Wednesday, 27 November 2002
Overseas Development Aid: Motion.
That Seanad Éireann recognises the value of Ireland's aid to developing countries, monetary and otherwise, and calls on the Minister for Finance to maintain our commitment to it.
I welcome the Minister of State. I hope he will not consider me to be repetitive because he was present when I last raised this issue in the House on 6 February 2000. The importance of overseas development aid is a subject dear to my heart and also, I am sure, to his.
This country does much good work in this area. On the last occasion I raised the issue in the House I asked the Government to achieve the United Nations target for overseas development aid of 0.7% of GNP. We have now reached 0.4% of GNP, which is well up the scale of givers. A large number of richer countries have yet to achieve that level. I hope this debate will encourage the Minister of State when he seeks increases in aid.
When the House last debated this issue I had just returned from a visit to Uganda and Zambia, organised by the International Planned Parenthood Federation. I thanked the organisation for sending me because it was a great help to see things at first hand. The Minister has visited both countries since then and I have had the good fortune to be sponsored by that organisation to visit Ethiopia, another country to which we give special bilateral aid.
I am always impressed by the practical value of the involvement of Ireland Aid, both in the bilateral projects and the United Nations agencies it supports, including UNFPA, UNAIDS and UNICEF. The latter is supported at a multilateral level. The value for money they achieve is impressive, as is the reception they receive from local people and the way they deal with them. I am also pleased at their greater co-operation with other countries who give bilateral aid, for example, with Norway in Ethiopia, and with the various NGOs who are trying to establish systems on the ground.
The Medical Missionaries of Mary were the first organisation from this country to become involved in safe motherhood. They established splendid hospitals in Africa 50 to 60 years ago, especially in Nigeria, where they showed it was possible to reduce maternal mortality rates if the proper medical systems were in place. Despite the enormous work done by women in developing countries, especially in agriculture, there is little respect for their position or their health. They are very undervalued, although decreasing maternal and infant mortality rates would improve the economy of the countries concerned.
Ireland's maternal mortality rates are among the best in the world, but in developing countries a woman has between a one in ten and a one in 20 chance of dying from a condition associated with pregnancy or childbirth. Between 500,000 and 700,000 women die every year in such circumstances, that is, one every minute approximately. In the course of this debate between 100 and 121 women will die, the vast majority of them in the underdeveloped world. Many will be teenagers or older women who already have large families. With the death of these mothers the likelihood of their children under the age of five years surviving is decimated. That is a great tragedy for the countries concerned.
The decline in maternal mortality in this country did not happen by chance or because of socio-economic improvements. We managed to diminish puerperal sepsis, an infection associated with childbirth, which is still a very serious cause of death in the developing countries. It can be immediately alleviated with an adequate supply of antibiotics. We need to address that area.
Approximately 20% of women die from bleeding. We have been associated with the establishment of safe blood banks and this must continue. It has been very important in the cities in developing countries because the death rates there is half to a third of that in rural areas. We must use our expertise in these areas to show how improvements can be made.
High blood pressure is another major cause of death. Our involvement in the training of traditional birth attendants can greatly help. For example, by giving them a stick they can detect women under five feet and seek to have them referred to the nearest hospital. Women can also be given watches to time the length of labour and seek medical help if it goes beyond eight hours. Obstructed labour is an appalling cause of maternal mortality. There are no women in the House tonight apart from the Clerk Assistant and myself but one can imagine that taking three or four days to die in obstructed labour must be one of the most appalling deaths one could think of. Some 8% of women in the developing world die in obstructed labour.
We should address issues like that with the expertise we have and, particularly in this area, discourage teenage pregnancy because these girls are not mature. The countries involved tried to raise the age of marriage to 18 but there is a tradition of very early marriage. If a girl marries at 12 and tries to deliver her first child at 14, the results are disastrous. Another group who unfortunately run into a great deal of trouble also are those who have very large families. Complications of pregnancy and the older age of these women can cause many problems.
This is an area where we need to support family planning. Many of these women do not have access to family planning clinics and anything we can do through the non-governmental organisations who set them up, and in terms of family planning supplies, will be helpful. Condoms are not very popular in Africa for cultural reasons, but many African women are most enthusiastic about long-term injectable contraceptives, especially in rural areas because they only have to go to a clinic once every three months. I wish they had a better choice of treatment but that appears to be one of the most important to them. It is essential to try to get teenagers to delay their first pregnancy since many of them do not understand, because of the cultural conditions in their country, that the dangers greatly increase at that time.
There is a major problem also with unsafe abortion in these countries and their legislation on abortion varies. What we can do, however, is try to ensure that these women who usually die from exsanguination and infection get blood, if that is what they need, and that there is a supply of antibiotics to treat them. Without antibiotics they will die from these dreadful abortions.
It is important to remember also that those who work with these women have the added risk of dealing with people at least 20% of whom are HIV positive. Today's newspapers highlight the report from UNAIDS which states that currently there are 42 million people in the world infected with HIV. That is a horrific figure.
I have visited clinics in Africa where the workers did not have any rubber gloves, which is not fair. When President Bush took away the $34 million voted by Congress for the UNFPA, I wish he had sent $34 million worth of rubber gloves to Africa because they would have saved many people from putting themselves in danger by working with these infected women and men.
Good work is being done on microbicides, which are very simple compounds, far too simple for the pharmaceutical companies to take them up. Some of them appear to be made from seaweed, which I am sure would have enormously impressed our grandmothers who told us about the value of carrageen moss. This country has put money towards research into microbicides which, if used vaginally, appear to block the transmission of the HIV virus. Another area we need to address is the very high level of sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis and gonorrhoea.
I commend the Minister of State on what he is trying to do and the great effort he has made in visiting these clinics. I do not need to tell him how good they are; he has seen them for himself. He has also seen that we are socially acceptable in these places because we do not go there to tell these people what to do. We try to be as co-operative as possible. I hope the Minister will do the best he can to ensure that the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, reaches into his long pocket and provides as much money as he possibly can to continue this excellent work. I thank Senator Quinn in advance for seconding the motion.
I thank Senator Henry for putting down the motion and I have much pleasure in seconding it. Senator Henry concentrated on the area of health, in which she has so much expertise, but I intend to touch on the areas of food and trade with which I am more familiar.
The motion contains the words "monetary and otherwise" in terms of aid to developing countries. We often talk about financial aid for these countries without even noticing what we do in the other field which is at least as important, namely, the area of trade.
As part of the European Union, Ireland is a participant in the Common Agricultural Policy. We are among its most enthusiastic supporters. Whenever there is the merest whisper of dragging this policy into the real world, there is a deafening chorus of protest across the country.
In a debate in this House some weeks ago, I spoke out strongly against this country's refusal, and that of Europe, to reform the CAP. I detailed how this was a short-sighted policy which short-changed the vast bulk of European consumers without providing even a decent living to those who live and work on the land. I was referring to the agricultural community.
I also said at that time, and this is what I want to focus on this evening, that there is an even larger number of people who are being short-changed by the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union, namely, the peoples of the developing world. This is happening in two ways. The CAP undermines and works against any help we offer to the people in these countries by way of development aid. On the one hand we keep their produce out of our markets, but on the other hand we undermine the prices for them elsewhere in the world by flooding other markets with subsidised agricultural products that we produce here. We beat our breasts about the need to help these developing countries as long as that help is delivered in the least suitable way in the form of gifts or cash. We give with one hand while using the other to hold them back from trading in the only products in which they can trade. That is not only bad economics, it is a morally rotten way for us to behave.
If we were trading fairly we would keep all our aid and the developing world would still be better off. I am not just talking about Ireland but Europe also. I am taking Ireland as an example of one of the proponents because we appear to be afraid even to question the Common Agricultural Policy. That is an amazing way for a country like Ireland to behave when one takes account our values and traditions. As long as we persist in behaving in this way, we cannot hope, as Europeans, to gain the influence that we seek in the rest of the world.
