Seanad debates

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

White Paper on Irish Aid: Statements (Resumed)


3:00 pm

Sheila Terry (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to the House. I thank him for this excellent White Paper and congratulate him on the manner in which he has taken to his brief and the energy and enthusiasm he has shown in his work. He and his staff are to be commended.

Those who work with Irish Aid at home and abroad must be complimented on the way in which they carry out their work. I also commend the public on their generosity in contributing from their own pockets whenever a disaster occurs anywhere in the world and, more generally, through their tax contributions which allow aid to be distributed by the Government through various agencies in different locations. It is difficult for us to appreciate the terrible hardship people must endure in some parts of the world, whether through famine, war or natural disasters. This reality has been brought home to us on many occasions. The tsunami of St. Stephen's Day 2004, for instance, showed us how well the Irish people can rally when others are in need.

The White Paper presents a strategy that we must work on in coming years. At The UN Millennium Summit in 2000, world leaders from developed and developing countries, including the Taoiseach, adopted the millennium development goals. Those goals are as important today as they were then, and I look forward to their implementation. The White Paper includes a commitment that they will be fulfilled by 2015. I would like to see that date brought forward, if possible, because their implementation will make an enormous difference. Nothing happens overnight and I recognise that progress takes time. However, whatever can be done to bring them to fruition is welcome. Many parts of the world are in need of aid and it is impossible to assist every deserving cause. We must focus on particular areas and that is what we are doing through our various programmes.

As it is impossible to comment on everything in the White Paper, I will focus on a number of issues. In regard to health, the White Paper states:

The entitlement of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health is the fundamental human right. While the state of health globally is improving, there is still an unacceptable level of preventable illness and death. In 2005, more than 12 million children died before their fifth birthday and 500,000 women died from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

These figures are startling. It is difficult to comprehend the deaths of so many children. We all know the extent of the outcry that would arise if any number of children in this country were to die of starvation. We must keep in mind that children are dying every minute in other countries, either through starvation or neglect of one type or another. Many parents are obliged to stand by and watch their children die while, in many cases, they themselves are dying. The deaths of 500,000 women through complications of pregnancy and childbirth are preventable. We must ensure help is available to as many of these women as possible.

Overseas development aid is critical for the campaign to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights. Family planning allows families to invest more in each child's nutrition, health and education. Prenatal care and the ability to prevent high-risk births helps reduce child mortality. Preventing unplanned pregnancies and providing care in pregnancy and childbirth saves women's lives. Sexual and reproductive health programmes help prevent HIV-AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

For many people, particularly women, access to information, health care services and education is a major factor. Last year, I was honoured to be part of a group of parliamentarians from throughout Europe who travelled with the Inter-European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development to examine the reproductive and sexual health policies of Peru and Brazil. Although I have never travelled to Africa, I have listened to the experiences of those who have been there. These experiences tell of the dreadful conditions in which people must live. To see at first hand the conditions many families endure in Peru and Brazil was an eye-opening experience.

During our trip, we met officials from the UNFPA, politicians, NGOs, religious leaders and local community groups who work with children, adolescents and those suffering with HIV-AIDS. The NGOs are doing wonderful work. Ireland does not directly intervene in Latin America but we provide assistance to NGOs there. I could see this money is being well spent in helping support the projects undertaken by NGOs in the area. They are dealing with very poor people. While there is a great mix of people in Peru and Brazil, the difference between the wealthy and the poor is enormous. We visited the poor who live in little wooden huts on the side of mountains with no sanitation. One can imagine what happens when it rains. Families live in one-roomed wooden huts and one can imagine the problems which result. We met families and various local community groups and young girls, in particular, are at great risk.

I refer to the section in the White Paper entitled, Building Better Government and Combating Corruption. That is very important, especially in the case of Peru and Brazil. I am concerned about the influence of the Roman Catholic hierarchy on sexual and reproductive health in these countries. We should call for the separation of church and state when church interferes in matters of sexuality and health care. I am thinking of the provision of contraceptives in that area. Such interference does nothing for the welfare of either males or females and particularly impacts on the health of women. I would welcome it if the Minister of State spoke out if he sees interference from any church. I speak, in particular, about my experience in Latin America where there is interference by the Catholic Church in state affairs in the area of health.

