Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs
European Year for Development: Dóchas
On behalf of the joint committee, I welcome Mr. Hans Zomer and Ms Sharan Kelly from Dóchas and Ms Olive Towey from Concern. As I assume they heard our notice on privilege as it was being read, we can take it as read. The committee is keen to be briefed on the European Year for Development initiative in 2015. It is my understanding that our guests will share time. We will start with Ms Kelly who will be followed by Ms Towey. All three of our guests will answer questions.
Mr. Sharan Kelly:
On behalf of the 60 plus NGOs in the Dóchas network, I extend our thanks to the Chairman and members of the joint committee for giving us the opportunity to meet them. I know that it has been a very busy period and that the committee has had a full agenda today. Therefore, we thank it for fitting us in.
Members are aware that 2015 will be European Year for Development. Given the committee's role in European Union affairs, we would like to explore some of the opportunities that will arise. Since the early 1980s, the European Union has been designating thematic European years to highlight specific issues of relevance. This designation is very important for us in that the Union is taking external action in looking at the European Year for Development initiative.
The year 2015 is important in terms of the future of humanity. During it there will be two United Nations summit meetings which will effectively define the parameters for international policy making. In September the United Nations will agree new goals in the sustainable development framework in looking at tackling poverty, inequality and environmental destruction. We look to the European Union affairs committee to consider how it would like to be involved in this process in terms of scrutinising policy and ensuring it is proofed and how Ireland will respond in that context.
In December the climate change summit to be held in Paris will set new climate action targets. Again, we would like to bring this to the committee's notice and ask for its input in terms of how it can be involved in that context.
All people in Ireland should be aware of the importance of these decision-making processes. More public debate is needed on Ireland's role in building and implementing a new global consensus on how we can ensure justice, equality and prosperity for all, without destroying the planet's resources and excluding anybody from the benefits of global trade and co-operation. The European Year for Development initiative in 2015 will present an opportunity to celebrate the many ways in which people in Ireland are already working towards a better and more sustainable future in the world.
Ireland has a rich and diverse civil society and every day hundreds of thousands of people donate, volunteer, advocate and campaign for a better world. We believe 2015 is the year in which to celebrate the power of ordinary people to make a real difference and be more involved. It will not be a European year of conferences; rather, it will be a year of citizen action to have a better world. We have some very exciting events planned, an outline of which was provided for the secretariat before the meeting. On 22 January the President will launch an event on our behalf as part as his ethics initiative. I take the opportunity to invite the Chairman and members to come and support the event. It will be a year in which to honour and encourage people to continue to stand up for what is right and a year of active citizenship as it relates to global issues. We will be connecting what is happening in Ireland with what is happening across the world. We are here to explore these options with members. My colleague, Ms Towey, will outline in greater detail what they might look like.
We very much welcome the members of the committee in being involved and engaged in this activity next year and I hope they will take up the opportunity. In particular, we would like the committee to be involved in scrutinising policy as it relates to a different era ahead us in terms of the new sustainable development framework and in terms of the impact of what we do here, as well as of what is happening across the globe.
I again thank the Chairman and members for inviting us to appear before them.
Ms Olive Towey:
We realise the joint committee's role, first and foremost, is to scrutinise European legislation and policy, but we also realise the European Union's negotiating position next year at the two summits mentioned by Ms Kelly will be crucial. The committee can help to shape the Union's position on these key issues. The core message coming from the preparatory processes is that business as usual is not an option in a world which is effectively trying to manage extreme poverty, growing inequality, increased climate volatility and environmental degradation and bold choices must be made. This is far from impossible, but such choices require leadership, bravery and courage to tackle some of the issues head on. We are aware of some of the challenges following the Lima event last week, at which the international community struggled to find a consensus which would be strong enough to get us to where we needed to be in dealing with the environmental challenges and, equally, the development challenges.
