Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 27 January 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs
European Year of Development: Discussion
I remind members to switch off their mobile telephones. It is not sufficient to have them on silent mode. They need to be turned off or they will interfere with the recording equipment. I am switching mine off now. Apologies have been received from Deputies Derek Keating and John Halligan and Senator Terry Leyden.
The committee will be briefed today by Dóchas on the European Year for Development 2015. While we wait for the witnesses to take their seats the committee will suspend briefly.
We are delighted to be joined by Mr. Johnny Sheehan, project co-ordinator with Dóchas, Dr. Lorna Gold from Trócaire and Ms Marissa Ryan from Oxfam. Dóchas first brought the European Year for Development 2015 to the attention of the committee when the organisation met here in 2014. The committee will remember Mr. Hans Zomer who presented then. Hans has moved on to other things and is now working at Áras an Uachtaráin in the Phoenix Park.
Members are keen to be updated on developments and on behalf of the joint committee, I welcome the witnesses to this meeting.
Before we proceed, I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or persons outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l)of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If witnesses are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons, or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I invite Mr. Johnny Sheehan to begin.
Mr. Johnny Sheehan:
On behalf of the 65 non-governmental organisations, NGOs, in the Dóchas network I thank the Chairman and members of the joint committee for this opportunity to appear before them. As the Chairman already stated, I am accompanied today by Dr. Lorna Gold, who is head of policy and advocacy in Trócaire and a member of the board of Dóchas. In the context of the European Year for Development 2015, Dr. Gold attended all the key international United Nations summits that took place during the year and can respond to questions on them. Similarly, I am accompanied by Ms Marissa Ryan, campaigns and advocacy manager in Oxfam Ireland, which was also represented at all the key UN summits that took place during 2015. As the Chairman noted, a delegation from Dóchas met the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Union Affairs in December 2014 to outline its plans for the upcoming European Year for Development 2015, EYD2015, and to ask the joint committee to play a role in shaping the European Union's position on key issues during 2015. In today's presentation, I wish to update members on the achievements from the EYD2015 and my colleague, Dr. Gold, will highlight key international agreements reached during 2015 regarding sustainable development and climate change that have major policy implications for Ireland and the EU.
The European Year for Development 2015 was an opportunity to celebrate the power of ordinary people to make a real difference locally and globally. It was rolled out across all EU member states and in Ireland, Dóchas, which is the Irish Association of Non-Governmental Development Organisations, implemented a national plan of action in partnership with a range of actors across the development and environmental sectors, wider civil society in Ireland and with media organisations, local authorities and European institutions. By the end of 2015, we had increased the number of people who believe they can influence global issues. We encouraged people to recognise their potential as change makers and we dented the feelings of powerlessness people experience when it comes to global issues.
The European year confirmed that the vast majority of people in Ireland continue to support Ireland's overseas development programme. Research conducted during the year showed that supporters of overseas aid outnumber critics by a ratio of 3:1 while a special Eurobarometer poll found that seven out of ten Irish people were in favour of increasing overseas aid. Dóchas members engaged 55,000 citizens directly through activities at 56 events during the year, including at national public-facing events such as Africa Day, the Electric Picnic music festival and the National Ploughing Championships. As part of a Europe-wide day of action to mark the European year, Dóchas took to the streets to deliver a special print edition of theWorld’s Best News, which is an ongoing media campaign that highlights positive stories of development progress from the developing world. A team of 95 volunteers handed out 10,000 copies of the World’s Best Newsnewspaper to members of the public in 14 towns and cities across Ireland in September. The EYD2015 also reached hundreds of thousands of people through print, broadcast, online and social media. For example, The Irish Timesnewspaper ran a monthly "Inside Out" series in its online edition to highlight positive stories of development around the world which it also linked to Ireland.
