Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 5 October 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Irish Aid Programme Review
In part one of today's meeting, we will meet Mr. Niall Burgess, Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Mr. Ruairí de Búrca, director of Irish Aid. I extend a welcome to them and to their officials, Ms Nicola Brennan, Ms Emer O'Connell and Ms Nicole McHugh, to today's meeting.
The joint committee agreed as part of its work programme for 2017 to review the work of Irish Aid, particularly the overseas development aid programme, and the way in which this is being used to deliver added value in communities around the world. I consider the committee's review to be timely following the agreement in 2015 of the sustainable development goals and the continuing and changing needs globally for humanitarian assistance. This is the first in a series of meetings with the relevant stakeholders and the joint committee proposes to report on its findings to both the Dáil and Seanad later this year.
The format of the meeting is that we will hear the opening statement before going into a question and answer session with members of the committee. Before we begin, I remind members, witnesses and those in the Gallery to ensure that their mobile phones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as they can cause interference, even in silent mode, with the recording equipment in the committee room.
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 body outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it 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 joint committee. If they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I call on the Secretary General, Mr. Burgess, to make his opening statement. I understand that he will be followed by Mr. de Búrca.
Mr. Niall Burgess:
I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the Irish Aid programme with the committee. I echo the Chairman's sentiments in referring to the death last night of Mr. Liam Cosgrave, who was Minister for External Affairs between 1954 and 1957. Though his tenure was short, his influence on foreign policy was enormous as he oversaw the process which resulted in Ireland becoming a full and active member of the United Nations, UN. I cannot do better than echo President Higgins when he quoted Mr. Cosgrave on our entry to the UN:
His words on that occasion that Ireland should work to 'take our place in the comity of nations and do our part to secure what small nations have always required, the maintenance of peace' remains to this day an important reminder of our nation's role and unique voice on global issues such as disarmament, peacekeeping, human rights and development.
This provides so much of the context of the work we will discuss at this meeting. I am joined by the director general of Irish Aid, Mr. Ruairí de Búrca, who was formerly our ambassador to Mozambique and who oversaw one of the largest bilateral country aid programmes; Ms Nicola Brennan, the head of our policy unit, her colleague, Ms Nicole McHugh; and the head of our humanitarian unit, Ms Emer O'Connell.
Our people are global, spread across the planet. Our trade is global and we invest abroad. Our values are universal, founded in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Ireland is rooted in Europe, particularly as a member state of the European Union, and much of our development is exercised through the Union. We have strong bonds in north America, Australia and New Zealand, and Argentina, and we have partnerships for our development activities through these bonds. We are helping to build relationships in Asia and we are engaged in development activities across south east Asia. Our place in the world helps create our prosperity but it is also founded on ensuring that others are secure and prosperous in their parts of the world, and playing our part as a global citizen to make that prosperity a reality.
We have particularly special relationships with Africa through our generations of missionary endeavour, migration, new African diasporas resident in Ireland and many years of development and humanitarian work undertaken by both Government through Irish Aid and by humanitarian and aid agencies. The work of many individuals and organisations, including many colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs, over many years has built on their legacy. Their stories, like so many others we grew up with, were a reminder that our peace, security and well-being are linked umbilically to the peace, security and well-being of others, and if that was true in our youth, it is even more so today. Ours is an interconnected world. Recent climate events such as the hurricanes in the Caribbean or drought in east Africa tell us that we need to act in common with others to address the challenges of our age. That sense of sharing the planet informed the negotiation of the sustainable development goals, SDGs, also known as Agenda 2030, which was led and co-facilitated by Ireland at the UN. The SDGs were adopted by the UN in 2015, following an extensive process. They set an ambitious set of targets and it is expected that all countries will respond to the challenge not just domestically, but also in foreign policy. They set a context for our work in the future of Irish Aid and our wider development assistance for the coming decade and beyond.
Before briefly touching on the role of Irish Aid, I would like to situate it within Ireland's broader development assistance work. Ireland makes its financial contributions to the UN and the EU like any member state in good standing. In addition, Ireland’s commitment to international development is a whole of government commitment. It does not rest solely within the remit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Many Departments contribute from their budgets to multilateral organisations, for example, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine’s support for the World Food Programme. Other Departments contribute in kind, for example, to the support the Health Service Executive provides to health system strengthening in the developing world. Between one quarter and one third of all Irish overseas development assistance – in 2016, just over €241 million – is accounted for by this whole of government contribution. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and particularly its development co-operation directorate, manages the remaining two thirds of Irish overseas development assistance. This amounted to €486 million in 2016. The portion managed by my Department is branded Irish Aid.
Irish Aid works across the world, but with a focus on Africa. Our policies are aligned with the SDGs, with our current focus interventions designed to reduce hunger and build resilience, create conditions for sustainable and inclusive economic growth, encourage better governance and accountability, and support human rights. We maintain long-term development programmes in a number of key partner countries, including Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Zambia, and outside Africa, in Vietnam. Ireland also works particularly closely with a number of other African countries. Our focus is always on the most vulnerable. In recent years, Ireland has looked to deepen its support to fragile states such as Somalia or South Sudan, building on the experience of our embassy in Sierra Leone. Ireland has also had to respond to emerging humanitarian crises such as Syria or what have been termed the "forgotten crises" of famine and conflict across the Sahel and into the Sahara, often accompanied by migration and refugee movements, north and south. In 2016, humanitarian assistance totalled €194 million, the highest it has ever been. Sadly, the pressures to respond to calamity and disaster, often man made, continue this year.
In Irish Aid’s efforts, we work with many partners. Some are well known to this committee, including fantastic NGOs such as Trócaire and Concern. Others might be less well known but, nonetheless, they do excellent work in niche areas. We work with local partners on the ground in many countries as well as with international and multinational partners. In working with partners, the watchwords are results, efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability. I believe we do good work, in which Irish people can take pride. The most recent assessment of Irish Aid by the OECD's development aid committee, DAC, was very positive, particularly the extent to which Irish assistance is targeted at the poorest countries and reaches those who are most vulnerable. It commended Ireland on grounding its policies in the needs and priorities of its partner countries, and having a clear overall vision for development co-operation. The review noted that Ireland plays a leadership role at global level on its priority issues, particularly hunger and nutrition. It also praises Ireland for responding rapidly and effectively to other natural disasters.
However, notwithstanding the good work done by Irish Aid, and by many others, it is clear that aid alone cannot solve the problems of poverty and hunger. Lasting solutions must be underpinned by developing countries own leadership, by their ability to harness their own human and other potential, and to address inequalities. Ireland plays its part by leveraging the voice and experience earned through our development programme to advocate to partners and internationally to bring about the positive changes needed if vulnerability is to be addressed. The SDGs give new impetus to that task.
It is clear that while One World, One Future, our policy platform, has stood the test of time, there are significant new drivers for change since it was completed. The committee's review is timely and welcome in that context.I will pass now to my colleague, Mr. de Búrca, who will go into more detail on the shape of the aid programme and some of the emerging challenges it faces.
