Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Review of White Paper on Irish Aid: Statements, Questions and Answers
Mary White (Fianna Fail)
I thank the Minister of State for that excellent presentation. I again congratulate him on his most well deserved appointment. The White Paper on Irish Aid, produced in 2006, was a seminal moment for Irish Aid development policy. We welcome the review of the White Paper as an opportunity to reaffirm Ireland's commitment to the aid programme and the core principles of that programme. Fianna Fáil is very proud of the success of the Irish Aid programme to date, and we want to see the programme protected in the years ahead. The Government must remain firm in meeting the UN target for official development assistance of 0.7% of GNP, which was set by Fianna Fáil. While we recognise that the Irish Aid programme is now operating in a very different economic environment to that which existed when it was produced in 2006, we believe that the same priorities can still be met and must remain the same. Of course we must look at achieving the greatest value possible for taxpayers, and we must ensure that there is rigorous scrutiny of all funds allocated from the aid budget, whether that be to Irish NGOs or to multilateral agencies. The Irish programme is achieving real and tangible results in the nine programme countries in which it operates, namely, Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Vietnam and Timor-Leste.
Two years ago Louth County Council asked me to travel to Malawi to officially open projects that had been funded by people who work for it. I spent over a week there and I paid for the trip out of my Seanad salary. While in Malawi, I made a substantial financial contribution and this was also funded out of my Seanad salary. The money raised by Louth County Council goes directly to projects in Malawi. There are two projects to which I wish to draw attention, namely, the building of a hostel at Kaseye girls secondary school, for which €20,000 was raised, and the building of a hostel for the teachers at that school, for which €15,000 was raised.
I had an awesome experience in Malawi. The young girls who attend the school in Kaseye, which is located in northern Malawi, arrive at the beginning of term in the back of a large truck. The local terrain is extremely hilly and is difficult to navigate. This and the fact that there are few roads in Malawi makes travel very tedious and slow. However, I did come across a road being built and I discovered that a team of Chinese workers were involved in the project. Children from all over Malawi attend the school to which I refer. The meals they are served are frugal. One of the main meals of the day consists of a small amount of fish served on a bed of rice. I discovered that the young girls at the school are extremely eager to learn and gain knowledge and that this is because they want to be able to extricate themselves from the poverty in which they live. There is no electric light at the school so after dinner each evening they study by candlelight. They go to bed at 10 p.m. and rise at 2 a.m. in order to study - again by candlelight - until 7 a.m. This reflects their desire to obtain an education. There is limited access to third level education in Malawi and it is extremely difficult to obtain a place at university in order to study to become a doctor or whatever. We are very spoiled in this country. All of us - myself included - tend not to appreciate all that we have available to us. Imagine being obliged to rise at 2 a.m. and studying until 7 a.m. in order to obtain a place at university.
Councillor Peter Savage initiated Louth County Council's project in Malawi. When opening the new hostel for the girls - in which 20 of them sleep on mattresses because there are no beds - as I cut the ribbon I named it for Councillor Savage. When it came to opening the hostel for the principal and the other teachers at the school, I named it "Louth House" in honour of what the people who work for Louth County Council have achieved in Malawi. The council's other projects in Malawi have involved the construction of numerous classrooms and the provision of benches for the children to sit at. I was extremely moved by one particular project in a really poverty-stricken area in which people live a primitive existence in huts whereby the people of Louth donated €4,000 for the drilling of a water bore. As a result of this project, the people to whom I refer had access to fresh water. During my visit there, I walked down the trail to the place from which the locals used to draw dirty water for use. I accept that we are here to discuss what is happening with Irish taxpayers' money in the context of our overall aid programme. However, I needed to take the opportunity to highlight the great work being done by the people who work for and on Louth County Council.
The Minister of State referred to the Department's conflict resolution unit. There is no doubt that we have a tremendous part to play in respect of conflict resolution, particularly when one considers the various troubles we have experienced throughout our history. The White Paper contains a commitment in respect of developing a distinctive role for Ireland in the areas of conflict prevention and resolution. In that context, I am of the view that the role of the Department's conflict resolution unit can be developed further.
One aspect of this matter in respect of which improvements could be made relates to the identification of priorities within the commitments outlined in the 2006 White Paper. At present, approximately one third of our aid budget goes to EU institutions, and to international institutions like the UN and associated programmes, such as the World Food Programme. As a result of my experience in African countries - particularly Malawi - I am of the view that there must be transparency with regard to where the money goes. During my visit to Malawi, one of the Nordic countries had informed the Government there that it wanted to know where the money it was donating was going. I was told about one possible destination for the money to which I refer but I will not provide information in that regard in the House because it would not be right to do so. There must be accountability in respect of this matter. We should be in a position to know that the money we are donating is going directly to those who require it and that it is not being hived off by certain individuals, either for themselves or to be spent on grandiose projects which do not involve feeding those who are hungry, providing them with electricity or fresh water or seeing to it that they receive an education. The primary mantra at the educational institution I visited in Malawi is to ensure that women are educated in order that they can escape from poverty.
I take this opportunity to wish the Minister of State and his wife, Ms Emer Costello, MEP, continued success. The Minister of State is aware that I am a great admirer of them both.