The year was launched in January by President Michael D. Higgins and he continued to provide inspirational leadership throughout the year. Moreover, the EYD2015 played an important role of the President’s ethics initiative, which took place during the year. Leadership also was shown by the establishment of a network board with representatives from environmental organisations, domestic NGOs, the private sector, local authorities and media organisations. This contributed to leadership for the year and directly to the establishment of partnerships withThe Irish Times, as I mentioned, and with Dublin City Council, the European Commission and others. Dublin City Council erected a large banner highlighting EYD2015, and citizen action in particular, on Dame Street for two weeks leading up to the UN summit on the sustainable development goals. In addition, during the year we engaged in discussions and debates with journalists, advertisers and NGO communication professionals on how development stories are communicated and with regard to the Dóchas code of conduct on images and messages. Furthermore, we trained and mentored NGOs in storytelling to ensure the work of the year continued on an ongoing basis.
At this point, I will hand over to Dr. Gold, who will speak about the sustainable development agenda.
Dr. Lorna Gold:
I thank Mr. Sheehan. I believe members will agree on what was achieved by Dóchas in 2015. There was a phenomenal amount of activity involved in engaging and informing citizens on the issues of global development. This obviously was not an end in itself, as the basic principle behind the activity was that engaged informed citizenship will enable the political and policy change required to achieve and implement the sustainable development goals. While that job is far from over, we made a positive start in 2015 in achieving this aim. The promises made at the summit in 2015 must now be translated into action and in particular, there is a strong European Union dimension to so doing.
As already outlined, three major United Nations summits were held during the year, which effectively should now define the parameters for international policy-making for the next 15 years. I say "should" because obviously, there are other issues that determine and influence policy-making. However, the three summits held last year, namely, the summit on financing for development held in Addis Ababa in July, the sustainable development goals summit held in New York in September and the COP 21 climate change conference, at which agreement was reached in Paris in December, should set a solid basis for directing us towards sustainable development and addressing in particular the challenge of climate change. In September, at the United Nations in New York, 193 countries joined forces to agree a pathway towards sustainable development for our world by adopting the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. This framework of 17 sustainable development goals provides measurable social and economic objectives to which all countries are now obliged to adhere.
The former framework for action is to be implemented universally taking into account the actual realities as starting points for each individual member of the United Nations. The goals are universal in nature and will not be deemed to have been achieved if not achieved by all countries. They are interdependent and cross-sectoral and have implications for all aspects of policy-making. They will respect and take into account existing national policy priorities and plans and are supported by a set of 169 indicators, which represent the monitoring framework.
In Paris in December a total of 195 countries agreed to the first ever universal legally binding global climate deal. In July in Addis Ababa the UN financing for development conference took place. In a strange way, it superseded the other two, but it is an absolutely essential element of the means to achieve the sustainable development goals on climate change. The conference concluded an international agreement on how the agreements would be financed. The agreements have significant policy consequences for Ireland's development in several key policy areas such as energy, agriculture, the environment, inequality, women's rights and human rights in general.
As NGOs working with the most vulnerable, Dóchas members are proud of the role Ireland played. In particular, during the sustainable development conference Ireland acted as one of the co-facilitators of the UN deal. At a European level Ireland worked on the co-facilitation of the UN negotiations. Dóchas members actively contributed to the UN and European level negotiations prior to and during 2015, feeding in specific policy recommendations. We were also part of the various Government delegations attending the conferences. A key focus for Dóchas members is to establish and sustain ongoing engagement at European level and with the Government towards implementation of the sustainable development goals, as well as a review of the relevant policies required to align our existing policy priorities with the sustainable development goals.
At European level some significant changes and reviews need to take place to address the consistency of European policy-making on the sustainable development goals. I wish to highlight some of them. In a sense, I have to take us away from a business as usual approach. One priority in achieving the sustainable development goals must involve a review of the climate and energy 2030 package. The 40% target, within the European climate and energy package, is in no way ambitious enough to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target set in Paris. The Commissioner has said this issue will not be revisited until a new Commission is in place in 2018. From our perspective, that is far too late and sets the European Union back by five to ten years in addressing its emissions.
