Dáil debates

Thursday, 28 April 2005

Other Questions.

Overseas Development Aid.

4:00 pm

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Question 9: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the analysis contained in the World Bank and IMF report on the millennium development goals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13676/05]

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I assume the Deputy is referring to the global monitoring report, which is subtitled From Consensus to Momentum, prepared by the staff of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Ireland attaches the greatest importance to the achievement of the eight millennium development goals, MDGs. I welcome the analysis in the global monitoring report as a valuable contribution to the preparations for the UN high level meeting next September which will review progress towards these goals.

The report's emphasis on putting country-owned and country-led poverty reduction strategies at the centre of all efforts to achieve the MDGs is very much in line with our approach to development co-operation. Every country is responsible for its development and the welfare and well-being of its citizens. I share the concern expressed in the report about the prospects for achieving the millennium development goals in sub-Saharan Africa and agree that more will have to be done by developing and developed countries to achieve them.

Ireland's development co-operation programme has its chief focus on sub-Saharan Africa. Some 85% of our bilateral programme country assistance is spent in the least developed countries of sub-Saharan Africa. It is our intention to maintain this focus and expand our assistance to the region as the aid programme grows in the years ahead. I agree with the analysis of the report that macro-economic stability remains critical, as does the need to strengthen public sector financial management and to promote good governance and the rule of law to create an enabling environment for investment. The report also stresses the need to scale up education, health and basic infrastructure services, such as water and sanitation facilities, a process which has to be integrated into country-led national programmes and systems.

I welcome the balanced approach in the report, which sets out the responsibilities of donor nations to fulfil their commitment to the 0.7% UN target for ODA, together with the responsibilities of partner governments and organisations to utilise additional resources to the best advantage. Efforts to increase levels of ODA allocated to developing countries must be firmly linked with efforts to improve its quality.

The Government remains strongly committed to achieving the UN target for expenditure on ODA. The issue of how best to meet the target, and in what timeframe, is still under consideration. I have launched a consultative process that will lead to a White Paper on development co-operation and I look forward to receiving views from interested groups and members of the public on this and other issues.

The global monitoring report should be read in conjunction with the UN millennium project report, prepared under the direction of Professor Jeffrey Sachs and, in particular, with Secretary General Kofi Annan's own report, In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security, and Human Rights for All. In his report, the UN Secretary General has put forward a carefully crafted package of policy commitments and institutional reforms that the world's leaders could adopt in September. These proposals deal with issues of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, genocide and civil war, as well as extreme poverty, endemic disease and climate change.

It is important in the lead-up to September that work on all of these reports progresses in a coherent way and that member states adopt a coherent approach to the issues at the various international fora at which their representatives will meet.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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The Minister of State spoke about the consultative process that will result in a White Paper. In this regard, how does he react to the statement by his parliamentary colleague, Deputy O'Donnell, that she disagrees fundamentally with his approach? Is the Government divided on this issue?

What is the Minister of State's response to the call by the World Bank and IMF for a sharp increase in aid and debt relief? Will he confirm that 35 Irish aid and development agencies have written to the Taoiseach calling for a major increase in aid and for the Government to announce a multi-annual plan setting out how the UN target of 0.7% of GNP will be reached? Will he confirm that the umbrella group for these agencies, Dóchas, has said that, based on the existing spending plan, the Government will not achieve this target until 2028? This will be 13 years after the date set for reaching the millennium goals and 21 years after the date on which the Taoiseach promised the UN that Ireland would meet the targets.

I understand the Minister of State is saying we will reach the targets by 2012. How can he reconcile all the estimates? It is clear from the experts that he does not have a hope in hell of reaching the targets.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I obviously disagree with the Deputy's last statement. However, in deference to the fact that he will not have much time to respond to my comments, I will answer his questions seriatim and in a rather quick-fire manner.

I clearly do not agree with Deputy O'Donnell because I started the White Paper process. We have had two meetings already, one in Limerick and the other in Waterford. It is a very healthy process. Unlike Deputy O'Donnell, I believe in consulting the public on what is a major area of Government policy, namely, overseas development aid. Ireland is now one of the top ten per capita contributors of overseas development aid in the world and it behoves us to consult the people rather than being so arrogant as to believe the people do not count and should not be involved in a consultative process. DeputyGormley probably agrees with me rather than Deputy O'Donnell on this matter.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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The Minister of State should not assume anything.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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There is nothing wrong with consulting the public on an issue as important as that of overseas development aid.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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I support the aid agencies.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with Deputy Gormley on aid and debt relief. We need to be more involved and I hope that in the next few weeks we will be signalling our financial support for a UK-led initiative in that regard. Thus, indebted countries can be given greater financial assistance to lower their debts and allow them to make economic progress.

I agree totally with the request by the 35 NGOs for a multi-annual plan. I am working on this at present with the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance. I suppose I will ultimately have to put the matter to the Cabinet in terms of devising a realistic and achievable timeframe within which we can achieve the target of 0.7% of GNP. "Realistic and achievable" is the key phrase I have always used regarding this subject. Now that we have missed the 2007 deadline, and clearly admitted this, we should set a timeframe that is realistic and achievable. This will comprise our work over the coming months. I certainly hope we will complete this work before July, after which we can travel safely and securely to the UN event in New York, clear in our view that we will achieve the target within an established timeframe.