The two great powerhouses of wealth – the United States and Europe – are lined up against the developing world and undermining it by distorting food markets and subsidising farm production. Of the two, however, it is Europe that is by far the worst sinner and it is Europe which deserves the most criticism. It should be up to Ireland to lead the way out of this policy which is economically and morally bankrupt.
No one would ever question the regard we have for farmers, agriculture and our rural way of life. If we were to tell our partners in Europe that we have to find a better way of achieving these objectives, would they not listen? If we were to say it is now time to turn our backs on the 20th century and look for a way forward that is right for the 21st century, would they not listen? The answer is perhaps they would or perhaps they would not. At least if we were saying these things we could be proud of what we are doing. Sadly, we cannot be proud of what we are doing.
It must dilute whatever pride we feel in the hundreds of millions of euro we dispense each year in the form of financial aid to the developing world. There is at least one argument that the financial aid is given so that we can continue to pursue the penal approach in the way we trade. If such an argument were true – and I am not saying it is – we would be even more deserving of shame.
Those of us in the food business are approached with requests to handle fair trade products and many of us are delighted to do so. This is only a sop to the demands and requirements that exist. The fair trade products are of very limited number, are produced under the fair trade arrangements of a guaranteed wage and usually originate in Africa. The products tend to be bananas, tea and coffee and one or two other products. It would be much better not to give aid in the form of money to the people in the developing world. It is far better if we ask them to earn the aid. They could then be proud and so could we.
I know the Minister of State's heart is in the right place and he has experience of visiting and understanding the situation. It will not be easy to do but it will be a victory for our own well-being. We could stand up and say to Europe and to the rest of the world that we are an agricultural country, we value the rural way of life and we should not demean the work of those many millions of people in the developing world who would be so much better off if they could earn their keep rather than just accept our charity.
This is a good motion and I welcome it. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Having read the report I now realise the work being done in this area. This is the second time he has held this brief. He did a good job the first time and I know he will do twice as good a job the second time. He has a formidable task before him.
I was amazed at the different areas where we are involved. The Taoiseach made a speech in Johannesburg about two years ago in which he reiterated our commitment to overseas development assistance. At that time he gave a commitment to the achievement by 2002 the UN target of spending 0.7% of GNP on overseas development assistance and that is to be welcomed. In a recent speech the Minister of State confirmed this commitment and outlined some of the objectives. He has a focused programme of development assistance which is world-class in quality.
The Minister said that he intends to address basic needs in the poorest countries on earth and this has in part been done. He outlined areas such as education, health, food security, clean water and sanitation. He pledged to work to achieve good governance and better administrative capacity in our partner countries in order to develop democratic institutions and to promote greater respect for human rights. He also spoke about globalisation and trade liberalisation.
Many people support globalisation, as do I to some extent. The danger is that the needs of small nations are sometimes swallowed up by the selfishness of large nations. He spoke about increasing Ireland's aid involvement and helping developing countries to increase their trade capacity. I would like to know what sort of figures the Minister of State has in mind in this respect.
The Minister also dealt with the question of HIV/AIDS. This is a major crisis and millions of people in parts of Africa are now suffering. We must address that issue. In 2001 the Taoiseach announced further funding to alleviate this crisis. As Senator Henry noted, it is a pity that the $34 million from the American budget was not used there. I am interested to hear what further plans the Minister of State has in this area.
We must address the food crisis. There are crises in Malawi, Zimbabwe and a major crisis in Ethiopia involving about 6 million people. I will listen to the Minister of State's plans with interest. I work with the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God who opened a hospital some years ago in Malawi. I believe the Minister of State may have visited the hospital when he was there. The report speaks of the work done by missionaries but they are not so much missionaries as health care providers.
I have a copy of a letter from the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, written to Patrick J. Leahy, chairman of the subcommittee on foreign operations of the committee of appropriations of the United States Senate. The subject of the letter is the Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2002. The letter states:
Like every foreign operations appropriations act since 1985, it provides that "none of the funds made available in this Act .may be made available to any organisation or program which, as determined by the President of the United States, supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."
What I am concerned about is not family planning or the provision of contraceptives or any of these things. I am concerned about forcible abortion or forcible sterilisation. It is a women's rights issue. If what the Secretary of State says is true then it is a serious charge laid at the door of UNFPA. He says that a team led by the former US Ambassador, William A. Brown spent 14 days in China from 13 to 26 May 2002 –
They found no evidence that UNFPA was "knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation in the PRC." The team found that notwithstanding some relaxation in the 32 counties in which UNFPA is involved, the population programs of the PRC "retain coercive elements in law and in practice." The team noted a system of extremely high fines and penalties imposed on families that exceed the number of children.
The team's finding that China's population practices retain coercive elements in law and in practice is consistent with other information available to the Department, such as materials and briefings supplied by UNFPA, Chinese law, and the State Department's annual human rights reports. The PRC has a longstanding and draconian program of controlling birth rates.
In Peru there is some evidence to suggest that under President Fujimori's national population programme in which UNFPA participated there were regimes which resulted in members of the indigenous Indian population undergoing systematic and forced sterilisation. These issues arise from time to time; sometimes they are hyped up and sometimes they are not. I would, however, like the Minister to look into them. If these programmes are being supported, maybe we should look at where we use our aid. I do not suggest we withdraw it entirely but maybe place some strictures on it because a lot of good work is done by these organisations. However, when it comes to women's rights and to forced abortion or sterilisation, we must draw the line.
I commend the Independent Senators on bringing this worthy and timely motion before the House. I disagree, however, with my good friend and colleague, Senator Henry, in relation to our performance as a nation, that is, at Government level. I fully agree with her on the performance of Ireland Aid in relation to the non-governmental organisations but from the point of view of our performance as a nation in terms of monetary input, unfortunately, it leaves a lot to be desired.
As we speak, 38 million people are starving in sub-Saharan Africa and many millions will die because western Governments have turned a blind eye to the appalling situation and have constantly reneged on their promises, collective responsibility and moral obligation to keep fellow human beings alive.
From time to time there is a high profile focus on the plight of the starving in Third World countries. I commend, in particular, RTÉ on sending its cameras and reporters to bring home graphically the gruesome realities of the conditions in these famine stricken countries. The problem is that such news flashes are temporary and intermittent. The reality is that they happen mainly in summer time when there is a news drought. They flash on people's consciousness but, unfortunately, they are forgotten again. For the victims, however, it goes on every day, week, month and year.
In the six countries of southern Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique, almost 15 million people are threatened with starvation. In Ethiopia and Eritrea, an additional 11 to 15 million people are at risk as we speak. Who will ever forget Ethiopia in 1984? Trocaire is predicting that the current famine in Ethiopia will affect more people than it did in 1984. That speaks for itself. The rains have failed once again. The land is owned by the government which inhibits farmer investment. Farmers are taxed immediately after the harvest when market prices are at their lowest. Up to now people could prop up and supplement their incomes with the sale of coffee but coffee prices are at a 30 year all time low and another human catastrophe is about to unfold. Where does that leave Ireland in terms of its moral responsibility and performance?
In September 2000, the Government decided Ireland would meet the UN target for ODA expenditure of 0.7% of GNP by end of 2007. This was a firm and unequivocal commitment given by the Taoiseach at the UN millennium summit. To achieve that goal over a fixed time scale, the figure for 2002 should be 0.45%. However, the Government allocation for ODA has fallen to 0.41%, a massive cut of €31 million. Instead of going forward, we are going back. In spite of all the promises, assertions and commitments by the Taoiseach that the 0.7% target would be met, it cannot and will not be met. Once again we have reneged on a firm commitment.
The Estimates for 2003 include a provision of €373 million for international co-operation under Vote 39. This is part of the ODA assistance administered by Ireland Aid. The Estimate is an increase of €33 million over the Ireland Aid figure of €340 million for 2002 but there is no real increase. We are simply replacing the €32 million which was cut from Ireland Aid's budget for 2002 so, in fact, there is no real gain.