The committee could play a number of particular roles and we are keen to hear members' perspectives and how they believe these roles could be played next year. We see it as a potential focal point in dealing with the issues arising from the negotiations with regard to what will happen post-2015 in dealing with climate change. It could promote public debate on the hot topics in these two areas. It could also provide a place for Members of the Oireachtas to receive updates on how international thinking was evolving.
Another potential role is to act as a sounding board. The committee could provide a feedback mechanism for Members of the Oireachtas on the European Union's internal decision-making. Its discussions could help to strengthen the understanding of the Oireachtas of the issues at stake and help it to reach out to those specialist voices in Irish civil society who should be part of the discussions.
Ms Olive Towey:
Another potential role is to be used as a yardstick. The committee has a remit to scrutinise legislation. The agreements to be reached in 2015 will have far-reaching consequences for the policy options open to the Government and the Oireachtas. They need to be discussed and assessed before they are set in stone.
A further role for the committee is to act as a facilitator. The European Year for Development initiative is expected to generate much public attention and will provide an opportunity for members to use the increased awareness of international co-operation to highlight some of its work. Any event or hearing organised by the committee during 2015 could be considered as part of its contribution to the European Year for Development. The annual Europe Day celebrations could form part of this contribution. This could provide for a degree of cohesion and also a sense of urgency about the work of Ireland's development NGOs and the committee.
The committee could also be an inspiration. It has been a strong and understanding supporter of active citizenship, which is at the heart of our plans for the European Year for Development. It could, therefore, use the year as a reason to engage with inspirational people and organisations that have broken new ground when it comes to taking real action which will have an impact on European integration and international solidarity.
During the year members of Dóchas will organise a large range of initiatives and events, on which we will communicate information to the committee via our website and social media. We hope that by the end of the year it will have inspired thousands of people to believe they have more power and influence to bring to bear on the decisions being made on big global issues. We hope to encourage people to recognise their potential as agents of change and to address the sense of powerlessness they sometimes feel when it comes to decisions made at European level.
We believe 2015 will be a very important year and are convinced the people of Ireland should be given a chance to engage in some of these discussions and make their views and opinions heard. For this reason, the European Year for Development initiative is very important for us and we hope it will be inspiring. We look forward to working with the committee. We particularly look forward to hearing the views of members on what the role of the committee should be. We will be delighted to work with them to tease out some concrete initiatives in which we could engage with the committee during the 12 months ahead.
I thank the witnesses, who have certainly put it up to us. They have asked us to consider a number of points, which we certainly will do. The witnesses are aware we operate a system of mainstreaming, so when it comes to the scrutiny of legislation from Europe, it goes to the relevant sectoral committee. Climate change will go to the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade will deal with development. I suggest that after this meeting we will write to the various Chairmen of these committees to let them know we have been speaking to the witnesses and what they are seeking with regard to engagement from various committees. I would see it as not only this committee playing a role but other committees being involved as well. We can certainly be a focal point in the public debate, and we can be a sounding board, but we will have to involve other committees. We will take away what Ms Kelly and Ms Towey have said and discuss in private session how we can move forward on it.
I thank Ms Kelly, Mr. Zomer and Ms Towey for coming before the committee and for their presentations. It is 30 years since the famine in Ethiopia and Band Aid. I watched a documentary recently which examined the improvements in the country, and much of it was focused on agriculture, soil erosion, using the correct type of plants and the terracing of mountain slopes and hills. It was very interesting, and from what I saw, things have greatly improved in this area which was particularly problematic. It comes back to the concept of teaching somebody to fish rather than just giving them food. Is this the model Dóchas uses? I know it works with Trócaire, Concern, Gorta, GOAL and other bodies. Is it involved in particular areas? Will the witnesses elaborate on the role Dóchas plays? Does it go to particular areas suffering famine or does it take a world view?
