Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 10 November 2022
Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Estimates for Public Services 2022
Vote 35 - Army Pensions (Revised)
Vote 27 - International Co-operation (Revised)
Vote 28 - Foreign Affairs (Revised)
Apologies have been received from the Chairman, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the Vice Chairman, Deputy Barry Cowen.
The Dáil ordered that Revised Estimates for Public Services, in respect of the following Votes, be referred to this committee for consideration. For the first part of this meeting the select committee will consider the Revised Estimates for Vote 35 - Army Pensions.
On behalf of the select committee, I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, Deputy Simon Coveney, and his officials. I also thank his officials and the Department for the briefing material provided to members of the committee.
The proposed format of the meeting is that we will begin by dealing with Vote 35 under programmes A and B. At the outset of the consideration I invite the Minister to give an overview on the Vote outlining any pressure likely to impact on his Department's performance or expenditure in terms of the Vote for the remainder of 2022. I will then open up the debate to the floor so that members of the committee can ask questions on each programme. I suggest that members ask questions on a specific programme in order that we can progress in an orderly and efficient manner.
Members are reminded 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 in any way identifiable.
Members have received briefing documents on the Revised Estimates for Vote 35 from the Department. I invite the Minister to make his opening statement on the Vote and ask members to ensure their questions are as concise as possible and with responses as well so we can move proceedings on in as timely a way as possible.
We are dealing with the Defence and Foreign Affairs Estimates today. For what it is worth, I think that the Defence Estimate is pretty straightforward. There is a relatively small number of extra pensioners that we must cater for and I will go into details in a second. The rest of the Estimate essentially accounts for the new wage agreement that has been agreed.
The Foreign Affairs Estimate is less straightforward. There is an extra €114 million. Basically we are trying to respond to things that have happened in the second half of the year with money that, fortunately, has been made available through the budget. I am in the hands of the committee in terms of how much time is spent on each Estimate.
I just wanted to make the point because I know that an hour has been allocated for each. I am in the hands of the committee if anyone wants that timeline changed.
I thank the committee for the opportunity to present for its consideration the 2022 Supplementary Estimate on the Army Pensions Vote.
The Army Pensions Vote makes provision for retired pay, pensions, allowances and gratuities payable to or in respect of members of the Defence Forces and certain dependants. The 2022 Estimate provides a gross sum of €270.65 million for the Army Pensions Vote. However, gross outturn this year is expected to be some €272.72 million, excluding Building Momentum, which leads to a gross shortfall of €2.07 million. It is also anticipated that there will be a shortfall in receipts in appropriations-in-aid of some €0.037 million. This leaves a net shortfall of €2.1 million before the impact of the extended Building Momentum agreement. The additional amount needed, excluding Building Momentum, is less than 1% of the original gross Estimate.
I also need to address the additional funding requirement for the implementation of pension increases arising under the extended Building Momentum agreement. In line with other Votes, and with the relevant Government decision on these increases, funding has been made available in 2022. The additional amount being made available is €7.224 million.
Work is under way to implement these increases. However, the Defence Forces pension scheme arrangements and payroll structures are atypical and of a complex nature. Consequently, paying out the moneys before the end of the year will be a significant challenge. Given this complexity, it may not be operationally possible to pay the entirety of these increases in the current year, and payment - or a part thereof - may slip into early 2023. That being said, however, absolutely every effort is being made to ensure payment of some level of the increase can be made before the end of the year. My Department will, of course, be communicating directly with the veteran's associations on the payment timelines.
On a combined net basis, the additional amount requested for the Vote is €9.324 million. I will now set out the position regarding the relevant subheads of the Vote. Subhead A2 is the largest subhead of the Army Pensions Vote. It covers spending on all pension benefits for former members of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, and their dependants. It accounts for 90% of all military pensions spending, including retirement lump sums. It is demand-driven and non-discretionary. The original provision of €261.1 million for subhead A2 will not be sufficient to meet all requirements for the year, including the impact of the extended Building Momentum agreement. In the circumstances, the shortfall on this subhead is estimated at €9.27 million, as mentioned earlier.
The main reasons for the shortfall in subhead A2 are as follows. Over recent years, there has been an ongoing net upward trend in the number of military pensions. During the past year, the number of Defence Forces pensioners has continued to rise in line with this trend, and at the end of October there were 13,065 military pensioners of all categories. This is a net increase of about 380 over the past three years since the end of 2019. Based on available information, it is projected that 430 military personnel will retire with a pension and lump sum in 2022. Overall, this level of turnover during the year will be greater than the 400 provided for in the original Estimate, with new retirees going on pension continuing to outnumber deceased pensioners by a ratio of approximately 2:1 on average.
In other areas of the public service, most people leave at a standard retirement age and, therefore, their numbers and timing of departure can generally be predicted well in advance. However, the PDF is different, as the vast majority of military personnel who retire on pension do so voluntarily, that is, before reaching mandatory retirement age and at a time of their own choosing. As these voluntary early retirements are not known in advance, this can contribute to greater than expected expenditure on military retirement benefits in any given year.
During 2021, over 70% of military personnel who retired on pension did so voluntarily and the picture is very similar for 2022. In addition, many retirees qualified for the maximum retirement benefits, which also contributes to the ongoing increased expenditure. In any given year, forecasting of Defence Forces pensions expenditure and the exact numbers of retirements is very difficult. Furthermore, as indicated earlier, the impact of the extended Building Momentum agreement will add an additional €7 million to the supplementary ask for subhead A2.
Subhead A3 of the Vote provides for the payment of disability pensions granted to former members of the Permanent Defence Force, disablement gratuities in certain cases, and allowances payable to dependants of deceased members. These pensions will also be impacted by the extended Building Momentum agreement. An additional amount of €224,000 is being sought to cover the cost of the increases arising from this.
If the Chair agrees, I can move on to questions. Most members of the committee will be reasonably familiar with what I am outlining. I am anxious to move on to questions because it is relatively straightforward.
I will be brief. I thank the Minister and his team for coming in. On the future planning for retirees and contingency, the Minister specifically mentioned there was a net increase of 380 over the past three years since 2019, but he said it is projected 430 personnel will retire this year on a lump sum and a pension. In terms of future planning between the retirees, those who are scheduled to retire and a contingency for those who are unexpected or unplanned, what work has the Department carried out, either with military management or with the representative bodies, to ascertain if there is a way of better gauging those who might retire unexpectedly, who do not stay on in the Defence Forces when they reach the eligibility for a military pension?
Has the Minister the percentage who are not likely to receive their increases from the Building Momentum agreement before the end of 2022? Has it been broken down to that level of detail? When the Minister states "slip into early 2023", can we get a more definitive timeline on that?