I mention with great sadness that the US, especially under President Bush, has reduced the amount of aid it gives to Latin America. Again, it is as a result of President Bush's conservative view in the area of sexual and reproductive health.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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I am delighted we are having this debate because many Members have called for one on development aid, or Irish Aid as the Minister of State called it. I thank him for his great work, the considerable enthusiasm he has shown for this issue and for producing the White Paper on which there was consultation, which is evident in the paper.

I agree with Senator Terry on the generosity of Irish people. The tsunami and hurricane Katrina were two examples of where much funding was made available. I refer to Irish people who have gone on their own or with small groups to countries in which there has been a disaster or where there is great need. Mr. Alan Kearns has been working in Zambia and the Minister of State knows of his work there. Mr. Jack McCann brings a medical team from Galway to Albania to provide medical aid there. The Friends of Chernobyl has also done great work. All these groups have received funding from the Department which is important because sometimes when we talk of non-governmental organisations, NGOs, perhaps we do not recognise the work individuals and small groups can do.

When reading the White Paper, I was conscious of the number of children who do not receive a basic education, the number of people who go to bed hungry and the thousands of people who die each day from preventable diseases. It is welcome that the Minister and the Government have finally said that we will reach the UN target of 0.7% of gross national product, GNP, by 2012. On current projections, the figure will be €1.5 billion. Even this year, €734 million will be spent on Irish Aid. I am delighted the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs will be known as the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Irish Aid. That is recognition of how important Irish Aid is in the committee system and the Department.

We have rightly placed a strong focus on Africa. The issue of human rights there is most important. I visited Tanzania some years ago with the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and there has been a dramatic increase in primary education in that country. Foreign aid is important in increasing participation in primary education. Another country which the committee visited was Ethiopia where a new welfare system has been put in place which is helping the poorest people there get basic food and education.

As other speakers said, the issue of HIV-AIDS is important. An interparliamentary conference was held in Cape Town last May under the Austrian Presidency of the European Union. For the first time, members of parliaments in the EU and Africa came together. I was honoured to attend that conference and discussions between parliamentarians from both continents on the most effective way to deal with this issue were very worthwhile. We often talk about corruption in countries and people say we should not give aid to such countries but that conference was able to focus clearly on what parliamentarians in Africa could do.

Another interesting development was the work of the Government of Mozambique and the Clinton Foundation on HIV-AIDS in which Ireland was also involved. The Minister recently announced funding for Timor-Leste to deal with the aftermath of the crisis there. Eastern Europe is another area which has been dealt with but the focus is always on Africa and Timor-Leste.

The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs discussed Darfur yesterday. It is tragic that so many people have lost their lives as an indirect result of the conflict there and that more than 2 million people have been displaced from their homes and livelihoods. I hope we can apply more pressure in that regard. As one of my colleagues, Deputy Carey, suggested, we should at least have debates in both Houses to ensure the deployment of a UN force and to show clearly the opposition of the Irish people to the conflict in that region which has resulted in terrible loss of life.

An issue which I raised at yesterday's meeting and about which I am very concerned is the safety and welfare of NGOs operating in Darfur. Mr. Rory Montgomery and his staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs said that 12 NGO staff working in that region have died. Organisations such as Concern, Trócaire and GOAL do great work there but it was clearly pointed out that they have had to leave some areas because of the difficulties. I hope the Minister of State might be able to address some of those issues, for example, the safety of personnel there and whether we can get a positive reaction from President al-Bashir, who seems continually to refuse any deployment of UN peacekeeping troops in Darfur.

The position of women in Darfur has been extremely difficult. There has been violence and abuse of women, and children have also suffered difficulties. It amounts to a major issue that the international community must address. We are obviously improving flows of humanitarian assistance and wish to see a proper peace agreement, since previous initiatives have not been lived up to. I hope that when the Minister of State replies, he might address some of those issues. I congratulate him on his work.