Mr. Ruairí de Búrca:
I would like to add my condolences to those expressed to the family of Mr. Liam Cosgrave and his friends. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
The Secretary General has outlined how Irish Aid fits into Ireland's wider foreign policy and global footprints. It might be useful to give a brief outline of how our aid programme is structured and how we work to maximise its impact. Irish Aid is not a legal entity; it is a branding that we use to represent the funds disbursed through Vote 27, the development co-operation budget of the Department. In turn, the development co-operation division that I lead, working closely with the Department's financial controller, manages those funds. However, branding ourselves as Irish Aid saves us having to explain the Department's structures to partners, particularly aboard, which is useful, particularly because Irish Aid does what it says on the tin.
That is important in gaining leverage and traction on the issues about which we care when dealing with governments, administrations, other donors, agencies and communities in the places where Irish Aid is active. It involves our good name which has been recognised by the OECD's development assistance committee and others as being effective. It is our calling card which I hope we use well.
The provision of aid is, of course, about much more than just having a good name and channelling money to a cause, no matter how deserving. There are many causes - too many - and while we manage a considerable sum of money, €486 million this year, there are many more demands than we can reasonably meet. In part, the question of who we fund is answered by the priorities set in One World, One Future which no doubt members of the committee have seen. The document which was published in May 2013 sets out Ireland's policy on international development. It sets out three goals, namely, reduced hunger and stronger resilience, sustainable development and inclusive economic growth, and better governance, human rights and accountability. It also sets out six priority areas for action, namely, global hunger, fragile states, climate change and development, trade and economic growth, essential services; and human rights and accountability. Nothing stays still. As Mr. Niall Burgess mentioned, the work of the committee is timely in helping to set the agenda as we move forward. We have had the sustainable development goals which now inform our work and on which we need to build, as well as an increasingly complex set of emergencies, famines and other challenges which require an immediate response.
Irish Aid is organised along a number of pillars which support the achievement of the overarching goals mentioned. In part, our funding follows these pillars. Perhaps the most familiar to many is the humanitarian pillar - Ireland's response to emerging catastrophes such as famine or the recent hurricanes. It is also where we respond to complex situations such as refugee flows or to mitigate the effects of conflict. Funding is channelled through multinational actors such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent or the UN Central Emergency Response Fund. This allows Ireland to pool its resources with others for maximum impact.
Ireland works with non-governmental organisations, NGOs, both Irish and international. Our key partner countries also have humanitarian lines in their budgets which give good intelligence on how best to respond where crises have a regional dimension such as in the Horn of Africa. As Mr. Niall Burgess mentioned, Ireland has eight key partner countries, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierre Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Vietnam in Asia. In addition, we work closely with a number of other countries. I mention Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe, in particular. The work we do in these countries is focused on the achievement of measurable results which are reported on quarterly. The annual report of Irish Aid which was published last week is a distillation of that reporting process. The countries in which we work are mostly the least developed, but they all share an essential fragility which goes beyond the technical term "least development states". Attention is paid to ensure the work done in our partner countries is effective and efficient as it reduces poverty and that appropriate attention is paid to the prudent and effective management of Irish taxpayers' resources.
Our presence on the ground is important in feeding back to the other pillars of our work to ensure that, for example, our support for multilateral agencies, including the European Union and the United Nations, is targeted most effectively. It also means that Ireland has an informed voice when speaking at multilateral fora, drawing from our experience and being able to bring forward and propose solutions to common problems. This enables us to maximise our impact in partner countries in developing regional perspectives and also to contribute to the fine-tuning of the international response to emerging crises.
Civil society organisations play an important role in development. Ireland is home to many excellent organisations, some of which are household names, while others quietly do life-changing work. In recognition of this, Irish Aid funds a number of larger organisations on a multi-annual basis and others on an annual basis to achieve a set of agreed goals. Their experiences also enrich feedback and our own analyses and, importantly, help to spread Ireland's global footprint and open doors for other Irish development partners. Our missionaries, although much reduced in number, also play their part. NGOs frequently have a privileged space for advocacy which is important in helping to transform governance scenarios in countries in which we work.
It is also important that we inform the public about our development programme as we depend on their support. It is their taxes which pay for Irish Aid. This hearing is an important part of that feedback to taxpayers, as is, for example, Africa Day and the Department's development education programme.
Underpinning these output pillars is a strong team - some of my colleagues are present - with a focus on policy development and being in tune with international best practice. There is a learning culture within Irish Aid which uses a valuation and review process, as well as international research, to try to ensure our programmes are the best they can be. Increasingly, too, Irish Aid is able to dip into and learn from good practice across the Civil Service and the public service. Mr. Niall Burgess mentioned the co-operation with the HSE in health system strengthening. I also mention, for example, the work Teagasc is doing with Irish Aid to help agricultural research in a number of our key partner countries, which is an exciting new development.
Given our history which includes famine and migration, many Irish people have an instinctive understanding of why the international solidarity Irish Aid encapsulates is important. We are a generous people. However, it is also important to say we are not foolishly altruistic. We have our own self-interest. The Ebola crisis, for example, was a reminder of the need for functioning public health systems on our neighbouring continent. Ireland was able to respond quickly and effectively and make a significant contribution to stemming the flow of that terrible disease. That was important for the people of Sierre Leone, but it is also important to say it was important for us. As we look forward - the continent of Africa will experience a demographic bulge in the next 50 years - it is in our own interests to ensure this will become a demographic dividend, that it will be a continent on which the youth will be educated to take up the sustainable jobs that will be created in societies, that will be resilient in dealing with the climate challenges ahead, in a world where the promise of the sustainable development goals will be achieved. This is not something Ireland can deliver by itself, but it is something on which African countries should be and are taking the lead. However, Irish Aid, as part of our wider foreign policy and working with others, can help to progress its vision.
I thank Mr. de Búrca for his presentation. I remind members that the meeting is totally focused on the work of Irish Aid and that no other matters relevant to the Department are to be raised.
With regard to Mr. de Búrca's comments on the work of Teagasc and the knowledge transfer, have efforts been made to engage many of the major Irish agrifood companies that today, thankfully, are international corporations? That part of the economy has been internationalised in a major way. If we could get some of these major international companies which have been remarkably successful and which were indigenous Irish companies involved, with Teagasc, in knowledge transfer of using sustainable methods of food production, it could be extremely beneficial. It would involve the use of a very slight amount of their budgets.
Regarding migration, we have had numerous groups appear before the committee who are working in the most difficult of areas. I refer to NGOs, in particular, which are trying to help people who have been displaced. The figure of 65 million people who are displaced throughout the world is shocking. Is any of Irish Aid's work aimed at addressing the root causes of the problem, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa?
A number of the us met Mr. Jamie Drummond from the organisation ONE. He spoke about the potential for transformation in the areas of the digital economy and date and said his organisation would strongly argue that there was the potential to transfer assistance and support using financial services and the digital economy. Perhaps that is one area that might be explored. That work is in its early days, but is it an issue that is being considered by Irish Aid?
Ta fáilte romhaibh go leir. It has been a sad week following the shooting in Las Vegas and the death of Mr. Liam Cosgrave. Yesterday we met a member of the Rohingya community who was living in Ireland and wanted to know about our involvement in that particular issue.