As the Deputy will be aware, we have spoken on many occasions, and I suspect we will do so on many occasions in the future, about our efforts to improve retention rates within the Defence Forces, to keep people in the Defence Forces for longer and to extend the time people are able to stay in the Defence Forces. We have made some progress on that in the past year. This year we have seen 30 more people retiring than we were expecting. We were anticipating approximately 400 and it will be 430. The real challenge here - there is daily working going on between the Department and Chief of Staff and his team - is in terms of new recruitment campaigns and, of course, incentives to keep people in the Defence Forces. That is an ongoing discussion. There is no one document.
There is a new recruitment and retention strategy being finalised at present. I meet the Chief of Staff and his team along with my senior management team every month to talk about recruitment and retention because this is the biggest challenge for me, as Minister for Defence, and for the Defence Forces. If we are to deliver the potential of the commission report, we need to see quite a dramatic change, but that has to start by stopping the losses. We will see a reduction in the numbers in the Permanent Defence Force this year from last year. It will still be well over 8,000. Some people have talked about it falling below 8,000. My projections are that it will be more than 8,100, but it is still far too low. We need to reverse that from next year on if we are to start delivering on the ambition of that commission report and, of course, the Government-approved plan on the back of it. To do that, we will need to recruit a lot more people. We are planning for that in terms of infrastructure. We will turn Gormanston into a large specialist training centre that can deal with much higher numbers.
We must also try to impact on the numbers choosing voluntarily to retire early to enter other professions and who are getting headhunted by different companies etc., whether it be pilots leaving the Air Corps to go into commercial airlines or whether it be engineers in Haulbowline getting sucked into the pharmaceutical companies, medtech companies or whatever, and likewise with the Army. Many of the skill sets we need are also needed by the private sector and we are trying to put packages in place that can keep people in the Defence Forces for longer. That is one of the reasons we made some of the early changes. People who join the Defences Forces effectively have an improvement in their salary of approximately €5,000, from €30,000 to €35,000, when some of the changes we have made in terms of access to full military service allowance, MSA, etc. are included.
That is an ongoing effort. I suspect every time I am in front of the committee here, we will be talking about recruitment and retention for the next three or four years.
I hope we see a start of the reversal of that trend next year and we will build from there. Regarding investment in infrastructure, we plan to increase the numbers next year but increase them significantly the year after that in terms of capacity for recruitment and training. I hope by the end of the year we will have made considerable progress in recruiting a new head of transformation and a new head of HR in the Defence Forces. Both of those people are likely to be civilians. A considerable amount is happening in this space but I am more than aware of the challenges we face and I am reminded of them all the time when I hear different commentary on defence.
The Deputy's second question is a very fair one which officials in the Department have been working hard to try to answer. Defence Forces pensions are different from pensions in virtually any other area of the public service. Deputy Berry will know that as he has been in the Defence Forces. They are linked to allowances throughout a person's career. It is not like a teacher, a civil servant or even a garda who retires where the pension is related to a percentage of salary. The calculation of a Defence Forces pension varies with each individual person, depending on their career and various allowances they had at different times. It is not as simple as applying a different rate. We need to go through virtually every individual pension and there are more than 13,000 of them. It will take a bit longer.
The plan is to focus on the 3% February increase and related arrears to try to get that element of the payment out this year and to ensure that the payment is made before Christmas because we know that people with families want money before Christmas and we want to get them as much as we can. We will then effectively top that up with the payment related to the September increase in the payment agreement. That will be done in January or February of the new year. I want to be upfront about that rather than pretending we will pay everything before Christmas; we cannot do that. We are focusing on the larger sum so that we can get as much money out to former Defence Forces personnel as we can before Christmas. Effectively, that means getting it done before 6 or 7 December because that is the last payment run, which only gives us a few weeks. We have really turned our system upside down to try to get something paid, which we will do, but the remainder will be paid early in the new year.
I ask the Chair to give discretion and allow me ask a subsequent question. The Minister is confident that all those who are in receipt of the military pension will have some payment made to them before Christmas, with possibly a further top-up required in the first quarter of 2023. Is it fair to say that?
The Minister mentioned his monthly meeting with the Chief of Staff on recruitment and retention. Does that meeting also include examining the need for further training to ensure the knowledge gaps that exist when anybody retires from any area can be filled as quickly as possible?
I just wanted to reassure the committee that we are more than aware, as are the Defence Forces, of the challenges that we face with recruitment and retention, which are not unusual. Throughout Europe recruiting and retaining people is a big challenge. We need to get on top of it and we have a plan to do that. We will spend a considerable amount of money to back that up. We need to assess it on a monthly basis to ensure the pressure remains on everybody, including me, to do everything possible to turn those numbers around as quickly as we can.
That is all part of our recruitment campaigns. Sometimes we can do that through direct entry. We may be able to fill some of those skills gaps through growing and expanding the Reserve. We may be able to do some of it through civilianisation. We need to be open to all of those things. Obviously, my preference is to get people into the Permanent Defence Force with the skills we need to grow and expand the Defence Forces in the way that we plan to do in order that we can spend all the extra money that will come into defence over the next four or five years.
I am not sure if this was an oversight or if it was a turn of phrase. Among all the individuals the Minister mentioned, he did not mention using those currently serving in the Defence Forces to fill the knowledge gap caused by losing skill sets from those retiring from the service.
That is happening all the time and it needs to happen. I would like to be able to give the Chief of Staff and his team as much flexibility as possible to be able to move skills around within the Defence Forces. We will see new management structures in the Army in particular, but also in other parts of the Defence Forces. That is part of what the commission looked at. A very active conversation is happening between the general staff and senior management in the Department of Defence to try to ensure that the Chief of Staff and his team have the equipment and resources they need and obviously that we have the policy direction in place as well.
I welcome the interim agreement that has been put in place for the post-1994 sergeants. What impact will that have on pensions provision? That is an interim solution for two years but we need to find a permanent solution. We know the impact the shortage of about 400 sergeants and those of equivalent rank throughout the Defence Forces is having. I ask the Minister to provide an overview on that.
I also ask about the working time directive.
Deputy Clarke asked about reskilling promotions and so on in the Defence Forces. So far this year, there have been 419 promotions across all ranks in the Defence Forces. That is a higher number than for all of last year, for example, when it was 376. However, having said that the figure was 660 across all ranks in 2020. I just want to provide a sense that there are promotions and people are being moved around within the Defence Forces to try to fill those gaps.
Deputy Brady asked about post-1994 sergeants. It has been frustrating for me that it took as long as it did to resolve this issue. I can understand that it is not straightforward, particularly for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform because there is a concern over setting a precedent within other areas of the public sector and so on. I am glad that the issue has been resolved for now for this year and next year so that sergeants in the Defence Forces - I have spoken to a number of them personally - know they will not be required to retire at the end of the year. We should have been able to give them earlier notice but in any event we got it done in the last few weeks.