It is both useful and welcome to debate the White Paper, and perhaps we might do the same regarding Darfur. While that is perhaps more of a matter for ourselves to decide, I record my hope that it will happen soon.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I too welcome the Minister of State, who made a very energetic and useful contribution to the debate on this subject by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs on 10 October. I would like to pick up on one or two things said there. One significant matter perhaps not yet mentioned in this debate was the Government suggestion that the committee be renamed the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Irish Aid. That has been universally welcomed, since it helps to place at the centre of foreign affairs the commitment of the Government and the people to aid programmes. It was very heartening to hear from the Minister of State that the ten new member states of the European Union are sending delegations to Ireland weekly to learn how they might construct similar programmes. It is flattering that it should happen.

The Minister of State also stated that we have made a significant contribution, and some other European and world states are watching what we are doing and following on our coat-tails. That too is a good thing, showing that we are becoming a headline community in the area. I also welcome the idea of creating a dedicated unit for conflict analysis and resolution. We are in the end game in the North of Ireland, and we may have learnt some lessons useful to the rest of the international community.

The development of a hunger task force was also mentioned. However, underlying all those issues and much of the conflict throughout the world is a catastrophic population explosion to which very few people nowadays refer; it is simply not fashionable. From the time I entered university to now, a matter of approximately 40 years, the global population doubled. That inevitably produces strains regarding overcrowding, competition for resources, international conflict and so on, and it must be addressed.

The Minister of State also mentioned the establishment of a governance unit to ensure that aid given is properly applied. I was very interested but also sorry to see that in the full White Paper he refers to the disastrous situation in Congo, where he has said the aid was useless. I would have liked a little more information on that, since it is helpful to know why it is useless. It is devastating to state that millions of euro were sent to that tragic country without anything happening except that it was all sequestered away. I would like to know how, why, where and when that happened and what we can do to address matters regarding governance.

I welcome the commitment to raise aid contributions to 0.7% of GDP by 2012. However, I remember commitments being given in this House regarding which, when we on this side poked the Government, we were told that they were not absolute. How absolute is this commitment?

I remember Deputy O'Donnell making a passionate appeal in the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs that this not be decided yearly but built into the heads of financing so that it is structural. I do not believe that it has been done, but I would like it to happen. Although the Taoiseach is intent on going the full run, one never knows what might happen. There could be an accident; stranger things have happened. There might even be a different Government after the next general election, and one Government's commitments are not always fulfilled by another. I would like this stipulated structurally to clarify that our commitment is real.

Another very important point is that, as the Minister of State said, we are now a very wealthy country. Although in absolute terms our contribution may not be as substantial as that of which other countries are capable, there will be a considerable increase, and now is the time for us to plan. We must have trained personnel on the ground to ensure that these programmes can be delivered. As the Minister knows, in the past in the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs we have been told that there is no point in our increasing aid in financial terms because we lack sufficient trained personnel for delivery. We must examine that now and ensure that we have them.

I recently attended some meetings with the Irish Family Planning Association, which the Minister of State will know is affiliated to the UNFPA. I commend the Government on its strong and continuing support for the latter organisation, which is vitally important for precisely the reasons listed by Senator Terry. There is ecclesiastical interference from both ends of the spectrum, extreme Protestants on the one hand, and the Vatican on the other, to impede certain programmes. That is wrong, and it is very important that Ireland at least continue to lend its moral support. It is welcomed by Members across the party spectrum in both Houses.

At one of our meetings we referred to President Bush's cutbacks. From a very primitive perspective, he is cutting back in areas such as contraception. We should appeal to him not to make an absolute cut. He is in control and he will have ideas, but he should invest any shortfall in other areas. For example, my colleague, Senator Henry, pointed out that in certain African regions that she visited, she was astonished by the high maternal morbidity rate. One reason was the degree of haemorrhaging. She witnessed such situations and could not believe that a woman might die from such a minor flow of blood. However, when shown the haemoglobin counts, she realised that even a small haemorrhage was disastrous for women in such circumstances. That can be countered very simply by adding iron to the diet. President Bush, even if he is not prepared to pay for condoms, should make the surplus available to save the lives of women in childbirth if he is the kind of Christian about which he is always proclaiming.

Senator Kitt referred to the situation in Darfur. It is a very worrying trend, and the peace agreement has led to the fragmentation of forces, making matters worse, since former allies are now attacking each other. In the camps there is the horrible situation that the men are terrified to go out, instead sending the women to collect firewood, only for them to be routinely raped. The Sudanese Government is directly responsible for the use of rape as a weapon of war against women. It is disgusting and repulsive, and that should be made clear to the authorities in question.

