O'Brien pledges €3.5m as charities plead for money
PLEDGES of aid flooded in yesterday for victims of Haiti's devastating earthquake.
Businessman Denis O'Brien's Digicel mobile phone and communications group, which has a large presence in the region, offered €3.5m in funding.
The Government has pledged €2m in emergency assistance as Irish charities last night appealed for donations from the public.
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said up to 130 members of the country's specialist rapid-response corps were on hand to fly out to the Caribbean if required.
He confirmed that €20m of Irish aid money was donated last year to the United Nations' disaster response fund. He promised more would be provided if needed.
"Our immediate thoughts are with the people of Haiti and all those who have lost family and friends in this terrible tragedy," Mr Martin said.
However, Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee chair Michael Woods insisted there was a strong case to send the response corps immediately.
"This unit was established two years ago, following on from the White Paper on Irish Aid, to assist with natural disasters of this scale," he said.
"So I feel it would be proper that they are given the chance to utilise their skills."
But government officials pointed out that Irish Aid had allocated funding of €1m to civil society partners working in Haiti last year.
The Aid agency Goal will send workers to the island and has set aside €250,000.
Former All-Ireland Offaly hurler Darren Hanniffy will lead the operation and was due to arrive in the country last night.
"From our contacts on the ground in Port-au-Prince we have established that this is a horrific catastrophe which will require a major international effort," he said. "Goal will do all it can to ease the suffering of these desperately poor people."
It is seeking civil engineers, logistics experts, and accountants "with experience of Third World conditions" for its relief programmes.
Mr O'Brien, who is due to travel to Haiti in the coming days, said he was involved in the Clinton Global Initiative which had already begun a five-year plan to rebuild the country. But he warned promises would not be enough.
"It's more to organise people because people have made a lot of promises to Haiti over the years, and not many of them have delivered," he said.
"About $600m (€413m) has been promised in the last two years but only about $40m has made it in to projects."
The latest disaster to befall the poorest country in the Western world saw a huge number of appeals for support from Irish-based groups last night.
"This is a terrible catastrophe affecting some of the most vulnerable people in the world," Tom Arnold of Concern said.
The aid agency's workers on the ground said it had been difficult to assess the extent of the devastation overnight but food, water, shelter and medicine were priorities.
The Irish Red Cross and Christian Aid Ireland also launched appeals, and the house-building charity Haven said that none of its staff had been effected in the earthquake.