As I said, it was more complicated than one might think. It was less for the Defence Forces and more about making the case that the Defence Forces are different from other areas of the public sector. We resolved the post-1994 issue for all others apart from sergeants. It impacts about nine sergeants this year and a similar number again next year. It is a relatively small number but it is still important because the sergeants are such an essential linchpin within the Defence Forces in the role they play and the leadership they provide that if we had not managed to resolve this issue, it would have led to a significant morale issue. It would have been a much bigger impact than simply nine individuals, including some really great sergeants to whom I have spoken.
I will read the note on the sergeants so we have it on the record.
Last week, an interim arrangement was agreed with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform that will allow for the retention in service of sergeants in the Permanent Defence Force who are due to be retired on age grounds to the end of 2024, which means in the next two years. This means sergeants recruited since 1 January 1994 who would be due to retire on the basis of the mandatory retirement age this year and next will not be required to do so until the end of 2024. Nine sergeants recruited to the Permanent Defence Force on or after 1 January 1994 are 50 or will be 50 by the end of 2022. There will be another nine in 2023 and a further seven in 2024. The fast accrual pension terms will continue for those additional years.
The important issue here is that they are continuing on as before, as opposed to continuing on the basis of some alternative pension arrangement or no pension arrangement. It took us a while to get that agreed but I am glad to say it has been for the next couple of years
Could I have an update on the working time directive? The Minister and I have spoken extensively about this in the Chamber and elsewhere and also about the impact of not recording the hours that members of our Defence Forces work. More important, we have spoken about paying them accordingly. Could I have an update on the engagement the Minister is having on the issue, including with the representative bodies?
Let me give the Deputy the official position on the working time directive. We are making progress on this and it will be concluded pretty soon. The EU working time directive was transposed into national legislation by way of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. The Defence Forces are excluded from the provisions of that Act. The Government is committed to amending this Act and bringing the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána within the scope of its provisions.
The working time directive recognises the unique nature of certain military activities. A high percentage of the normal everyday work of the Defence Forces is already in compliance with the directive. A sub-committee of the conciliation and arbitration council comprising representative associations and military and civil management has been established to discuss matters relating to the implementation of the working time directive. A robust time and attendance system will be an essential element in ensuring the provisions of the directive are properly afforded to serving members of the Defence Forces, and this is a priority. Consultation on the proposed management position with the representative associations, through the mechanism of the working time directive conciliation and arbitration sub-committee, has commenced and dialogue is continuing. In this context, a number of matters have been raised by the representative associations, and these are being actively examined by civilian–military management. Upon conclusion of engagement with the representative associations, the final management position on the implementation of the working time directive within the Defence Forces will be submitted to me for my consideration and approval. My departmental officials will thereafter be engaged with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which is responsible for bringing forward the necessary amendments to primary legislation.
In essence, we are trying to finalise what exemptions apply to ensure we can have an efficiently run military in Ireland while at the same time applying the working time directive as broadly as we possibly can for people working in the Defence Forces. Military management has a perspective, which it has shared. The representative bodies have responded to that. We are working through the response now to try to get a basis for an agreement that I hope can allow us to move forward and ensure the amending legislation will be passed in the new year.
I have a final question. I ask the Chair for a little latitude on this one. It concerns the €1,000 Covid payment to members of the Defence Forces and also those in other sectors that were promised the payment back in March. Could I have an update on that? I realise the responsibility does not lie with the Minister or his Department but elsewhere. It was suggested at the previous meeting, perhaps by Deputy Berry, that the payment would be front-loaded by the Minister’s Department and recouped by the other relevant Department, namely, the Department of Health. Could I have an update? There is considerable frustration. It would be great if the payment could be made.
Seeing as we have the Minister here, we might take the opportunity to seek an answer to that; however, strictly speaking, it is not part of the subject matter under discussion, as we know. We will allow it.
I am actually glad the Deputy asked this question because I found the matter frustrating. Many members of the Defence Forces made an extraordinary contribution during the Covid period in a series of different areas. The recognition payment was essentially a small gesture by the State to people who put themselves at risk and contributed to try to keep people alive at a time when we were dealing with extraordinary pressures in the health system.
To confirm, we have received the money from the HSE. We will ensure that 550 people will be paid €1,000 before Christmas. I do not have an exact time but we will try to get the payments out as fast as we can. Many are a little frustrated that it has taken so long to achieve this. Most feel we have now moved on from Covid and the associated crisis, even though Covid is still around. All Defence Forces personnel listening should note that those personnel who meet the qualification criteria in place will get a payment. I understand 550 members qualify given the work they were doing. The €1,000 recognition payment will be paid in the next few weeks.
Conscious of the clock, I have just a few comments and questions, maybe four. I thank the Minister for attending with his team to make his opening statement.
There was a commitment for direct communication or liaison with the veterans’ associations on pensions. That would be very much welcome and useful. We had the veterans’ associations here this year. Maybe this is something we could do again next year. The veterans would appreciate direct communication, and that is why I welcome the commitment.
My second point is on the shortfall of €9.3 million. Will this be met by the Exchequer or through the so-called savings in the Vote 36 operational budget? The accounts show that some savings are to be made through appropriations-in-aid and on travel and medical equipment.
I thank the Minister for the clarification.
My next question is on the 13,065 military pensioners, which number reflects the extent of the retention crisis. I take the Minister’s point that he is aware of this issue. The big takeaway I am getting is that it is not only operationally preferable to keep people in service but also financially preferable. Many of the pensioners would still be in the Defence Forces, me included probably, were the circumstances a little different. One of the linchpins of the retention issue is that we are trying to get a chairperson for the independent implementation body under the high-level action plan. Where are we with the appointment of the independent chairperson?
On the last question, we have somebody who has agreed to do it. She is really good. We trust her. I believe she will be independent and very competent. I have not yet informed the Cabinet of her name, so I need to do it on Tuesday. I reassure the members of the committee and anybody listening who is interested in defence issues that the reason it has taken some time to get an independent chair for the supervisory body to make sure we follow through on all the commitments made in the commission is that we wanted to get a good person who is enthusiastic and smart and has a track record that allows us to trust him or her.
This person is all of those things. It has taken a bit of time to get the right person, but we have somebody and she has agreed to do it. I had, however, better tell the Cabinet before I tell the committee, if that is okay. Members will find out on Tuesday after the Cabinet meeting.
It will not be headline news, but she is a smart, competent person.
I assure the committee that we will have direct conversations and we will keep the veterans’ bodies very much up to speed on what we are trying to do. The easy thing for us to do here would have just been to say that we cannot pay the pension top-ups until the end of January or early February. However, we tried not to do that and instead pay as much as we possibly can before the end of the year. People want money before Christmas, and we get that. However, this is a complex enough ask of our team in terms of pensions. We are doing one element of it, which involves most of the money. We will then top up and make adjustments, if there are any to be made, for individual pensions early in the new year in order that we can get as much money out as possible. Some of the €7 million relating to those pension increases will not be spent. We will have to give that money back to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. However, we will try to spend as much of it as we can in order to get it to people. We have taken the full amount because that is the understanding with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. We will spend as much of it as we can. We will then top up to make sure that nobody loses out early in the new year.