The second area of policy that comes within the achievement of the sustainable development goals and which needs to be reviewed is the transatlantic trade and investment partnership process. In fact, I appeared before the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation yesterday to specifically address concerns about TTIP. Its review, in the light of the policy coherence obligations under the Lisbon treaty, is essential.
We know that migration is becoming an increasingly serious issue at European level. Unless it is taken into account, in particular, with implementation of the Valletta summit recommendations and the controversial EU trust fund for Africa, the sustainable development goals will not be achieved.
Last year there were three major summits on the issue of development. There was the summit in Addis Ababa which looked at how development was financed. In September in New York we saw the biggest problems in respect of poverty being addressed. In December in Paris the Conference of Parties talks led to a successful agreement. I imagine we all agree that there has been some progress in the past year, which is positive. The vision of Dóchas for the year was to be able to change the way people thought about global issues and how we dealt with them.
I have carried out surveys of development aid and learned that people often believe we spend far more money than we actually do. I carried out some surveys in my constituency of Meath East some time ago in which people were asked how much money Ireland gave in development aid. They responded by saying approximately 50 cent of every €10 was spent, but in reality less than five cent of every tenner is spent. There is a real demand for additional information. A considerable amount of good work is done throughout the country to improve people's knowledge. In the north east organisations such as Development Perspectives work closely with local people to try to improve their knowledge of how much we give in development aid and how it benefits the developing world. That is welcome, but we need to see more of these organisational networks.
I have been asked by my colleague, Senator Aideen Hayden, to apologise on her behalf for the fact that she had to leave prematurely. She was keen to congratulate the Dóchas representatives on their good work and applaud the presentations made. She will probably meet the members of the deputation later. I am happy to join her in making those positive comments on the work of Dóchas.
I wish to make reference to the great progress being made on the issue of climate change. I have been a member of the Council of Europe Committee on Social affairs, Health and Sustainable Development for a number of years. In fact, I chair the sub-committee on energy. As such I am mindful of the important progress made in Paris. The initiative was pioneered by it at a time when, to use a colloquialism, it was neither profitable nor popular to do so. The issues were being talked about and advanced by it.
It is reasonable to suggest the weather conditions and dreadful suffering endured in specific areas of the country on account of flooding this year are a stark reminder of the reality of uncontrolled carbon emissions and the lack of a deal to tackle climate change. The deal made is welcome. Obviously, options such as planting on land of no agricultural value will have to form a major part of our strategy. Other energy-saving initiatives involving the use of solar panels and other green and alternative energy sources will be important, too.
I have had good experience of the wind energy industry. In a particular part of my constituency wind turbines were provided, with a great buy-in and acceptance by the local community. This is in contrast with what happned in many other areas. The Chairman is my neighbour in County Meath and has family in County Monaghan and, as such, is aware that this is the case. There has been a great buy-in because of the community benefits and because local small farmers receive supplementary income from the use of the turbines. All of this has been good. However, there is a wave of publicity about wind energy that is negative. It relates to the cost involved and the level of carbon emissions in construction, etc. Will the deputation comment on this? Will it also comment on sustainable agriculture in Ireland? I know that bad land, for want of a better term, or agricultural land with less potential must be planted.
This must be a key factor in a strategy to deal with climate change. We have good sustainable land and grassland production of cattle. Is there merit in preserving this, considering the carbon emissions that will arise from the production of food in factories elsewhere? Overall, the outcome of the conference and the new rules are to be welcomed. Dr. Gold was right to emphasise this. Will the witnesses comment in general on what they think of Ireland's role and what we need to do specifically? Senator Hayden was anxious that I emphasise her welcome to the witnesses.
I thank the witnesses and welcome them. We addressed climate change several weeks ago when witnesses, including Professor Sweeney, came before the committee. It was a very interesting meeting. We had an in-depth presentation on the consequences of gas emissions, the targets we are setting and the obligations on Ireland as a State to comply in the very tricky areas of grassland, cattle and alternatives. There is no doubt that we are suffering severely from climate change. The winds are clear proof of this, as are the rainfall and the warmer summers. Ironically, we have not hit the colder winters yet, but all the telltale signs are there.
