Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Margareta Wahlström

Wednesday, 29th May 2013

I join with my colleagues in warmly welcoming Ms Margareta Wahlström to the House. I also welcome Mr. Gay Mitchell, with whom we had an excellent exchange on development issues in the House earlier this year. The work of Ms Wahlström as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, particularly with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and her role as the Secretary-General’s special response co-ordinator during the initial phase of the international reaction to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and her current role, which has brought her to the House today, as well as all of the work she has done in the past 30 years, show to us the expertise she has and the honour it is for us that she is addressing the House.

When we see the aftermath of events such as the 2004 tsunami, the Christchurch earthquake or, most recently, the Oklahoma tornado, we here in Ireland often feel quite insulated from the effects of such dangers because of our geographical position. However, reflecting on the work of the United Nations international strategy for disaster reduction, it is clear that in many ways this is a false sense of security which belies our ever-increasing levels of global interconnectedness, which, while bringing countless benefits, also increases our sensitivity to the effects of events originating far beyond our borders.

Several colleagues have raised the very important human consequences of such disasters. Specifically, I was struck by how a disaster can undermine long-term competitiveness and sustainability, not only at the epicentre of the disaster but also in those areas with which it shares economic ties. For example, in preparing for this contribution, I was very interested to read a report by Ms Wahlström’s organisation entitled “Shared Risk to Shared Value: The Business Case for Disaster Risk Reduction”, and I advise my colleagues that it is well worth a read. An example in the report cites how damage to one maker of microchips in Japan resulted in 150,000 fewer cars being manufactured in the United States. When one microchip manufacturer is damaged, that is the effect it has across the world. As another example, we saw in the wake of the floods in Thailand that global GDP fell by 3%. In an open economy such as ours, this is something with which we must be concerned or, as the report more succinctly states, we must be aware that disaster risk does not stop at the factory gate.

I am mindful that disasters disproportionately affect lower-income countries, communities and households, and those who benefit least from the wealth created owing to economic globalisation. I would be interested to hear Ms Wahlström’s opinion on the social justice aspects of reduction programmes and, specifically, how business interests can be used as a vector and whether she believes increasing business sensitivity towards investing in risk-prepared nations will encourage governments to become more risk aware. What does Ms Wahlström believe we can do at a national level to maintain the stability of our supply chain, which is an issue we need to consider?

In looking ahead to 2015 and the renegotiation of a new risk reduction framework, what does Ms Wahlström feel will be the key elements in which we, as a Seanad and as an Irish nation, can play a role when supporting this awareness and ensuring the plan will be fit for purpose?

Order of Business, 6 December 2011

6th December 2011

All of the talk of Ireland having experienced four years of hardship conjures up a notion that, before that, we had a shared prosperity. That simply is not true. Long before the economic downturn and subsequent slide into full-blown recession, tens of thousands of people lived in hardship, in poverty or at risk of poverty, struggled to raise families and care for elderly and disabled relatives, and hundreds slept rough on our city streets. Whatever way one looks at the measures put forward yesterday by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, they will impact overwhelmingly and disproportionately on those who have always been vulnerable. Following the Minister’s delivery of the proposals in the Dáil yesterday, we were obliged to seek information from different Departments. That is not reform. Reform would involve all of the relevant information being made available at once.

I join Senator O’Brien in condemning the proposed change to the disability allowance. It is the provision which stood out most for me from yesterday’s announcement. What is the rationale behind this measure? We are talking about young people with profound and multiple disabilities. They are not going into training schemes or work placements. In regard to the lone parent allowance, I have gone through every line of every document that was provided yesterday, but I cannot find the figures to justify this decision. What arrangements will be put in place for the transitional phase in respect of those who are currently in receipt of the allowance? A huge number of concerned lone parents are wondering what will happen on 1 January. There are no figures in any document produced yesterday from any Department which provide the rationale for this decision. Surely any decision which has such a significant impact on such large numbers of people should at least be an informed decision.

I am equally concerned about what is happening at EU level in advance of Friday’s summit. Serious decisions lie ahead of us, decisions which may ultimately make today’s discussion irrelevant. We must have a debate on what is happening in Europe. We are part of the EU and we must inform that debate.

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”