Doubling down on what Deputy Brady said, I also welcome the interim arrangement for sergeants who are over 50 years of age and the extension up to the age of 52 in 2024. Privates and corporals are allowed to serve up to the age of 55. Obviously, the follow on question is, while welcoming the extension up as far as 52 years of age, where are we with extending it further up to 55? How long does the Minister reckon that would take? That is my final question.
I do not necessarily want to predict an outcome to any discussions, but we need to have an ongoing conversation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the appropriate age up to which people should be allowed to continue to serve in the Defence Forces. The way that training works now, fitness levels can be held for longer. I am open to exploring whether we can look at age limits with an open mind in order to try to ensure that people who are providing good service to the Permanent Defence Force and who are still fit and strong and well able to do their jobs are not being forced into retirement because they meet an age threshold. It is not as easy as just deciding to do that and announcing it, however. These things need to be negotiated because they have knock-on implications, particularly in the context of pensions, that need to be discussed and negotiated with the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. It has taken us quite a long time to reach agreement in relation to the issue relating to sergeants recruited after 1 January 1994. I thank the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, who was very helpful at the end in terms of agreeing a position. However, this is a matter that we will continue to discuss with his Department in the new year because there is more to do in respect of it.
I have a final point. My understanding is that there are two people who served in the same platoons and who joined the Defence Forces on the same day. One is still a private and one is a sergeant. The sergeant makes the point that they went out of their way and went overseas loads of times and did the promotion competition, so why should they have to retire three years in advance of somebody who did not do those things? That is just the logical military point of view, namely, that we should be incentivising initiative and encouraging people to go for promotion rather than disincentivising them by bringing the mandatory retirement age down.
Yes. As I said, this is something we are looking at. It will certainly be part of what the new head of transformation in the Defence Forces will look at as well. We are bringing about some pretty fundamental change over the next six months or so in terms of how people are managed in the Defence Forces. We will be bring in a lot of outside expertise as part of those efforts. However, we also have to be clear that the Department of Defence cannot just decide these things on its own because they have knock-on consequences across the public sector in terms of pensions, costs and so on. We need to work it through with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which takes time.
However, there was this sergeants issue that was unresolved that impacted on a relatively small but hugely influential number of people within the Defence Forces and important, as I said, linchpins in terms of the system. It has taken us longer than I had hoped to get those issues resolved, but they are resolved now.
We are done with this Revised Estimate. We will now move to Votes 27 and 28, and the proposed format is that we will deal with Votes 27 and 28 in the context of the relevant programmes relating to them. At the outset, I will invite the Minister to give an overview on Votes 27 and 28 and to outline any pressures or lags that will impact on his Department’s performance or expenditure for the remainder of 2022. I will then open the floor to questions from members of committee in respect of each of the programmes. Again, I ask members to put their questions on the specific programmes in order that we may progress in an orderly and efficient manner. I also ask that members and the Minister be conscious of the time constraints. The Minister can make his opening statement.
I apologise. We are just swapping out some experts from Department of Defence and bringing in those from the Department of Foreign Affairs. This is a substantial Estimate change, but it is all for the right reasons, as I hope the committee will agree. I will just outline the position and we can then go through whatever questions or comments members may have.
With the committee's agreement, I would like to present for its consideration the Supplementary Estimates for the Department of Foreign Affairs. These relate to Vote 27, which is international co-operation or, in many cases, Irish Aid, and Vote 28, which is everything else. In total across both Votes, the request we are making is for a net increase of €114 million - €30 million for Vote 27 and €84 million for Vote 28. Members will have received the advance briefing note provided by my Department. This summarises the reasons for the increases, which I will be happy to explain in a bit more detail and then respond to any further questions that members might have.
On Vote 27, during negotiations on budget 2023, I discussed with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the need to provide additional urgent funding this year for humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa. I am not sure many people realise what is happening in the Horn of Africa at the moment, although I am sure that people in this room do.
It is shocking. I felt that because there is a surplus this year, I should make a case to try to use some of that money to keep people who find themselves in pretty horrific circumstances alive.
It was subsequently announced on budget day that additional funding of €30 million, which was agreed over a relatively short period, would be allocated to Vote 27 for this purpose. This will have the effect of bringing the net Revised Estimate to €633.902 million, compared to the original Estimate of €603.902 million.
Ireland is deeply concerned by the worsening food security situation in the Horn of Africa. The region is experiencing its most severe drought in more than four decades. Four consecutive failed rainy seasons have resulted in high levels of acute food insecurity and rising malnutrition. More than 36 million people have been affected, with the epicentre of the drought focused on parts of Somalia, Ethiopia and northern Kenya. The wider food crisis has been exacerbated by ongoing conflict and political turmoil, climate shocks, and the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Food prices are spiking in many drought-affected areas, due to a combination of macroeconomic challenges, below-average harvests and rising prices for food and fuel on international markets. This has triggered a cascade of consequences for millions across the greater Horn of Africa region.
There is a narrow window of opportunity to prevent widespread famine and we must grasp it. Working through trusted partners on the ground, including the UN and Irish NGOs, Ireland’s funding will support the most vulnerable communities across the region. Our intention is to focus on life-saving health, nutrition, water and sanitation and cash responses. The immediate priority is to save lives but funding will also begin to lay the groundwork for longer term resilience and development. In 2022, Ireland has already provided more than €70 million in direct assistance to countries in the region. However, the international response to the drought in the region remains drastically underfunded, with humanitarian funding gaps of more than 50% evident across some of the affected countries. I hope members of the committee will agree that this additional funding is vital and urgent.
I will let members know where the extra €30 million is going. Some €5 million will go to Irish NGOs, €5 million to UN country-based pool funding in Somalia, €3 million to UN country-based pool funding in South Sudan, €3 million to Sudan, €1 million to a drought flash appeal in Kenya and €5 million to a managed fund in Ethiopia. We are also putting €5 million through what is called the Central Emergency Response Fund, CERF, which is managed by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA. From my experience, that organisation is arguably the best way of getting funding quickly to areas that desperately need it because of its infrastructure on the ground. We are putting €5 million into seven Irish NGO partners currently in receipt of grants, namely, Trócaire, Concern, World Vision, Oxfam, Christian Aid, GOAL and Plan International. We are putting €2 million into the UN Population Fund, UNFPA, which, as members know, has a focus on women and girls, particularly in Somalia, Sudan and Kenya, and €1 million is going to the regional Nairobi UNOCHA country offices, which also focuses on South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya. We have to spend money in a very short window so we have to rely on trusted partners, which is why we are relying on UN partners that we work with and Irish NGOs we have long-standing partnerships with and have complete trust in, when it comes to transparency and so on. That is the €30 million under Vote 27.
