Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Review of White Paper on Irish Aid: Statements, Questions and Answers
Katherine Zappone (Independent)
The Minister of State initiated this review which was part of the programme for Government because of the need to assess the changing context at home and abroad but also to reassess key issues such as hunger, climate change, governance, human rights and gender equality which are impacting on poverty. Over one month ago I had the privilege of attending the Inter-Parliamentary Union assembly meeting in Kampala in Uganda where I saw the excellent work being done by the Irish Embassy, under the leadership of the ambassador, Ms Anne Webster, and the various Irish Aid projects. We were informed this was making an enormous difference in reducing the level of poverty by one half. Recently they have refocused their strategy to concentrate on the northern section of Uganda which has not seen the same level of poverty reduction. The ambassador has indicated to me that there are still significant challenges in Uganda, with an overall inflation rate of 27%, 50% food inflation and high school fees. Even some of her indigenous employees at the embassy are struggling to find the resources to meet the various fees to have their children educated.
In addition to the briefing indicating that the work has had an impact in reducing poverty, we were also provided with a very positive and optimistic assessment in that Uganda is now at a point - and certainly with regard to Ireland's connection to the country - that it may be moving towards important negotiations on trade and not just aid. There has been a recent discovery of oil, which is a major issue. I was struck by the briefing from one of the ambassador's senior civil servants, especially the contention that Uganda is just about to take off, in the context of negotiating with Ireland on trade issues. That is a positive context for our work in the country.
I also understand from my trip and information received since my return that there are a number of legislative proposals coming before the Ugandan Parliament which seek to curtail citizens' human rights, with the chief among these the anti-homosexuality Bill. As the Minister of State is probably aware, there is a growing international moral outrage and concern about the possibility that the Bill, with its punishments of death or life imprisonment for gay relationships, will pass through the Ugandan Parliament. This is its second run as it was stopped before because of international response.
I am pleased to report that some of the other members of the Oireachtas delegation who came with me, particularly Deputies John Lyons and Nicky McFadden, were part of one of the committees of the inter-parliamentary union meeting and wrote a letter to Speaker Kadaga of the Ugandan Parliament, identifying a sense of outrage at what was going on. They asked if she could have any influence in stopping the movement of the Bill through the Ugandan Parliament. We were told by many Ugandans that if the legislation begins its passage, it is more than likely to pass. I have a copy of a letter from Speaker Kadaga in response to the letter written by members of that committee, and she indicates the Bill will be debated in the Ugandan Parliament and it will be up to the members to either pass or reject it.
In light of these developments, can we presume Uganda's aid and trade relations with Ireland would be threatened if this Bill is not revoked? Will the Government be making representations to the Ugandan authorities with regard to that odious legislation? These are key and live questions that will demonstrate the ways in which the White Paper could provide us with some principles to get the balance right in future between aid, trade and human rights.