I wish Mr. Ruairí de Búrca well in his new post. There is no doubt that Ireland's reputation in this area is second to none. It comes from the work of Irish missionaries, on which Irish Aid is building, as well as the role played by our ambassadors. There is no doubt that Irish Aid is meeting demands, but as it meets demands, there is an increasing need.
It was very good to see in the report of Irish Aid which was launched last week a breakdown of its funding of €486.6 million and read about the difference it was making, but there are questions about our share of the European Development Fund, on which the position is not clear. We have been asking questions about where exactly it goes.
Mr. Burgess mentioned lasting solutions with governments. We know how vital that is. We certainly saw some good practices when we were in Nairobi where a particular group is working with the government. The government is providing the funding for the medication and the group is working with the women who need the medication.
A group from Malawi appeared before the committee last week and we were talking about the group's relationship with the committees and how Irish Aid comes before us. That is not the norm in many African countries but it did happen in Malawi. Will such an approach be pursued? In order to work with a government it has to know what a group is doing. Irish Aid going before committees and talking about what it is doing would be very useful. Will Irish Aid try to support that approach more?
I will come back to coherence of policy again. I know it is important to Irish Aid but the question is whether we are making progress on that. We know the aid that is going out is making a difference. That is great because our aid is untied but I am sure there are increasing demands on that. When we trade, we are continuing our human rights agenda with workers' rights. We are still waiting on the report on business and human rights. That brings in the whole area of tax in terms of ensuring tax justice. We must also ensure that what we are doing - or not doing - with climate change is not impacting. The issue of policy coherence is hugely significant.
As for population growth, a report will be launched in another week or two with the latest figures. While I know how difficult it is in some countries to talk about family planning, it is vital. We see an increasing number of child brides. At the end of the report there was a reference to the fellowship programmes. How are people chosen to take part in them?
Mr. Niall Burgess:
I will start but Mr. de Búrca and I might respond to the questions between us. In response to the question on migration and the 65 million displaced people and the root causes, the complex humanitarian crises we are facing now in the wider Middle East, Yemen, the Horn of Africa, the Lake Chad Basin, north-east Nigeria and even a new fragility around climate and food security in southern Africa are the drivers of displacement but that has become a very significant theme and a pull of funds from Irish Aid. Our total humanitarian assistance is close to €200 million, which is a sizeable percentage of our total aid.
I will make two points on the root causes and how we address them. The first is that the sustainable development goals give us a remarkably comprehensive framework for trying to think about the root causes and the linkage between the causes and the symptoms, which we did not have before. The goals give us a framework to think about how Irish Aid is delivered but in some of the areas I mentioned, in particular in the Horn of Africa, we have a major humanitarian crisis in countries where we also have very significant long-term development programmes, for example, in Uganda and Ethiopia. We have an embassy now in Kenya, which we did not have a number of years ago. We have programmes just across the borders from some of those countries, some of them directly delivered and some through agencies. One of the issues for us in thinking about the future of the programme is how our long-term programmes in those countries can best contribute to the drivers of migration.
One of the things that struck me when I joined the Department is that it was against the backdrop of the famine in Ethiopia, which was the largest humanitarian crisis I had seen in my lifetime. Those were images that drove a lot of people into working with humanitarian agencies and into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as well. When I took up this job one of the first visits I made was to go to Ethiopia to look at the work of Irish Aid, in particular in northern Ethiopia. It gives one great pride to see some of the work that we did a couple of decades ago in Ethiopia, experimental work around water management in Tigre, which was then picked up by the Ethiopian Government and mainstreamed across its policies in northern Ethiopia. When one looks at fragility in the region now one can see there is a resilience in that area which was once one of the most vulnerable areas, for reasons in which we can take some considerable pride. It does show that there is a very real connection between what is being done in development programmes today and the kind of humanitarian issues one may or may not have to face in five years' time or a decade hence.
On the Rohingya, obviously most of the displaced Rohingya are in Bangladesh and our own reach in that part of the world is limited enough, and yet the partnerships we have developed with other agencies give us a reach beyond what might be expected. For example, we are a very significant core donor to the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, and to the federation of Red Cross societies. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, met the president of the Red Cross in New York a couple of weeks ago. We have a very deep dialogue and trusting partnership with the Red Cross, which is to the foreground of the relief effort in that region. We have given specific funding to one partner, I think it is Christian Aid-----
Mr. Niall Burgess:
-----and we are examining other partners we could work with in that region. We have an aid programme in Vietnam and as we scale it down we have been scaling up our practical aid activities in the region but also in Myanmar. We have a newly opened embassy in Bangkok with Brendan Rogers, former head of Irish Aid, who is accredited to Myanmar. He is regularly on the ground there and is giving us an understanding of the situation that can help to direct our efforts as well. When one looks at it in totality it is an indication of how Irish Aid has a reach that goes far beyond our bilateral country programmes and is capable of reaching what would otherwise seem rather difficult areas for us to reach. We are still in the early stages of a crisis that is going to be protracted and shows no signs of immediate or short-term resolution.
On Malawi, I was very interested to hear what Deputy O'Sullivan had to say. I was there a few months ago and I was impressed at the work which the embassy has been doing to try to work with the Government in Malawi around issues of governance, even in areas which are unusual for us, for example, with the judiciary and the legal system. The embassy has helped to build links between the judiciary and our own legal system here. Those are not particularly expensive programmes. They do not demand very significant resources but they demand a lot of thought, effort and some creativity as well in trying to find connections that can be valuable and enduring and yet they can have an impact beyond the resources that are put in. There is certainly scope for looking at what we do and our own systems for accountability and transparency in Irish Aid and seeing how we can engage some of our partner governments more closely. That is an area for future development.
On the question of coherence, that is an area we have to continuously look at and there are several dimensions to it. There is obviously the coherence with our own multiple activities. As I said in my opening remarks, the work we do in support of development is a whole-of-Government effort and that is not simply the non-foreign affairs and trade part of ODA that runs through other Departments, it is the entire Government footprint.
We have been talking about Ireland's footprint across the globe and the way that footprint makes an impact is obviously an issue to which we need to give thought. We have been doing a lot of work in Irish Aid on building economic links. This goes to the point made about how the food industry can play a positive role in research and the transfer of skills. We have been doing a lot of work through, for example, the Africa Ireland Economic Forum on bringing different players together to see how they can co-operate, fundamentally around these goals that are now the centrepiece of Irish Government policy, in ways that are mutually reinforcing.
I will ask one of my colleagues to speak in detail on the fellowship programme and how the fellows are selected and allocated. In looking at the future development of our programme, there is tremendous potential in the area of fellowships. It goes to the point about how we can enrich thinking in some of our partner countries on some of what we do well so people can bring those skills back to their own countries. I have been struck by what is happening in Vietnam in particular - where, perhaps, our fellowship programme is more developed than in other areas - and the fact that the networks we have built through our fellowship programmes have given us real traction with the government there on the further development and evolution of Vietnam. This was very evident during the President's state visit to Vietnam last year. I have left out some issues and I will pass them to my colleagues.
