quick merchants who claim expenses of their own.

We have been told, rightly or wrongly — if people want to contradict me outside this House they are free to do so — that only a fraction of the money collected by those organisations finds its way to the people in need. We are also told that much of the food we send out is taken up by unscrupulous dealers on the far side and is not given out freely but sold. Those are irregularities we must work on. Those people are criminals just as the people in their Government are. We cannot all be out there and be part of the workforce who are giving their time and energy to those people. All of us at home, as we did in the past, help the missionaries and the relief workers. We organise functions and we support them in as generous a way as we possibly can.

There is hardly a school in Ireland — great credit is due to our teaching profession in that regard — which does not in some way run functions or collect, as I said, the tenpenny pieces and send them on. Many people — shopkeepers, post offices, workers, etc. — have little glass jars or money boxes in which old age pensioners and many others put money which is sent to the people in need. That is done voluntarily. Those people are playing a very important part in the whole conveyer belt system we are keeping moving to alleviate the distress and the hardship the people of Ethiopia are suffering.

We must always strive to keep up that good work and to continue in our efforts to help those people. We must not in any way be faint-hearted or weak about it. We must never say we have done enough. We must always say we have still more to do. Every life saved is very important and every human suffering that can be avoided should be avoided. We in the health boards try to alleviate the pain and suffering of our own people here at home. We help disabled people and many others. We should also do what we can for the people in Ethiopia who need food. No doubt they need medical treatment as well.

As we know, starvation of the body affects the whole system and because of that medicine is needed. Many medical men and great people, nuns, missionaries and priests, are going out to those countries and risking their lives and limbs. We must continue at home to keep collecting money and working to help them. As I said, like the small snowflakes, every word we speak will help to encourage, promote and push others to continue in this regard. I know we are pushing a well-oiled machine when we are pushing the Government because we know that they and everyone in this country have always been thinking of the poor and the needy, not alone in Ireland but in the whole world. We are all doing our bit and we must continue to do so. We should continue to give the Government every encouragement. We are behind them. We cannot talk to the people in power but the Government have the diplomatic channels to reach them. Just as our constituents ask us to speak on their behalf to a Minister, our Ministers can talk on our behalf. They record what we say here. We are speaking for all the people of Ireland because everyone is in agreement on this matter. We are giving the Government all the encouragement and the help we can. We want them to continue giving aid — I know they will do so — which will in some way alleviate the terrible misfortune from which the poor people of Ethiopia are suffering.

Debate adjourned.

Acting Chairman

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 8 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 19 May 1988.