Last week we debated the Book of Estimates for 2003 and there were cuts right across the board – in education, health, the national development plan and, of course, overseas development aid. Particularly on the capital side, we testified to the savage cuts which will have a huge impact on the economy. Of all the areas to cut, to cut the figure for ODA is nothing short of immoral. It is a disgrace, inhumane and indefensible. However, we are not alone. At the time of their participation in the UN financing and development conference in April 2000 in Monterey, the wealthiest nations had never given less in aid. Total ODA from the 22 donor countries amounted to $53.7 billion in 2000, down 0.4% in real terms since 1999. In the ten years since 1992, aid has declined in real terms by almost 12%. Only five countries meet the UN target of 0.7% and, sadly, Ireland is not among them.
I share Trocaire's concern that Ireland is supporting the UK-Spanish proposals to link EU development aid and co-operation with recipient countries' performance in enforcing measures around migration. As Trocaire pointed out, this is totally contrary to Ireland Aid's principles of promoting human rights and issuing tied aid. The Government, therefore, needs to restate immediately its commitment to these principles and to the Refugee Convention of 1951. Again I call on the Government to give a clear and unequivocal commitment this evening to a year by year, staged and staggered timetable – a definite time frame within which to achieve the 0.7% by 2007.
At EU level we should strive to ensure the proportion of EU aid spent on the least developed countries reaches a minimum of 0.15% to 0.20% of GNP by the date of the EU-Africa summit in April 2003. As I said, we should not support the withholding or granting of development aid on the basis of developing countries' acceptance of returning asylum seekers or migrants. The Government should work to develop concrete mechanisms at EU level to monitor coherence between development co-operation and other policies. We need to get our policy priorities right. It is too bad that we grant generous tax concessions to the livestock industry while at the same time we cut overseas aid to people who will die as a result.
I compliment Senator Henry and the Independent group on tabling this motion about which we cannot speak enough. It is an issue we must continuously highlight. Unlike the previous speaker, I do not want to play politics with this issue but there are a few points that should be addressed. In the recent Estimates, we sustained our aid budget, notwithstanding, the difficult budgetary circumstances this year. As a Government, we will continue to be one of the leading donors of aid in the world in relation to our GNP which now stands at 0.41%. It is expected that will be sustained in the year ahead.
It is no harm to salute the contribution we have made. Ireland is the sixth in the world as a donor ahead of countries such as France, Finland and Britain. Our current level, as well as our commitment, well exceeds the EU target of 0.33% of GNP for each member state's aid budget and agreed in Barcelona last March. Ireland's aid programme in the year ahead has been targeted at €373 million, a 10% increase on the out-turn for this year. We continue to show a significant increase in terms of where we were a few years ago.
In the context of the many calls on the public finances, we are giving priority to sustaining overseas aid. We must ensure the real and positive outcomes for the poor in the world, Africa in particular, are safeguarded in the budget. Our focus must be on the benefits for those we aim to help. Ultimately, this will be the measure of success in funding our aid programmes. As a member of the Progressive Democrats, I hope the Minister will bear with me as I salute my colleague, Deputy Liz O'Donnell, who contributed so much to this programme and fought so successfully to bring about in September 2000 the commitment to try to reach the target of 0.7% of GNP in overseas aid.
There has been unprecedented growth. Five years ago our contribution was €158 million. It is now €373 million. There has been a major expansion in the last two years, from 0.33% of GNP in 2001 to 0.41% in 2002. It is a bit rich for Senator Higgins to play on emotional issues like this and cross the political divide by trying to attack the Government when the record clearly shows that we are taking this issue seriously. As a nation, we should be proud of our record in this regard. To play politics with the misfortunes of people like these is irresponsible.
It is no harm at all to use opportunities like this to remind people of some basic facts, if for no other reason than to ensure we double our efforts to help the people concerned. There are 1.2 billion people living on less than $1 a day, 2.8 billion people living on less than $2 a day and 2.4 billion people who lack the basic sanitation facilities that we all enjoy. Some 11 million children under five die annually in developing countries, mostly from infectious diseases, while over 100 million – including 60% of girls – do not have basic primary school education. These are facilities we enjoy.
It is also worth mentioning the plight of AIDS that has hit the modern world. Today 40 million people are infected with HIV, 28 million in Africa. In some countries as many as one in three adults carry the virus. The impact upon future development in the countries concerned will be enormous if we do not tackle the problem. Again, as a country, we have a very good record in being to the forefront of making commitments to research and development and programmes that deal with AIDS-related illness, an area to which this year we have contributed €50 million.
The critical issues and principles that govern the development of a country are what we have to address. We have to ensure our aid is well spent. That is the task that faces the Minister of State. We must ensure we put poverty alleviation first, that we address people's basic needs and that we work in partnership with developing countries. We must work in partnership to educate and train people in how they can sustain themselves. We must target children to ensure the countries concerned are safeguarded in the future.
We must link this issue to human and civil rights. Post the events of 11 September we should bear in mind that terrorism and its causes often stem from countries that lack basic needs and are underdeveloped. As well as dealing directly with terrorism, we must counter the breeding grounds of terrorism. I salute our NGOs and missionaries who have represented this country so well during the years. Before we ever had serious amounts of aid going to them they were championing the cause and the name of this country. They have played a crucial role in providing aid, fostering public awareness about the crises in the countries concerned and ensuring financial support. Were it not for their leadership role we would not be making the contributions we are making today. They were at the forefront.
I wish to refer in particular to the HOPE Foundation, which is run by Edith Wilkins, a long-time friend of mine from our early days in school. Edith is a champion of the cause and this country. She continues to work in Calcutta where she has contracted a serious illness. I am glad the Minister of State's Department has recognised the work she is doing in recent years and hope he will continue to support her.
I wish the Minister of State well with his huge responsibilities. It is not just a national but an international responsibility. Long may the advances we have made over the last couple of years continue to be made under the Government. If Senator Higgins was in the House, I would say to him that, since overseas development aid is linked to our economic growth, it is far likelier to improve under the Government than under any other.
On a historical note, if a coalition Government of Fine Gael and the Labour Party had not introduced overseas development aid, Fianna Fáil would never have thought of it. It did not believe in it 25 years ago when introduced, it had no interest in it. Let us have no lectures, therefore, from the other side of the House about people's values. Unfortunately, there is no political gain in this issue. Perhaps there is in the slightly semi-detached political atmosphere of the university seats, but in the hard, robust realities of electoral politics one is not going to get much credit for being in favour of expanding overseas development aid. The Government knows it is not going to suffer much politically for cutting back on overseas development aid, which is the reason the adjustments of 10%, which were not cuts, were inflicted on those least able to protect themselves on the entire planet by removing €30 million from our overseas development aid budget. The Government did this because it knew there would be little fuss and that in the long term there would be no major repercussions.
This issue is not about politics but morality. Senator Minihan quoted figures that are startlingly true. The scale of inequality on the planet is enormous. The assumption behind so much of what is written about it – that of universal affluence – flies in the face of reality. It is either a collective decision on the part of the western world to ignore something or a deliberate conspiracy on the part of the mass media to avoid dealing with it because of the way the values it suggests challenge the values of large sections of the commercialised media. The reality of this world is that matters are getting worse. On every index they are getting worse.
I hope Senator Henry does not take offence at my saying that the fact that this motion on overseas aid, in respect of which I will vote in favour, did not even merit an amendment from the Government suggests it is little too innocuous, given that the Government took €30 million off this ODA budget this year alone. While I have no objection to the motion, we need to adopt a more hard-headed and thick-skinned approach to the issue of ODA because the Government's promise will not be met.