Mr. Ruairí de Búrca:
I will pick up from where Mr. Burgess left off. I will go back to the Chair's question on agribusiness. His point was very well made. There is a resonance between the transformation in Irish agriculture and agribusiness over the past 50 years and the journey which many of our key partner countries in Africa have yet to travel. They are trying to move up the value chain from smallholdings, and often subsistence, which requires a lot of work to get scale. In some instances, we have tried to introduce key opinion makers to the concept of the co-op, which was one of the ways in which we took the smallholder model here and enabled scale and, very importantly, local ownership to be maintained. There is an attractiveness around this model. There has been a series of visits to some of the Irish agribusiness companies. For reasons of climate, the areas where we are strongest, which are often in dairy, do not always translate to an African context. This is good for Irish business because we are not in competition, but it means we must be careful to ensure when we do this type of twinning that we try to match what we can give to what the partnerships need.
Approximately three years ago, we launched a small innovation fund to encourage Irish businesses to look at opportunities with African partners in Africa. An example is a nutrition company called Devenish, which used the fund to get a footprint in Uganda and worked with Ugandan producers to improve the nutrition and some of the seed technology available and bring them up the value chain. This has proved quite successful, such that Devenish is trying to replicate it, without Irish Aid assistance, in Kenya.
On the technology point, an interesting piece of Irish technology tells when a cow is about to go into labour. This means that the farmer knows he or she needs to get the vet, or whatever needs to be done. I am not an agricultural expert.
Mr. Ruairí de Búrca:
That technology is coming in. Anything that reduces the cost to farmers is very valuable. Clearly there is more we can do and we are open to this. We are in good conversations with a number of Irish agribusiness concerns. We are also very much involved in conversations with ministries of agriculture and others in the countries where we work to ensure that what we do meets their needs.
Another example from agriculture, which I know personally, is that Fyffes was giving free advice to the Government of Mozambique. Mozambique has a potential comparative advantage in banana production but does not have the logistics chain ready. Fyffes has been giving it advice on how to get the cold chain logistics up to scratch in order that its bananas can be sold on the international market. Fyffes is also advising on how to get the phytosanitary aspect correct so that Mozambique can avoid some of the banana diseases getting into the broader chain.
Some of this is also linked to the question of data, on which I touched briefly. There is an opportunity for countries that did not necessarily go through an analogue industrial revolution to leapfrog and move to digital, and we want to be part of this. We have taken a few initiatives so far. This is something on which we can build. The current Estonian Presidency of the European Union has been trying to drive its digital for development agenda, and this will also bring broader attention and resources to it.
From trying to get our children to programme our televisions, we all know that there is a youth dimension to the adoption of new technologies. It is very interesting to watch the widespread adoption of digital telephones, or smartphones, in Africa, which are transforming how people communicate. There is also quite an amount of app development in Africa. The Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, will go to Tanzania in ten days to attend the launch of Africa coding week. This is a partnership between Ireland and SAP that tries to get children in Africa to develop coding skills. It is interesting that it is in Tanzania this year. Last year, it was launched in Uganda, and both are Irish key partner countries. A few years ago we launched a young scientists competition in Tanzania, which has now gone to Kenya. It is not just about looking at digital in terms of developing an app but putting value on the STEM subjects, which are something we know here, and giving children in other parts of the world the same types of opportunities we have ourselves. This digital for development concept, which is about coding skills and giving children access to what could be used for small business, is being rolled out this year in some refugee camps in Jordan. It is not just children in somewhat settled environments but those who have gone through the trauma of moving, in a refugee context, who are being given access to this.
Irish Aid has supported pilots for mobile banking in Malawi and Ethiopia. We have also trialled information systems in Tanzania and Malawi to get market information to farmers. There is more we can do as the technology advances and as mobile phone telephony becomes more widespread. There is somewhat of a concern because some of data suggests that low-income families sometimes will put money into keeping the telephone fed rather than feeding the children, so we need to be careful to make sure that by putting an emphasis on development we do not actually lose some of the emphasis on some of the other stuff, such as nutrition, which are also important. Clearly, in places that are not necessarily well-connected as regards roads, it is important.
I mentioned education, and to pick up Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's point on family planning and opportunities the data shows there is a clear correlation between access to education and the date of first birth. In many countries, girls give birth way too young. In many of our key partner countries, we work with education ministries to look at keeping girls in school for as long as possible and to ensure that when they leave school, there are economic opportunities available to them. This has to be a key part of any strategy.
We have done work with gender Ministries to identify the cultural drivers. Sometimes there are deep cultural drivers that differ in various parts of the country also. There is no one size fits all solution. It is not that we, as foreigners, come in and say, "Change your culture". When we work with local ministries, who work with local thought leaders and with traditional leaders, over time we can help to create a context where some of those cultural drivers can begin to change. We are sensitive to that but we have to do it in a way that respects the local cultural norms, etc.
There are elements around health system strengthening that are also important. Part of it is about making sure that there are attended births. There are still very high maternal death rates in many of the countries where we work. This is directly linked to a lack of access to trained birth attendants. There are often fears about going into the conventional medical systems because the learnt experience is that if a person is about to die, and if he or she goes there and dies there people think that scientific medicine kills. We need to think about innovative ways to encourage women to get into those systems. Ironically, some of the work we have done on HIV has been very important in health system strengthening and in getting young women who might be at risk to get into the conventional medicine system. Some of the logistic chains we have helped to build in order to get anti-retroviral drugs out - for example in Mozambique - are the same logistic chains that are used for the distribution of contraception and so on. This is not something we do on our own, we have to work with others in partnerships. In rolling out the programmes we work with UN partners, including the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, the UN Women and The Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, as well as other bodies, health and education ministries and donors. In many ways this is a job of a generation. The statistics show that things are beginning to change and we can take some credit for that.
Deputy O'Sullivan spoke of trade and human rights. I am told that the Department's human rights and trade documents will be available in the next few weeks. I do not want to get ahead of these, but hopefully it will give some comfort in that regard. One of the consequences of having embassies on the ground in Africa is that is gives us an opportunity to perform an ethics check on what Irish business does. It also gives us an opportunity to advise on the local cultural context within which people work, to make sure that business in pursuit of its legitimate profit motivation does no harm or does least harm in that process. To be fair, most of the businesses that I have been engaged with are very responsible and try to build good corporate social responsibility elements in to their work in Africa. There are cases where businesses have come to embassies to look at who they might partner with to design the most culturally and geographically specific approaches to the process.
I am sure there is more that could be done but we are trying to do our best to provide a resource to that. This is where we, as an organisation, need to do more learning also. I would not say that we have this one sorted. We are up for it and we are trying, as are more Irish businesses, to look to a growing Continent as a source of trade and investment. Different responsibilities go with trade and investment, and in the kind of things people invest in.
I thank Mr. de Búrca. I will go back to some of the members. There are, unfortunately, time constraints. I will take three members - Senator Daly, Deputy Crowe and then Senator Bacik. I will then come back to the witnesses.