Yesterday I raised the issue of disinvestment. I understand that the Department will be entertaining the Sudan Disinvestment Campaign. There are several firms, including Chinese petroleum companies and Canadian and American investment companies, as well as some that even have Irish connections. Since they operate through shell companies it is not always clear who are the owners. Through the National Treasury Management Agency, which controls substantial sums from our pensions, we have been investing in companies that support and prop up the Sudanese Government. The group has suggested including an ethical investment clause in the NTMA's terms of reference. I have spoken to colleagues across the party spectrum in both Houses and they are in favour. I would like the Minister of State to speak to his colleague in the Department of Finance about that.

Among the good points in the White Paper was the high priority accorded HIV-AIDS, women's health and gender issues. However, those issues always seem to be discussed in terms of reproductive rights. Let us insert the word "sexual", since that word needs to be there; sexuality must be mentioned. It is not only a matter of violence against women, something on which the Minister of State is absolutely right, since there is also violence against gay men. A situation in Iran may not have a direct link with Irish Aid, but it illustrates that this type of violence is global. In Iran, two lovely young men were savagely and brutally murdered because of their sexual orientation. It is not just women who are on the receiving end of violence.

In the context of HIV-AIDS, there is no mention of gay men in the White Paper. Women are mentioned. I remember speaking ten years ago at an interparliamentary union conference in India where I remarked on the absence of any reference to homosexuality, gay men, the gay community, etc. While I know homosexuality is a sensitive issue, I warned the conference that the issue was a time bomb. If we give in and do not include sexuality and homosexuality in our White Paper, the others will regard our omission as acceding to their view. Colleagues of mine on the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and members of our political group who support the UNFPA have said many countries assert there are no gay men in their countries. That is rubbish. The issue needs to be examined.

It is a pity there is no mention in the White Paper of our commitment under the 28-year programme of action, POA, adopted by the international conference on population and development in Cairo. There is also no reference to the fourth conference on women in Beijing and no specific mention of the UNFPA. Will the Minister take another look at this and include a statement of support for the UNFPA?

Senator Kitt mentioned the useful meeting the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs had yesterday where the issue of Darfur was raised. There was also a very interesting presentation by a courageous Afghani woman, Mary Akrami, who was sponsored by an Irish group called SAFE. Ms Akrami made some very valid points about the waste of money. She pointed out that many European countries send people to Afghanistan who do not speak the language or know the culture and who remain for six weeks and then go home. I call this crisis tourism.

We should consider carefully the point Ms Akrami made that what would really help is the kind of assistance being offered by the Rape Crisis Centre which has offered to train Afghan personnel in counselling and in managing the repercussions of a rape situation. This gives better bang for our buck. It is also safer because we retain our Irish personnel in our community exposed to no danger while passing on skills to courageous Afghani and other people who will bring them back to their countries.

This approach is also in our interest because if matters improve, these people will turn out to be leaders of their community and, perhaps, leaders of their country. We must be civilised, generous and flexible and not always insist the money is earmarked for overseas or that we must send so many people abroad to do an academic programme. That is hogwash. We should bring people to this country and train them.

One thing I like about the Minister of State is that he is prepared to take a bit of a risk, to think unconventionally and break the boundaries. This is something that could help make his name. He should look again at this area and decide "Yes", that in addition to sending money abroad, he will institute programmes in universities, medical faculties, hospitals and centres such as the Rape Crisis Centre. He should decide to support people by giving them the skills to deal with disastrous situations in their countries.

I welcome the White Paper which I believe is useful and welcome the change of name mentioned. I have some reservations, but they are not matters on which I find myself in contradiction with the Government. On the question of Congo, for example, I only seek further and better particulars. I have also suggested that when the paper mentions gender-based violence, it should automatically include gay people because we are such a target throughout the world. Ireland's relatively decent attitude in this area puts us in a position to include this reference, which would invite praise rather than ridicule.