The facts are simple. By 2007 our GNP will be around €110 billion to €120 billion, which is a conservative estimate, and 0.7% of that is approximately €800 million. According to the Government's Estimates, the amount at the end of 2003 will be less than half that figure. I am supposed to believe that an extra €425 million will become available in the four year period from 2003 to 2007. That would involve an allocation of €100 million a year for four years. I am expected to believe that the Government will double the allocation in a four year period when the Minister for Finance, and most forecasters, tell us that economic growth will be down to 3% or 4% for the next two or three years.
The truth is that this commitment will not be met. However, the great thing about this is that the target year is a year after the next general election will probably be held. Unlike its predecessor, I do not think this Government will be in office for five years. The Government will be able to say that it will spend an extra €300 million the year after the election is over. In that way it will not have broken its promise by the time the election comes around. However, the target figure to be met will be a startlingly large sum.
We all know the Minister for Finance does not believe in ODA. We know this because of the heroics the previous Progressive Democrat Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development co-operation had to perform in order to prevent him from savaging that budget. The Progressive Democrats occasionally have a civilising influence on Fianna Fáil. That was one of those occasions when they repelled the natural instincts of the Minister for Finance to cut every budget related to tackling poverty. He did that in regard to social welfare, he will do it now and at every chance he gets. I congratulate the Progressive Democrats on that achievement.
We will not reach the ODA target. The figures should be reiterated. I wish to quote some random figures. The cost of providing basic health care and nutrition for all in the world would be less than Europe and the United States spend on pet food. In 1997, 20% of the world's people in the richest countries had 74 times what was held by the poorest 20%. In 1960, the ratio was 30 to 1. Therefore, inequality has more than doubled. Much as I am inclined to do so, I do not blame the Government for that. I blame the attitude of western society, which essentially has pulled up a drawbridge.
There is a need to address various matters. One of the matters I wish had been addressed is the extraordinary performance of the Leader of this State, the Taoiseach, in South Africa, who, when the Government was cutting overseas development aid, was lecturing the rest of the world about their lack of generosity. Unless the political will changes, the Government is ideologically and politically incapable of taking the decisions that will be necessary to meet the ODA target. It is going through a charade of pretending it will do something, which is manifestly impossible, given its ideology and the figures we have for the end of 2003. It is talking about what it used to do, it is making promises into the future, but the evidence of this year and next year is that it is drifting remorselessly away from the target and quite soon it will, not officially but de facto, abandon it.
I thank the Senators who contributed. This has been a helpful debate. Having been a Minister of State in a previous Government, I believe we should discuss issues such as this more often. I thank the Senators who tabled the motion and those who supported it. I, too, agree with those who said that this is an issue we should not politicise, if possible.
It is important to be factual when we discuss this matter. I wish to clarify a point Senator Ryan made about Fianna Fáil having no concerns about this area. The Senator should check the record or talk to some of his colleagues in the Labour Party. If he were to check the facts in relation to discussions that took place prior to the formation of the Fianna Fáil-Labour Party Government at the time Albert Reynolds and Dick Spring led those parties, he would note that historically there was a major emphasis on this area by both parties in those discussions. He would also note that the graph in relation to ODA spending finally took off in the right direction around that time. Senator Mansergh would be able to verify that fact. I was then Minister of State and those are the facts. I want to clear the air on that matter. None of us has a monopoly on concern about this area, but I have been very much encouraged by what I have heard from Senators across party lines. I will deal with some of the issues raised, if I have time later.
Issues have been raised regarding money. Senator Minihan put this in context when he said that account must be taken of the large amount of money involved. The budget for this area is very large. The more growth in the economy, the more money will be available for this area. It is as simple as that. I agree with Senator Minihan's point that if other parties were in Government we would not have the same growth rates.
I am pleased to respond to this motion, which recognises the value of the Ireland Aid programme and calls on the Minister for Finance to maintain our commitment to it. It is appropriate that we should join forces in supporting the motion. The motion allows me to outline the Government's position on the aid programme and to re-affirm our commitment to it.
I am firmly of the view that there is a need to give greater prominence to the scope and quality of our aid programme – as has been referred to by a number of Senators – and to raise awareness of the role which Ireland is playing in seeking to assist the poorest of the poor. That has always been, and will continue to be, our focus. I very much welcome this debate as an important contribution in this regard.
Over the past three decades, successive Governments have built upon the modest foundations laid in 1974 with the establishment of the Ireland Aid programme. From modest origins, the programme has grown substantially over the past three decades with increases in funding recorded in every year since 1992. The pace of growth has accelerated in more recent years. The allocation to Vote 39, the Vote for International Co-operation, administered by my Department, has increased from €51 million in 1992 to €177 million in 1998 and next year will reach €373 million. In 2003 we will spend more than three times as much on overseas aid as we did in 1998 or 13 times what we spent in 1992. The total allocation next year is likely to exceed €450 million when contributions from other Departments towards ODA are factored in.
I support what Senator Minihan said in regard to our high growth rates and the substantial moneys available. The figures speak for themselves. By any yardstick, we have achieved impressive growth, not just in absolute terms, but also as a proportion of GNP. The internationally accepted approach is to express contributions to development assistance as a proportion of GNP. Official figures from the OECD show that for the period 1990-91 Ireland's aid programme stood at just 0.16% of GNP which placed us firmly in the relegation zone of the league table of OECD member states. We were 21st out of 22 countries. However, in line with the increases in funding I have outlined, we progressed to mid-table by 1996 at 0.30%. This year we expect to reach a figure of 0.41%. Although official figures on other countries' contributions will not be available for some time, estimates suggest that we are now ranked sixth among OECD member states and well above the EU average. This is a record of which Ireland can justifiably be proud, all the more so because it has been achieved against a background of stagnant or falling levels of aid in many other donor countries. I agree with those who have been critical of some of the major powers. Aid levels from a number of wealthy member states, including the USA, Canada and Finland, have fallen over the past decade. With a handful of others however, Ireland has made significant progress towards the UN target of 0.7% of GNP.
The allocation for 2003 of €373 million should enable us to maintain the 0.41% commitment. This objective has been achieved in the context of current difficult financial circumstances. There is a temptation, as has happened in other countries, to reduce assistance to external aid when circumstances at home become more difficult. We have all heard the debates about cuts in our school programmes. We can list them in every Department, as they all took major hits. However, we have not made cuts here, rightly so.
Maintaining our contribution as a proportion of GNP in these difficult times is a measure of the Government's clear commitment to increasing the aid programme and achieving the UN target of 0.7% on schedule. This commitment has been confirmed on many previous occasions and is part of the programme for Government. As the motion correctly implies, the value of Ireland's aid should not be viewed purely in monetary terms. It is not enough for us to point to the substantial increases in resources over a given period – we must also be sure our aid makes a real difference to the lives of those most in need, the poorest of the poor in developing countries.
The alleviation of poverty is at the heart of the Ireland Aid programme. This is in line with the recommendations of the Ireland Aid review committee, whose report on the future direction of the aid programme was approved by Government last March. This represents the overriding priority of the aid programme. A reduction in poverty requires, first and foremost, a focus on basic needs; basic health care, primary education, basic sanitation and the provision of clean water. These objectives are prominent in our activities in all the programme countries and elsewhere in the aid programme. However, to focus on these key goals alone would not be sufficient to bring about lasting progress and change.
We need to focus at the same time within the bilateral programme on areas such as sustainable development, good governance, public sector reform, capacity building and fostering private enterprise. We must also help partner Governments to tackle the growing crisis in HIV-AIDS. The Ireland Aid programme seeks to address all these key issues. To tackle such a wide range of issues risks spreading resources too thinly and diluting the quality and effectiveness of our aid. Accordingly, Ireland Aid concentrates its efforts on a small number of least developed countries in sub-Saharan Africa. By narrowing the geographical focus of the programme, we retain the capacity to tackle in a co-ordinated and coherent way the multiple dimensions of poverty and the many obstacles to sustainable development. This multifaceted approach in a limited geographical context enables us to bring about real progress in some of the world's least developed countries and, most importantly, have an impact on the lives of some of the poorest people on earth.
