Minister's pledge over hurricane aid

Irish aid pledged to the Hurricane Katrina disaster zone in the US will go directly to people in distress, a junior Government minister said today.

Irish aid pledged to the Hurricane Katrina disaster zone in the US will go directly to people in distress, a junior Government minister said today.

Junior Foreign Affairs Minister Conor Lenihan defended yesterday’s decision to send the €1m assistance to the richest country in the world.

“We’re not sending it to the Government of the United States,” he said today.

“We’re sending it to the people who are in distress.”

The Dublin South-West TD refused to compare the amount with €3m sent to the massive food crisis in Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries.

“I think it’s almost an inversion of morality to suggest that we shouldn’t actually help people who are in distress,” he told RTE Radio.

“Cash is actually the best contribution you can make to a humanitarian emergency because it can be quickly converted into goods and can be off immediate assistance to the people on the ground.”

He recalled that blankets donated for the tsunami disaster in South East Asia had piled up at ports in the early days of the emergency response.

Mr Lenihan said he would be travelling to a UN summit in New York next week with the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs to set a more realistic timetable for contributing 0.7% of GNP towards overseas aid.

“We sent €3m to the food crisis in Niger and another €2-3m to the UN World Food Program,” he said.

“We’re more than meeting and exceeding our obligations in regard to famine-starved or food-threatened countries in Africa.”

Mr Lenihan also earlier defended himself for falling asleep during a telephone link to TV3’s Ireland AM morning programme.

He was due to go live from his hotel bedroom at the Fianna Fáil think-in in Co Cavan when technicians heard him snoring loudly down the line and pulled the item.

“I just slept through the call. That’s what happens to a lot of us,” he said today.

“If I was at home the good lady wife would normally give me an elbow in the ribs and I’d be up like a flash.

“I wasn’t on the tear, no, no, no. I wasn’t on the tear. You can stay up late talking to colleagues and that kind of stuff. There’s not that much wild drinking done at these events.

“I obviously answered it in my sleep and said: ’Yeah, yeah, I’ll take the call.”’

He said the annual Ard Fheis events were usually ‘wet’ events.

“The delegates get stuck in, don’t they and enjoy themselves.

He denied a media report that he was ’accident-prone’ and insisted he was doing a good job in the Overseas Development Aid department.

Last May he had to apologise after he was overheard in the Dail referring to the Turkish GAMA workers as ’kebabs.’

He was also criticised by Opposition TDs after he went on holidays during the height of the tsunami disaster effort last December.

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