I welcome the White Paper and the implications of its publication. I welcome the change of the name of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Irish Aid. I also welcome the measures included in the paper to supervise the aid we give. I compliment the Minister of State and the Government on continuing their support for the UNFPA. This is critically important, especially in circumstances where powerful groups such as the Bush Administration shamefully cut back on funding because they object, on allegedly moral grounds, to the inclusion of contraception education, etc. This makes it even more vital that the Minister of State makes it clear to the international community our continuing and unwavering support of the remarkable and valuable work done by the UNFPA.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Members for their strong engagement with the development issues that are my responsibility in Irish Aid. I reaffirm that the White Paper is about reiterating, reaffirming and confirming our commitment to achieving our 0.7% target by 2012. One might well ask why we do not legislate for this. We have decided legislation is not a good precedent to set in this area because then the Government would come under pressure from other interest groups to legislate for their area. For these reasons, it is deemed inappropriate to legislate for the commitment.

The Minister for Finance and his Department have backed our commitment with hard cash. For example, in the two years since I have been in charge of this portfolio, our emergency and recovery budget has gone from €20 million to €60 million. This is likely to increase further following the Estimates to be published at the end of the month. We are meeting our targets. When I decided to reverse the commitment of 2007, I felt it was important to set down clear milestones against which the public and the Oireachtas could gauge whether we were meeting our commitments.

These milestones were an interim target of 0.5% in 2007, 0.6% of gross domestic product, GDP, in 2010 and finally the achievement of 0.7% in 2012. We are well on the way to achieving that. For a coincidence of reasons, this year we will achieve 0.5%. This is mainly because of a contribution from the Department of Finance of €60 million, a commitment which should have been made over a number of years but which was front-loaded into one year because of a commitment to multilateral debt relief. Even when this is taken out of the equation next year, we will maintain our commitment of 0.5%.

We are meeting our targets and there is no question of the commitment not being met. I have full confidence that even if there is a change of Government, something I do not anticipate, Members opposite will be more than willing to meet the commitment. The target is realistic and achievable, whereas the previous target was neither and had to be overturned.

Senator Terry raised the issue of moneys being spent on NGOs in Central America. I visited Nicaragua, Central America and South America. It is important to remember that while Ireland concentrates its aid in eight programme countries, six in Africa and two in Asia, we support projects in approximately 128 countries. We support projects across the globe without prejudice. Much of this support is led by the good work done by our missionaries and I am sure Senator Terry saw that when she made her visit to Latin America. Our missionaries are there and they also have a footprint in Asia. We make our contributions in that area.

Senator Kitt raised the issue of Sudan. The Minister and I were answering questions in the Dáil on the issue less than an hour ago. We are anxious to facilitate a Dáil or Seanad debate on the situation. What is going on is horrific. Prime Minister Blair has organised a conference which it is hoped will have some effect. The Minister and I have been to Darfur where we have met Ministers and Prime Ministers. However, as the Minister said in the Dáil, one really needs to affect the President of Sudan if we want to achieve real change. Thankfully, he will attend the conference organised by Prime Minister Blair. We need to maintain focus and pressure on him to accept the deployment of a strong multilateral force to protect the people there. The situation has worsened.

In that context, Senator Kitt also raised the issue of security for NGOs. In the wake of the tragic death of Margaret Hassan in Iraq, I initiated a security review of our overseas aid personnel so that they would be aware of dangers in the field. Owing to recent events in Darfur and elsewhere, I am of a mind to offer the same security advice and assistance to NGO personnel when they return at Christmas. I hope to organise this during Christmas and the new year because NGO personnel work in dangerous situations where the Government and governmental actors cannot be present for various reasons.

We are keen to add to NGOs' capacity to continue their good work. It is not often pointed out that Ireland gives €100 million to NGOs every year. This money goes to Irish-based NGOs predominantly, but we also support international NGOs, such as the Red Cross, that are important in crisis situations.

I agree with Senator Norris regarding enhancing local capacity rather than bussing out Irish people. This has been the approach of Irish Aid. While domestic governments and employees of NGOs working in the tsunami-affected regions complained about people crowding in, giving unneeded blankets and providing unwanted and unfocused help, this criticism was not made about Irish NGOs, which are effective.