We must applaud the French diplomatic corps, which is credited with having done a wonderful job in bringing so many diverse countries and views together, resulting in a positive climate change programme. The witnesses mentioned concerns about TTIP. I have been knocking about with foreign affairs and European affairs for the past five years, and I have noticed more association and trade agreements with countries such as Colombia and Peru. We have just completed an agreement with Central America, which must still be ratified by the Dáil, and there are various agreements with African countries. We are invariably subjected to lobbying by the NGO sector. My position is quite clear, given my experience with regard to Colombia and having had a private debate with the Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is a huge advocate of these trade agreements and discussed the advantages of these relationships for countries. European relationships develop, Ireland signs into these programmes and we go forward. In a nutshell, does Dóchas have a position on these agreements? Is it negative or positive? We will leave TTIP aside because it is not complete and there are many more rounds of talks to go before it will reach a conclusion. I am not asking about TTIP but about the other agreements that Ireland has ratified as part of the European Union.
The witnesses do much fundraising, naturally enough. Are they conscious of the sensitivities of, for example, the Ethiopians, given some of the slogans used by NGOs in eliciting funds for their organisations? They project scenes of poverty and the depth of the wells. We can look at the height of Liberty Hall and the slogans that went with it. Do diplomats feel this is not the image they want, for example, of Ethiopia? Do the witnesses have a comment on this? I congratulate the organisation, which consists of 65 NGOs. We would be lost without the lobbying and the contributions they make. We hear many presentations, and they have been like our political advisers on many occasions. I thank them for this.
I welcome the team from Dóchas and I commend the work they have done and their part in collating information. They mentioned the level of support from Irish people for increases in aid. What other information have the witnesses collected on the views of the Irish public? Were any concerns raised about value for money or where money might be going? An issue which has been raised with me is the number of charities working, and whether there are too many charities, I will not say doing the same work, but there is a perception that there are different charities for different places. Do the witnesses have any comment on this? They may not wish to comment on it.
The issue of climate change has been touched on, as have the hugely important deals on targets struck this year. Are the witnesses somewhat concerned that sustainable development work in Africa is being overshadowed by the present crisis in Syria and the refugees? The focus has been on this. Is it overshadowing the important work being done in other areas? I am conscious of this because the news cycle all year has been about the boats arriving, the crisis in Calais, the marches of refugees through Europe and various problems in Sweden, Denmark and Germany with regard to the arrival of an influx of migrants.
With regard to climate change, while the agreement is legally binding, are the witnesses confident that it will work when it comes to it, when governments change and we have new presidents and regimes in various countries? Will there be an ability to deliver the requirements enacted in the climate change deal?
I welcome our guests and thank them for their presentations. A number of issues come to mind, including the recent flooding, not only here but in numerous locations throughout the world. These serve to highlight the fact climate change is taking place and we must embrace it, recognise it and do what must be done. The Paris meeting will have been good if the participating countries which signed up to the agreement put in place the necessary measures to meet its requirements. This is the crucial issue. We have the capacity to do it in this country with regard to agriculture and energy if we decide to do so.
I happen to be one of the people who is committed to alternative and renewable energy. Recently, in my constituency thousands of leaflets poured out calling on people - I think there might have been something similar in an adjoining constituency-----
Two Government party Deputies were targeted in Kildare, with thousands of leaflets calling on the people to vote against them because they espouse alternative energy. It is a grand enlightened approach, which is very reassuring in the world in which we live.
The fact of the matter is that the targets are attainable if we go about it in the right way without any massive impact of a negative nature on the community. I believe that in ten or 15 years' time, all of the world's domestic motor cars will be electric. As soon as electric cars can do a 1,000 km round trip it will be the end of the petrol car, and so it should be, because otherwise we cannot meet our targets. If we do not meet this target, which is attainable without any stress-----
It is coming down.
