FG hospital ship proposal under consideration


THE GOVERNMENT is to consider a Fine Gael proposal that an Irish Naval Service hospital ship be sent to Haiti to assist with the relief effort in the wake of last week’s earthquake.

Minister of State for Overseas Development Peter Power said two Defence Force personnel had joined a technical team deployed to Haiti to assess the Irish response to the catastrophe.

Mr Power said during a Dáil debate on the earthquake that Irish Aid’s recommendations would incorporate the “helpful proposal” on the hospital ship from Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny. Irish Aid has so far “provided enough supplies to shelter up to 8,000 families and to provide them with the water and basic infrastructure needed for survival”, he added.

Mr Kenny said: “We have a Naval Service vessel that is a fully equipped hospital ship.” He requested that the ship be “made ready” to sail for Haiti. “Doctors and nurses in this country are more than willing to stay on that ship and carry out essential operations for those who have been devastated by the earthquake.”

The Minister said Irish Aid officials “have been in contact with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland to examine how the participation of Irish medical professionals can be facilitated. The technical team will make recommendations on how we can best contribute to relief efforts and Deputy Kenny’s helpful proposal will be incorporated into our response.”

Mr Power warned that “the risk of infection from delays in carrying out surgery and the spread of disease is enormous and must be dealt with if thousands of further deaths are to be avoided in the coming weeks. The fact that the rainy season is due to begin in March means that the international community has only a limited time to address these issues and avoid a public health catastrophe.”

He also paid tribute to the “extraordinary level of generosity” of the Irish public, saying “their support will mean the difference between life and death for many of those suffering the effects of this disaster”.

Fine Gael foreign affairs spokesman Billy Timmins said the death toll “is akin to the population of Cork and Galway together being wiped out overnight”. He believed consideration should be given to “opening up the rapid response corps to the private sector and increase its strength to up to 3,000”.

Labour spokesman Michael D Higgins also praised the level of Irish contributions and said they would be well spent. He said that following the 2004 tsunami “the kind of contributions that were made in Ireland were found, after the examination post-tsunami, to have been the most effective on the ground”.

Sinn Féin spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh believed the reports of local violence had been “much hyped”.

He said “earthquake survivors have been left to fend for themselves because aid has not reached them. In those circumstances people will scavenge for food . . . call this looting but it is survival. A refusal to deliver aid to those areas exacerbates the problems in those areas.”