I apologise for being late as I was in the Dáil Chamber for Leaders' Questions. Yesterday I returned from Tanzania. I was there with AWEPA, the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa. It was a real eye-opener. We saw some of the positive work which is taking place and some of the challenges facing various aid agencies. I congratulate Irish Aid. Many of the projects we visited were excellent. Through a particular programme, rice yields are six times that of neighbouring areas and this was down to Irish Aid involvement.
The witnesses spoke of a Europe-wide approach to many of these problems. The road infrastructure in that part of Africa often means one road leads to, for example, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia or Uganda, and this road has one lane in each direction. If there is a crash, which occurred when we were there, traffic backs up. Some areas have very good roads, but if investment was made in roads in Africa, people would be able to get their goods to market. It is a simple example.
We have examples and comparisons in Ireland about which we could speak to people in Africa. Some of them are historical, for example, hunger, colonisation, rural inequality, rural resettlement and forced emigration.
One can talk on all those issues and the positive thing is that we do not have any hidden agenda, unlike some in the region who are involved in this. I think that went down well. It has had a huge impact on any of those countries in which we are involved, and we have been involved in the poorest of the poor.
Ireland has been made co-facilitator, with Kenya, on the negotiations leading up to the September sustainable development summit. Could the witnesses expand on what they think the priorities should be in that area? When one sees these things being designated, big development summits planned and series of conferences and so on, the big problem is that in many cases ordinary people are left out. What are their plans to include ordinary people in these discussions in Ireland, and more generally to include voices from the global south in the discussions? Over 80% of people support Irish Aid, even right through the recession. That says a great deal. People have inherent memory and they remember the difficulties we went through ourselves. Inequality has increased in Ireland due to austerity and other factors. Are there any plans to link development and inequality in Europe with other regions and to look at the areas of focus of overseas aid and how some of it can end up being abused?
When we were in Tanzania the big issue was that funds had gone missing from the equivalent of the ESB and money ended up in some of the ministers' accounts, similar to what happened in Uganda that time. The message from that was that where we were supporting the public accounts committee and the budget committee, they were the ones who stepped up to the plate when asked, as happened in Uganda with the auditor general's office. They are things that are happening. That is the positive message for development and some of the work we are doing. I congratulate the workers we met on all those projects. We certainly had criticisms of some of the things we saw. We went to one sunflower milling plant where there are buildings and machinery, but it is in the middle of nowhere and there is no electricity. How did that happen?
No, it is not up and running, but the farmers are there. We went to another that had enough sunflower seed for the factory to operate for six months. What are they to do for the other six months? It is about looking at the broader picture. These are just some examples. The sixfold increase in rice yields is one thing but the miller gets four times the price from the next middle man that the farmer got. When one arrives with the rice still in its hulls, there is no weighing machine for the rice, so a guess is made, but lo and behold, when the miller is selling it on to the next middle man, there is a weighing scales. These are some of the issues we must focus on. We start off development with the rice farmer, and then we need to look at the next stage and the one after that and complete the circle.
Very briefly. I thank the witnesses. Frankly, I did not know next year was the European Year for Development. Having heard the witnesses' contributions, I am still not quite sure what is the lead agency. I hear the witnesses presenting a number of jobs for this committee to do, so I hope the Chairman was listening, but I do not know that questions are being posed to the witnesses as representatives of the NGO sector. Is Dóchas the lead sector? Has Europe nominated it to be the lead sector?
I lived in Africa for four years, and I know Tanzania very well, but where do we start? The witnesses gave us a great deal of material regarding environmental challenges. The Lima conference has just concluded and we had a debate here in the witnesses' absence, unfortunately, about hen harriers, slugs, snails and bats and the conflict. Some of us recognise how proper farming can actually enhance the environment and one can reintroduce hen harriers and sustain the peregrine falcons, among other things.
