Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Priority Questions.

Overseas Development Aid.

2:00 pm

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Question 3: To ask the Minister for Defence if the level of funding available to the Defence Forces for humanitarian purposes will be increased for their various missions; if they could have access to overseas aid in these cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13735/08]

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The primary role of the Defence Forces, when deployed overseas, is to undertake essential peacekeeping and peacemaking operations under a UN mandate.

As part of their participation in peace support operations, the Defence Forces have traditionally adopted a number of small-scale humanitarian operations in support of the local communities where they are deployed. Recent examples of this are in Liberia and Kosovo.

The main source of funding towards this humanitarian work comes in the form of a financial subvention from the Irish Aid programme, which is administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs, supplemented by the voluntary contributions of contingent members.

In Liberia the arrangements and procedures put in place between the Department of Defence and Irish Aid proved very effective for the expenditure of funds provided by Irish Aid. Each rotation by the Defence Forces was given €15,000 by Irish Aid, that is, €30,000 per annum, and each rotation had delegated authority for the approval and implementation of projects financed from the funds provided.

In the case of projects supported by the Defence Forces serving in Kosovo, Irish Aid provides funds on a case by case basis. Since 2005, Irish Aid has provided funding in excess of €150,000 towards such projects.

This funding has proved to be a very effective means of supporting communities and integrating our forces into local communities and I expect this arrangement with Irish Aid to continue. I would not expect, however, that the Defence Forces would increase their engagement in this regard as it might impact on their primary role overseas — peacekeeping and peacemaking.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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I am sure the Minister of State accepts €150,000 is a rather derisory figure in one sense. In Liberia, Kosovo, Lebanon and elsewhere the humanitarian element of the work of our missions has been hugely important. It has helped our troops gain the trust and confidence of local people. In Liberia and Kosovo the Defence Forces have built schools and hospitals and have been involved in other very important community projects. However, they had to fundraise to get some of the money necessary for such work. They had to seek sponsorship in their communities despite the fact that we spend almost €1 billion on overseas aid. This does not seem to make sense.

Humanitarian work constitutes an important part our Defence Forces' missions so I ask that the Department of Defence consider providing more funding. The Defence Forces are not on missions in very many areas but I ask that they receive more generous overseas aid support in such places. This would be very simple, in view of the good work they do. Collecting money for projects in areas in which they operate has put a burden on the Defence Forces.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I totally agree with the Deputy regarding the huge value of this work. When I addressed the House on the last occasion, I mentioned that I had been privileged to visit Liberia and see the projects in which our Defence Forces are involved. Since I last spoke I have visited Kosovo and witnessed the great work our Defence Forces are involved in there, such as the construction of classrooms and school playgrounds. This work brings our personnel into contact with local communities.

Irish Aid provides a lot of money, some €4.75 million in 2007, in funding for humanitarian relief projects in Chad. The list of non-governmental organisations, NGOs, involved includes Médecins sans Frontières, Concern, Trócaire and so on. All of our major agencies are there along with international agencies and UN agencies, such as UNICEF.

I agree with the Deputy that it is important we support our Defence Forces and are generous when they come across a project in which they wish to participate. Some of the Defence Forces decide to raise money and this adds value because it helps build a connection with communities in Ireland also. I commend the Defence Forces on this and encourage them to continue this practice. There is a role for Irish Aid, where appropriate.

As I said in my opening remarks, we must not forget that the primary function of our Defence Forces on these missions is to keep the peace. However, the work the Deputy has mentioned is vital and I would encourage the projects the Defence Forces take on, on a case by case basis.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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I am sure the Minister of State will agree that overseas aid agencies should not feel threatened by the Defence Forces carrying out this kind of work. If troops on missions are to integrate and communicate as much as possible with local communities, as is hoped in Chad, humanitarian work may help them maintain their security. Very worthwhile projects involving schools and hospitals are going on and should be supported.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I feel we should encourage projects that help development. I am not suggesting that Irish people are exceptionally special but Irish Army personnel serving abroad have shown they have great skill, commitment and interest when it comes to humanitarian work. When this arises, on a case by case basis, the Government should be supportive.