In fact, however, at this stage they are only capable of approximately 500 km of a round trip. I was driving beside one in town the other day. There was nothing wrong with its acceleration, unfortunately. I thought it accelerated too fast away from me but that is neither here nor there. This is all attainable, however.
The alternative is that we accept the penalties, which will be between €5 billion and €7 billion between now and 2020. That would be interesting. It might help to concentrate our minds.
That is the total. It could go slightly more than that. It could go to €8 billion. It will depend on the degree to which we have failed to meet our targets. We can do a lot in terms of electricity generation. We cannot really do a whole lot about heavy road transport yet. We can minimise it a little but we cannot do a great deal about it because we are talking about 250-horsepower engines, which would require a great deal of electric energy. The response spoken about would, without a doubt, come into play at that stage. We need to talk about these things, isolate them and identify the extent to which we can deal with them.
The last point I want to make relates to the agriculture sector. There is a danger that people may concentrate on agriculture as the bogey man in all of this and decide we must reduce our agricultural production and such like. That is not necessarily true. In fact, it is not true at all if we take into account and balance out the degree to which everything that grows absorbs carbon. Everything that grows absorbs carbon or some other gas of one type or another. We do that in this country in a particular way that they do not do in other countries. In comparison to other European countries, it is possible to use the methodology used in Irish agriculture to bring about reductions to beneficial effect.
I wish to emphasise that there is a danger worldwide of replacing food production with biomass. That would be a dangerous route to go down and a precarious position to take. There will be those who tell us we should take that route but, if they do not eat, people will not survive very long. We need to keep that in mind. Importing biomass from Latin America is not the answer. This creates negative carbon in all directions such as that associated with long-distance transport.
I could go on about this indefinitely, the committee knows that but I do not wish to do so other than to ask a few questions. What would be the witnesses' message to the Irish consumer on achieving the carbon reduction targets over the next number of years? Given there is a tendency to ignore, postpone and hope certain things will go away, do they think this will go away? How to they feel developing countries are likely to be affected over the next ten years or so? Why are they running away? What are they running away from? We know the answer, indeed there are a number of answers. For instance, our response throughout Europe is not what it should be. I have to say that the appearance of razor wire across Europe is not at all the message the European Union, given the principle of free movement of people, should be giving out. I am not impressed by some countries and people whose response is to rob refugees.
I thank Deputy Durkan for his interesting contribution. I think we would all agree he gave us food for thought. A vote has been called in the House. In approximately three minutes, some members will have to leave. We can continue with the meeting, however. I am sure the members will look at the transcripts after the meeting to see the answers. Before I call Mr. Sheehan to respond, we will be adjourning today and another meeting is not arranged because the House will probably be dissolved. On behalf of the committee members, I thank the staff for all their help over the term of this Dáil. We have enjoyed our experience and they have been wonderful and very supportive at all stages. I wanted to say that while we were all still here.
Mr. Johnny Sheehan:
I thank the committee again for inviting us here today. I thank Deputy O'Reilly and his colleague for their congratulations and welcome the opportunity to continue that conversation after the meeting. I will ask Dr. Gold and Ms Ryan to respond to some of the specific questions and then I will come back in at the end to give the Dóchas perspective.
Dr. Lorna Gold:
I will deal with some of the questions on climate change. The committee has already had a full briefing from Professor Sweeney, who is probably the most eminent expert in this field, and I will not pretend to have his level of knowledge in this area. Deputy O'Reilly commented that the recent flooding is making everyone realise that climate change is here and with us. The World Economic Forum does an annual assessment of global risk. Climate change has jumped into the top three of the greatest likelihood of risk in the next year and into the top five highest concerns in terms of global risk next year. It is right up there now.
The impact of climate change on the countries we work in is already devastating. This is particularly the case this year given the effect of climate change combining with the abnormal El Niñoeffect. It is not possible to separate them out. We are looking at a combination of once in a century storms and droughts that now extend across the entire east coast of Africa from the very north horn all the way down to South Africa. The intensity of these weather events will play out in the coming year.