Turning to Vote 28, the requested net Revised Estimate is €335.395 million, compared to the original Estimate of €251.395 million, that is, an increase of €84 million. This takes account of an anticipated saving of €1 million on expenditure for the Expo in Dubai. One of the reasons that Expo cost a little less than we thought was that it was not quite as busy as we expected it might be due to the Covid pandemic. The Expo in Dubai was an extraordinary event. There were an enormous number of people but not quite as many as there would have been if it had not been for Covid and, therefore, some of the events we planned to put money into did not materialise. We made some savings there.
The specific reasons for the Supplementary Estimate are as follows. The largest part, €67 million, relates to contributions to international organisations. This can be broken down further as follows. We are seeking €30 million to provide immediate institutional support for the stability of the governments in Ukraine and Moldova, with €25 million for Ukraine and €5m for Moldova. Given the ongoing war in Ukraine and the extremely challenging budgetary situation faced by both governments, it is proposed to allocate this additional funding without delay to help meet their current financing needs, which are huge. This is in line with Ireland’s strong political commitment to supporting both countries as they face significant social, economic and political pressures. Due to the impact of the war, they are largely dependent on continued financial support from the EU and other like-minded partners in order to keep public services running under very difficult circumstances, especially in Ukraine. This funding is in addition to humanitarian funding of €20 million that was disbursed at the beginning of the conflict and is also separate to the funding we are providing through the European peace facility, EPF, for non-lethal assistance to the Ukrainian military. We will also continue to provide funding support for Ukraine and Moldova through 2023, given the enormous ongoing humanitarian needs resulting from Russia’s aggression. We have a very large fund to support Ukraine next year that is baked into next year's Estimates.
We are seeking €24 million in respect of Ireland’s assessed, mandatory contributions to the UN system. This year, 2022, is the first year of a new three-year budgetary cycle for UN contributions, which will run from 2022 to 2024. The amount due for 2022 - more than $50 million - is a significant increase on contributions made in 2021, which came in at just under $26 million. In other words, it is almost double. Payments, however, are not evenly spread over the three-year payment cycle and can be expected to be lower in 2023 and 2024. Before I got involved in UN contributions, I did not understand why the numbers were so different each year. The reality is we go in three-year cycles but it is not the same amount every year. It spikes in one year but then falls below the average for the other two years. It is just the way the UN accounting system works. The way in which the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform treats this is, when we know what is needed to be spent, it will provide a Supplementary Estimate, if necessary. It is in peaks and troughs, in effect, and we are in one of the peak years when we have to make a higher contribution. The numbers will be a lot less next year and the year after that. However, this is not an optional spend. These are commitments we have signed up to in respect of UN contributions, similar to EU contributions.
Some €10 million is being sought in respect of Ireland’s national contribution to the EPF, which has got a lot of coverage through the period of the war. Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine has seen the unprecedented mobilisation of the EPF, which certainly was not designed for a war like this but is the tool we are now using. Thus far, the European Union has agreed six tranches of funding, €500 million in each tranche, to support Ukraine, amounting to €3.1 billion in military assistance under the EPF. That money has not been paid out yet but it is a commitment. The agreed support currently consists of €2.82 billion for lethal equipment and approximately €280 million for non-lethal equipment.
It is the second element that we contribute to. In line with the programme for Government, Ireland is contributing exclusively to the non-lethal elements of the support package such as personal protective equipment, medical kits, food kits and fuel. Our contribution commitment to date amounts to approximately €66 million. This is based on the current gross national income, GNI, key that applies to Ireland, which is approximately 2%. The bulk of the additional funding being sought for the European Peace Facility in the Supplementary Estimate, €7.35 million, is for assistance measures to Ukraine while the remainder is for payments that have arisen in respect of other assistance measures in 2022. The European Peace Facility does not deal only with Ukraine. It also involves Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and a number of other missions I could list, each of which receives a relatively small amount. We contribute to all of them but the main chunk is linked to Ukraine. Of course, we are not being asked to pay out on our €66 million commitment this year because a lot of that expenditure has not crystalised yet. Those expenditures will be called down over the coming years, beginning late next year.
Some €3 million is being sought to cover additional voluntary contributions to the International Criminal Court, ICC, in 2022. Earlier this year, I announced this contribution. In fact, I announced it when I was in Kyiv. Some €1 million has already been disbursed to the office of the prosecutor to assist with the investigation of situations before the court including the situation in Ukraine. This €3 million does not solely relate to the ICC's work in Ukraine but also to other investigations it is undertaking. I would like to see the court make more progress on the work it is doing in the occupied Palestinian territories, including in the West Bank, where the ICC has been asked to look at a number of things. The increased funding this year was obviously triggered by the pressure on the prosecutor to put significant resources into gathering evidence of what I believe will be deemed war crimes, although that is up to a court to decide.
I am requesting an additional Supplementary Estimate of €10.5 million for the Passport Office. Ms Byrne is from the Passport Office. I consider her a saint given the pressures on the Passport Office over the last 12 months and how the office has coped with them. The passport service has issued over 1 million passports to date this year, the highest number ever on record. Staffing numbers have doubled since June 2021 and I am pleased to say that all turnaround times for online applications are now in line with pre-Covid turnaround times. In fact, we are ahead of pre-Covid turnaround times for some applications. The customer service hub is answering 100% of callers and 95% of webchat queries every day.
I am requesting this Supplementary Estimate for two reasons. The first is that an additional sum of €9 million is required to cover the advance order of 1.4 million passport books and an additional 400,000 passport chips to be used in passport books and cards in 2023 and 2024. The length of time it now takes to get these books and chips is an issue. Getting them early will help ensure there will not be a problem down the line. That is what we are trying to do. This is a prudent precautionary measure that we are taking at a time of significant disruption to global supply chains, particularly the supply chains for the chips used in passport books and cards. The waiting period for chips has increased from 12 weeks pre-Covid to 18 months currently. The second for this Supplementary Estimate is that the passport service requires an additional sum of €1.5 million to cover higher than anticipated postage costs associated with the record number of books issued this year.
I am also seeking an extra €1.5 million for emigrant support programmes in the UK, the US and other parts of the world. The last few years have demonstrated more than ever the need to continue to support and deepen our bonds with our vibrant and diverse global Irish community. The proposed increased allocation will help to mitigate adverse currency movements and inflationary pressures affecting recipients and many of the organisations that support the Irish abroad.
The next matter is that €3 million is being sought to cover additional payroll costs associated with the extension to the national Building Momentum pay agreement for the public service recently agreed with Civil Service trades unions. That is pretty straightforward.