The mainstay of our support for the Red Cross and many international NGOs that play a part in emergency situations relates to raising local capacity. We fund the Red Cross in particular to enhance capacity locally for emergency preparedness. The approach is——

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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What about training people in this country?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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——being followed. We agree with the thrust of the Senator's comments about bringing people to Ireland to avail of the excellence on hand, but we prefer to deliver training locally because it can be expensive. Where appropriate, we try to seek out centres of excellence near or in the region in question.

We are proud to remain a strong funder of the UNFPA notwithstanding the criticism of that agency, none of which is based on evidence. Frequently, I receive letters from domestic and international groups on this subject stating that we fund all sorts of services, but that is not the case and the UNFPA does not carry out those services. For example, it does not support or fund the one child policy in China, a main focal point of the criticism we receive.

The UNFPA is a good agency and enjoys our total confidence in its work to date. It is central to the empowerment of women, gender issues generally and the provision of health, sexual and reproductive advice. I apologise to Senator Norris that we did not use the phrase "sexual and reproductive rights" in the White Paper, but we are not shy about using the word "sexual". The Senator knows that I mention sexual and reproductive rights in virtually every speech I make.

That certain donors, including the United States of America, have pared back funding for anti-AIDS programmes involving the use of condoms in some countries, such as Uganda, is of concern. We are not one of those donors. European donors and those of like mind to the Irish have made up the shortfall, but the Ugandans have accepted the other donors' conditional support and President Museveni is of an opinion that may not be shared by the international donor community. However, we are ploughing ahead in providing assistance in respect of sexual and reproductive rights undeterred by these changes in the landscape.

We are aware of the AIDS situation confronting homosexual males and the gay community in general. At an international conference I attended in London a few months ago, this issue arose in respect of Asia more than Africa. There has been a startling upsurge in AIDS cases in Asia because of economic growth and changing sexual practices, that is, people engaging in both homosexual and heterosexual sex but not informing others or being unaware of the health implications. This is a phenomenon in Asia rather than Africa where the focus is on an alarming increase in the number of women affected by the virus. Part of our programme will address this issue.

Our aid is predicated on social interventions in terms of health, education and hunger. The purpose of the hunger task force is to give an international and domestic lead. Hunger and food security issues and the deeper matter of rural development and making African farming practices more productive are of concern. We all know the history in question. For example, India's recent success was built on the green revolution of the 1950s when the nature of farming changed radically and more productivity was introduced to the methods. However, that has not been the African case and we are keen to determine how to improve the situation in terms of removing the dependence on external donors' assistance, be it food assistance or cash to buy food in local markets. We want to ensure that local and regional markets are strong enough for people to feed themselves, which is a basic requirement. It is a tragedy that, during the past 20 to 30 years, all international donors have ignored this subject.

Ireland hopes to take the lead through the creation of the hunger task force and I hope to make announcements regarding its terms of reference and chairman in the next month or two. We will announce the full membership at the beginning of 2007 with a mandate to report in six months and provide international leadership. Many people at the international level are hopeful that Ireland will take a necessary lead. Kofi Annan, who is facing into retirement, wants to address this matter because a green revolution has not occurred in Africa. As an African, he is keen to see international efforts focused in this regard.

We have doubled our spending to tackle AIDS to €100 million. Together with the 0.7% by 2012 target announced at the UN, this was one of the bravest decisions made by the Taoiseach in consultation with me. We did so owing to the issue's absorption capacity, that is, it can absorb money. Dr. Peter Piot of UNAIDS referred to an €8 billion shortfall in AIDS funding and it is in this respect that we want to provide leadership. Deputy Gormley was present for the announcement and stated in the Lower House that the considerable applause received by the Taoiseach made it heartwarming to be an Irish citizen. The applause came from across the board and may have been the most generous response to any statesman addressing the UN summit on AIDS. Ireland is taking the lead and people, including the Irish public, are watching how we deploy and spend money.

As we increase spending to meet the 0.7% target, we are approaching a medium-term review of our staffing requirements. We were fortunate to receive 20 extra staff as an immediate short-term response from the Department of Finance. In our last Estimates campaign, the Department saw the merits of my argument that we needed those people immediately. Some 14 of the 20 staff will be involved in the monitoring and evaluation of our growing programme directly and all of the 20 are present to meet the short-term need of ensuring that the programme is well evaluated and monitored and that taxpayers' money is spent appropriately.