From an EU perspective, it is now time to get down to brass tacks. The achievement in Paris was significant. I was there for the summit and it was not necessarily always going to end with a happy story on the last day. It was very close to the wire, in particular in the final stages of the negotiations. It is a huge credit to the French and all the leaders who attended that they managed to achieve an ambitious, binding and equitable deal. The real issue now, however, especially with the EU, comes to the effort sharing agreement, which has been alluded to, and how the effort sharing will be divided up among EU member states. We must remember that post-2020, no country can increase emissions and they will have to be within the range of zero growth and 40% reductions on 2005 levels. As this committee knows, we will also be looking at possible fines within the region of hundreds of millions of euro to billions of euro, as agreed in the Council conclusions.
We believe it untenable for Ireland to continue to argue it is a special case on account of its agricultural production. This strategy, which was evident in the Taoiseach's comments during the Paris summit, is damaging in terms of Ireland's international standing as a good EU citizen and incoherent with its other policy objectives, be they its development objectives or sustainable development goals. We argue that this needs to be urgently rethought and other issues need to be taken into account when Ireland makes its case on the European burden sharing agreement.
One of the points raised was that focusing on agriculture as the bogeyman is unhelpful. I wholeheartedly agree with that. It seems to be exactly what the Government has done in its negotiations at EU level. The focus is entirely on the agricultural sector and does not take into account that our climate mitigation objectives have to take account of our entire economic output and that measures can be taken in other sectors to reduce our emissions.
On Ireland's emissions, I remind the committee we are one of only four member states not currently meeting our 2020 commitments under our EU obligations. The EPA has projected our emissions will rise by 7% by 2030. Trócaire, like other NGOs, has not been calling for a reduction in agricultural production but has been questioning the planned doubling of the herd size under Food Wise 2025, which will make it virtually impossible to meet our obligations under the Paris agreement.
When Ban Ki-moon was here last May, he made the point that if a country wants to be a leader on hunger - as Ireland has stated it wants to be in terms of the sustainable development goals which are our real focus - it has to also be a leader on climate change. Climate change is the single biggest issue driving food insecurity and reducing food yields worldwide. It is an issue of policy coherence.
There was a point made about the images used by NGOs. Dóchas has a code of conduct on images to which all member NGOs sign up. A peer review mechanism ensures that we do not project images that are not respectful of human rights and dignity. Deputy Byrne will be glad to hear that the images that will be used in Trócaire's Lenten campaign in the coming weeks will be images of Irish people and will focus on the ways that Irish people engage in solidarity overseas rather than focusing on the image of poverty overseas. That has been part of a dialogue we have engaged in with representatives of African and other countries over the past number of years.
I will hand back to Mr. Sheehan.
Ms Marissa Ryan:
I wanted to touch a little on migration, given Deputy Durkan's comments. He is right that human rights, as a central and fundamental tenet of the EU's foreign policy, have been completely eroded and undermined by the current failure of the EU to manage the current wave of migration. We, as members of Dóchas, absolutely reject the current discussion that it constitutes a crisis for Europe. It is a crisis for the 3,500 people who died in the Mediterranean over the course of last year and their families. It is a crisis for those stuck within EU borders in freezing conditions with no access to basic services. It is a complete failure of EU member states when the foremost response has been to increase border security and meet people fleeing for their lives with razor wire, as Deputy Durkan mentioned, police brutality in Bulgaria, which we have documented and the use of police dogs.