I thank the representatives from Irish Aid for the detailed presentation. Deputy O'Sullivan spoke on the issue of the UN and the EU and how much of our overseas aid budget actually goes directly to them. The issue is really over the control. Members often receive memos about aid programmes that Ireland has signed up for under the EU. We hand over the cheque and Ireland's control of the funding dissipates. Clearly there is an advantage to having scale and in Ireland partnering with organisations such as Trócaire and Concern. During the time of the austerity budgets, however, Ireland was so committed and tied in to giving X amount of money to different EU programmes that the actual amount of money over which Ireland had discretion dropped substantially. The figure at one stage was some 46% of all our overseas aid budget being sent to the EU. Between the UN budget and the EU budget where is that figure at and how much is left? I believe the Secretary General spoke of two thirds, which is €486 million, as the figure over which Ireland had discretion. I would like to clarify that.
I will now turn to the issue of fraud. Given the circumstances under which Ireland works in partnering with developing countries and their systems there is always the risk and likelihood of fraud. How much of Ireland's budget gets lost in fraud? It is a risk and an outcome we are all well aware of as likely to happen. On an annual basis, how much do we lose to that in hard figure terms?
I thank Mr. de Búrca for answering the question on trade and human rights. A concern was raised at this committee numerous times relating to the Colombian trade agreement. While there is a human rights mechanism also in the trade agreement with the EU and Israel, there is no way of actually triggering that mechanism that we can see. What does a country have to do to lose its trade agreements with the EU or lose its aid from the EU? Apparently there is no enforcement of the mechanism, and that keeps happening especially in the area of trade where for every $1 of aid, $3 is lost to African and developing countries through the trade practices of the EU, the United States of America and others.
Mr. de Búrca made reference to consulates, embassies and the footprint around Africa, which I welcome. The Taoiseach has also spoken about expanding Ireland's consulates. Ireland's consulate network is part of this committee's work programme. I had engagement with the Secretary General and with our consulate section where we looked at how consulates and honorary consulates are appointed. We discussed the issue of the United States of America and Canada. Given the Taoiseach's announcement of increasing Ireland's footprint in this regard, could the Department come back to the committee with the plan for which countries are being decided? I do not want to know how it is decided, just which countries will have honorary consulates over the next ten years, even though they may not happen. I know of the process where the ambassador tells the Secretary General that they need someone in their region. Without a plan, that approach is too ad hocfor the vision that I am sure the Department has in the context of where we need people now, in places we did not have them before. This has been on the work programme for as long as I have been here, but it will remain. With regard to the Taoiseach's announcement, we would like to see from the Department the plan for where the consulates are going to be placed. I came across an example recently-----
There is an issue in Germany where we have four consulates and there are some 16,000 Irish citizens there. Compared to other regions there is no balance. I am on the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, as is the Chairman, and we would hope the witnesses would come before that committee because we have had a number of issues. We are the implementation committee and we have asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade a number of times about what is left to be implemented. The officials have sent us the Fresh Start agreement but-----
Just slightly. The Department, however, cannot tell us. On the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement next year we, as the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, would like to be able to say to people what is left to be implemented in the same manner as the Fresh Start agreement. We have not been able to get information from the Department officials in relation to what is left to be implemented of the Good Friday Agreement. Maybe next year we would work on that.
I am very supportive of the transformative and life-saving work in which Irish Aid is involved. If any message goes out from this committee today it should be that aid does work. The biggest danger is apathy, ignorance and people believing that no matter how much money is pumped into these areas, in terms of outcomes, it still comes back to the problems of famine and so on. It is vital that we continue to reinforce that message, particularly to taxpayers who are paying a considerable amount of money.
The biggest concern I would have is about our lack of understanding of where the money is being spent and our lack of oversight and scrutiny of many of the programmes. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked about the European Development Fund, EDF. That is one of the areas about which we would have a concern. I would like to hear some suggestions as to how this committee can improve oversight of that. We need to be confident enough to be able to sell the idea of the work Irish Aid is doing abroad to our constituents and to those who are opposed to the idea. There has been widespread party and non-party support for it in the House. Now and then, someone will make the argument that we should be spending the money on people at home such as the homeless, people who go to go bed hungry and so on. We need to have that confidence and examine ways to have that oversight.
In terms of the current system, the Minister might come before the committee every so often. At budget time, we go through the figures and have a discussion on them. I do not know if my colleagues share this view but that does not give us a sense of the position.
I am also conscious that fewer politicians travel to see many of the programmes. There is no political benefit as such for people who travel. They get it in the neck from journalists and others back home who say that they stay in such and such a hotel. It is important that all of us who are supportive of the idea of overseas development aid, ODA, are on the same page on it.
On the EDF, Ireland provides a significant amount of EDF funding. It represents 5% of overall ODA funding. It does not have to be today but we need to consider providing information on the areas where EDF is spent, how it is allocated and what it is spent on. Considering it is funded by all EU members, how are decisions on spending made? What influence does Ireland have in that process?
In terms of ODA, there appears to be a shift from bilateral spending to multilateral spending. I understand that 47% of our ODA is multilateral funding. I understand also that in times of humanitarian crises, basket funding is needed to tackle major health issues. The witness mentioned Ebola, malaria, HIV, AIDS and so on but is the bilateral element being downgraded? If that is the case, the witnesses might explain the reason. A number of the partner countries speak positively about our bilateral programmes because of the partnership approach we use, but it is no longer mentioned as frequently.
There seems to be a trend towards a reduction in aid to the least developed countries, LDCs. Ireland's contribution to LDCs is below the United Nations target of 0.15% of gross national income, GNI, in 2016. Given that people are still suffering from extreme poverty in those countries, how is Irish Aid working to address that?
The global footprint was touched on by other speakers. Libya was raised as an issue, and it is related to ODA. The reports in that regard are disturbing. The committee met representatives of Médecins sans Frontières, doctors without borders, during the week and heard about human rights abuses and so on. The witnesses are aware of people's concerns in that regard including people being returned to the Libyan coast guard and detention centres. Last year, Ireland provided €600,000 to the EU Africa trust fund for migration. I am not sure how that money is spent or on what it is spent. Does anyone go to Libya? Do we have any involvement in Libya?
In regard to Turkey, according to the Irish Aid Annual Report 2016, €5 million was allocated to the European Commission Turkey refugee facility. Again, I have no idea what that is spent on or if any other members know that. I have spoken out repeatedly in the Chamber, and in this body, about the refugee deal with Turkey, which is described as a country of safe origin. That could not be further from the truth in view of what is going on, but what is the money spent on there?
My last question is on the way this committee can improve the oversight. Reference was made at the outset to the members of the African diaspora, and probably members of diasporas who were involved in other countries. Is there a way of tying in that experience with the ODA work? People are on the telephone all the time and information goes back and forth but there is no structure in that regard. Similarly, in terms of those Deputies and Senators who travel to see the programmes, there is no formal structure for them to report back on their experiences. A report is given but there is no engagement or formal interaction with the witnesses. Would the witnesses see that as a positive way to move on matters? That is not a criticism but in terms of their impressions and so on, that is important. It would mean that the Deputy, the Senator or people who are going on those trips would feel that the work they are doing is being acknowledged but also that there is some feedback or communication between them and the witnesses.