The effectiveness and value for money of assistance channelled through multilateral organisations are also key concerns for Ireland Aid. To this end, we liaise regularly with international organisations to ensure funds are disbursed in an effective and efficient manner. The need for value for money has been rightly identified. Ireland has been to the forefront of member states pressing the European Commission to reform the management and delivery of EU assistance. Significant progress has been made, in terms of structural reform and improvements to the financial management of EU assistance, including a marked improvement in EU performance as regards the speed and efficiency of aid delivery.
In line with the Ireland Aid review, Ireland will increasingly concentrate voluntary contributions on a limited number of UN agencies, rather than being a small contributor to a large number of agencies. Priority will be given to agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme and UNICEF, whose policy objectives relate closely to our own and which are efficient and reform-minded. This will ensure, in particular, a more concentrated focus of Ireland Aid funding on the overriding programme goal to which I referred, the alleviation of poverty.
Through our concentrated focus on both multilateral and bilateral assistance, Ireland Aid has earned an enviable international reputation as a quality aid programme. This quality has been attested to by the OECD's peer review process. The last review, undertaken in 1999, concluded that the focused nature of the programme constitutes one of its major strengths. It found that the programme had a sound policy basis and concluded that Irish Aid, as the programme was then known, was a strong performer in putting a partnership approach into practice, especially in programme countries. The review also made a number of focused recommendations concerning future growth of the programme and how this should he managed. I am satisfied that we have made good progress in these areas and that the next peer review, which will take place in 2003, will again attest to the impact and value of our aid programme.
As I have remarked, a key theme referred to by the OECD was partnership. Partnership is a prerequisite for effective aid and a cornerstone of the Ireland Aid programme. It permeates all aspects of the programme. Ireland Aid engages closely with partner Governments in each of the programme countries. We liaise continuously with multilateral donors. We co-ordinate efforts on the ground with other bilateral donors and, in particular, co-operate closely with Irish NGOs and missionaries. I have instituted regular consultations with Irish NGOs and intend to deepen our partnership with them and missionaries on a policy level and in the field.
As Senators will be aware, this is my second term as Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development and human rights. During the years I have seen at first hand the positive work which is undertaken, both in terms of the long-term development strategies in programme countries and also in relation to more immediate efforts to address emergencies and humanitarian crises worldwide. One of my first actions after taking office was to announce a major programme of humanitarian assistance for southern Africa. I subsequently visited Malawi and Zambia and witnessed at first hand the scale of the food crisis. I will shortly be visiting Ethiopia to examine the worsening situation there. The scale of the challenge in these countries cannot be overstated, nor, I am pleased to say, is it possible to overstate the contribution of Irish NGOs and missionaries on the ground. I have great admiration for their extraordinary commitment and devotion to alleviating the suffering of those less fortunate.
I referred to the need to assist developing countries to tackle HIV-AIDS. More then 40 million people are living with this disease, of whom some 27 million live in sub-Saharan Africa, in the world's poorest countries. HlV-AIDS is now the leading cause of death in the region. In Africa 2.2 million people died of AIDS in 2001. This is equivalent to the number of casualties which would result from the crashing of over 4,500 jumbo jets in one year. What was once considered a health challenge has quickly become a fundamental threat to development. Already HIV-AIDS is reversing a generation of development efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. The most startling evidence of this is the plunge in life expectancy. Largely because of HIV-AIDS, life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa has been reduced by almost one third, from about 63 years to 43 years, reversing gains made over the last century. As the spread of HIV-AIDS continues, the full impact of the disease is becoming clear.
In Zambia, where I spoke to the education Minister when I visited the country, there are now more teachers dying every year from HIV-AIDS than are being trained in teacher training colleges. This has potentially serious long-term implications for the international effort under way to provide universal primary education for all children by 2015. As men and women fall ill, their ability to participate in the labour force is affected, resulting in a decline in agricultural productivity. The huge food crisis in southern Africa to which I have referred and the emerging crisis in Ethiopia have been greatly exacerbated by the high incidence of HIV-AIDS in these countries. While its origins can be attributed to a number of factors, HIV-AIDS is turning cyclical food shortages into full-scale humanitarian disasters.
During my visit to Zambia I witnessed at first hand the appalling consequences which these grim statistics do not fully convey. It is difficult to encapsulate in a few words the scale of the human tragedy which I saw at first hand at an AIDS hospice in northern Zambia. One of the most troubling consequences of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is its impact on children. Between 15% and 35% of babies born to HIV positive mothers will be infected with the disease. Most will die by the age of five. Many others are affected through the loss of one or both parents. There are more than 4 million orphans in the six Ireland Aid programme countries, almost equivalent to the population of Ireland. While in Zambia, I visited an orphanage for children who have lost their parents to the virus. This experience will always remain with me.
There is at the same time some basis for optimism. Over the past 20 years many governments, donor and NGOs have invested in programmes to halt the spread of AIDS. In Uganda, for example, strong political leadership, a recognition of the extent of the problem and the adoption of multi-sectoral response have contributed to decreasing the HIV prevalence rate from approximately 14% in the early 1990s to less than 7% last year. Ireland Aid has worked closely with the government, local communities and NGOs to tackle HIV/AIDS in Uganda. While progress to date has been very encouraging, much remains to be done and we will intensify our support over the next three years, providing more than €7 million until 2005.
HIV/AIDS will prove to be the greatest obstacle to reducing poverty and achieving the international development goals. Unless the international community can tackle the crisis quickly and effectively, our efforts to support development in other spheres will be undermined. Accordingly, Ireland Aid will continue to integrate measures to combat HIV/AIDS into all facets of the aid programme. This weekend we will mark World AIDS Day, 1 December, with a number of activities designed to raise awareness of the scale and consequences of the human tragedy caused by HIV/AIDS.
In addition to raising awareness of the impact of HIV/AIDS on development, we must also seek to raise awareness generally regarding the Ireland Aid programme. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the growth and quality of our programme and I acknowledge the commitment and strong interest of Senators. There is a need, however, to raise awareness among the public about the extent and nature of Ireland Aid's activities. Not only will this help to foster a sense of public ownership, but it will help to ensure a greater level of scrutiny and accountability concerning the effective use of public funds and will ensure continuing focus on the quality of the programme.
I refer to the issues raised by Members. Senator Henry referred to maternal and infant mortality. This issue was also raised by Senator Lydon, who had different concerns. There was much comment about the UN population fund and it requires clarification. Ireland has supported the UNFPA since 1993 and it is important to provide the background to the need for our continued support for this organisation.
It is estimated 500,000 women die in the developing world annually due to pregnancy related causes and 350 million women do not have access to any form of contraception. In the Irish aid programme, the area of sexual and reproductive health is integral to the development of a broad based health service, the creation of equal opportunities for women through the education system and the fight against HIV/AIDS. As one of our important development partners, Ireland Aid is supporting the work of UNFPA to extend assistance to developing countries to help them deal with such development challenges as maternal and infant mortality, HIV/AIDS and reproductive health care.
UNFPA extends assistance to developing countries at their request. The fund is committed under its mandate to the principles of voluntarism and all its programmes of assistance throughout the world are based on the principles of freedom of choice and informed consent. UNFPA's programmes also have a major focus on the fight against HIV/AIDS, which is one of the greatest challenges facing developing countries and one of the overarching objectives of Ireland's development assistance.
The fund is supported by many donors through voluntary contributions and Ireland Aid has been making annual voluntary contributions since 1993. This year Ireland has contributed €1.841 million to UNFPA to support its core resources which are focused primarily on the world's poorest countries. The money provided by Ireland Aid helps to save the lives of thousands of women each year and to prevent hundreds of thousands of unwanted pregnancies. This funding allows UNFPA to make an important contribution to the achievement of the UN millennium development goals, including the goal of reducing the maternal mortality rate by 75% by 2015.