In terms of a European response and, specifically, Ireland's role within that, I am sure all members are aware that an EU trust fund for Africa was set up during the Valletta EU summit in 2015. We have serious concerns about the role of and management of the trust fund, which appears to be very much focused on preventing people migrating from some of the states from which the majority of people are fleeing at the moment. We have received assurance from Irish Aid that the funds put into the trust fund by the Irish Government will be compliant with Ireland's respect for international human rights. However, we are also cognisant that many of the projects funded under the trust fund focus on border security and migration management. We think the Irish Government needs to play more of a role in Europe. The committee is probably aware of the commentary made yesterday by Peter Sutherland in which he said that the failure to reach a consensus in Europe and the continuing gap in terms of any sort of adequate response to the current wave of migration will only worsen. We are seeing no decline in numbers despite the fact that winter conditions-----
Ms Marissa Ryan:
I am sure he had a very similar perspective to us. Ireland is a member of the oversight board of the EU trust fund for Africa and we have our own refugee protection programme. We need to have a louder and clearer voice in Europe in terms of trying to foment some sort of credible response based on human rights. We do not see that happening at Irish or European level at the moment.
Mr. Johnny Sheehan:
Dóchas is a space where large and small development NGOs come together. The Chairman has mentioned the development prospectus, which has been very active in the north east. Large and small organisations have been very active in the European year of development. We are trying to get across the key message that each of us can make a difference. Last year was pivotal because as a result of the international agreements, we have the opportunity to be the first generation to end poverty worldwide. We are the last generation that can take effective action on climate change so it is a critical moment. The Chairman is right when he says there is a demand for additional information. Communication cannot be confined to 2015; it is critical that it continues. Through the Dóchas network of organisations, we will continue to communicate and try to change the way people think and talk about global justice and development issues. Critically, we also need to change how people behave. That will not be achieved in one year. We have made a good start but the work needs to continue.
Dr. Gold mentioned the code of conduct on images and messages. We are very aware of the impact that the images and messages used have on people's attitudes and behaviours. One of the successes of the year has been in the communication of these messages. In September, in the lead-up to the UN summit, we had a big campaign to try to get across the message that each of us can make a difference. There was a very noticeable increase in the number of people coming to our website looking for information and there was a big surge in search terms such as "How can I make a difference?" and "I want to make a difference". People in Ireland wanted to do something and to take action so it is critical to continue with this communication. A couple of the Deputies mentioned sustainable agriculture and climate change. Through its working groups, Dóchas published a paper on climate smart agriculture and we could certainly make copies of that available to the committee.
We hope the committee will put sustainable development goals and climate change on their agenda when it reconvenes after the general election.
We would ask that the Oireachtas committee invite the Taoiseach to talk to the committee in regard to how Ireland is going to implement the sustainable development goals, deal with its obligations around action on climate change, and address how that fits in at a European level. As on the previous occasion, we ask the committee to provide a place for Members of the Oireachtas to receive updates on how the European Union is embedding the new global agreements and to act as a focal point to bring the information to the Oireachtas.
Some of those issues may be more relevant to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. I will ask the secretariat to make sure that those points are included in the legacy document we are leaving for the next committee. I have no doubt the new Dáil will see a turnover in some of our membership and when the committee reforms it will discuss its priorities. I expect that will be in two or three months' time. Does Deputy Byrne wish to say something?
I apologise. I did try to get permission to stay but I was not allowed. The vote was of interest because I did not know it was coming up today. It related to the agreement between Europe and Central America. I wanted to hear the witnesses response to the question of European agreements with those other blocs if you have two minutes to spare, Chairman.
Dr. Lorna Gold:
First, Dóchas does not have a position jointly on that issue. Trócaire has some views on it and I am sure Oxfam has views, but Dóchas, as a group, does not have a position. I do not know if anyone wishes me to speak about Trócaire's views, but I can briefly outline them. We would have serious concerns, in particular in regard to TTIP but also-----
-----in favour of the agreements the EU has negotiated with Colombia and Peru, for example, and Central America, as we just voted on a few minutes ago. TTIP is a different ballgame, it is not a negotiated agreement yet. It is still in the throes of discussions and the others have been agreed and ratified by 28 countries in Europe.
Once again, on behalf of the committee I thank the witnesses for coming in today. We have an ongoing relationship with Dóchas and the committee looks forward to continued engagement with in on development aid matters.