I thank the witnesses for their attendance and for the impressive presentation. I join with others in commending them on the positive work being done by Irish Aid. It is very good to hear about the developments that are going on, the commitment to untied aid in particular and the acknowledgement of links with climate change and development. It is welcome also to hear an update on the kind of work that is being done in terms of digital development. I have some familiarity with the work of Camara, a great small Irish organisation that is doing a lot on that front.
I have three specific questions. The first is on the 0.7% target of spending on ODA. Do the witnesses see us reaching that target by 2025? I have met with Dochas, the association of international development NGOs here, and I am aware it has briefed many of us on the committee. It has made a budget submission looking for a multi-annual plan at Government level setting out how we can reach that target and committing again to reaching it. Has there been progress on that and will we see that next week in particular?
The second question is a related one in terms of the issue of multi-annual spend. I recently spoke at a gathering of fund-raisers for development NGOs under the Ask Direct umbrella and I heard from them their understandable frustration at the requirement by many people who donate. That would include organisations like Irish Aid, which is working through partner NGOs. They were frustrated about the quarterly measurable results. Everyone understands we have to have quarterly measurable results but the witnesses, particularly Mr. de Búrca, alluded to the fact that many development programmes now are slow burn, for example, when we are spending on judiciary programmes, which Trinity law school has a history of running, in some African countries like Tanzania, which I have visited with our programme, and South Africa.
These are slow-burn programmes and they are very important to developing the rule of law and governance in countries like Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana, where I have also been. There is not a very immediate and tangible result, which can be difficult for organisations. How could that be addressed? The witnesses indicated the funding method is about funding a number of organisations on a multi-annual basis and others on an annual basis to reach a set of agreed goals. How is that squared with the longer term development programmes where we are trying to achieve sustainable development? Ethiopia is another good example, and we heard about water management systems put in place at the time of the famine. These are slower burning programmes but very important in terms of famine prevention and prevention of humanitarian crises. I wonder how Irish Aid can manage that challenge and how we can assist as a committee in supporting that work. I see it as important to move towards greater multi-annual planning.
How does Irish Aid manage relationships with partner organisations here, particularly where there are governance issues? For example, we know there is a planned merger being spoken about between two agencies here. How is this managed when Irish Aid is linking with organisations working directly in developing countries?
I have a follow-up on the Libyan matter, which was raised by Deputy Crowe. I met representatives of Médecins sans Frontières and I know they raised directly with us the appalling conditions experienced by people being held in detention centres in Libya. I know they are seeking a meeting with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, about that. I express support for that as it is very important for us to see what we can do from an Irish Government perspective and from within the European Union to try to address those conditions. There are many concerns in particular about a lack of oversight of the detention centres that are seemingly being run on a very ad hocbasis by private entities and individuals in Libya. That is where the abuses are ongoing.
Mr. Niall Burgess:
I will keep my responses very short and pass very quickly to Mr. de Búrca. Senator Daly mentioned the question of bilateral and multilateral funding, as well as the matter of control. It was mentioned by others as well. It is an issue. The figure for our total overseas development aid, ODA, channelled through multilateral organisations - the EU and United Nations, mostly - is approximately 40%. There has not been a reduction or diminution in our bilateral aid programmes, country programmes and strategic partnerships we developed.
On the question of control, we put many resources, effort and time into influencing our multilateral partners. We are very much across the governance of the European Development Fund, EDF, and Mr. de Búrca could speak to that a little more. It is quite a large part of the work of our permanent representation in Brussels. We work very closely with like-minded partners within the EU. People speak of alliance building within the European Union and we have built alliances with other partners in the European Union around the shaping of dispersals through the EDF. We put some effort into being on the governance bodies of some of our organisations, and we are on the governing body of the World Food Programme now and moving into the governing body of OCHA, the UN co-ordinator for humanitarian affairs. I could give other examples as well. We see that as a fundamental part of the work we do equal in importance to our management of our bilateral programmes.
On the matter of fraud, in 2016 suspected frauds amounted to just under 0.3% of the overall programme and approximately half that money was recovered. Although some of it is categorised as fraud, in reality in some cases we were deal with the likes of theft of stock from a warehouse, for example, where recovery would not be possible. As the pull towards humanitarian crises and working in what are essentially failed states increases, the risk of fraud increases as well. The efforts we must put into understanding those risks and mitigating them as best we can while accepting we can never completely exclude them is an increasing part of our work and the time we put into the aid programme at senior management level.
The only point I should make about Ireland's footprint overseas is that it is not just about missions, embassies and consulates. ODA is also a very important part of our footprint overseas and our diaspora and culture are also part of our overseas footprint. It is important to think about it in the round in those terms. In any discussion about footprint we would speak about development activities, including through multilateral organisations, as an important part of Ireland's footprint.
I might skip the Good Friday Agreement but Deputy Crowe mentioned the matter of control. I have dealt with that. The concept of selling Irish Aid to constituents was mentioned and I could not agree with the idea more. Mr. de Búrca mentioned we must continuously think about how we are communicating what we do. We believe we have a fantastic story to tell and Irish Aid is a great story but getting that out is something we must think about continuously. We feel we can always do more in that regard.
There were questions about Libya and the EU Africa trust fund. We are very heavily invested in the discussions at EU level both on assistance and support in Libya and the associated political dimensions but our bilateral reach is limited. We are accredited to Libya from our embassy in Rome. There are some cases where one must say we simply operating at a distance. That is the case even in terms of the humanitarian assistance for the crisis around the wider Middle East. We are accredited to Lebanon and Jordan from our embassy in Cairo, which has a very heavy workload on its hands. Getting back to the point about control, we have been placing development and humanitarian specialists in embassies close to these humanitarian crises. For example, we have put a humanitarian specialist into our embassy at Ankara whose brief is to engage full-time with the agencies dealing with that crisis.
We have dealt with the matter of communication. There was mention of the target of 0.7% of gross national income, GNI, and there are large Government policy decisions at stake in this regard. If we were to reach 0.7% of GNI by 2030, our overall aid programme, on current projected growth rates, would be approximately €2.5 billion. That would require an increase of approximately €150 million per year between now and then. That is the scale we are looking at with a growing economy. What we consider as we project growth are matters of oversight, good governance and control around the aid programme. In terms of the recent trajectory of funding, our assistance has been growing, albeit at modest levels. A great deal of the work we have put into Irish Aid over the past number of years has been around managing its reduction, although it was a modest enough reduction. It was also about considering matters of efficiency as we reduced as well, so as to ensure impact would have been maximised even in years when the funding was reduced.
There was a question about measurable results and short-term versus long-term goals. Mr. de Búrca has been dealing with this very closely in the field. As I am conscious of the time I will hand over some of the matters to him now.
Mr. Ruairí de Búrca:
I will pick up one point on the 0.7% of GNI goal. Taking a pause from growth over the past few years has allowed us to develop our internal systems, leaving us ready to grow when the financial or budgetary position allows a different kind of scenario. That was probably no harm.