I am requesting an additional sum of €2 million to cover higher than anticipated rental, maintenance and energy costs at official premises overseas. The Department of Foreign Affairs manages offices in more locations than any other Department with each facing different inflationary pressures at this time. The cost of operating in certain locations has also risen due to large adverse currency movements. Also included in the sum of €2 million are unforeseen costs associated with the provision of enhanced security in respect of our excellent team in Kyiv. It goes without saying that we owe a duty of care to our staff in Ukraine and other dangerous parts of the world. I believe that is self-explanatory.
An additional sum of €1 million is requested to cover higher than anticipated costs related to the posting of officers overseas in 2022. A number of factors have contributed to higher costs this year, including the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to more expensive flight costs and shipping costs for goods. Inflationary pressures and currency movements, including the notable strengthening of the US dollar, have also contributed to higher than anticipated rental costs for officers serving overseas.
We have agreed all of those relatively small increases with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. They are backed up with numbers as to our cost base. What is new are the decisions taken around the time of the budget to prioritise the Horn of Africa, Ukraine and Moldova and to spend money that we would otherwise have to spend next year and the year after to buy passport books in great numbers to ensure we have stocks ready to go. All of that is prudent at a time when we can afford to do it.
I welcome the funding of €30 million in respect of the crisis in the Horn of Africa. What is happening is frightening. The Minister mentioned the number of consecutive years in which there have not been successful crops, water, rain or anything like that. The next two seasons are also predicted to fail. I welcome this funding. I hope it is not a one-off because, unfortunately, it will be needed into the future given the gravity of the crisis in the region. I also welcome the breakdown of the NGOs the Minister has provided. I believe they will be very supportive and welcome this. However, will the money that not only we, but the international community, are providing be sufficient? Does the Minister want to touch on that? It is a very broad question.
The Conference of the Parties is under way. There have been a number of requests from countries that have been directly impacted by climate change. What percentage of the overseas development aid budget has been dedicated to climate finance? I am not sure whether the Minister would have those figures. Is that funding additional to existing overseas development aid Estimates and spending? Those two questions are somewhat connected so I may leave it at that.
As I said earlier, the international contributions to the Horn of Africa are not enough. It is anticipated they could be up to 50% short of what is needed. The €30 million, however, is effectively an extra contribution on top of the €70 million we have already committed this year and another €50 million in new money to which we have committed over the next three years, working with UNICEF and USAID. A number of weeks ago, in New York, we announced, with Samantha Power, who is the head of USAID, and the head of UNICEF, about $250 million focused specifically on child nutrition which, in simple terms, involves the provision of nutritional paste to children to try to keep them alive when they are starving. Deputy Berry might be familiar with that in the context of military food parcels and so on. It is basically high-protein paste for children that is flavoured in order that they will eat it. That aid is focused solely on that for the next few years. We are involved at a number of different levels with international partners supporting our own NGOs, which have done amazing work, and with a number of other UN bodies. We will spend hundreds of millions of euro on the Horn of Africa in the next few years and will encourage other countries to do likewise.
My understanding of our spending on climate finance - I asked this question yesterday - is that next year we think we will spend about €120 million. We have committed that by 2025 we will be spending €225 million a year on climate finance. The maths is obvious. We will need to make big jumps over the next two to three budgets to get to that figure but we will get to it. My Department will do most of the heavy lifting on that, but we need the support of the Government and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The Department of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, does some climate finance as well. In truth, that €225 million by 2025 will be earmarked specifically for climate finance projects, but a lot of what we do in respect of development aid is also climate finance in the context of loss and damage or adaptation. I know that those are slightly different issues, but the €30 million we are committing to the Horn of Africa is in some ways a response to climate loss. The €70 million we spent on the Horn of Africa this year is partly linked to climate too. Therefore, formal climate finance as part of the overall development budget will be €225 million by 2025 and €120 million next year. In truth, however, we are already spending a lot more than that on problems and human suffering linked to climate change. On the Horn of Africa that is drought, but in the Caribbean it is more extreme hurricanes and in parts of the Pacific it is people literally having to leave islands and relocate to other islands because of rising sea levels. We are already working on those areas.
Moving on to Vote 28, I have two further questions that are linked. I will have a couple more after that.
I commend Ms Byrne and the team in the Passport Office. There was some criticism earlier in the year, given the pressures the Passport Office was under and the backlogs that were there. I commend everyone in the Passport Office. A phenomenal amount of work was done, with 1 million passports issued. I came under a lot of pressure from people waiting for passports. Whether they did not apply in time or whatever else, some people, unfortunately, missed out on holidays. I welcome the additional money going in and the additional staff. I just hope that next year there are not the same pressures on the system and on me and other public representatives. Maybe we could get assurances that some of the challenges we experienced this year will not arise next year. I have asked the Minister the question about a division of the Passport Office in the North many a time, as has my colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile. Other Deputies have asked for an office in Cork, Galway or Sligo, but there is, I would strongly contest, a geographical need for a passport office in the North, given the huge number of Irish citizens in the North applying for passports. What assessment has been carried out or what plans are in place in that regard?
My second question relates to the foreign births register. Again, there are serious challenges there. There is a huge backlog there in respect of processing times. There is a two-year backlog in respect of the processing of foreign birth registrations. What provision has been put in place to address that? I know that many staff, if not all staff, had been pulled away from processing registrations due to Covid, and that is understandable, but there are huge pressures there. What provision is in place to start dealing with the massive backlog there-----
The two issues there are the future of passports and the foreign births register. I join Deputy Brady in recognising the great work the Passport Office has undertaken and the pressures it is under. I thank the staff for their work.
Looking at passport services in other countries, in other parts of the world, the idea that one applies for a passport renewal and gets it back within 48 hours, which is the case in about 75% of all applications here, is something many other countries could only dream of delivering. Yes, we have issues every now and again, and sometimes there are complex cases that need to be resolved and sometimes mistakes are made. On the whole, however, through the Covid period and through the huge increase in pressures on passport applications after Covid, while there were some difficult months, the Passport Office has responded remarkably. We have effectively doubled the workforce there, and in a pretty seamless way.
To answer the Deputy's specific questions, first, on a passport office in Northern Ireland, approximately 10% of total applications received by the Passport Office are submitted by applicants residing in Northern Ireland. Some 87% of applicants from Northern Ireland this year have applied through Passport Online. That figure will continue to grow as the passport service's digital first media and communications strategy is rolled out in the coming months. Currently, the passport service is issuing passports to 84% of adults online, including renewal applications, and 50% of child online applications within three working days or less. Some 60% of online applications submitted by applicants resident in Northern Ireland are renewal applications.