I do not wish to comment on Dóchas's view that we will not meet the target until 2028. It is clear that its dates and timeframes are at variance with mine. We have made an absolute commitment to achieving these goals by 2015 in line with Kofi Annan's demand——

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Is it not 2012?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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——that all developed western countries do so. I am not of the same view as Dóchas on this matter. I want to achieve the target before 2015 and not by 2028.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister of State agree that anybody with a little intelligence will realise the White Paper is only a fig leaf to disguise the betrayal on the part of the Government regarding the promises the Taoiseach made at the UN summit? Does he agree that the commitment to establishing a target date by July is only a way of shielding the Taoiseach against the anger he will encounter when he returns to the scene of the crime at the summit in New York in September? Does he agree that it is an insult to the NGOs to suggest, as he did on numerous occasions, that even if the Government had attained its target of 0.7%——

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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That is simply incorrect. I never stated that. You have alleged that at the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Will you please let me finish?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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At that committee I stated it was not the case. I do not know why the Deputy is persisting with this line of questioning.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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I have listened to you waffling all day and heard you waffling yesterday. You cannot decide that it was a betrayal——

Photo of Pat CareyPat Carey (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State and Deputy Allen should speak through the Chair. Otherwise, I will move on to the next question.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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All I am saying is that the White Paper is just a fig leaf. The suggestion that the timeframe will be announced by July is only a way of safeguarding the Taoiseach when he returns to New York.

Before I was interrupted, I was asking whether the Minister of State will concede that his assertion that the NGOs could not spend in acapable way——

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I never made such an assertion.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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He did, in this House. He stated they could not spend the money if they were granted it. This was an insult to the organisations and the volunteers working with them.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I will be very brief. The answer is "No" to all five questions asked by Deputy Allen. There is no point adding anything further. The answer is "No" to the question on the fig leaf, "No" to the question on shielding the Taoiseach, "No" to the question on the issue he raised at the Committee on Foreign Affairs and "No" to the question on the NGOs and capacity.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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The Government and the Fianna Fáil Party in particular owe the nation an apology over the way in which they used our name to promise the target would be met in order to win a seat at the Security Council. The Government can make whatever promises it likes under the banner of Fianna Fáil, but not in our name. This is why there is so much anger.

Rather than producing a White Paper, which is a bit of a fig leaf operation——

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Quinn does not believe in consulting the people either. He should not be included in Sandymount.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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No. I will tell the Deputy what I believe and what I suggest he should do. The credibility of his exercise would be enhanced immeasurably if, as with our commitment to the National Pensions Reserve Fund, he committed, by way of legislation, to reaching the goal by a particular time. In this way, he and his successors would no longer be subject to the vagaries of the Department of Finance. This House and the Minister for Finance have no discretion regarding the requirement to put 1% of GDP per annum into the National Pensions Reserve Fund. Such a legislative provision is required to restore credibility regarding overseas development aid. The Minister of State can nominate any year he likes, as close to 2007 as possible, but a legislative commitment would make it realistic. I welcome the consultation exercise with the electorate but it should focus on how best to spend the money, not on the amount.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with the Deputy and that is the purpose of the White Paper. I take his comment as a backhanded compliment to me. Our overseas aid volumes have trebled since 1997 and are about to treble again if we achieve the 0.7% and that is why we must consult the public. The UK and the Nordic countries, some of which are the best donors of aid, produce White Papers on seven to ten year cycles.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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The task force report was commissioned only two years ago.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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My motivation for the paper in the first place is that Deputy Quinn's predecessor set a fine example by publishing the first ever White Paper on foreign policy. In admiration of that I decided to publish a White Paper on this issue. I do not believe it is necessary to legislate yet.

I would prefer to achieve the 0.7% target and lock it in then if necessary. There is a risk to legislating for this figure because if one does so one cannot increase it. I would like Ireland to be in a position to go beyond 0.7% and copy our friends in Scandinavia who give 1% and are increasing that figure.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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Let us get to 0.7% first.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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We would be happy with 0.7%.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I agree with the Minister of State's point on the importance of consultation. He said he hoped to reach 0.7% by 2015. We read in the media recently that the target was 2012. Which is it? Does the Minister of State accept that he has a direct responsibility to listen to the voices of the aid agencies?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Yes.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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We have an international obligation to listen to them.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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The problem is that the Minister of State constantly moves the development aid goalposts. That undermines his case.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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He must be a footballer.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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There is nothing to suggest that Dóchas has got its calculations wrong and that we will not reach the 0.7% until 2028 under current spending plans. Will the Minister of State tell us how he can do it otherwise? All that Dóchas and the aid agencies have said is true.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with Deputy Finian McGrath that we must listen to the NGOs. They are our partners. Development Corporation Ireland provides significant funding to them. I listen to their voices almost every day, either on the telephone or in face to face meetings.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister of State do anything else?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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They are being attended to very well.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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Are they heard?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Quinn's point is timely. Perhaps the Dóchas figures are correct on its own projections but my officials and I are engaged in putting down, with the Taoiseach and the Department of Finance, a step-by-step time frame within which we can achieve the figures. This I presume is what Deputy Gormley and the NGOs want.

If we are to achieve the figure sooner than the Dóchas date, 2028 and the UN date, 2015, we must provide more money or increase volumes of overseas aid assistance. That is the cornerstone of my point.

We should aim for 2012. To paraphrase our friend, Bono, we are leaders not laggards.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State should not tempt fate.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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We should not be laggards by waiting to achieve this by 2015, the deadline set down by the United Nations and the European Union in its latest proposal.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Is Bono a friend of the Minister of State?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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We should try to move ahead of the pack and keep our status as a country that is ahead of the rest in terms of overseas development aid. We should not only maintain our position as the 9th largest per capita contributor in the world but improve on that position.