Dáil debates

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Priority Questions

Millennium Development Goals.

3:00 pm

Photo of John DeasyJohn Deasy (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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Question 59: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the mechanism used to measure the success or otherwise of the implementation of the millennium development goals; the progress Ireland has made to date in this implementation. [29347/07]

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Minister of State with special responsibility for Overseas Development, Department of Foreign Affairs; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has assigned the task of monitoring implementation of the millennium development goals, MDGs, to the United Nations Development Programme. This programme compiles information against each of the MDG targets in collaboration with national governments, regional groupings and experts, other UN partners, the World Bank, the IMF and the OECD. The objective is to come up with a country and regional picture of progress on each of the goals. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs then draws on this material to issue regular reports on progress towards the goals.

The latest MDG progress report, issued in July, gave us a snapshot of the progress achieved at the midpoint of the 2015 MDG target date, broken down by goal and region. Overall, there has been good progress on some targets, with more intensive effort required on others.

On the positive side, the indications are that if current trends continue, we are on target to reach the MDG on poverty reduction for the world as a whole. Progress has also been made globally in reducing child mortality and increasing school enrolment rates. However, there is significant geographical disparity, with sub-Saharan Africa at particular risk of falling behind. It was for this reason the UN Secretary General convened an MDG Africa steering group in September of this year. His initiative has brought together high level representatives of the African Union, European Union, African Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank, IMF and World Bank, who will meet regularly to examine how to strengthen Africa's efforts to meet the goals.

A further initiative aimed at measuring progress towards the MDGs has been taken by British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who has proposed that a Heads of State and Government meeting take place at the UN in September 2008 to revitalise the pledges made in 2000 and provide the impetus for more intensive efforts in the period up to 2015. The British Prime Minister wrote to the Taoiseach about his proposal and the Taoiseach has replied indicating Ireland's strong support. The Taoiseach has also indicated he would be willing to attend a preparatory meeting in Britain in spring 2008, as well as the New York event.

Ireland is participating fully in efforts to achieve the MDGs. As set out in the White Paper on Irish Aid, the millennium development goals are the overarching framework for our overseas aid programme. By delivering on the commitment to reach the 0.7% UN target for development funding by 2012, Ireland is also seen as being at the forefront of their implementation internationally.

Photo of John DeasyJohn Deasy (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response. The Minister of State may be aware that a number of Irish aid agencies met with the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid in the past couple of days. They had a concern in looking at the millennium development goals. In the health and education areas, for example, the EU has fallen way behind in its millennium development goal commitments.

The concern is that the emphasis seems to be shifting to a trade agenda from a purely aid agenda. In some of the categories the percentages are very low compared to set targets. Will the Minister of State respond to this or indicate the kind of talks which have been held with his counterparts in Europe to ensure the set targets are maintained?

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Minister of State with special responsibility for Overseas Development, Department of Foreign Affairs; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Ireland is very much aware of the role it must play in reaching the millennium development goals and we are focusing very much on reducing poverty and supporting the provision of basic services to the poorest people in the world. Clearly our goal is reaching 0.7% of GDP by 2012, three years earlier than the agreed European Union deadline of 2015. The interim target this year was 0.5% and we are going for an interim target of 0.6% by 2010.

The Deputy raised an issue regarding trade which is very relevant now because we are discussing economic partnership agreements. We have had two meetings of development Ministers, with the last meeting in Brussels. I put the point that I do not want any ACP country to be worse off on 1 January than when we met on 20 November. There will be a report back to the Council in December.

It is vitally important to secure arrangements which would allow trade to continue without interruption, and the least we can expect is for arrangements to be put in place which will not disadvantage developing countries. Ireland has often stated that the development aspects of economic partnership agreements, EPAs, must take priority and I put that point to the Commission at the recent meeting. EPAs will be the major instruments of our relations with ACP countries and they should fully reflect both trade and development aspects. I called upon the Commission to conduct negotiations in the spirit of goodwill, flexibility and understanding.

Photo of John DeasyJohn Deasy (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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I believe the Minister of State understands my point. Concerns were raised by aid agencies when they met the Commissioner that the agenda is becoming more trade-oriented, as opposed to purely aid-oriented.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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That is right.

Photo of John DeasyJohn Deasy (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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Has the issue been raised in the Minister of State's meetings in Europe? How will the Minister of State assure people that, from our standpoint, a purely aid agenda is carried on instead of a trade agenda?

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Minister of State with special responsibility for Overseas Development, Department of Foreign Affairs; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I appreciate the Deputy's support on this. That is the very point I have been making at the meetings, first of all in Madeira and more recently in Brussels. We are pressing very hard, particularly in Africa, which the Deputy would accept has fallen behind. There has been more progress in China and other Asian countries.

We can also consider with some satisfaction that some 6 million schoolchildren are now attending schools in Uganda, for example, where only 2 million were attending those schools 13 years ago. We have made very good progress with regard to home-care packages in countries such as Mozambique, which I visited recently. A high proportion of the funding there goes to tackling HIV-AIDS.

We are very keen on the development issues, which I stressed at all our meetings should be the direction we, as a country, would like to go. We will work on that, particularly with the funding through the United Nations, NGOs and missionaries and the bilateral programmes with the seven programme countries, particularly in Africa.