The passport service continuously considers ways in which it can improve its service to all our citizens, regardless of where they live, and regularly reviews a range of passport services on offer while also strategically planning to respond to future needs. The passport offices in Mount Street and Cork have public counters and offer an urgent appointment service for those who wish to renew their passports within one day in Dublin or, in the case of Cork, four days. Passport service figures show that only 1% of the total of all passports produced by the Passport Office were issued through those public counters. An office in Northern Ireland to process and produce passports in emergency and expedited situations would require significant expenditure across staffing, equipment, operational aspects and so on. Estimates, based on current prices, indicate that the costs associated with equipment, staffing and operational elements could be in excess of about €10 million.
We are trying to allocate our resources where the pressure lies. The vast majority of people now apply online, which means they do not need to go into an office at all. That should be the case for citizens in Northern Ireland just as it is south of the Border. We are looking at trying to improve our services in the context of public representatives in Northern Ireland raising questions as to where passports are in the system, whether a problematic passport is problematic or whatever else. We are looking at an online portal to do that. We have not launched that yet but we are working on and finalising it.
The other thing I can say with some confidence is that we are changing our software system.
Our passport integrity and issuing system works on the basis of a software package, which we are upgrading and changing over the coming years. When we do that we will have a lot more flexibility in potentially outsourcing some of the counter-based information and so on to other agencies, whether it is social welfare offices, An Post or whatever. We will be able to remotely manage some of the application processes. The application will still have to be considered and printed centrally but it will be easier to facilitate and support complex applications when we have more flexibility. One of the challenges we had during Covid, for example, was that we could not allow passport staff to work from home because our software system did not allow it. That was because of the security systems that are interlinked within the offices we have. It will be a much more flexible system under the new software programme, which will take a few years. That will allow us to make choices to maybe have a partial counter service in other parts of the island or the country.
The point on foreign birth registration, FBR, was a fair one. Demand for FBRs has increased significantly as a result of the Brexit vote in the UK. In 2015, prior to Brexit a total of 6,000 entries were made in the foreign birth register. In 2019 a peak number of 19,000 entries were made to the register. Demand for this service from applicants in England, Scotland and Wales continues to be strong with over 8,000 applications received to date this year. The service was also impacted by necessary Covid-19 restrictions in 2020 and 2021 and the unprecedented demand for passports seen to date this year. The passport service has processed over 18,000 FBR applications to date this year. In case anybody thinks nothing is happening on FBRs, they are being processed but we have to prioritise the ones that need to be put through the system as opposed to ones that are not time-sensitive. The number of applications processed per month in both September and October with over 1,000 processed in August, 2,000 processed in September and almost 5,000 processed in October, so significant progress is being made. The waiting time for FBR applications is two years from receipt of supporting documentation. The passport service is on track to significantly reduce the processing time for FBR applications by the end of this year. My Department has put in place a number of measures to address the volume of FBR applications on hand. Additional staff have been assigned to the processing of FBR applications in recent weeks and will continue to be assigned in the coming weeks. A targeted overtime has commenced for the processing of FBR applications and the unprecedented level of staff working in the passport service will be maintained in the months ahead, allowing for the continued reassignment of additional staff to the processing of FBR applications.
I ask Ms Byrne to put her hand up on the following matter if I am wrong because I do not want to mislead anybody. Normally what happens is that we effectively increase the staff numbers significantly for the busy times of the year. People come and work seasonally within the Passport Office and that suits many of the people who work on those conditions. They work for a number of months during the year when the passport applications are at their busiest and then in the quieter times we have a much smaller workforce. We are looking to try to hold on to as many people as possible throughout the year so we can try to deal with some of the backlogs that materialised during Covid and the post-Covid period, particularly on FBRs. I hope that gives the Deputy a sense of where we are at there.
I have two other short questions but to conclude on the passport stuff, while I will follow up on this at the next meeting it would be useful to have Ms Byrne back in after Christmas to give a broad outline and update on some of what we heard from the Minister. I have been backwards and forwards with the Minister on the representational rights for representatives in the North to follow up on passports. There were issues there, particularly for first-time applicants in verifying, there were issues with the Garda. It might be useful to tease out some of those issues in the new year.
I have two other brief questions. First, I ask the Minister about expanding our diplomatic footprint. As there had been plans to open the Irish Embassy in Tehran, is that still going ahead? Provision was made or it was indicated that would open next year. Given the serious issues going on in Iran, is it still the intention of the Minister to proceed with that?
On Ukraine, major challenges remain there, particularly given the Russian assault on critical infrastructure and energy production. I welcome our provision, along with other European countries, of 500 generators, which is the tip of the iceberg in respect of what is needed to address what will be a very difficult winter for many Ukrainians. Where did the funding come from for those generators? Was that additional funding or was it under the European peace facility? Is there provision to increase the number of generators provided? That will be a critical need for many Ukrainians over what will be a very difficult winter period.
The expanding diplomatic footprint is part of the Global Ireland strategy. Not a lot of people realise it but since the launch of Global Ireland, 17 new missions have been opened, including embassies in Wellington; Bogotá; Oman; Monrovia; Santiago; Kyiv; Rabat; and Manila, and consulates general in: Cardiff; Frankfurt; Los Angeles; Lyon; Manchester; Miami; Mumbai; Toronto; and Vancouver, and it is continuing. We are living through an extraordinary period of expansion of Ireland's diplomatic footprint. Part of it is driven by the aftermath of Brexit but another part of it is driven by the fact that Ireland is a globalised and relatively well-resourced country and we need to be in parts of the world where we have largely been absent or diplomatically invisible in the past. The idea that we did not have an embassy in New Zealand, for example, was extraordinary. We have had a light formal diplomatic presence in Latin America, which is why we decided to open embassies in both Chile and Colombia to add to our really good team in Mexico. Within the European Union, post Brexit we need to make sure we double down-----
The Dáil proceedings are running about half an hour ahead of schedule so I will be really brief. On Vote 27, when Dóchas was in with us the last time and it was highlighting the ongoing tragedy that is emerging in the Horn of Africa, one of the statements made was that there have been plenty of pledges but that there are countries out there that need to live up to those pledges. Has Ireland fulfilled all of our financial pledges?
Yes. As far as I know, we have. If the Deputy has any information on any areas where we have not done, I would like to hear about it. Not only have we fulfilled our pledges but we have pledged another €80 million in the last couple of months. There is some €30 million to be spent before the end of this year, effectively before Christmas, and then there is another €50 million to be spent over the next three years with UNICEF and USAID, on top of the €70 million we had already committed and spent this year and will spend again next year. We are not only following through on our existing commitments but we are increasing our spending significantly beyond that.
We can only speak for ourselves. Every country needs to make its own decisions but the facts on the ground speak for themselves in the Horn of Africa. Funds are desperately needed and I hope they will come.
On Vote 28, I refer to the mandatory assessments for the UN.
The Minister mentioned there has been a significant increase in contributions. Can he give us some information on why there has been such an increase? Is there an increased work plan from the UN? What is the cause?