There is obviously conflict with the agricultural sector, because the two speakers were arguing very strongly about the rights of the farmers and how there is too much bureaucracy and implementation of law. It is a thematic year, but it seems to be a very vast theme. We heard about the rice farmer and all the rest in Tanzania. Are we talking about the pastoralists in Africa, for example the Maasai or the other pastoralists, whose livelihood has been threatened for various reasons, some political but many climactic, including desertification? The nomadic people are becoming less and less nomadic. Lake Tanganyika is shrinking in volume. There are islands about to disappear. Members may have heard the emotive speech by a woman who had her baby with her and was pregnant about how if we do not do something, her whole island will go under because of the melting ice caps. I am begging for direction from the witnesses. They listed a great deal and they said they made some submission to the committee, which I do not have here but would be very helpful-----
Mr. Hans Zomer:
There are a number of questions, but the last one was particularly important. Yes, it is the European Year for Development, but why and who is in charge? Dóchas is the co-ordinator in Ireland for the 2015 plan of action. There are similar co-ordinators in the other member states. In most countries they are government gepartments, but in Ireland and a few other countries it is the NGO umbrella group that has been tasked to be the co-ordinator.
Mr. Hans Zomer:
This is an agreement between the European Commission, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Dóchas. This is important and binds the three questions together. My colleagues have talked about the sustainable development goals that will be agreed in September next year. This will be a new global framework, with the priorities for sustainable development, whatever that means, for the next 15 years. If this agreement is reached in September, every member of the United Nations will have to come up with an action plan on what sustainable development means for that country. Unlike the millennium development goals, which have been the framework for the work of aid agencies over the past 15 years, this new set of goals will be universal. It will be for rich as well as poor countries, so there is a significant difference. We have come to the committee because we think the committee needs to be aware of this significant shift.
When Deputy Crowe asks how we link issues of inequality and development overseas with issues at home, this is the answer. The UN framework for sustainable development binds us all. It is then up to each country to decide what that means in practice and what it will prioritise. That is the key issue for us. This is an important discussion, which is much wider than just the aid agencies that are working together in Dóchas. Deputy Kyne asked how we worked together and whether there were different approaches. Dóchas has 61 member organisations and they all have a different answer, but what binds us together is a very simple philosophy. We say that in order for poor people in poor communities to change their fate, they must organise. They must come together as a community, understand what their situation is and where their weaknesses are, where they are being exploited or where they are losing the fight. That is the key thing that all our members are convinced of. It is about community mobilisation.
That is a key factor about which all our members are convinced. It is about community mobilisation. If the members of a community come to us with an analysis of their situation, it is about facilitating and supporting them in developing and implementing a strategy to change the situation. That can be a technical solution at times. It can be about a road or a mill but it can also be more in the social or political area. It depends on the local situation and the local community.
We try to celebrate many of these differences. Deputy Crowe is right in that enormous progress is being made in developing countries, including Ethiopia. We know that the way we work works. We as non-governmental organisations know what we are good at and what we are not good at. There is a division of labour between the United Nations, agencies, governments and so on, but together we have a coherent approach through the millennium development goals and for the next 15 years through the next framework that will be agreed in September. That is why I want to emphasise the importance of the international negotiation process that is currently ongoing and, as the Deputy said, that is being chaired by Ireland. It is a phenomenal responsibility and honour for our country. For that reason alone, we need to look at it.
A question was asked about corruption. That comes back to my answer to Deputy Kyne's question. It is about organising people. Technology is helping us in this regard. If I, as an individual, am confronted by a corrupt policeman asking me to pay a bribe to use a road, there is very little I can do, although I can report it. In countries such as India and Kenya there are apps that people have on their phones - a smartphone is not required; it can be a dumb phone - that people can use to register that they were asked for a bribe by a policemen on a certain street at a certain time. If everybody reports this, a pattern emerges; it can be traced to an individual policeman and action can be taken. Amazing possibilities are being opened to us and our members are using these.
Ms Sharan Kelly mentioned the launch event we have on 22 January, where President Higgins will formally launch the European Year for Development and all the members' questions will be answered. We will have a high-level conference around innovation in development co-operation on 7 May, which I hope the members will attend.