In regard to the question on results and frustrations, many in Irish Aid are frustrated by having to report quarterly and that is a dilemma. The Senator is correct that development is long term. At the same time, we need to show that people are working and it is a question of proportionality.
Mr. Ruairí de Búrca:
Nobody ever says that they are under-reporting. It is about good communication and we perhaps need to double check that what we ask of organisations is proportionate to the amount of money we give them. If a higher level of money is given or if it is over a multi-annual period, one needs a higher degree of oversight. Quarterly reporting is an important part of risk management in terms of financial probity and so on, which is needed, and also if something is not working one wants to be able to understand that as early as possible so the money can be used for something else. There is never a guarantee that what one starts will deliver what one wants. One needs to find a balance and that is more art than science. It is about communication.
Deputy Crowe's point about feedback in the context of communication and how we can better relate to Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas is well made. Several Deputies were recently in Uganda and we have resolved to meet them to get their feedback and impressions. There has already been correspondence in that regard. That should be done on a more institutional basis in the future. We do not always know when people go because they can also do so on a private basis. We are open to being contacted and told that a person has something he or she wants to tell us. It is a two-way conversation. The Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa, AWEPA, which is part of our relationship with Members of the Oireachtas, is also important in that regard.
There were several questions from Deputy Crowe and Deputy O'Sullivan about the European Development Fund, EDF, and how we engage with it. In part, it goes through the normal EU decision-making processes whereby there is a proposal from the European Commission that goes through various committees on which Irish civil servants are represented and is finally technically signed off by Ministers. The trick is to get in there before the European Commission makes its proposals. We use our embassy network in the countries in which we are most engaged in Africa to ensure we are talking to people very far up the food chain in the European Commission to make sure the propositions that come through are ones we can support and endorse down the line. That also means we have a mechanism on the ground to track what is happening. We do not have a presence everywhere in the world and there are different priorities in different areas. For example, if the European Commission comes up with a proposal for using the EDF in Latin America, our ability to influence that is reduced because we have a lesser diplomatic footprint and assistance budget for that area.
The broad precept or strategy is set out in a 20-year agreement called the Cotonou Agreement wherein the EU agreed broad terms of engagement with African, Caribbean and Pacific states. The current agreement expires in 2020 and next year a new set of negotiations between the EU and those countries will begin, which is an opportunity for a reset or a rethink on whether we are doing the right thing. We are beginning to think about how we can endeavour to get it right. Although it has not been discussed in any great depth or with the Minister, we would like a continued focus on the least developed countries and Africa in particular. Brexit may affect the balance of how that works and we must be aware of that. Classic EU governance structures such as the Court of Auditors and so on are involved. There is a relationship between the Court of Auditors and our own audit, etc. There is a lot to this area and I can come back to the Deputies in writing if they wish because I do not want to take up too much of the committee's time. We are aware of the issue and we accept the premise and so on.
A broader issue raised is that we currently give quite a lot of money to multilateral organisations but it is not one cheque. Some of the money we give to multilateral institutions is at local level. For example, we might give money to UNICEF in one of our key partner countries to deliver something such as an education process or social protection programmes etc. for young mothers, and that organisation is subject to the normal local oversight rules we would have with any partner. There is a variable geometry in how we engage with multilateral organisations and we are very conscious of having to ensure we can stand over the money we spend. If members have a question about any particular partnership, we can come back to them on that.
I offer my sympathies to the Cosgrave family on the death of the former Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave. He was a great statesman.
I thank Mr. Burgess for a very comprehensive report. I am very proud that we play such a role in humanitarian aid and aid worldwide. We are an example to many other countries. Do we have a policy in regard to the recent hurricane and destruction in Puerto Rico? Has there been a consideration of aid being sent there?
I do not want to repeat points that have already been made. One of the most successful aspects of Irish Government is its involvement in Irish Aid. It is very sad that no member of the media has thought it worthwhile to come to the meeting to listen to what is being done abroad and to report on it. All that is ever reported is how we are doing in terms of the 0.7% of GNI goal but there are no questions about how the money is being spent or who knows what it is being spent on. The witnesses should make a video on the role and work of Irish Aid and tell the world and the people of Ireland what it does, where it does it and that it is not all about money but is about its role and involvement in different organisations and different parts of the world. I am very serious when I say that because there is a total ignorance of those matters. It is all about pounds, shillings and pence and nothing to do with the things we have heard of this morning, which is a terrible shame. One thing I hope will come out of the meeting is for the witnesses to take up my suggestion as it would be very worthwhile.
The first people to get the video should be the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas so that they would all be fully aware of the extent and role of Irish Aid and its involvement throughout the world. This is not just about money, it is about people and their work. One could put 20 people into a place where one good person would be equal to the 20. One can waste or spend money or dish it out just to say targets have been met. I am more interested in where money is going and the input we have in dealing with various problems around the world. Even if nothing else comes out of the meeting, I hope the witnesses will agree to make a video or similar because people need to know what is being done and they do not currently know that. I have been a Member of the Oireachtas for approximately 30 years and I did not know the extent of what Irish Aid does. I knew of the organisation and various aspects of its work but I did not know the full extent of that. One can issue press releases and so on but that is irrelevant because the media is not interested in that and is only interested in how we are doing in terms of the 0.7%.
That is it. I am more interested in what we are doing with the 0.3%, the great work that is being done and the progress that is being made.
I join in the praise for Irish Aid. It makes an extraordinary contribution to the world and Ireland's reputation overseas not just in terms of the level of aid, but also the thought that goes into how that aid is provided and Ireland's championing of untied aid. I would appreciate it if the witnesses commented on the importance of the untied aid aspect of Ireland's contribution. Other members have asked how Irish Aid ensures that these concerns are carried forward in multilateral programmes. We have heard about the work on governance, which has been positive, but there are specific concerns about the militarisation and corporate tying of aid and the danger of aid being used as leverage in immigration control agreements. How is Irish Aid working to ensure that Irish moneys are not being used in these ways and to influence that policy more broadly?
I understand that there used to be a high-level group on policy coherence. Senator Daly referred to trade and other matters. Will the witnesses give us a sense of how they engage with policy so as to ensure that our trade and other policies are not undermining the goals towards which they are working?
My final question is on the sustainable development goals, SDGs, and builds on the points that were made about communication. Given that this is an issue of universality, do the witnesses agree that this is an opportunity to reframe? The SDGs are a game changer, in that they present a chance to reframe long-term rather than short-term thinking and the connection with the Irish public, who are also affected. It is appropriate that Irish Aid works with governments on particular health programmes, etc. How does it support civil society in partner countries to engage and be empowered in terms of shaping the SDGs?
How does Irish Aid deepen its support for the large number of Irish volunteers who work in the global south and, when they return to Ireland, want to be active in issues of global justice and solidarity? I ask this in line with last year's development education strategy, which was a positive one. In the active and dynamic way described by Deputy Barrett, development education is something that all who have travelled overseas can be a part of and return to.
What are the witnesses' thoughts on these questions? I thank the Chairman for accommodating me in joining the committee today.