Perhaps I did not explain it well. I ask Mr. Conlon to correct me if I am wrong, but the UN system works on three-year budgetary cycles and there is not an even allocation for each year. The UN chooses when to draw down certain amounts of money from different countries and it spikes up and down over that three-year period. We just happen to be in a year when a high payment is required. Last year, for example, we spent $26 million on UN contributions. This year, the corresponding amount is $50 million. Next year, that will probably go down to $24 million or $25 million. Over the three years, it will level out. The UN's accounting system calls down higher amounts of money in different years. It is not an even $25 million every year, if the Deputy knows what I mean.
That is the case. That is why we rely on Supplementary Estimates. We find it difficult to predict what the UN will ask for. We are told to come back when we know the amount we need and that will be dealt with through a Supplementary Estimate. We agreed that last year. There is follow-through this year on what was agreed in the budget before the most recent one.
I praise the work of the staff in the Passport Office, on whom phenomenal pressure was placed at some points. It cannot have been an easy place to work at times and that needs to be acknowledged. As difficult as that scenario was from our perspectives, I can only imagine the pressure on the other side of the equation. The Minister spoke about the bulk purchase in advance of passport books, which is clever. However, it has raised a curious question, that is, from where do we buy those passports? Where do our passport books come from?
-----specialist providers for passport books, particularly ones that fit our system. I do not know what country they come from. We need proper quality control to get what we need and get value for money. That is my understanding of what the process delivers. However, I am not sure which country they come from. I will check for the Deputy.
I am talking about emigrant support programmes in the UK. This committee heard previously from organisations that work with the returning Irish diaspora. We heard of the difficulties they experience when they want to move back to Ireland. Does any of the allocated funding go towards those companies and organisations that work with Irish people abroad who want to return home? Is that funding provided under a separate stream?
Support for returning emigrants remains a priority for the Government and Department. It falls within the remit of the interdepartmental committee on the Irish abroad, which is chaired by the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora, Deputy Brophy. The increased fund can partly be used for that. The bulk of the extra €1.5 million will be spent abroad, dealing with the kinds of cost-of-living issues and pressures we face here. Many of the Irish abroad are in vulnerable situations and may have seen increased rental costs or other pressures. They need the support programmes that are available. We have factored in some extra money for such programmes because of the increased costs for many of these organisations. I am sure the Deputy knows that these organisations exist across US and Canadian cities, and in many parts of the UK. There is a lot of poverty and vulnerability there and we need to ensure they are looked after. That is primarily what the extra €1.5 million is about. I take the Deputy's point, however, in respect of the returning Irish. We have done a number of things. The Deputy might be familiar with the successful back for business initiative from which a number of people have benefited. The Government did a report a couple of years ago to itemise the specific challenges involved in returning to Ireland. Those included opening bank accounts,-----
If the organisations that are going to be funded by this additional finance are not already listed, would the Minister consider listing them on the Department's website? Any advertisement of the supports available to people of Irish extraction, those who are Irish and living abroad, should be undertaken. If it is not advertised on the Department's website, would the Minister consider updating it to include the names of those organisations?
I will have to check what is already on the website. Normally, many of these organisations have good networks within their cities and communities already. They put out information if there is a new fund or more support available. I will take a look at the Deputy's suggestion.
I was putting a context around the ambition to open an embassy in Iran. There are many things happening in Iran at the moment that raise serious question marks about our bilateral relationship. There are questions around how woman, girls and protesters are treated. The reality is that Iran is providing drones to Russia which are being used to target civilians in Ukraine. These are matters I have raised directly with the Iranian foreign minister, who I have got to know quite well because of our responsibilities on the Security Council in trying to advance progress on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iranian nuclear deal. My recent discussions with the Iranian foreign minister have been dominated by those other issues. Our plan is to follow though on our commitment to have a presence in that region, in Tehran. We currently have a team located in the German embassy in Tehran. That will allow us to have a presence in the area while we manage the process of finding our own premises and location and so on. Doing so remains the plan. I have called in the Iranian ambassador in recent weeks to express concern in respect of a number of issues that are causing a lot of concern worldwide. Iran is making certain choices at the moment and particularly while it is on the Security Council, Ireland has a responsibility to speak out when it is concerned, which we are. As of now, the plan is to continue with what we had planned to do, which is to have an embassy in Iran. We will obviously have to keep that under review in light of what will happen in the coming months.
Some people ask why would we want to open an embassy in a country we have a fundamental issue with and with which we disagree on a range of matters. Sometimes that is all the more reason to establish an embassy. By having an embassy, we can ensure our voices and concerns are heard in an effort to try to bring about change, push another perspective, or whatever. Iran is a big player in its region. It is a large and powerful country. Ireland has many interests across the Middle East and Gulf states and wants stability in that part of the world. It makes sense for us to have a presence there. I must say we have been worried in recent months about some of the choices Iran has made. I have made those concerns known directly to the minister and the ambassador.
Deputy Brady asked about generators in Ukraine. The committee probably knows most of what I am going to say about medical assistance but I will put some of it on the record because it is important information. Ireland responded immediately to the crisis in Ukraine.
With regard to humanitarian assistance, we were among the first to respond with a significant Irish Aid package on the first day of the invasion which has since increased to €20 million. Ireland's humanitarian package has been channelled through the UN system via International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the Irish NGOs best able to deliver lifesaving assistance to Ukranians affected by the conflict including in neighbouring countries.
A significant share of the response has been provided by local civil society organisations and charities. It is critical that we continue to support these local efforts and engage with civil society. Ireland has provided €2 million to support the response of Irish-based NGOs in their partnerships with local partners in Ukraine. Ireland has also provided in-kind medical assistance and supplies to Ukraine including ambulances valued at more than €4.3 million through partnerships between Departments, the HSE and other agencies working with private sector and civil society partners.
I should also stress that Ireland contributes to global funds and provides a substantial core in flexible funding to key agencies that have allocated funding to the crisis including the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, CERF, as I mentioned earlier in the context of the Horn of Africa. CERF has responded with €60 million to the crisis which demonstrates the importance of pre-positioning of funding for immediate action. Ireland's support of CERF in 2022 is €11.5 million. Some €75 million is earmarked for Ukraine and the impact of the war for next year. There is a lot more.
However, the Deputy is right about what Ukraine needs right now. It needs lots of things; it needs military support and money to ensure that their public systems can continue to operate with regard to salaries, financial supports and so on. The President of the European Commission announced a multi-billion euro package for Ukraine in the past few days. Ireland will of course contribute to that, as will every EU country. One of the specific asks is mobile generators for areas where Russia has targeted electricity and energy infrastructure in order for us to provide as much power as possible to Ukraine where it needs it as we move into a dark and very cold winter. I do not have any figures for what Ireland is contributing in that effort but I think we will contribute to a collective EU effort in the usual way with regard to our allocation key.