The EU is engaged in dialogue with the US regarding its funding withdrawal earlier this year and the background to that decision, to which Senator Lydon referred. A consensus exists among EU member states, reaffirmed recently at Council level, regarding the importance of the role of UNFPA in reaching the millennium development goals in the areas of infant, child and maternal mortality and the EU's firm commitment to continue to support the fund. This fund has a critical role to play in support of the implementation of the key millennium goals through its programme and it should continue to be an important development partner for Ireland Aid.
There has been a letter writing campaign against the fund, which has been accused of supporting abortion. This is not the case and the US has investigated the fund, which Senator Lydon has accepted.
I was a Minister of State in the previous Administration and I attended the population conference in Cairo where agreement was reached regarding the need to deal with the world's population. There was a specific agreement that this funding would have absolutely nothing to do with abortion. There is a great deal of misinformation and a lack of knowledge around this issue.
Senator Quinn referred to the trade and development agenda. I was privileged to represent the previous Government as a trade Minister at WTO level and I pursued a development agenda in trying to improve the developing world's access to world trade. This is an important issue and I am glad Members focused on it. The 48 poorest countries in the world are engaged in less than 0.25% of world trade. We cannot debate this issue without dealing with the question of trade and development. Senator Quinn was correct to raise the issue of CAP reform in this context because there is no doubt that, as a Government, we will have to bring our agricultural and development policies into line.
That will happen because the agreement reached at the last major meeting of the WTO in Doha referred to the eventual elimination of subsidies and these policies will have to be brought together sooner rather than later. Agreements were made at Doha, by which we will abide, regarding the CAP but we will have to face up to the merger of development and agricultural policies.
However, European Ministers for trade agreed useful measures. For instance, we introduced the everything but arms initiative, which means the 48 poorest countries have duty free access to EU markets for everything but arms. They produce tremendous agricultural goods. However, they do not have trade boards and development agencies. Measures were also introduced at WTO level to support these countries to increase their trade capacity. We can share our experience of generating increased growth over the years.
During that period we also provided special assistance in terms of legal advice. The WTO regime and its rules and regulations are extremely complicated. European Union Ministers considered it important to give them legal support. That is being established and will be based in Geneva. Many good things happened in the WTO discussions of which, perhaps, people were not aware. I will bring that experience with me into this ministry. It is important that the trade issue is firmly brought centre stage in the development agenda.
I thank Senators for their support and their positive contributions and I look forward to working with them in the months ahead. Some Members have been abroad to see what is happening in these countries. Any Member who gets such an opportunity, through committees and other bodies, should avail of it and make such visits. They have had a profound effect on me. I hope I will be able to assist that process, in both Houses, over the coming years.
I commend my colleague, Senator Henry, for putting down this timely and valuable motion for debate. It is an issue which we have been discussing since I was first elected. This House pushed as hard as possible to ensure Ireland would reach the target of 0.7%, a target set 32 years ago in 1970. Even though we have done extraordinarily well in comparison to the other more niggardly countries of Europe, we have a long way to go and it is taking a pathetically long time to get there.
I am glad this Minister has responsibility for this portfolio. I know him of old and the personal experience of going to these countries and seeing the situation on the ground has obviously left an indelible mark on him, as it did on the former President, Mary Robinson, when she visited parts of Africa, and on the Taoiseach, who was extremely moved by what he saw.
There is no doubt, however, that with the best will in the world, our contribution is reducing at present. One can mask the figures whatever way one wishes and claim that the amount will be increased in the last year or two of the Government's term but that is always dangerous. I understand the critical budgetary situation but this is an area where there should be no cutbacks. We should continue the staged increase so we will reach the target of 0.7% by 2007. It is not just an economic issue; it is a moral argument. The moral dimension, however, also has political spin-offs. Think of the commanding moral political position it would give us among our European and continental allies should we reach the target in 2007.
It is most important that we do everything we can to support this Minister, as we supported his splendid predecessor, Deputy O'Donnell, who was invoked earlier in this debate. She was simply terrific. She put her neck on the block on this issue and more power to her. I have in my hand an invitation I have just received to the Doolin memorial lecture which she will give in the College of Surgeons next Saturday week. Unfortunately, I will be unable to attend but the title of the lecture is instructive, given that she is the immediate predecessor of the current Minister. It is: "The fight against diseases of the poor: the moral imperative for development assistance". That puts the issue in perspective.
I am glad the Minister mentioned the group from Galway whose members have been writing to public representatives to say that UNFPA money is being used for abortions. That is absolute rubbish and I am extremely glad the Minister scotched the story. It saves me putting on record the full text of a letter I received from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen. I wrote to him when I got the letter from Galway, but not in the terms the people in Galway would have appreciated. I sought clarification and I received a clear, forthright and detailed letter from the Minister in which he indicated that he would be making representations to the Americans. They have behaved in a disgraceful manner by cutting funding for UNFPA under the Bush Administration. This is the advice we should be giving to our American friends.
I am aware that the Ireland Aid review committee reported that the programme was well focused and was working efficiently in some of the poorest African countries. It said the sectors on which our aid was focused were well chosen. I am sure that is true up to a point. However, the committee also recommends an increased degree of partnership with NGOs. We should continue to look at that. Some people think Mr. John O'Shea of GOAL is extreme but that is how he has got things done. I am a great admirer of his because he gets directly involved in these situations. He takes the Minister's advice by going to see these countries and deals directly with them. He provided me over recent years with horrifying information about the levels of corruption within many of the administrations to which we send money.
It is unacceptable that Irish taxpayers' money should be filtered off to satisfy the economic requirements of the tinpot dictators and unworthy regimes in these countries. If it is possible to bypass corrupt regimes which indulge in the business of baksheesh and backhanders, we should look at increasing our commitment to NGOs such as Trócaire, Concern, GOAL and others, all of which have done wonderful work. They can give us value for money. I accept there is a political dimension and it might sometimes be essential that we deal with governments but we should monitor these situations as closely as possible.
One of the intractable problems is AIDS. Members of both Houses received briefings on the issue of microbicides in the European Parliament building last Friday. This is an experimental treatment and it is not guaranteed that it could not at some stage have counterproductive effects because one must achieve such a level of containment of the virus that one is not creating a virus that has immunity to other drugs. That is just one warning on the subject of microbicides. However, the treatment does have promise.
The other problem is that they are a vaginal cream and one must take into account the customs and culture of the people. Even if it was 100% effective, who can say that it will be acceptable in the sub-Saharan regions by traditional tribal women? We must use lateral thinking on this issue. We must involve local medical practices as well. The NGOs could have a role in this regard. I had a meeting with a remarkable woman today, Dr. Concepta Merry from St. James's Hospital. The type of lateral thinking she spoke about is simply wonderful, using multinational corporations to deliver AIDS treatment directly into areas which are difficult for other groups to access. That is the type of thinking we need to use.
I wish to discuss the cut in Vote 39 in the Estimates. Here again, there is a danger that we can get involved in a conjurer's illusion. There is an increase of €33 million in the Ireland Aid expenditure, which was €340 million in 2002. However, this merely replaces the €32 million that was cut from the 2002 budget earlier in the year. It is, in fact, a conjuring trick. We have to watch these sharp accountancy practices.
I welcome the Minister of State. Like other speakers, I compliment Senator Henry on putting down this motion on Ireland's relationship with the developing world. This issue is often left on the sidelines and does not get the attention it rightfully deserves. In the 1990s our economy grew at historic levels. We also saw massive increases in public expenditure, a key element of which was the growth in overseas assistance. This has been pushed on to meet our UN target of 0.7%, to which other speakers referred. Senator Lydon said the Taoiseach restated this at the world summit in Johannesburg last September.