Ms Olive Towey:
A question was asked about our priorities post-2015 and what is important about the new set of goals that are to be agreed. The European Union announced Council conclusions today. Basically, the European Union has a common position on what is to happen post-2015. There has been a great deal of negotiation already and Ireland was part of those negotiations within the UN around what the next set of goals should look like. As Mr. Zomer said, the difference between the last set and next set is hopefully that the next set will be universal. Whether it is around health, education, HIV or social protection, we as a country will need to set a bar for ourselves. It is not just about Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia; it is about Ireland, France and Italy. The idea is that these are goals that we internalise. It is important that the next set of goals be universal and that we take them as seriously as developing countries.
The second point is that the next set of goals must recognise that some countries have come a huge distance but the levels of inequality within countries have grown enormously as well. That goes for our own country as well as the countries we work in. Inequality, and measures to address and redress levels of inequality, are important in the new framework.
Third, we talk about the importance of rights. The European Union and Ireland are very committed to a rights approach and recognising the right to education and the right to health.
All of these rights are important, and that is always a bone of contention at international negotiations.
There is a need for these next set of goals to have strong accountability structures. There is already a proposed set of 17 goals on the table around broad areas. It is trying to pull together the development agenda with the environment agenda, so it is fairly big, but between now and September next year they will have to get into the nitty-gritty around targets and indicators, and those targets and indicators have to be ambitious. They have to be clear and they must build on existing commitments. Those are some of the broad principles that should be included in the next set of frameworks.
Ireland has been very strong in promoting the equality agenda and the hunger agenda in terms of food and nutrition security and in focusing on gender. There are a number of areas where Ireland has been strong, reflecting our national commitment to those areas. We would want to see that continued, but obviously, as a co-chair, Ireland will also have a different responsibility to facilitate a process. We want it to be as ambitious an outcome as possible and we believe it is appropriate for the committee, and many other committees, to debate the substance of these positions as they continue.
My apologies, Chairman, for being absent. I am still trying to be in three or four places at the one time in terms of work.
The definition of sustainable development is hugely important. Who decides what is sustainable development? For instance, who decided on the targets? Was it decided by the United Nations centrally or by NGOs or politicians, remembering that politicians are accountable to the electorate and must stand before the electorate, and stand over whatever is agreed? To what extent has there been an examination of the degree to which economic change may take place that may be difficult to sell to the electorate? That is a crucial question. It applies to everyone in this country and in every other European country because, whether we like it or not, we may have the best motives in the world and may be the best inclined in the world to do the right thing, but if it does not fall into some line or area that will receive support from the electorate in the respective countries affected by the agreement or the arrangement, it is doomed.
Ms Sharan Kelly:
I will comment on a number of matters, including what Deputy Durkan has just highlighted. Something we would very much welcome is for the European affairs committee to look to us in terms of how we can assist in this process. That is a good question for us to go back with in terms of the meaning of sustainable development, for us to feed into that process and have a conversation. We would welcome an opportunity to do that with the Chairman and a number of members next year. Another request we would have is if the committee would like to be part of our calendar of events. We ask them to consider what that would look like for them.
To add to what Ms Towey said in terms of our role in co-facilitating, the members probably heard about the report last week from the OECD Development Assistance Committee, DAC, peer review and how Ireland has made a huge impact on development. That is something of which we are proud. As an Irish person I have a strong affinity with our heritage, and that whole engagement at grassroots level is something that Dóchas pursues across all our membership. Ordinary people in Ireland having a say about their lives and the lives of people in the global south is a big priority for Dóchas and is one of the strategic directions in which we are going. I add that to the comments from my colleagues.
That might be something we could discuss in private session in terms of Dóchas taking on that role of guiding us on some of the issues that are pertinent to the European Union and to Europe in general, and some of the issues on which we as a committee might be able to focus or give direction to some of our colleagues in Europe. It is something we have on our agenda as part of our work programme.