Before I invite Mr. Burgess and Mr. de Búrca to make their concluding remarks, I strongly endorse Deputy Barrett's comments on the need for all of us to create a better awareness. This was also referred to by Deputy Crowe. Does Irish Aid run a programme with schools involving, for example, the like of ourselves or officials speaking about Irish Aid? The green flag programme has been successful in creating awareness of the environment, not just among schoolchildren, but also among families. Perhaps there is an opportunity to have a better dissemination of information through second level schools and the third level. It would be important.
Mr. Niall Burgess:
I will ask Ms O'Connell to say a few words about the hurricane because we have been considering these issues in recent weeks.
Regarding communication, the point about videos is well taken. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has been discussing this matter with us. The people we are trying to reach, including those in schools, do not consume their information through annual reports. They consume it through 30-second and 60-second videos. We have been talking internally about re-examining our skills, including those on bilateral aid missions. Communication skills are not something that we have put on the front line of our development activities. It is not the case that the onus for determining how we can better communicate what we are doing is only on us as much as it is on others.
All of our bilateral aid is 100% untied. The OECD picked up on this point when it reviewed our aid. If we are not unique in that regard in OECD terms, then we are almost unique. That reflects on trade, in that our bilateral aid is not tied to trade, and on militarisation. On the latter point, there is discussion under way in the EU, with a Commission proposal that would essentially determine that EU funds would not be used for the procurement of military equipment.
One of the issues that we need to consider is security. The spectrum of what we do contributes to security - human security, food security and gender-based violence - all the way up to the participation of Irish volunteers in international crisis management and peace support operations. As we speak, 600 Irish people are participating on 14 missions, including in places that are dangerous and not well known, for example, Niger and Somalia. There is a story that we have yet to tell about how that spectrum of activity contributes to human security in insecure parts of the world.
Regarding the SDGs, we should take on board and reflect on the point about support for volunteers who have returned to Ireland. Once they have come home, they are a major asset and resource for our development activities.
We work closely with civil society in our country programmes. As it must be, a large element of those programmes is directed at building up civil society as an important part of the future of those societies and as a basic assurance that development activities are well run and overseen. In our foreign policy, one of our two keynote human rights policies - we are the voice for this policy in human rights fora, including most recently at the UN Human Rights Council - is on the protection of civil society space. At the UN and elsewhere multilaterally, Ireland is rightly seen as a leader on that issue.
I attend schools from time to time and am always struck by the images on the walls and the questions asked. One will not be asked about 0.7%, but one will see images of Irish peacekeepers and Irish Aid in many classrooms. Mr. de Búrca can discuss what we do in terms of development education, which has been a strand of our work for some time. In our transition year programme, for example, we bring transition year students into the Department for a week every year. A large part of what they do relates to our development programme. It is always one of the areas on which we get the most positive feedback, but there is scope to do more.
Ms O'Connell might speak briefly about the hurricane, after which Mr. de Búrca might pick up on the other issues.
Ms Emer O'Connell:
I thank Mr. Burgess. As we have indicated, we provide significant support through multilateral organisations, in particular the UN. In that context, Ireland is the fifth largest contributor to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, CERF, which provides very quick assistance when there is a spike in a particular crisis or in the event of a natural disaster, such as in the Caribbean. The CERF has recently allocated $10 million to the Caribbean crisis. Proportionately, therefore, Ireland's contribution amounts to approximately $660,000. We are considering other contributions. As has been mentioned, we provide core support to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The federation, in particular, is responding directly, working through local Red Cross partners. We are also looking at directly supporting the Irish Red Cross. We have a rapid response initiative in Irish Aid, through which we provide specialist expertise in dealing with particular emergencies. We will be deploying a member of our rapid response roster to the Caribbean humanitarian assistance officer.
Mr. Niall Burgess:
I missed one question from Deputy Seán Crowe which it is important to answer concerning diasporas. One of the things that struck me in discussions in Malawi and Ethiopia was that there was a perception in Africa that Ireland's relationship with its diaspora was quite unique and had been a very positive and strong force for economic development and growth more generally. We are asked about this. The dual mandate of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, with responsibility for development and the diaspora, gives us an opportunity to look more closely at this as an aspect of our development policy. Just as in peace building where we have been working to transfer skills and our learned experience of peace building on this island to Colombia and Mozambique, it is an area of work that can be usefully developed for the future.
Mr. Ruairí de Búrca:
Malawi has now adopted a national action plan for the diaspora which has been modelled on our own and based on contacts with our system. It also informed the decision to come here last week and look at how we managed public sector reform.
I will confine my remarks to development, education and how we tell our story because that is really important. We can always do more. When we were making tough choices in the past few years in the context of budgets, the development education budget was sacrificed in order that we could continue to put money into our key partner countries. It is something we will have to do better in the next few years.
Deputy Seán Barrett made a good point about the video. I do not know if anyone saw the RTE documentary "The Thin Green Line", but the public reaction was to our ambassador in Sierra Leone and the work she and her team had done there in response to the ebola crisis. I have been told that the feature prompted telephone calls to the Department and RTE. That shows that there is interest. We can probably use all types of media, including video, to get the story out. It is also about engagement with people. In that regard, we can build on the strategy we published last year. We have an Irish Aid visitors centre on Clonmel Street which was formerly located on O'Connell Street and people are visiting it all the time. As well as the transition year students who visit the Department, we have also developed educational resources that students use in transition year to learn about Ireland's role in development. We work with some of the teacher unions to build up the knowledge and resources available and the teacher unions twin with schools abroad. These personal experiences are really important. There is more we can do and we are open to considering any good and useful suggestions. I hope, as the budget begins to grow in the next few years, that this will be something that we can come back to and reinvest in and build the bridge back to citizens in new and innovative ways, to tell them about the good work in which they are investing and in which they should take pride. Anyone who is Irish and has travelled abroad and seen that stuff is an ambassador for the good work both Irish Aid and Irish development NGOs do more broadly. We can find ways to capture that experience and get the people concerned to go and tell others about what they have seen. People do not necessarily trust a civil servant when he or she tells them that they are doing a good job, but if somebody else can get the message across that there is good work being done, there is a great value in it.
One of the things we have tried to do is use public events to engage people. Africa Day is one of the events we organise, but we have had stands at the National Ploughing Championships also. We try to meet the taxpayer and people with skills to try to engage in dialogue. This Saturday we are organising a volunteering fair, to which people who are interested in volunteering can come and meet others who have had that experience and hear what it was like. If they are interested, they can meet others who can bring them on that journey. That is something we are doing, but I am sure we can do more. To that end, we are open to considering useful ideas.
I thank Mr. de Búrca and the Secretary General and all of his colleagues for their attendance, interaction with members and responses to the questions asked. When they review their notes, if there are issues on which they did not have a chance to respond, I would appreciate it if they would write to us and we will circulate the responses. We have a number of hearings planned on this very important subject matter between now and the end of November and will publish our report for a full debate in the Dáil and the Seanad. It is important to have a full Dáil debate on this very important issue. Again, I express sincere thanks to all of the delegates for their attendance.