The Minister of State and Senator Norris – I nearly called him Minister; he is almost a Minister – spoke about the Irish aid programme and how Ireland Aid has been reviewed. We see this being implemented at the moment. Our level of assistance to Africa has never been this high. Senator Minihan said that within the EU Ireland was the sixth highest contributor; we are possibly the fifth highest but I stand corrected and bow to his greater knowledge. This is a wonderful achievement for a country the size of Ireland; a decade ago ours was one of the poorest countries in the EU.
Earlier this year I was in Lesotho, one of Ireland's target countries, in a private capacity. I saw at first hand the wonderful work being done with the assistance of Irish taxpayers' money. Ireland is supporting and leading programmes in health, education and access to clean water and is also helping in the fight against HIV/AIDS. I was amazed that Ireland was leading a fight for as basic a need as clean water but I came away thinking how good a programme Ireland Aid is running. It is money well spent and is a programme we in Ireland can be proud of. It touches the lives of many people and is based on a partnership with local people and local government.
We are all aware of the billions of dollars being spent by the international community over the last 30 years on development co-operation, yet the average person in Africa today is less well off than 30 years ago. It is therefore clear the answer is not money; it is about the quality of our input. It is not about bringing solutions from Europe and other parts of the developing world to Africa; it is about helping the poor find solutions to their own problems. That is what Senator Quinn alluded to.
There is a growing awareness in the international community that new approaches to development. co-operation are required. Health, education and access to basic services cannot be seen in isolation but must be part of a development package that recognises the importance of governance. For too long the issue of governance in developing countries was ignored; we simply put in the provision of services, often in a vacuum created by corruption, a lack of respect for human rights and the lack of transparency. The very large increases in our budget for development co-operation in the last decade must be welcomed but we now have the opportunity to step back and look at this.
When Opposition speakers give out about the reduction in aid they should remember it is only a small reduction. We should use this time for reflection on the whole aid area. I also echo Senator Minihan's comments on Senator Higgins's criticism which is politically cheap and unhelpful. The Opposition will be surprised to hear me say I was pleased to see the Minister of Finance last week challenge the public service in this country to examine its effectiveness when he stated clearly that money alone is not the answer. If this is true in any area it must true with development co-operation and other speakers have spelt this out very clearly.
We cannot address health and education in isolation. We must look at the kind of government which is responsible for providing these services. With this in mind I congratulate the Taoiseach for his vision when, for the first time, the Minister of State in the last Government responsible for development co-operation was also given specific responsibility for human rights. The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, now has this responsibility which recognises the important linkages between development co-operation and human rights. That is a very important task. We cannot talk about the provision of education and health services in a society where there is no respect for human rights or where Government is not responsible to the needs of the people.
I saw this in Lesotho at first hand when Ireland Aid headed support for the electoral process in that country. After years of instability, elections were held in May this year which resulted in a Government elected by and representative of the people. This will be a slow process and there will be setbacks in countries like Lesotho but we should stick with them and encourage them. Unlike Senator Ryan, I feel we can reach the UN target.
I compliment the Independent Senators on putting down this motion. Senators Minihan and Feeney commented on Senator Higgins's contribution. He is not here to defend himself but the charge was that he tried to politicise the issue. Of course, everything we do in the Oireachtas is political to some degree but Senator Higgins simply presented the financial situation being faced by Ireland Aid. He pointed out that the modest increase announced in the Estimates last week was simply making up the €30 million cut made a few months ago – literally within a few weeks of the Government being formed. Senator Minihan's analysis of the current situation was far too comfortable.
Senator Minihan gave a very comfortable analysis of where the Government is going. It was his party colleague, when Minister of State with responsibility for overseas aid, who said she had liberated ODA from the annual Estimates wrangle. Unfortunately that liberation was short lived and is now lost as we have returned to uncertainty. We cannot say with any degree of certainty that we are set to reach our goal in 2007. We must address that. I know of the Senator's absolute commitment to ensuring aid increases but let us not congratulate ourselves on a recovery of €30 million from what had been a loss of €30 million some months ago. There is a major political battle ahead to ensure we fulfil our obligations by 2007.
We are in the midst of an international war on terrorism, which is being led by the United States, but where is the international war on poverty? Who is leading the international war against AIDS and to bring fair play and justice to the world? Senator Ryan made the valid point that never before has the world been so divided. In the 1950s and 1960s, when there was much less worldwide economic prosperity, the gap between rich and poor was half what it is now.
While we, in Ireland, are doing our bit, there does not seem to be an international political will to tackle the huge problems of poverty, famine and AIDS. The attitude of the United States, the greatest democracy in the world, to this problem is very weak. We might look at the record of American presidents in this regard. We are told that Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were marvellous presidents and both were re-elected by the American people. However, their commitment to this issue was feeble. In my memory the only President of the United States who attempted to tackle this issue head-on was Jimmy Carter who was rejected by the electorate for a second term. The American people obviously did not share his values. It is some consolation that he recently received the Nobel prize for peace. We face a major battle to spread the message internationally that we have a moral obligation to deal with this issue.
I support what the Minister of State said about Oireachtas Members taking every opportunity to see the problem at first hand. In 1993 I was part of an observer group at the elections in Malawi. Those elections appeared to mark the start of a new world for the people of that country. The regime of Dr. Banda, who had ruled the country for almost 30 years, had come to an end and there was huge excitement and expectation as to how the introduction of democracy would make things better. Unfortunately, nine years later the country has gone backward rather than forward. Diseases such as AIDs are widespread, there is financial distress and a political situation which almost amounts to civil war. It is disappointing to see the hope disappearing.
On my visit to Malawi in 1993 I saw what some of the groups were attempting to do, and with considerable success. However, the moral of the story is that our efforts and the resources we were pouring into the country were not sufficient. We must redouble our commitment to bring our contribution to development aid up to 0.7% of GNP. The scale of the problem is enormous because almost 80% of the world's population are living in some degree of poverty, deprivation and disadvantage.
I compliment the voluntary groups, NGOs and particularly the religious for the sterling work they are doing. At a time when religious communities are under enormous scrutiny and pressure and clergy bashing has almost become a national sport, we must recognise the enormous good work that has been done internationally by Irish missionaries in bringing help and hope to communities. This should be recognised.
I wish the Minister of State well in his efforts. I know of his commitment to bringing fairness and hope to depressed and disadvantaged communities worldwide. More political will is needed. I hope a message will go out from Seanad Éireann that will nudge the Minister for Finance towards giving the Minister of State's office the sort of money required to continue his good work.
Senator Bradford made a very telling point about who is leading the international war against poverty and AIDS. I thank and congratulate Senator Henry and her colleagues on putting forward this important motion in a way in which we can all unite around it rather than divide. I have always believed that overseas development assistance is important to our-self respect as a nation and an important dimension of our foreign policy. It was not irrelevant to our election to the Security Council.
At the end of the war Ireland sent aid to devastated countries in Europe, such as Germany and Austria, and this is still remembered. Dr. Garret FitzGerald deserves the credit for founding the bilateral aid programme in the mid-1970s. When we got into economic difficulties in the late 1980s, the question of scrapping it altogether was raised, but, fortunately, it continued, albeit on a minimalist basis. The Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, is right when he says the turning point came when Mr. Albert Reynolds was Taoiseach. In the Bodenstown speech of October 1992 he signalled a change of direction. At that point our contribution was 0.166% of GNP, above only the United States of America which was at the bottom of the list. In the negotiations with the Labour Party leading to the setting up of the coalition Government both parties were clearly coming from the same direction. Deputy Kitt was the first Minister of State, under the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dick Spring, to revamp and build up the overseas aid programme. He did a very good job and it is greatly to his credit that he sought to return to the job of Minister of State with responsibility for overseas aid this time around.