The medium-term needs include the level of staffing required to meet the programme's significant expansions. This year's allocation is €732 million and, while the Estimates have yet to be published, Irish Aid's spending will probably exceed €800 million next year. By 2012, the allocation will be €1.5 billion, a considerable amount that must be deployed appropriately. I am anxious to do so in a planned fashion.

I accept contributors' statements that we must involve more people who are not involved in the Irish Aid programme, be they members of NGOs or volunteers. In the new year, we will announce a number of measures in respect of volunteering, a one-stop shop as it were, to advertise the opportunity for Irish people to volunteer. That is hugely important because for this first time in our history we in Ireland have the human capacity as well as the financial resources to make a difference and to play our own personnel into the picture in a much more meaningful way.

We are keen to do something in the third level sector, which is beloved of Senator Norris. We published a strategy document with the Higher Education Authority, which will be the central focal point for our efforts and our engagement with the third level sector. There has been the phenomenon in the past year or two of various universities and third level institutions coming to us with bold and imaginative proposals, all of them dependent on securing funding. We are anxious that whatever we do with the third level sector is coherent and properly organised and orchestrated in that sense. We have chosen the Higher Education Authority to be the focal point through which our engagement with the third level sector will occur. That does not stop institutions coming to us with their projects which may not fit into that.

This process will be twofold. At education level, we want to deepen public understanding, both academic and non-academic, of development issues. We are facing into a busy year, where we want to broaden the knowledge of what we are doing in Irish Aid, plus deepen the existing knowledge of development issues within our institutions and among the citizenry. A broadening and deepening of that knowledge will occur between now and 2012.

We will spend a great deal of money on public information campaigns, particularly on the White Paper and on where the money is being spent, and we will continue that in the new year and onwards to 2012. The information campaign will not be excessive, but at this point, given the amounts of money involved, the public should have a strong knowledge of how that money is being spent. We hope the debate will mature, as it has in other areas, where people get a full understanding of the issues that face us. It is easy for people to point to local needs such as in the health or education services in Ireland and ask why we are spending all this money abroad when we could spend it at home, but it is part of our international responsibility.

I will publish the human development index in the next month or so. The UN has asked us specifically to launch the index in regional terms. It brings good news for Ireland; we are climbing up the index again. We were eighth when it was published last year. Although I have not received the full report, I understand from the draft reports and indications that we are climbing even higher in wealth terms. With that wealth comes considerable responsibility, moral and otherwise, and we should not be afraid to step up to the line in the area of development. It is altruistic and charitable work. Irish aid is untied and therefore not given with a specific geopolitical or other immoral purpose. We are not an arms supplier. We do not see ourselves as a major player in any of those settings.

We are a moral voice in the world and the White Paper places development at the heart of our foreign policy. We are not delinking from foreign policy. Some other European countries have separated their development assistance programme into an agency type status but we do not favour that for Irish Aid. The name change was important because it reaffirms the role of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The White Paper, in substantial terms as opposed to the name change which is superficial at one level, puts development assistance at the heart of our foreign policy. Let us be straight and honest about the fact that Ireland is influential on the world stage because of its policy on development. People take a leaf from what we do. We listen and are listened to, and we are welcome in various settings across the world precisely because of what we do on the development aid side. The proof of that in a real sense was when my senior colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, was chosen as the only developed country representative to be a UN envoy. That was unusual and is reflective of the strong role we play in development. It is recognised, by Kofi Annan and the UN generally that Ireland is a model UN member and we hope to continue as such. The area of development assistance is where we can prove to be the best and show the kind of leadership which is wanted by everybody in this House, irrespective of party political or no political affiliation. They want us to show a lead because, with Irish people, it comes not just from the heart, but from the head.

I am proud to be part of this expansion in the programme. I know it will enjoy cross-party support in the future. We need to rally around on a cross-party basis to support this. Notwithstanding our obvious wealth, when one considers the deficiencies in infrastructure and continuing pockets of poverty here, it would be easy and open to the unscrupulous political operator simply to state we should cut back on Irish aid and put it into domestic areas. It is important there is an all-party approach to ensure we, as parliamentarians and citizens of the world, can robustly make the point that aid can work and it is valuable for a country to spend large amounts of money in this area.