I do not wish to deny credit to Deputies Joan Burton or Liz O'Donnell when they were Ministers of State. Despite her best efforts, Deputy Burton was only able to raise the level of aid from 0.25% to 0.31%. During the last Government, with huge growth rates of up to 10%, it was quite difficult to push the aid level up, but it was raised to 0.41%.
I do not entirely agree with the view of Senator Ryan that there is no real public support for overseas aid. There are many young people and idealistic people of every age to whom this matters deeply. I was always unhappy when, as a party, we did not seem to be doing enough. Everything we do is inadequate in relation to the huge global problems we face.
I helped former Deputy Ray Burke when in Opposition to get an interim target, which we have not yet reached, of 0.45% . I also helped the former Minister of State, Deputy Liz O'Donnell, in her negotiations with the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, to try to get a united position. Senator Bradford is absolutely right when he says there are political battles to be fought.
There will always be sceptics around. Part of the value of this debate is to help us overcome that scepticism. It is important that we achieve the objectives we have set ourselves as soon as we can. We are now in the upper tier. Instead of being at the bottom, we are above most of the large countries, many of which have no compunction about cutting their aid budgets.
I have seen the good work done in Lesotho. In 2002 we were the most significant aid contributor to Lesotho, just ahead of China. I do not know if that is still the case. Similarly, we established an aid office in East Timor which, when visited in 2002, was an absolutely beautiful but devastated country. The Taoiseach was deeply impressed by the aid situation there, to which the Minister of State devoted so much of his speech.
I felt Senator Quinn went a little overboard. The Minister of State may not be aware of it, but the Senator crusades against the Common Agricultural Policy at every opportunity. Coming from a farming background, I am entirely in favour of balance between trade and the CAP, but if one scraps the CAP, a lot of disadvantaged people, not just in existing EU countries, but also in the countries about to join, will suffer.
The Ireland Aid review, a very valuable document, the guts of which, I am glad to say, were incorporated into the Fianna Fáil manifesto and An Agreed Programme for Government, refers to an Asian country. I was in Sri Lanka in February this year, mainly because a peace process has been started there. A terrible conflict took place in which 60,000 died. It is an island much the same size as Ireland, but with a much larger population. Partly because of the similarity of the political problem, it would greatly benefit from aid. It is economically wrecked and reasonably self-contained because it is an island. I ask the Minister of State to look very closely at it as a possible candidate to which we could extend our aid programme.
I welcome Senator Henry's motion that Seanad Éireann recognises the value of Ireland's aid to developing countries, monetary and otherwise, and calls on the Minister for Finance to maintain our commitment to it. I thank the Minister of State for enlightening the Seanad in many areas. It was a very worthwhile exercise.
The treatment of Third World and developing countries historically has proven that we must deal with them in an ethical and proper manner. The lessons of the last century and the problems associated with imperialism and adventurers doing business with the Third World lead me to ask the Minister of State to consider a legally binding code of ethics for business people doing business with the Third World. While we have no reason to suggest that any of them is doing business in an unethical manner, we could be a leading light in this regard for the rest of Europe and perhaps the rest of the developed world.
I was disappointed that Senator Ryan questioned our bona fides on development aid. Ireland's aid of 0.16% of a much lower GNP in 1991 reflects the 0.41% of a much higher GNP this year, and is heading in the right direction. I welcome the Minister of State's statement regarding emergency humanitarian aid, which means that money will be available for basic needs such as food, shelter and clean water and that we are keeping these needs to the forefront of our aid programme. It also means that, having reached a certain level, we can continue with self-help, health care and higher-order needs measures, which are also to the forefront of our development aid programme.
I thank the many NGOs and Irish missionaries who through the decades and centuries have been a beacon to the rest of the world. I welcome the Minister of State's clarification regarding where our aid is directed, which is very important because it should be sent to the relevant countries for basic necessities and development. It would be sad to think that it would be used for anything other than these.
The UN Cairo programme did not promote abortion as its recommendations were to be implemented by each country consistent with national laws, policies, religious and ethical values. I believe this will be continued under the EU directive on aid. I ask the Minister of State to reflect the views of the Irish people at every opportunity in this regard, whether in Europe or at the United Nations, and promote direct help. It should not be a programme that promotes abortion. In this regard, I support my colleague, Senator Lydon.
I thank Senator Henry for tabling this motion which has the unanimous support of the House. Not only that, it is true to say it would have the support of the people as a whole. We are very proud of the work being done regarding foreign aid. A sum of €375 million is sizeable and, taken with the work being carried out by missionaries, voluntary bodies and charitable organisations on behalf of the Irish people, makes us all very proud.
We welcome the address of the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, who has the full support of this House. I am sure that, when we reach the goal of 0.7%, Members of the House will be looking for that sum to be increased also.
I cannot tell the Minister of State how pleased I am with his speech and the speeches of all the Senators who contributed on this motion. I was not being foolish in tabling a motion in Private Members' time and used the given wording with two things in mind. First, I am a great believer in the proverb "Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí." That was for the benefit of the Minister of State because it is extremely hard to speak after someone who is close to canonisation. Deputy O'Donnell is, as far as I know, the first woman and lay person to be asked by the Irish Medical Organisation to give the Doolin lecture. Canonisation is in sight when one receives that honour from the Irish medical profession. The second reason for the wording of the motion is that I did want to get all Senators to support it, particularly Government Senators, because I will not be at the Fianna Fáil or Progressive Democrats deliberations. I want Senators to remember what they said tonight at those deliberations.
I did use the word "maintain" carefully because there has been funny arithmetic between last year and this year. I am certainly anxious about the figure of €30 million which no longer seems to pertain to this year but to next year. I will leave it to the Minister of State to find out.
I had been reassured about emergency humanitarian aid. I really was very proud of this country when I saw the situation in Ethiopia concerning the world food bank. There is not starvation in the whole of Ethiopia, there is plenty of food in some parts. What have we done? We bought sorghum and beans in a place where there was plenty and brought them to Tigre, where they are now ready for the famine. Forgive me for saying this, but the United States sent in wheat, which is not eaten in the area. They would not mill it. The area in question has no mills for wheat, nor can it be done by hand. Therefore, we should never belittle our efforts because they are good, not just in monetary terms, but also because thought is going into them.
I am glad the issue of the UNFPA arose because we were all taught that one should not bear false witness. That is fine if applied to people, but one has to be careful in applying it to organisations. I am sure Senator Lydon will realise that I am the last person in the world who would be coercing women to do anything, not to mind something so grim as abortion or sterilisation.
I am pleased Senator Hanafin referred to the Cairo conference, which the Minister of State and I attended. The then Minister, Deputy Howlin, and the Minister of State proposed to the European Union that while abortion could never be considered a family planning method, the dire consequences of unsafe abortion had to be addressed. That is the reason I raised the importance of ensuring adequate supplies of antibiotics. In the course of this debate between 25 and 30 women will have died due to unsafe abortion, which is probably a conservative estimate. We have persevered with this view and are now on the executive of the UNFPA where we have huge moral responsibility. I am sure the Department is weary of replying to all our questions. Deputy Gay Mitchell recently submitted one which, once again, deals with the reaffirmation of the position of the UNFPA.
The position of China is difficult. It is a very big country with a draconian policy in this area. I have spoken to some Chinese people involved in family planning, including the vice-chairman of the standing committee of the National People's Congress of China, the state family planning commissioner and a member of the country's family planning association. In addition to visits by Americans, three Members of Parliament at Westminster have visited, led by Christine McCafferty. They met an Irish nun who had been 40 years in China. She said the UNFPA did nothing but good, sometimes in trying circumstances. The delegation's report will be placed on the Internet at the end of this week. The website address is www.appg/popdevrh.org.uk.
I wish the Minister of State the best of luck. He will make Senators across all parties very angry if he does not succeed in maintaining aid at its current levels. Deputy O'Donnell used to say she had to sit on the aid nest like a hen. I will not try to devise a masculine simile, but I am sure the Minister of State will do his best. I thank Senators for their support.